Now that law school is out for the year, and the hot weather is upon us, it seems that summer associate season has officially opened. As many people within the legal profession already know, a summer associate is a rising third-year law student who is hired by a law firm to work at a shop for the summer.
During a summer associate gig, summers are usually paid very high salaries to perform projects and attend a number of social events so that people at the firm can decide if they wish to offer the summer associate full-time employment when they graduate from law school. Many law firms have amazing events for summer associates, and I fondly remember attending parties, scavenger hunts, and numerous other festivities as a summer associate. However, law firms should try to stay away from certain summer associate events to make summers and full-time attorneys more comfortable during summer associate season.
When I was a summer associate over a decade ago, my firm threw a huge pool party at the house of one of the partners, open to all of the summer associates and any attorneys that wished to join. The pool party was a decent amount of fun, and it was interesting to see every unwind around a pool. However, the pool party created a lot of stress among the summer associates that may not have been constructive. Numerous summer associates stressed about what was appropriate to wear to the pool party and one of my colleagues was nervous that partners at the firm might judge him for a tattoo he had that could be seen when he was wearing a swimsuit but couldn’t be seen in professional attire.
I can completely understand the desire of firm management to let people unwind in a social setting, and a pool party can be a refreshing distraction on a hot summer day. However, there can be a lot of stress over pool attire, pool etiquette, and other matters involving pool parties. Some people may not wish to put on a bathing suit, others may have difficulty swimming. Accordingly, law firms should probably stay away from holding pool parties for summer associates.
When I was a summer associate (and when I was a full-time associate) attorneys at the Biglaw firm at which I worked would regularly hold poker nights for attorneys and staff. The summer associates justifiably felt pressured joining such poker nights because they wanted to be part of the group and bond with other attorneys at the office. There was, I believe, a $50 buy-in or thereabouts for most poker nights, which might not seem like much, but for a law student who is trying to save money, this can be a large sum of money. In any event, it might not be fair to apply explicit or implicit pressure to summer associates to participate in such poker nights.
When I was a summer associate and a full-time associate, I felt pretty compelled to participate in such poker nights. I was so bad at poker (kind of like Bad Brad in “Molly’s Game” I suppose) that I would invariably lose my money early and need to buy back in multiple times. It felt kind of weird that my losses were funding the pools for more senior lawyers who were more experienced at poker. I also know some attorneys who were morally against betting during poker nights, so this type of event should be avoided during summer programs.
Golf And Tennis Outings
I love golf and tennis (even though I am not particularly good at either sport). It is always fun to get outside and be around people working up the fairway on a golf course. However, golf and tennis outings might not be the best event to have during a summer program since not all attorneys are skilled at playing golf or tennis or any other athletic pursuit that might be part of a summer program. I have also heard that sports like golf and tennis might unfairly disadvantage people who are less interested in sports.
When I was a summer associate, there was a full-day golf and tennis outing at a fancy country club near the office. I enjoyed the outing, but I know for a fact that not everyone could actively participate in the activities because they had never golfed before. Worse still, they paired partners and associates together in competition, and some of the partners were really competitive, to the chagrin of some associates who did not have the skills to keep up. To avoid an uncomfortable situation and to ensure that all summer associates have equal opportunities to socialize with partners, golf and tennis outings might be avoided during summer associate programs.
All told, it is important for law firms to plan social events for summer associates so they can get a better sense of the summers to see if they want to hire them for full-time positions. However, law firms should stay away from certain events to keep everyone more comfortable around summer associate season.
Jordan Rothman is a partner of The Rothman Law Firm, a full-service New York and New Jersey law firm. He is also the founder of Student Debt Diaries, a website discussing how he paid off his student loans. You can reach Jordan through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.