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As the summer was approaching, law students were dreaming of wining, dining, boat excursions and beach trips. Some had been longing for this rite of passage since the days of junior high Moot Court — the Summer Associate Experience! For ages, law students have returned to their final fall semester bragging about the lengths that firms have gone to win them over. In the past few years, firms have created “spa days,” rented out Madison Square Garden for firm basketball games, arranged for groups to play golf for the day in Westchester or spend a day at the beach in the Hamptons. No expense was spared each summer to achieve the number one goal — convincing each hand-picked law student, who was lucky enough to land a summer associate position, to accept an offer to join the firm following graduation. Although offers were never guaranteed, the presumption was that if you qualified to be a summer associate and actually performed satisfactorily, you expected to receive an offer of full-time employment following graduation (barring any outrageous behavior throughout the summer — that’s another article altogether). BACK TO BASICS The days of beach expeditions and boat parties may not be completely over, but law firms are clearly rethinking the notion that the summer associate program is solely to woo law students. The firms have realized that a summer associate program is a temporary venue for them to observe and critique potential new attorneys. The tide is turning back to the days when law firms continually assessed a law student’s work product throughout the summer, reserving all decisions to extend an offer until after evaluations were tallied. It appears that this year, the firms will revisit the original goal of summer associate programs — to determine whether a summer associate has the potential to become a stellar attorney. There will be a strong focus on substantive evaluations of a summer associate’s writing, research and communication skills. Although firms pride themselves on hiring only those summer associates who have met the educational criteria and appear to be a good fit with firm culture, we all know that certain summer associates have not lived up to their scholastic record. Some students have the intellect and ability to perform in an academic environment, yet have trouble applying the law that they learned in school to “real life” law practiced in a law firm. A well-planned summer program should provide a platform for a summer associate to make the transition from student to lawyer, by providing an organized assignment process tied to a concrete evaluation system. SUMMER ASSOCIATES ARE READY From conversations with various prospective 2003 summer associates, it appears that law students are prepared for the rigors of this summer. They are a focused group, aware of the ever-changing economy and legal landscape. Although they are excited to join their peers at the pool, the golf course and gala dinners planned in their honor, they understand that their priority for the summer is to work hard and provide criteria for evaluations so that their firms can determine that they have the potential to be excellent attorneys. Most prospective summer associates were feeling less confident that offers would be extended to everyone, given the rumors (now borne out by the facts) that law firms have reduced their summer associate programs and, in many cases, are “rightsizing” their mid-level classes. This year’s summer associates believe that they should consider specializing earlier in their careers, given the poor economic climate and the impression that a generalist is easily replaced. Summer associates think they should focus on smaller niche practices that appear busy and understaffed. BUT ARE THE FIRMS PREPARED? But, while it appears that summer associates are ready to work, are law firms prepared for the assignment process? Many have found that their summer associate programs are at maximum capacity and are grappling with how to put the seasonal workforce to the best use. While it appears that many firms’ work flows have decreased due to the war with Iraq and the economic downturn, there are still a few that have not felt the economic pinch (or are resilient enough to weather it). Quite a few firms have been consistently busy and, thanks to conservative hiring practices, have not over-hired lateral attorneys. This leaves room for law firms to utilize summer associates in a unique way — by giving them real client work with proper supervision, thus providing the summers with invaluable experience. Summer associates will have the opportunity to obtain hands-on experience and get a taste of what it is like to practice law as a junior associate. The firms will look to summer associates to do what they do best — provide research and writing, analytical and creative thinking, organization and follow-up. Additionally, programs should provide opportunities for summer associates to observe and participate at trials, attend motions, assist at corporate closings or accompany attorneys to client meetings. Summer associates should take advantage of these opportunities by working hard and learning as much about the different practice areas as they can. They should also focus on practice areas that appear to be busy and in need of associates. Summer associates should also expand their horizons and think about how their interests and skills fit with the needs of the firms’ busy practice areas. Identifying areas of growth and seeking out assignments in those areas may differentiate them from their peers. This is a unique opportunity for summer associates to demonstrate flexibility, passion and interest in the law and the law firm. The outcome will produce a summer session of engagement in interesting work and hands-on experience. However, summer associates should not forget about the social events that have been planned in their honor as well. That’s right — parties have been planned, events have been booked and tee times are set. The social aspects of summer associate programs are intact, thank goodness. What would a summer associate program be without a Central Park Zoo event or a beach trip to the Hamptons? The rule of thumb: It’s OK to don your bikini as long as your briefs are in order. Remember to participate in the festivities while keeping your work plate full. The key to a successful summer is to remember that summer associates have approximately 10 to 12 weeks to make a good enough impression to warrant an offer. They should work hard, work smart, participate in planned events and get to know the attorneys and the firm. But most of all — summer associates should enjoy themselves, at both work and play. Isn’t that what they’ve all been waiting for? JeanMarie Campbell, a former corporate attorney, is in charge of legal recruitment and attorney development in the New York office of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld.

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