When the Covid-19 pandemic suddenly forced most aspects of life to shut down or move online early last spring, I knew it was only a matter of time before I received that dreaded email announcing that the summer program at Bracewell would be going fully remote.
Like any other law student, I spent much of my 2L year looking at downtown apartments and anticipating a summer spent in the office, joining attorneys on their calls and meetings, connecting with other summer associates, and gaining some real world experience outside the classroom.
Initially, it felt like a huge disappointment to realize that these things I had been looking forward to all year would now take place virtually with me working from my student apartment. Much like shifting to online classes, I knew it would require some mental readjusting to maximize this unique summer experience.
Fortunately, Bracewell’s program included a wide variety of scheduled events throughout the day that allowed us to recreate the typical summer associate experience as much as possible. Through training and information sessions by various practice groups, calls with our assigning attorneys, and evening Zoom social events, we stayed engaged throughout the firm in between the hours spent working on assignments.
But what the virtual world lacked was still so important: the face-to-face conversations at firm events, coffee breaks to connect with mentors, meeting attorneys from other practice groups over lunch, and other opportunities to interact with lawyers and staff. I learned so much from these moments during my previous summer, and I worried that this aspect of the program would be lost because the “leave meeting” button can create an instant feeling of real disconnect.
I learned rather quickly, however, that opportunities to meet and connect with new people certainly still existed even while working remotely. They might just require a little more initiative than normal.
Meeting Attorneys Via E-Mail and Zoom Chats
As a summer associate, reaching out to meet new attorneys might sometimes feel a bit nerve-wracking, even when you work right down the hall from them and have the benefit of face-to-face introductions. But reaching out to people you’ve never actually seen before creates a new difficulty. On my own and with the help of my associate mentors, I began emailing attorneys I had seen on the firm’s website whose practice areas interested me, or really anyone I would have hoped to meet during normal in-person summer events.
Each time I reached out to someone new within the firm, I received a welcoming response almost immediately. I was able to set up virtual coffee breaks or evening Zoom chats with young attorneys who were just as eager to meet the summer associates as we were to meet them. The nerves that came with being a newcomer navigating a virtual workplace disappeared. I was reminded that we were all generally in the same boat, staying at home all day during a global pandemic, excited to get to know one another during our free time.
I also found that meeting new people over Zoom without distractions that might come with larger, in-person events actually allowed us to have more engaged and personalized conversations. While virtually chatting with new attorneys either one-on-one or in small groups, I felt that I was able to learn even more about them and their work.
I also formed close friendships with the other summer associates through our virtual happy hours and active group chats. Throughout the summer I felt as integrated as I could have hoped for given the circumstances, and this was a major contributing factor in my excitement to join the firm after graduation. Had I remained relatively isolated while working from home, participating only in the required virtual events, I would have truly lost out.
Reaching Out on Work Assignments
Just as I learned the importance of staying socially engaged while working remotely, I also learned how crucial it is to take initiative and be communicative with work assignments. Being at home meant that walking down the hall to ask a quick question about a project or offer to help with a new one was not an option, which meant that I’d be making a lot more calls to my assigning attorneys.
There were moments early in the summer when I hesitated to reach out, either to check in or get clarification, in ways that I probably wouldn’t have during my previous summer. This was partially because it felt like I called or emailed my mentors a thousand times each day and I knew how busy they were, but I think it mostly stemmed from the inevitable feeling of disconnect that comes with working remotely. After all, you’re often quite literally on your own unless you reach out to make sure you’re on the right track. Ultimately, what matters most is ensuring assignments are completed correctly, on time, and how the assigning attorney prefers, so maintaining consistent communication became more important than ever.
These major lessons in engagement and communication the remote summer program taught me are ones that I will carry over even when life goes back to normal and we return to the office. But beyond the professional growth, I believe that this virtual summer created a unique sense of camaraderie. After navigating the challenges of a remote summer program, our summer class is ready and excited to begin our careers together this fall, and we are fully capable of tackling whatever challenges come our way.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. or its owners.
Meredith Grant recently received her law degree from the University of Florida Levin College of Law. After spending two summers with Bracewell LLP, she is excited to be joining the firm in the Houston office as an associate this fall.