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Q: What are some professional-development points to keep in mind as I get ready to start the summer program? A: The rush and pressure of on-campus interview week is far behind. You survived the frenzy of meeting more lawyers than you could possibly remember, and the intense period of self-analysis (e.g., what do you hope to gain from practicing at a law firm? Where do you see yourself five years from now? What sort of legal work do you envision yourself doing?). Then came the decision-making process on both ends of the interview table — a process too agonizing to put into words. The rigors of academic study seemed surprisingly stabilizing by comparison. Believe it or not, the next phase of the process will begin in just a few weeks. The good news is that it should be far more enjoyable. Following are some ideas to keep in mind as you begin the summer program. If approached in the right way, the law firm summer program can be a very important step in your professional development. Your professional development begins the very first day of law school. As you all know well, those three years are your first opportunity to gain access to, and hone, the tools that you will use post-bar exam. For many of you, the first test of how well those skills will serve you in a law firm setting will be as a member of a summer program. One key objective is to make the most of your summer experience. There is an incredible amount that you can learn in eight to 12 weeks. This is a unique chance to do the type of legal work that you will take on as a full-time associate. In some cases, you will have the opportunity to try a variety of work assignments and explore, or identify, your practice-area interests. While it may sound somewhat nerve-wracking, this is also a chance to take the 20-minutes-at-a-time self-analysis that you performed during interview week to the next level. Just as importantly, the members of your summer class will likely be your colleagues. You can begin to build the support networks that will serve as a resource to you throughout your career. The woes that can befall one who spurns such an opportunity can be plentiful. Take for example a lesson passed on by my friend Sarah. She was a member of a summer class with a colleague who continually listed the credentials that made him a “star” of their summer class (at least in his own mind). Not only did he alienate other members of the summer program, but he developed an unfavorable reputation that is practically legendary among the members of his summer class. Your reputation will return with you when you rejoin the firm after law school — make sure that it is one that you will be proud of. Remember that you are being evaluated in all settings, including during social events. Someone very wisely described the summer program as a summer-long job interview. Your hard-earned slot in the summer program (and it is an accomplishment of which you should be proud) does not entitle you to a slot as a full-time associate. Though some firms may repeatedly assure you that your permanent offer is yours to lose, you can still lose it if you push the boundaries too far. Also, you should not just be on good behavior around partners. The associates and support staff who you meet may have friendships and close working relationships with the partners making hiring decisions. Some associates may even have direct input on these decisions if they are actively involved in office recruiting. They undoubtedly want you to enjoy the perks of your summer program, which many people have worked hard to provide and make a fun experience for you, but they also expect you to exhibit good judgment. Just as possessing and displaying boundless arrogance may not serve you well, query whether you want to be known as the summer associate who is always willing to dodge work to defend her beer-chugging title. Believe me, that reputation will follow you as well. This advice sounds obvious, but for some, it gets more difficult to remember as the summer draws to a close. Try to keep it in mind. The summer program can also be a great introduction to pro bono work. Increasingly, law firms are building pro bono opportunities into their summer programs through partnering with public interest organizations, involving summer associates in existing office projects and/or providing long-range training to enable participants to take on pro bono cases in the future. One of my former colleagues took on a pro bono case as a summer associate, and ultimately argued the case on appeal years later when he returned to the firm as a full-time associate. Yet another key item is that you should have confidence in the fact that you have already displayed the qualities that your law firm believes will make you successful in the summer program. This is a new challenge that you will need to conquer, but take comfort in the fact that the vast majority of the attorneys that you will work with know that you face a learning curve and will help you tackle that challenge. Chances are that even the most successful partner that you encounter could share a story of something that she would have done very differently during her summer experience — it is, after all, a learning curve. Your goal should be to avoid collecting too many of your own cautionary anecdotes. This is one of the first stages in your professional development, both in terms of your work assignments and building professional ties with colleagues. It may be daunting at the beginning, but by the end of the summer, you should be able to look back and assess the great progress you have made. Just remember how much easier the 10th on-campus interview was than the first. Soon, with experience and great authority, you will be telling a new class of summer associates — don’t worry, it gets easier. Sharon C. Brooks is director of associate development for Dechert LLP.

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