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The night before I started my summer-associate program at a large New York law firm, I dreamed that I showed up to work on my first day naked. I suppose it was understandable — at the time, I was a second-year law student whose most extensive work experience was as a sales associate at The Gap. “How will I survive in a large law firm?” I wondered. “What should I wear? Is it OK to drink? What if I don’t drink? What sort of behavior is appropriate?” Law firm culture is different from most other work environments and the summer-associate experience is certainly unique, to say the least. What other profession gives you a summer to “test” out a firm, recruiting you with fun events all the while? And yet, lest any of my readers have been brainwashed about the world of work and adulthood by “Sex and the City,” let’s have a reality check on the summer-associate experience. It’s far less of a bacchanalia than one might expect. In this article, I hope to touch upon some of the taboo topics that you may have been wondering about, but were afraid to ask: alcohol, cleavage and, oh yes — sex. Most of the typical summer-associate faux pas can be avoided by a simple recipe: Consider your summer-associate experience as, in essence, a 10- to 12-week job interview. As situations present themselves, reflect upon what your interviewers were asking themselves during the course of your interview: Do I want to sit across the conference room table from this person in a meeting or at a luncheon? Will I be proud to have this person represent our law firm? Can I introduce this person to a client? Attorneys will be asking themselves the very same questions over the summer while assessing whether or not you are a good fit with the firm and if you should receive an offer for permanent employment. You need to make sure that their answer to all of these questions remains an unequivocal “yes.” Here are a few tips to get you started. CLOTHES In recent years, the idea of business casual has been stretched so far that only the casual remains, with no regard to the business. Even if your firm does not require you to wear a suit, you must maintain a professional appearance at all times. How you dress for the job reflects the level of respect you have for it. Just as your most conservative suit showed how seriously you took your interview, your summer wardrobe should demonstrate the respect you have for the firm. What is acceptable? For women, the safest bets are sweater sets or dress shirts, paired with conservative dress pants. Stay away from anything with too tight of a fit. For men, khakis or dress pants and a button-down shirt do the trick every time. Tops — how low is too low? Women, listen up: Cleavage is unacceptable in the office — even at your firm’s social events in the evening. (Remember, you are being scrutinized at those events, too, just as you are during the day. If anything, at such events there are even more eyes on you at one time.) Accessorize with the classics: scarves and pretty jewelry, not your God-given assets. Now the men: Can I see your chest hair? I shouldn’t! If I do, there is a problem and you should button up. Skirts — how high is too high? Skirts should be no higher than brushing just above the knee. (And, in some firm cultures, even that may be pushing the envelope.) Whether or not you need to wear hose depends on the firm. When in doubt, wear them. Shoes — how much foot should show? Women need to pay close attention to how much foot they can show — certain firms have rules on shoes, forbidding sandals completely and even frowning upon slingbacks. In an age when salons now feature “foot facials,” you may be tempted to show off your toes. Well, don’t. Toe cleavage is best left for evenings out — when lawyers from the firm are not present. The safest way to go is with conservative pumps or loafers — whatever footwear you wore to your interview was probably appropriate. Men should wear socks and traditional shoes. Save your flip flops and sandals for the weekend. To gauge what is acceptable at your firm, ask yourself: What are the other associates and most successful partners wearing? Follow a role model, but remember: He or she already has the job, and may have earned the right to a certain amount of eccentricity, so use common sense. If you’re still puzzling over whether or not your dress is appropriate, consider the following before you walk out of the door every morning: Are you dressed appropriately to attend a meeting with the managing partner of the firm? A judge’s law clerk? A client? The firm’s biggest client? While you may think that the extra suit on the back of your office door can be used in case of an emergency, remember that you will be seeing partners and clients as you walk through your firm’s halls, so it is important to portray a professional appearance day to day, no matter what your schedule entails. Even as you change into more casual clothing for your events in the evening, remember to leave inappropriate clothing at home. DRINKING Simply stated, don’t drink too much. It seems like an easy rule of thumb, but as is the case with law firm life, things are always more complicated than they originally seem. There will be a number of social events held by your firm over the summer that are designed for you to network with attorneys and other members of your summer class. While a few glasses of wine at a firm dinner or a few beers at a bowling night may seem innocent enough, those drinks may cause you to let down your guard just enough to say (or do — see section on dating, below) something that you may regret the next day. So be very careful with how much you drink. Likewise, summer associates often wonder whether or not they can drink at lunch. The easy answer to this question is a resounding “no.” Do not drink at lunch, under any circumstances. But what if you are in a situation where each of the other attorneys at the table has ordered a drink and it is your turn to order? It may seem like no big deal to order a beer or a glass of wine, or whatever everyone else is having, but remember, the attorneys at the table already have the job, and you still need one. The best rule of thumb is to not drink at all at lunch, but if you find yourself considering it, ask yourself: How well do I handle my liquor? If you have work to do later, it is probably not a good idea to drink. Many summer associates wonder: Will I look immature if I don’t drink? Choosing not to drink is always an acceptable choice. You do not need to drink alcohol in order to impress someone or to fit in. If you do, what would that say about the firm and the people who practice there? When refusing a drink, just smile and gracefully say “no, thank you.” It is no one’s business why you are not drinking. Focus instead on having good manners and making interesting conversation. DATING Dating within your firm is never a good idea. Although this sounds easy, don’t forget that you haven’t met everyone at the firm yet — you may be tempted during the summer. You are going to be working in an environment where most of your colleagues will be intelligent, interesting people. That, coupled with the fact that the summer program is designed to foster personal connections, makes it likely that you will become close with other attorneys at the firm. Add alcohol to the mix, and it could become a tricky situation. No matter how laid back your firm is, it is still not advisable to date other attorneys at the firm. Not only will you hurt your reputation, but also, should things end badly, you will have to see that person every day and possibly be staffed on matters with him or her. And keep in mind: Law firms are like small towns. People remember liaisons long after the couple involved have moved on. Do not become a punchline to a joke or the topic of an anecdote at the start of your legal career. The firm wants to see that you are able to relate to your fellow summer associates. It will provide insight for them on what type of associate and then partner you would become, and will shed light on your future ability to bring in clients for the firm. Work hard and develop solid relationships with colleagues that will last throughout your professional career. Behave in a way that would make your mother proud. Don’t be a jerk. Don’t be overly competitive when unnecessary. Don’t take credit when you don’t deserve it. In other words, don’t freak out. Remember also that e-mail is still a business communication; don’t be fooled by its informality. Treat e-mail with the same care you would an interoffice memo. Even when you think you are done, proofread it one more time. Also, be sure to use your work e-mail account for work-related communications only; use your personal e-mail account for your personal e-mail. Each summer, there is one summer associate who breaks this rule and sends out an embarrassing e-mail to some partners or, in some cases, to the entire firm. Don’t let this happen to you. Every firm has its own distinct personality. Often, it is a matter of sitting back and observing for a while before you are able to figure out precisely what that personality is, and where — and whether — you fit into the firm’s big picture. Brenda M. Janowitz is a senior career counselor at Yeshiva University’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.

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