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The time that first- and second-year law students spend working during the summer at a firm can be exciting, demanding and intellectually challenging — not to mention lucrative. The relationships that are forged with colleagues and the work and social experiences during these summers will form the basis for making critical career decisions in the future. Thus, the following are some plain, unvarnished tips from a hiring partner and coordinator who have had years of experience hiring and mentoring numerous law students. A little research goes a long way! In the Internet age, this task is simpler than ever. In preparing for the first day of work, law students are encouraged to do the following: Review the firm’s Web site. There is abundant information on firm Web sites, such as practice areas, office locations, attorney biographies, firm events, recruitment and diversity information, client lists, recent decisions and articles. Review the biographies of the lawyers in the firm. A summer associate who already knows which practice areas are of interest to him or her would benefit from considering the practices of the attorneys in those areas. Specifically, the summer associate should pay careful attention to what matters the attorneys have handled recently. If nothing else, doing this gives the summer associate a jumping-off point for conversation with his or her new colleagues. Research the work handled by the firm. Utilize a legal research engine to identify cases or matters in which the firm has been involved. Consult past summer associates. Information from students who have previously worked at the firm can provide a wealth of information. They will be able to, and will likely be happy to, give a detailed account of their experiences with the culture, personnel and quality of work at the firm that the student is joining. Know the dress code. Summer associates should find out in advance the firm’s dress code so that they arrive properly attired on the first day of work. Bring proof of eligibility to work in the United States. Summer associates should not forget to bring the appropriate documents to comply with the Immigration Reform and Control Act so that they can complete the required I-9 Form. A summer associate may establish eligibility to work by presenting a variety of documents, including a U.S. passport, a permanent resident card, a driver’s license and a Social Security card. Summer associates should consult Form I-9 for a complete list of acceptable documents. Although law students hope that a position as a summer associate leads to a “regular” position as an associate, the status of a summer associate is essentially well-paid temporary employment. Most firms make clear in their offer letters to summer associates that they are temporary employees, that they do not have an employment contract for the summer (that is, they are employed “at will”) and that they are not eligible for the firms’ benefits plans. OBSERVING LAW FIRM POLICIES However, summer associates are subject to many other firm policies, including the accurate recording of time, maintenance of regular office hours, nondiscrimination and nonharassment and a variety of other law firm policies. Although most firms allow some flexibility as to when associates and summer associates begin and end their workdays, many firms have policies that establish regular office hours. A summer associate should obviously comply with such policies — not only to avoid getting a reputation as a “slacker,” but also in order to observe how a firm operates during regular office hours. One of the most important policies that a firm has concerns the accurate recording of billable time to clients and nonbillable time to various firm matters. It should not have to be said, but it is critical for summer associates to understand, that they should never misrepresent or “pad” their time. It is unlawful, unethical and just plain wrong. By the same token, summer associates should not “shave” their legitimate time because they think a particular task took them too long. The decision to relieve properly worked time is a decision for a partner, not a summer associate. It is also important that summer associates conduct themselves properly at firm social events where alcohol is served. There have been occasions when summer associates, fueled by alcohol, have engaged in inappropriate behavior at firm social events. This, at the least, may derail a summer associate’s career or, in extreme cases, violate a firm’s nonharassment policies. A firm social event is a business event, and it should be approached in that fashion. ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES A summer internship provides law students with an opportunity for a broad array of experiences. Substantive work in various practice areas, training programs, client meetings, court conferences, transaction closings and social functions — along with observation of law firm lawyers in trials — is generally part of a summer associate’s experience at a firm. Taking an active role in all of these events is the responsibility of the summer associate. Again, the goal is to develop a clear picture as to what it would be like to be a full-time associate at the firm. Thus, a summer associate with a keen interest in a particular area of law usually has the option of concentrating in that area. In contrast, a summer associate with no particular preference may work in various areas of a firm’s practice. Nevertheless, it is recommended that a summer associate explore as many practice areas as are available — even if he or she has a strong interest in a particular area — to determine whether this initial choice is well-founded or misplaced. During summer associates’ tenure, they will interact and develop relationships with many people within a firm. The importance of a mentor during the summer experience cannot be overstated. If the firm does not have a formal mentoring program, the summer associate should take the initiative to find a mentor. When seeking out a mentor relationship, there are several things to consider. For example, does the mentor attorney practice in