Firm Attorneys Offer Tips for Summer Associates

April 14, 2004
Ali Gaidies
Ali Gaidies

Most Virginia law students who work for a firm during the summer before their second year do secure employment there after graduation, but students heard additional tips about how to make the most of their experience from a panel of firm representatives and attorneys April 12 at an event hosted by Polly Lawson, Associate Director for Career Services Counseling and Programs.

As Ali Gaidies, a recruiting administrator at the 40-lawyer firm of Christian & Barton told the audience, "if it's a good fit, you will get an offer."

The panel was the second in a series; the first, on April 5, included Mona Touma '99 of Sharman & Sterling in New York; and in Washington, D.C., Matt Wolf '94 of Howrey Simon Arnold & White, Jonathan Fritts of Morgan Lewis & Bockius, Evan Alexander of Hale & Dorr; and Ted Killory of Wilmer Cutler & Pickering.

Participate in Social Events and Show Interest in Working at the Firm

Panelists agreed that social events, which usually number one or two per week, are important for the firm's attorneys to get to know summer associates, and for associates to discover if the firm is the right fit for them.

Cristina Coronado

"They would not want you to be too busy to interact with the attorneys because that's pretty important," said Cristina Coronado, an associate with Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe in New York. "It's part of the program."

Social events are mostly "to see how you interact with other people," said Leanne Murphy, a recruiting manager at Troutman Sanders in Richmond. "If you continually miss social events during the summer, a lot of attorneys will interpret that as [disinterest in the firm]."

The panelists' firms typically had one event on weekends during the summer. Asked about what happens if summer associates have prior plans, Gaidies responded that "the best way to handle it if you're worried about conflicts is to state [you have prior plans] from the outset." Send an e-mail to the recruiting coordinator letting them know when you have a wedding to attend, for example.

With social events, "the idea is for everybody to get to know each other," she explained, but associates shouldn't feel pressure. On the other hand, "I would urge you not to hang back in the corner with a spouse," for example.

Angle for the Work You Want, But Don't Complain

Leanne Murphy

Summer associates should expect a mix of work they are interested in as well as helping with projects that need to be done. Lacking class experience in a subject usually won't exclude you from related assignments. "If you're not getting the work you want, talk to somebody, especially in the recruiting department," Murphy said.

Troutman Sanders has a database from which summer associates may choose assignments, including assignments originating from other offices; if you find that another office location is more suitable to your interests, you may be able to transfer there if given an offer.

One student working during the height of the market boom one summer consistently complained he was being used as cheap labor, Murphy said, but she explained to the audience that because billing rates for young associates are lower, "you do not make any money for the firm until your fifth or sixth year…you're not that cheap."

Gaidies explained that at her firm, summers are assigned a mentor, who will field general questions, and a reader, who gives feedback on written work.

"This is kind of a mock year for you to be an associate," she said. "A lot of the work that comes through is based on need … I would certainly discourage complaining about the nature of the work you get."

Coronado encouraged students to "try to get the work you actually think would be a good fit."

When in Doubt, Ask

Summer associates should anticipate questions they might have about a given assignment while they have the partner's attention, Gaidies said. "It's important to consolidate as much as possible."

But summers should not hesitate to ask questions, because they need guidance; it's a good idea to ask the partner you're working with whether they prefer to communicate by email, voicemail, or in person, in case further questions arise.

"They would rather take the 20 to 30 minutes with you," Murphy added, than have you waste two days trying to figure something out.

Be Nice to All Staff

Although the recruiting committee at Troutman Sanders decides whether to offer students full-time jobs, recruiters hear from associates, partners, secretaries, and other staff about how a given associate is doing. Being friendly is important, but so is being genuine.

"Be really honest about who you are and what you can bring to the firm," Murphy suggested.

With Work, Quality Is Better Than Quantity

Summers are ultimately judged by the quality of their work. "They just expect that what you turn in is well-done and accurate," Coronado said.

Murphy pointed out that when a partner asks for a rough draft, he doesn't really mean a rough draft. "Definitely before you turn in something [make sure] there are not some huge, glaring typos."

If it becomes apparent that an assignment will take longer than the partner or recruiting coordinator expects, Gaidies said it's important to let them know, because summer associates are also judged on their time-management skills.

"If you've got too much, we'll shift things," Gaidies said. "You're never going to get slammed [with assignments]." Summer associates generally work an average 8 hours, excluding lunch.

Pay Attention to Criticism and Make Improvements

Summer associates at Orrick-where students work with coordinators from transactions and litigation departments, in addition to their assigned partner-undergo a mid-summer review, which offers them the chance to correct any perceived problems.

Gaidies said her firm's recruiters also will let summer associates know when they need to improve as well. "If you tend to go off the path, we'll get you back on."

Take Advantage of Firm Training and Pro Bono Opportunities

Many firms offer summer associates a deposition workshop, which at Christian & Barton includes videotaping a mock deposition, complete with a court reporter. Her office also encourages summer associates to go to depositions and hearings, and asks other attorneys to publicize such opportunities.

Firms also offer formal and informal pro bono opportunities. At Orrick, summers are strongly encouraged to take on an asylum case and also other pro bono cases, Coronado said, and time spent on the cases counts toward billable hours. Students can choose to work on their asylum cases after they return to school, if they live near the firm. Orrick also runs a program that allows summer associates opportunities to work on uncontested divorce cases.

Troutman Sanders lists pro bono opportunities in its database, and each summer the firm hosts a public service event just for summer associates and a few other attorneys.

Pro bono opportunities at Christian & Barton are communicated more informally, Gaidies said, with partners frequently asking summer associates to help with their projects.

Don't Drop the Ball

When asked what students have done to lose their chance for a permanent offer, Murphy warned students to avoid imitating the actions of one Troutman Sanders summer associate who was spotted by the hiring partner during work hours wandering the streets tossing a baseball around.


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