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Ocean liners can’t turn on a dime. Neither can law firms. Despite a changing and uncertain economy, few firms have announced a significant change in the concept or structure of summer programs. Some firms have, however, started to retreat from the excesses of recent years and are trying to move their programs to somewhere between Howrey Simson Arnold & White’s boot camp and the summer camp of the late ’90s. How can firms find that middle ground? The answers involve solid training, meaningful evaluation and feedback, and as much integration into the work and practice of the firm as possible. Before thinking about some of the details of managing a program this summer, reflect for a moment about the current state of mind of your entering summer class. This past recruiting season left both firms and students reeling. The World Trade Center tragedy hit right in the thick of interviewing season, only to be followed by firm after firm announcing associate layoffs. Then major firms announced small or no bonuses, followed by other firms announcing higher bonuses, only to be followed by retractions from the earlier firms, supplemental payments, revisions and so on, leaving even the most seasoned law firm manager dizzy. This was how your summer associates were introduced to the legal profession. HIGH ANXIETY Firms that have laid off associates will face higher than usual anxiety levels among their summer associates. These summer associates may be especially sensitive to criticism of their work and worry excessively about whether they are making the grade, and so they may need to be handled with a bit more care and attention than we may be used to doing. In addition to worrying about whether they will receive return offers, many summer associates may already be thinking about whether they will even want to accept those offers — and thinking about exploring other opportunities when the fall recruiting season rolls around. Communicating clearly, honestly and openly with summer associates about work levels and the firm’s strategy will be a step in the right direction. The other phenomenon of this recruiting season was that suddenly every student wanted to be a generalist. Students were terrified that if they indicated an interest in a particular area or happened to make the “wrong” choice, they would not receive an offer. This year’s standard answer to an inquiry about the practice areas the student was interested in pursuing was, “I just want to explore and try everything.” Just a year or so ago, the typical answer was not only “corporate work,” but included a detailed specification of the types of deals and financings the student wanted to work on. This year, the strategy appeared to be to get the offer at all costs and deal with the realities of the firm’s practice later. Later, of course, is about to arrive; will those summer associates be quite so flexible about work assignments once they arrive? The consequences for firms may be that the summer associates’ true interests emerge during the summer and that allocating assignments to practice groups for those who ultimately return as associates could get tricky. This will require careful planning and constant monitoring throughout the summer. WORK, WORK, WORK Despite the recent upward trend in activity at most firms (especially for those involved in Enron and other high-profile bankruptcies), the law firm manager or summer chair who does not admit to sleepless nights, worrying whether there will be enough for their summer associates to do, is either narcoleptic or lying. Here are some ways to supplement the workflow of regular client assignments while offering tangible professional benefits to your summer associates: � Shadowing professional activities or deals. Make sure that all attorneys remember to include summer associates in all appropriate professional activities, the obvious ones — meetings, depositions and court appearances — as well as the less obvious transactional work. For example, you can assign a summer associate as a shadow on every transaction. Send her copies of all deal documentation and make it clear that she is expected to get up to speed quickly in order to sit in on conference calls and drafting sessions. (Shadowing time is not charged to the client.) An unintended benefit to the firm is that once a summer associate (or any junior associate, for that matter) has learned a bit about the case or deal through the shadowing assignment, she becomes a very attractive candidate for the next billable assignment that comes up on the matter or on that subject. � Training. Rather than offering lectures on various practices or areas of law, structure your training as interactive workshops. Proskauer Rose’s senior attorneys teach workshops on corporate negotiation, cross-examination and alternative dispute resolution. Not only do these sessions expose the summer associates to the issues, people and practices of the departments that are involved, they help teach core lawyering skills in an effective and meaningful way. Because workshops require a significant time commitment and advance preparation on the part of summer associates, who may be handling other assignments, participation shows their ability to juggle multiple tasks, an essential skill at a law firm. � Pro bono. Summer associates can learn a great deal by assisting with the pro bono work being handled by lawyers in the firm. You can also offer them pro bono work through organizations in the community that might have opportunities for summer associates. Some organizations train law students to serve as advocates in family court, assisting a battered spouse to obtain a temporary order of protection, for instance. Our former summer associates who have participated in New York’s Courtroom Advocates Program have made an important contribution to persons in need and had the professional satisfaction of working directly with a client. You might also consider offering your summer associates brief summer externship opportunities with organizations that serve the legal needs of the poor. Many legal services organizations have structured programs in which they borrow a summer associate from her firm for a week or so at a time. You can make the pro bono experience even more valuable by asking those summer associates who participated to give a presentation to the rest of their class about their experience — giving them some public speaking experience, to boot. MANAGING EVALUATIONS Since acceptance rates this recruiting season were on average higher than in recent years, according to NALP, many firms may have larger summer classes than they had expected. It is particularly important, therefore, to make sure that performance evaluations are handled with complete fairness since the consequences of a negative evaluation could be particularly serious. Consider offering some training for the more-junior attorneys who may be working with summer associates, to be sure they are applying appropriate standards to their summer associate reviews. Include your evaluation form in the summer associate orientation material and talk to them about your standards and expectations early in the season. Have your summer committee keep an eagle eye out for problems, and make sure the reviewer communicates with the summer associate who has erred as soon as possible so he has an opportunity to learn from early mistakes and correct them. In light of the enormous efforts most of us have expended to recruit these students, it is unreasonable to write someone off because of a vague notion that he didn’t “get it” within the first few weeks. Be honest. If that were the standard, would you have survived? Anita J. Zigman is director of associate affairs at New York’s Proskauer Rose.

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