If 2004's summer associates had a collective motto, it might be the comment by an intern at Pittsburgh's Buchanan Ingersoll: "I loved coming to work every day." In the 2004 Summer Associates Survey, this year's crop of soon-to-be lawyers positively gushed over how much they liked their firms, their work and the lawyers they worked with. There was little angst voiced this year about getting an offer. Instead, summers knew what they wanted and felt more confident that they would get it.
By Dimitra Kessenides|November 05, 2004 at 12:00 AM
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If 2004′s summer associates had a collective motto, it might well be thecomment made by an intern at Pittsburgh’s Buchanan Ingersoll: “I lovedcoming to work every day.” In the 2004 Summer Associates Survey, this year’s crop of soon-to-be lawyers positively gushed over how much they likedtheir firms, their work, and the lawyers they worked with. There was littleangst voiced this year about getting an offer. Instead, summers knew what theywanted, and they felt more confident that they would get it. Market competition in recent years has forced students to be smarter abouthow they evaluate law firms and how they approach their jobs. The 4,913responses from the survey, as well as comments from law firm partners andrecruiting directors, portray a class of summer associates determined to controltheir own destinies. They worked hard — an average of 45.8 hours per week — justabout the right amount, most felt, although some wanted even more. According tolawyers at the firms where they worked, summer associates didn’t shy away fromasking for the kind of assignments that they wanted — and usually got them. Theypressed hiring partners with tough questions about their firms’ stability andfinancial health. The partner in charge of Baker Botts’ Houston office, GregoryNelson, was struck by the strong curiosity that this year’s class showed aboutthe nuts and bolts of law firm life. “They demonstrated a real interest inwhat it’s like to be a partner,” Nelson says. “They asked, ‘What’sthe partnership buy-in?’ ‘What’s the cost of it?’ — which surprised me.” “Today’s interns view the summer as a first step in what will hopefullybe a long-term career, not just as a job,” says Rob Campbell, the hiringpartner at Chicago’s Schiff Hardin. While there were still plenty of interns drafting memos that wouldn’t make itpast a partner’s in-box, complaints about makework were less evident than inyears past. What’s striking were the comments reflecting high levels ofresponsibility, interesting work, and satisfaction in knowing where the finalwork product is going (in many instances straight to a client). “Theassignments given to summer associates … are meaty, substantive, challengingassignments that would be given to junior associates as well,” wrote onerespondent at twenty-sixth-ranked Cooley Godward. A summer hire at SiliconValley’s Gunderson Dettmer Stough Villeneuve Franklin & Hachigian enjoyedworking on a private financing. “I was given the opportunity to draft allof the documents, sit in on the conference calls, finalize the closing of thedeal, and put together the closing book,” this intern said. “This typeof hands-on work from start to finish really gave me great insight as to what Iwould be doing as an associate at this firm.” If the work was real, so were the billable hours. New York’s Curtis, Mallet-Prevost,Colt & Mosle was one of several firms that said it monitors closely thehours racked up by summer associates. “We have over the past three yearsmade it quite clear to them that of course they’re here to learn,” saysAlberta Baigent, the firm’s recruiting director. “But frankly, we also wantthem to turn a buck for the firm, too. They’re earning a lot of money.” Although Baigent notes that offers do not depend on the number of billablesaccrued, she says, “I like to think they get a very realistic sense of whatit’s like to practice and work in New York.” In general, social events played second fiddle to the work itself. But therewas still time for play. The trivia game night at Atlanta’s King & Spaldingwas “a blast,” wrote one respondent. Summer hires in Orrick,Herrington & Sutcliffe’s Menlo Park, Calif., office drove race cars atMalibu Grand Prix. Interns at the San Diego office of Morrison & Foerstercrossed the border to Mexico to help build a home for a needy family. Despitethe 100-degree heat, said one clerk, “this was an incredibly positiveexperience that set a positive tone for the rest of the summer.” Students were savvy enough to know that the social events weren’t just abouthaving fun. One Duane Morris clerk noted that softball games “are greatopportunities to interact with other associates and junior partners to find outwhat’s really going on in the firm.” Several interns mentioned that, forthem, the most memorable event of the summer was dinner at a partner’s home.”The more [summers] can see the lives of our attorneys, the more impressedthey are with the attorneys as people, and with the firm as a place towork,” notes James Ryan, chair of Quarles & Brady’s summer recruitmentcommittee. While the general enthusiasm level was high, summers also had their share ofcomplaints. Three of the interns at Dickstein Shapiro’s Washington, D.C., officegriped about problems stemming from the office rumor mill. “Have thepermanent associates stop pressing the summers for gossip,” one suggested. Overall, the most negative remarks from clerks generally involved the officeenvironment: ugly carpets, outdated technology, arctic air conditioning.”The office needs a functioning coffee grinder for the espressomachine,” groused an intern at Morrison & Foerster. “Clean therestrooms,” a summer associate at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer Feld advised. AtSheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton, a woman asked the office to dump apolicy that women in