Bloomberg Law
May 26, 2021, 9:00 AM

ANALYSIS: Summer Associates—Win the Season With Lawyering Skills

Karen Miller-Kuwana
Karen Miller-Kuwana
Legal Analyst

As summer associate season kicks off, it is important to consider your summer stint as an extended opportunity to demonstrate that you are a good investment for the firm. And, although it is important to focus on the hard legal skills needed to succeed, it is equally important to show that you are adept at the lawyering skills (including emotional intelligence) that are critical to excelling in a professional setting. To put your best foot forward and help secure your end-of-summer offer, here are a few tips to follow:

1. Have the right attitude.

First and foremost, your attitude matters. Law firms are looking for team players who are eager to work (even if long hours are required) and enthusiastic about their assignment (even if they aren’t the most exciting projects). Be warned that some of the work you will be asked to do may seem unimportant or more suited for support staff. If you approach your work with that misconception, you will be off to a bad start. So set your ego aside.

Be proactive: Take advantage of as many work opportunities as possible, and seek out diverse projects and assignments from different practice groups. This will help you gain exposure to many different individuals, which will be a benefit when it comes time for the firm to evaluate you. Make sure that you go to meetings prepared to take notes, whether it’s with your laptop or a pen and paper. But avoid using your phone to take notes or checking emails or other notifications; this sends the message that you are not interested or engaged. Capitalize on your strengths by offering to work on assignments that will give you the opportunity to showcase those strengths.

Use any downtime between assignments to explore the firm’s law library or other knowledge management resources, look for an opportunity to help out with one of the firm’s pro bono matters, or spend some time networking and building your professional relationships.

2. Mind your Ps and Qs.

Remember to always mind your manners. Be courteous to everyone—including the administrative and support staff—and make a habit of always saying good morning, please, and thank you. Do not act entitled or overly confident or assume that you are guaranteed an employment offer.

Do not participate in office gossip, tell off-color or offensive jokes, or use inappropriate language. Avoid discussing controversial topics or oversharing personal information. And if you attend a summer associate event that includes alcohol, do not overindulge in drinking; limit yourself to only one or two drinks, if any.

3. Dress the part.

Dressing appropriately as a summer associate is an important part of making a good impression and appearing professional. Make sure to ask about the firm’s dress code in advance of your summer program, and be prepared to dress more conservatively for the first few days at work. This advice holds true regardless of whether you are working in the office or remotely.

Pay attention to what other attorneys in the office wear to work and follow their lead. When in doubt, it is always better to err on the side of more formal business attire. Consider keeping a suit or blazer in your office, just in case you have the opportunity to attend a meeting or legal proceeding that requires formal business attire. And remember, if your office has a “Casual Friday” dress policy, this does not mean that you should wear distressed jeans and your favorite college sweatshirt. Instead, opt for darker-washed jeans (assuming jeans are permitted at all) or khaki pants and a collared shirt, blouse, or sweater.

When attending social events and functions outside of office hours, you should check the invitation to see if the dress code is specified. You can also ask the recruiting coordinator or an associate at the firm for further guidance. Keep in mind that although you are at a social function, this is not the time to make a personal fashion statement.

4. Communicate effectively.

Effective communication is essential to your success as a summer associate. First and foremost, know who you’re communicating with. Learn that individual’s name and put it prominently on your notes or in your work file, so it is right in front of you whenever you are speaking with them. When you receive an assignment, ask about the preferred communication method and make sure that you understand the deliverables, expectations, and due date. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or for clarification.

If you have too much work, don’t hesitate to ask how you should prioritize competing assignments. Similarly, once you have completed an assignment, seek constructive feedback on your work product or schedule a midsummer meeting to review your performance. Be prepared to listen to any constructive criticism and use this feedback as a learning opportunity.

In email, texts, and other less formal methods of communication, be mindful of your tone, write concisely and clearly, and refrain from using texting abbreviations or slang. Lastly, if you have a prior commitment that will require you to take time off during the summer program, make sure you let the firm know in advance; otherwise, you should not expect to take a vacation or time off.

5. Be social and engaged.

How you interact with other members of the firm in social settings will be an important part of your evaluation, so make sure that you attend as many summer associate social events as you reasonably can (without neglecting your substantive work)—even if the event is a virtual event.

Don’t be shy: Make an effort to get to know the attorneys and partners in attendance, and be willing to introduce yourself to attorneys from different practice groups. Ask the recruiting coordinator which attorneys will be at the social event and research their bios or professional profiles to find something interesting to talk to them about. Keep up to date on the latest relevant legal news. And be confident in yourself!

Bloomberg Law subscribers can find additional resources geared towards summer and junior associates, including practical guidance, workflow tools, surveys, and more on In Focus: Lawyer Development and on In Focus: Core Skills – Litigation.

Everyone can find related content available for free on our In Focus: Lawyer Well-Being page.

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