an area of interest? Does the mentor attorney have the time to devote to the relationship? Is the mentor attorney “plugged in” to what is happening at the firm? Not only will many summer associates have a mentor, likely a partner or senior associate, but they will also work daily with associates, paralegals and support staff and others who will be working as a team to accomplish the firm’s work. A summer associate can learn valuable lessons on litigation strategy and implementation of that strategy (or deal considerations in a transaction) in an efficient and cost-effective manner by exchanging information with team members. Summer associates should not be afraid to ask questions. Indeed, wisdom has more to do with asking the right questions than knowing all the answers. Colleagues who are at a more senior level often have run into the same issues that the new summer associate will encounter, and they will likely be happy to share their experiences — both good and bad. Finally, summer associates should not come into a firm with the attitude that the support staff is there only to serve them. Quite frankly, a summer associate can learn valuable information from support staff on the operations of the firm that will assist them in their substantive work. In fact, certain firms have utilized support staff members to interview prospective associates and summer associates. Thus, smart summer associates will develop close relationships with support staff. These employees have vast years of experience and can be an incredible asset, if only asked for help. Remember, the support staff can make or break a summer associate’s ability to impress that senior partner. REQUESTING ASSIGNMENTS As discussed above, the mentor/adviser is of great significance to a summer associate. If a summer associate has an area of interest, the mentor can serve as a guide in obtaining substantive work and “action situations” in that area. An “action situation” is one in which a summer associate gets to observe a trial, deposition, closing or similar event with little or no responsibility. This provides an invaluable experience to their professional development. Even if a summer associate does not start with particular interest in an area of the law, a mentor can structure assignments that allow the summer associate to explore a variety of potential interests. It is advised that summer associates take the initiative in requesting a variety of assignments and seek out the opportunity to work with numerous attorneys at a firm in order to explore fully their interests and aptitudes. Summer associates may be expected to handle numerous assignments at the same time with pressing deadlines. This situation calls upon summer associates to learn some extremely important professional lessons. First, questions must be asked of the assigning partner until the summer associate is sure that he or she understands the scope of the assignment and what is expected of the associate. Second, summer associates must learn how to manage their time and work efficiently to complete these assignments. Third, summer associates should not be afraid to consult with the assigning partners if they face conflicting deadlines. Summer associates may not silently let deadlines pass. The onus of determining the priority of assignments may be placed on the assigning partners. This ability to consult in a professional manner on scheduling work (and to negotiate extensions as may be necessary) is a critical skill for all legal professionals. ADMINISTRATIVE TASKS Summer associates must never forget that a law firm is a business. They must understand that firms calculate net profit margins for all legal staff based upon the cost of direct salary, overhead and benefits. With this in mind, summer associates should take seriously the administrative tasks that allow a firm to run efficiently, attract clients, realize revenue and enable a firm to prosper and pay its employees. It may not be enjoyable to complete time reports and to perform other administrative tasks, but such tasks are critical to a firm’s success. For instance, associates and summer associates may not realize that a lack of accurate and punctual time entry can hurt a client relationship and diminish a firm’s understanding of an associate’s work. In many firms, associates are evaluated in part on their compliance with time-entry requirements and other administrative tasks. Thus, a summer associate should spend time understanding how a law office functions on an operational basis. Summer associates should take advantage of all of the social events offered by a firm. Not only can these events be fun but they also provide summer associates an opportunity to get to know a broad spectrum of a firm’s personnel, deepen their understanding of the firm, promote interesting assignments, cultivate references and develop future contacts. Summer associates should know that it will be noticed if they do not participate in these events on a regular basis. However, summer associates, as noted above, should not forget that these are business events. They are being evaluated as to how they conduct themselves at such events. It would be an incredible waste of time and effort if, after a productive summer, summer associates went back to school and did not keep in contact with colleagues from the firm. A short note and quick call to keep in touch throughout the year will forge and maintain relationships that can be invaluable as a summer associate’s career develops. In fact, is there a better way of showing how well one will maintain client relationships than by demonstrating one’s skill in maintaining collegial ones? In summary, when given the opportunity to work for a summer at a firm, a summer associate should work hard, develop relationships and enjoy the experience. A summer associate should take advantage of all a firm has to offer. In doing so, he or she can lay the foundation for a successful career as a practicing lawyer. Peter A. Walker is a partner in the labor and employment group, and Jennifer White is practice support manager, in the New York office of Chicago’s Seyfarth Shaw.

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