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Acing It as a Summer Associate: Best Best & Krieger’s Marco Ornelas

June 3, 2021, 8:00 AM

When I first interned at Best Best & Krieger LLP in 2019, I was not sure what to expect because I was the only 1L interning along with five 2Ls. I remember being especially nervous for the orientation meeting and looking through the itinerary, so I knew exactly what to expect.

When I saw we had a scavenger hunt planned our first day, I honestly thought we were going to have to climb a tree or something. I am a competitive person, so I wanted to make sure that I won the scavenger hunt. I dressed in slacks and a business casual shirt so that I could roll up my sleeves and climb a tree, if necessary.

When I walked into the meeting, I realized I was extremely underdressed. I asked the program coordinator if I could run to my car to change into my spare suit. He told me not to worry about it, because BB&K had a casual firm culture.

It was at that moment that I knew I was at the right place. Also, I won the scavenger hunt.

My 2019 summer was epic. We had the traditional firm events, such as trips to a brewery, horse races, baseball games, and all that fun stuff. We also took trips to the firm’s Irvine, Los Angeles, Ontario, and Indian Wells offices and met attorneys at each location.

My favorite part of the 2019 experience was meeting different members of the firm and solidifying what I felt since my interview: The culture of the firm made this place special.

Offer to Return

Shortly after the end of my internship, my mentor gave me a call to offer me a spot as a 2L summer associate. Without hesitation, I accepted. Even though I had upcoming interviews at other, larger firms, I knew that the culture at BB&K was special.

I was thankful to have my 2L summer plans solidified before the beginning of my 2L year. Since I was not on the job hunt, I started to plan for more leisure time during my 2L year—I bought a few concert tickets, planned a few trips, and even thought about getting a membership to a fancy gym. Then, the pandemic hit.

Plans Change in the Pandemic

The economic toll of the pandemic was evident from the beginning. I thought about the 2008 financial crisis and the fragility of my summer prospects. One day, I woke up to a few missed calls and texts from friends asking me if I had heard that BB&K canceled the summer program.

Apparently, a Reddit page had reported that BB&K was one of many law firms canceling their 2020 summer program. I reached out to the coordinator at the law firm to ask if the report was true. Luckily, it was not.

The program coordinator let the 2020 summer associates know that our program would be shortened to two weeks and entirely virtual. The tradeoff was that we would be offered post-bar employment before the beginning of the summer, and we could use our two-week program as a chance to get to know the firm and the different attorneys at BB&K. This seemed like a standard tradeoff, since many of my friends working at other firms were offered the same alternative.

I had a unique advantage over my fellow summer associates because I already knew the firm. I realized that some of the most valuable advice I got from within the firm happened in the most casual of settings—during social events, while having lunch, or while traveling to a meeting. In other words, I realized that the most organic interactions provided me with the rapport to ask questions I would normally be too afraid to ask.

I reached out to the 2020 summer associates and offered to be a resource. I figured this would allow them the opportunity to ask questions they did not feel comfortable asking an attorney while allowing me a chance to bond with the people I would be working alongside soon.

Because the pandemic forced many of us to work from home, I decided to move back to my hometown (Baldwin Park, Calif.) and stay with my parents for the summer.

Developing an Interest in Municipal Law

A week after I moved home, a video began to circulate online of George Floyd being murdered by a police officer. The subsequent protests and conversation about a community-centered approach to policing made municipal law that much more relevant.

As the summer progressed, I became more involved in community organizing. I started attending virtual city council meetings and meeting longtime local activists. At the same time, my internship at BB&K allowed me access to attorneys who were experts on municipal law.

I was able to ask city attorneys questions about the legal issues behind one of the most poignant social justice movements in my lifetime. I was thankful that the attorneys I spoke with were open to discussing contentious topics. Near the end of the internship, I found myself once again feeling like I was at the right firm at the right time.

My 2020 law firm experience was not traditional. We had an entirely virtual program, but I was able to meet more attorneys during this second time as a summer associate because of Zoom. The daily lunches I knew from my first summer were replaced by food delivery and online video conversations.

The law firm made a lot of effort to make our summer memorable. For me, the decision to accept my job offer was an easy one because even with the remote experience, I felt connected to the firm— like I was at the right place at the right time.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. or its owners.

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Marco Ornelas is a graduate of University of California Hastings College of the Law. After taking the California bar exam, he will join BB&K as an associate in the Municipal Law practice group in the Riverside, Calif., office.