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You are about to enter a new way of life as you know it, a new civilization, with new life forms, rules and perspectives. You are about to enter the Summer Associate Zone. You may wonder, “What can I expect from the summer associate experience?” If you’re smart, you’ll wonder, “What is expected of me?” In a nutshell, you will leave behind the world of fast food, backpacks, baseball caps, television and naps, and embrace the universe of fine dining, briefcases, short haircuts, live entertainment and no sleep. This article will provide insights into the summer associate, a.k.a. clerking, experience. This article will not improve your bar exam results, lower your stress levels or reduce your cholesterol. Should you use any of the concepts provided, then caveat emptor, res ipsa loquitur, habeas corpus and ipso facto will apply. Enough with the legalese. Some of these suggestions should be considered carefully; others shouldn’t. Hopefully, this article will provide some fresh ideas on maneuvering skillfully through the clerkship minefield. Clerkship Program Structure: It ranges from improvisational to rigid scheduling. The summer associate experience will vary from firm to firm. Usually, smaller firms have a less structured program than larger full-service firms. The small firms probably will organize social events, e.g., dinners and ballpark games, on a flexible and informal basis. However, the calendaring of events is more common at larger firms. In a large firm, you probably will have the opportunity to work in more than one section over your six-week experience. Often, based on your preference, a firm will assign you to a section (e.g., litigation) for the first three weeks and then you will switch to another section (e.g., corporate) for the second three weeks. You may receive an offer from one or both sections of the firm. Many students split their summers between two firms, and the “real gunners” may clerk for three or four firms for briefer periods of time. Mentors: Think of mentoring as follow the leader. Typically, you are assigned a mentoring partner and mentoring associate who are responsible for several things: overseeing your workload; introducing you to people; scheduling your lunches; and answering questions. Your mentors may provide you with a lot of guidance to improve your work quality. At the beginning of the summer, ask your mentor to review your work projects before submitting them in final form. Take advantage of your mentor’s expertise and confirmation that you are on target with your work assignments. Your mentoring attorneys can impact your experience greatly. Having an attentive and involved mentor can make for smooth sailing in the summer. Alternatively, an inattentive, unconcerned mentor may lead to a less than desirable experience. If you find that your mentor is not helpful, then perhaps you should seek the guidance of another associate in the firm with whom you feel comfortable. Warning: Avoid speaking negatively of your mentor. Feedback: Do ask and do tell. Often you will receive feedback on your work projects. Each attorney assigning you a project may go over his or her suggestions and comments after you turn in the project. Alternatively, there may be a structured feedback session, usually one about halfway through the clerkship and one at the end. At these sessions, one or more attorneys will go over the assigning attorneys’ evaluations that were filled out regarding your work assignments. These sessions and all the feedback can be important and will be a factor in the firm’s decision to offer you employment after graduation. In addition, it is important to remember that you are working on legal projects for real clients. Focus on producing the best work product for the clients’ needs. Try to learn from the attorneys’ comments, and make every effort to improve your work. It is critical to avoid making the same mistakes that were made in the past. You should ask for comments and recommendations on how to improve your work. Show initiative and take advantage of your time at the firm by asking the attorneys to provide you with feedback as much as possible. Here’s an important tip: Proofread, proofread, proofread. Mistakes leave a negative and lasting impression. Social Events: You’ll think, “I’m getting paid for this?” As unbelievable as it seems, yes, you are. Now the good stuff, the social activities. Along with researching, writing, drafting and actually working, you will have a schedule jam-packed with social events developed by the firm’s recruiting coordinator. The summer associate experience is similar to college fraternity or sorority rush. You will receive goodies, in the firm’s colors and displaying the firm’s logo (i.e., hats, T-shirts, key chains, coffee cups and pens). The recruiting coordinator (rush chairman) with other members of the firm (the fraternity) will provide you (the rushee) with informational materials and speak to you on the positive aspects of the firm and why you should accept