short skirts must wear stockings. “It’shorrible,” she said. More substantive complaints point to persistent problems with feedback. Ingeneral, the biggest difference between firms at the top of the list and firmsat the bottom appeared in the scores for training and guidance and forcommunicating the firm’s goals and expectations. It’s worthnoting that the overall score gap between the top and bottom firms was less thanone point. Still, lawyers at the higher-scoring firms apparently did a betterjob of informing students what the firm wanted and helping them achieve it. That was certainly the case at New York’s Kelley Drye & Warren. Focusingon mentoring and high-quality assignments propelled Kelley Drye from 139th placelast year to the top spot in 2004. Summers awarded perfect scores for the amountof actual work doled out — as opposed to busywork — and the training and guidanceoffered. “The work is real work, which I think is the best thing about theprogram. I never felt like I was working on an imaginary project,” notedone summer associate. Randy Liss, Kelley Drye’s director of recruitment, says that the firmreorganized its mentoring program for this summer’s class. In prior yearsstudents had complained about a lack of feedback and too little support in theirday-to-day work. So Kelley Drye set out to achieve more “interaction” — a buzzword at many firms this year — between interns andlawyers. Each of Kelley Drye’s 18 respondents was assigned to a team comprisedof a first- or second-year associate, a senior associate and a partner. Thementor groups, when possible, focused on one practice area. “We encouragedthem to do everything — work and [social] events — as a group,” Liss says.”This way, there are three opportunities to create some sort of personalconnection between the summers and the firm, and this allowed students to gainthree different perspectives on the firm.” Kelley Drye’s class reacted positively to the change. “The atmosphereand character of the firm was much more friendly and supportive than Ianticipated,” one summer wrote. “Even the partners were trulyenthusiastic about working with and mentoring summer associates.” Anotherclerk remarked, “There is no intimidation factor here; you can approachpartners and associates with any questions.” Sixth-ranked Buchanan Ingersoll is another firm that has steadily climbed thelist. In 2002 the firm came in at 123; in 2003, at 51. Pittsburgh recruitingpartner Gregory Miller says that two years ago Buchanan Ingersoll moved torevamp its program and increase the commitment and participation of the firm’slawyers. This year, summer associates were delighted with their ration ofinteresting, substantive work assignments. An intern in the firm’s Philly officeworked on the first draft of an asset purchase agreement, while another says heplayed a “major role” on a conference call with a client. “A verychallenging yet rewarding place to work,” wrote one intern. “At timesit is necessary to put in some very long hours, but it is not that bad becauseyou enjoy the company of your fellow coworkers.” Indeed, this year’s class had plenty of opportunity to get to know partnersand associates at the firm, in both work and social settings. A firmwidewhitewater rafting trip won over many of the hires. Many remarked on the”relaxed,” “laid-back,” “genuinely nice” and”honest” lawyers in their midst. Such camaraderie was reflected in thefirm’s high scores for interactions with partners and associates. The firm that came in last this year, Baker Botts, made no glaring errors,but apparently didn’t execute as well on the basics. Judging from the scoresthat they awarded, summers missed getting the responsibility, training, andmentorship that have defined the strong performance of many of this year’sfirms. “There was virtually no communication on work assignments;expectations and rules changed frequently,” one summer associate wrote.Hires also felt the program didn’t match what the firm represented to them ininterviews. The partner in charge of the Houston office, Gregory Nelson, saysthat the acceptance rate so far in the firm’s home office — 15 out of 59 offersaccepted at press time, with 11 declines — is satisfactory. Similar issues apparently cropped up at Duane Morris. The Philadelphia firmdropped from 10th place in 2003 to 149th place this summer. One problem wasthat summers didn’t get the work they wanted. On the questions regarding theinterest level of the work and the amount of responsibility given to interns,the firm fared well below the national average. “We try hard to matchpeople up with the right people with the right assignments,” says hiringpartner James Holman. “I’m a little surprised by the scores.” DuaneMorris also scored poorly when it came to relations between summer and full-timeassociates. “At a big dinner a young associate told me I was lucky to havefree food to eat,” one student wrote. “That really made me feel rightat home.” As this clerk’s comment indicates, the little things, like firm culture, domatter. Almost half of the law students surveyed told us that when it comes timeto evaluate an offer from their firm, one of their biggest considerations willbe how relaxed the office atmosphere is. The firm’s prestige is anotherimportant factor, and students also put a lot of weight on the strength of theirintended practice area. But law firms who want to attract the best and brightesttoday should keep in mind that young lawyers want a practice that isintellectually challenging — and a relaxed, collegial work environment thatleaves space for a personal life, too. It’s what one summer associate fromthird-ranked Bell, Boyd & Lloyd liked best about his firm: “[This] is aplace where people work really hard but have other lives too,” he wrote.”The people are friendly and fun. Not only have I learned a lot, but I havemade several new friends this summer.”
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