You’ve beaten the odds, and obtained one of the relatively few, highly desirable offers to work at a Biglaw firm as a summer associate. Congratulations! Now, it’s important to understand why the program exists, what you should expect from the program, what attorneys at Biglaw firms expect from you as a summer associate, and how to succeed.
Before the comprehensive, “tell all” guide book Big Law Confidential (affiliate link), the only ways law students could find out what to expect from summer associate programs were to speak with their more experienced law student classmates, or read accounts such as on Above the Law. However, every summer associate’s experience can, and frequently does, differ — even within the same Biglaw firm, depending on a variety of factors including the practice area and office in which the summer associate works.
What can a law student expect from a Biglaw summer associate program? And what do Biglaw firms expect, in terms of job performance, conduct, and more, from their summer associates? Answers follow, some of which are excerpted from the book Big Law Confidential.
What to Expect from a Summer Associate Program
Summer associates can generally expect the following from almost any Biglaw firm’s summer associate program:
1. The best possible version of the Biglaw experience, that bears little resemblance to what your life would look like as a full-time associate. The Biglaw summer associate experience is a watered-down, intentionally curated version of — not an accurate recreation of — the Biglaw associate experience. Biglaw firms intentionally expose summer associates to the best aspects of the associate experience, and shield them from many of the worst, to entice them to want to work for the firm and get them in the door. For example, Biglaw firm management may instruct its attorneys to give the summer associates the most interesting assignments possible and delegate the menial assignments to junior associates, who the firm has already got on the hook.
2. Trainings, meetings, lunches, and events galore! Summer associates are invited to and expected to attend numerous trainings, meetings, lunches, and other events, which often add up to one to six hours each day, almost every day of the summer program, leaving little time to do actual client work. Summer associates who are determined to do all they can to obtain an offer to join the firm after graduation will usually come in to the office quite early and/or come back to the office after normal business hours to ensure they have enough time to complete all assignments and turn in high-quality work product before any deadlines.
3. One long interview. Summer associate programs are one weeks-long interview, and they’re a test of mental and physical endurance and resilience. This partially prepares summer associates for the Biglaw associate experience to come, except that associates typically spend the vast majority of their time working on billable matters as opposed to attending events. You are always expected to be “on” (i.e., to exhibit an engaged, interested, positive, can-do team player attitude at all times and under any circumstances).
What Biglaw Firm Attorneys Expect from Summer Associates
In no particular order, attorneys in Biglaw firms generally expect the following from summer associates:
(i) Perfect work product. Attorneys won’t expect you to know much, if anything, about substantive law, but they will expect you to turn in work product that gets right the facts and details within your control (e.g., the name of the client, if you’re told that) and that is free of obvious and avoidable errors such as misspellings and typos.
(ii) No complaints and a positive, “can-do” team player attitude. The surest way to end of your summer associate program without a full-time job offer is to be a jerk, complainer, or constant pessimist.
(iii) Efficiency. Even if your Biglaw firm isn’t going to bill any clients for your time, or there isn’t a stated budget for a matter, the firm wants to see that you can efficiently produce a large quantity of high-quality work. Efficient attorneys make more money for their Biglaw firm, and firm management loves that. When associates are inefficient, it often means that the firm loses money (e.g., having to write off time that exceeded the client’s budget), and firm management is not in the business of losing money. Ask for time estimates/budgets at the start of every assignment and ensure that you do your best to meet or beat those. If you’re unsure how to tackle an assignment, or are part-way done and don’t think you’ll complete the assignment in the estimated/allotted time, ask a more experienced associate mentor/friend for tips or help, and flag any potential delay or issue in meeting the deadline before you blow past it.
(iv) Availability and ability to work/participate in the program. Frequently, a time-sensitive need for work product will arise (e.g., a research summary on a discrete legal issue in advance of a call with a client scheduled for later the same day), or there will be a last-minute opportunity to participate in an event such as an emergency hearing. At least during typical business hours (i.e., 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, excluding federal holidays), summer associates should be available and able to help and dressed appropriately for a court hearing or client meeting, or have a change of clothes at the office that would be appropriate to wear that they can quickly change into for the event.
(v) Prompt responsiveness to requests and questions from attorneys or clients. Every firm, office, and practice group will have its own job performance expectations regarding responsiveness (and more). You can be pretty sure, though, that at least during typical business hours, you’re expected to respond to emails at least same-day, and potentially within a few minutes to no more than an hour or two, depending on the situation.
(vi) Professionalism. Be professional in terms of your actions and your appearance, i.e., someone who attorneys would not hesitate to put in front of the firm’s largest client. This is not the time for emojis in emails, potentially offensive jokes, dressing too casually, getting too drunk, etc. (See the numerous articles on Above the Law about summer associates who failed to act professionally, and as a result, failed to receive full-time job offers.) As a fictional character once said, “respect is earned, not bestowed.” Act like and be someone who commands the respect of your colleagues.
Summer associate programs are often pretty formulaic. If you know the game, what is expected of the players, how to play by the rules, and play that game well for the entirety of the program, you’ll win the prize at the end: a full-time job offer as an associate.
Part I of this series covered why summer associate programs exist and Big Law firms’ different approaches to them.
Part III of this series will provide some time-tested and proven tips for success as a summer associate.
D.W. Randolph is a pseudonym for an attorney who is or was a partner, “rainmaker,” and practice leader at an Am Law 100 firm, who has practiced law at multiple Am Law / Vault top law firms in New York City and another large U.S. city, over the span of many years, and the author of the acclaimed “tell-all” book and resource guide to all things Biglaw, entitled Big Law Confidential (affiliate link). D.W. has served in firmwide and office-level leadership positions within their Biglaw firms and led or been involved in nearly all aspects of Biglaw firm operations, from summer associate and attorney hiring, compensation, performance evaluation and promotion, to firm governance and initiatives focused on diversity and inclusion, and more. D.W. graduated with honors from a law school that has historically been ranked by U.S. News & World Report as one of the top 10 law schools in the U.S. and has taught at a law school that has historically been ranked by U.S. News & World Report as one of the top 14 law schools in the U.S.
Leave a Reply