an offer (pledge). Many of the activities involve drinking and socializing, similar to a rush party. However, beer kegs, trash can punch and shot contests are few and far between; wine, beer, margaritas and champagne are the norm. A typical social schedule may involve three or four evening events each week and a weekend event. Often, you will take off an afternoon or even a day to attend recruiting events. The goal of these social gatherings is to get you better acquainted with other lawyers in the firm, as well as other members of your clerking class (your potential future co-workers). The recruiting coordinators do a great job of providing a creative and exciting array of social activities. Here are some examples of possible events: sports events, golf, movies, golf, wine tasting, golf, race car driving, golf, casino night, golf, amusement parks, golf, museum trips, golf, sailing, golf, water skiing, golf, dinner at attorneys’ homes, golf, plays, golf, zoo trips and, well, golf. Of course, alcohol and large quantities of food are provided at these events. A common problem is that you also have work to do. Balancing the social events and completing quality work projects is difficult. In addition, some summer associates clerk for more than one firm and are invited to the social events throughout the summer for all the firms for which they are clerking. Should you have a significant other who also is clerking for other firms, this adds to the complexity of your social calendar. In balancing work projects and social events, it is important to remember that work comes first. Do not turn in a half-done project so you can go to the firm’s movie night. If you have a project with a deadline that conflicts with the hula party, finish the project first even if you have to miss the poi. Do not ask the assigning attorney, “Should I finish this memorandum for you or go bowling?” The answer is to finish the project and finish it well. However, try to attend all the events at the firm where you are currently employed. You may try to make it to some other events hosted by your other firms, but do so when it does not conflict with your employer’s activities. You cannot do everything; focus on the firm where you work. Avoid “burning bridges.” You may feel as if you’re under a microscope — you are. But no matter how good or bad your experience, try to get that job offer, even if you do not intend to accept it. You may know after the first half of your summer that you do not want to work for the firm, but do not “blow off” your work the second half of your clerkship. You never know where you may end up working down the road, and you always want to leave a favorable impression. We’ve discussed the importance of balancing social activities and delivering quality work during your summer experience. However, remember it is a two-way street, not only are they judging you, but you are evaluating them. It is just as important that you want to be there, as they want you to be there. Ask yourself, “Do I want to work here?” Look at each firm as a whole, the type of work and the people you would be working with on a daily basis. Those factors should be indicative of whether this firm is a good fit for you. DOS AND DON’TS On a more humorous note, here are some specific “dos and don’ts” for clerking. The following suggestions were all thoroughly tested at the firm of Larry, Curly & Moe. Don’t leave the office until all the partners are gone. Even better: Don’t leave the office until all the secretaries, paralegals, cleaning staff and security officers have left. Don’t use any big words or legal expressions while meeting with the partners. You do not want to embarrass them. Don’t show any body piercings or tattoos � unless you wish to become a litigator. Do not take home rolls of paper towels, toilet tissue and pads of paper; wait until you become a full partner. Do lace your conversations with excess praise for your law school. Frequently mention how much better your school is and its phenomenal record in moot court competitions. Do your best to injure and humiliate your fellow clerks while participating in athletic endeavors. Remember this is a competition for jobs, so “take no prisoners.” Do dress conservatively; wear clean underwear. (That’s where this popular phrase comes from: Check your briefs.) Do ask the hiring partner about the entire compensation package, including discounts at all major department stores and direct deposits to your Swiss bank account. Do order the most expensive items on the menu to reflect your good taste. Do eat any food in the firm’s refrigerator; it is community property. Just see what looks good and eat it. Don’t worry if it is labeled with someone else’s name. Cheryl S. Camin is an associate with the health care section of the Dallas office of Gardere Wynne Sewell. She is a veteran summer associate, clerking for four firms during her summers as a law student, including Gardere in 1998. Her e-mail address is [email protected]

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