Being a summer associate is exciting and interesting, but it also can be challenging to grow into a new environment. This is especially true for remote summer associate positions because distance from people can make it difficult to integrate into the office.
We hope our stories can help guide fresh summer associates in navigating the new world of the law firm on two practical questions—how to dress and how to ask for help.
Matthew Lahana: Be Ready to Look the Part
In 2012, my 2L summer, I was accepted as a law clerk at the California Department of Justice. I had always been told to dress for the job you want, not the job you currently have, so my student attire had to go back in the closet.
In preparation for my new role, I bought three new suits—a considerable sum given it was an unpaid position. However, this was an incredible opportunity, and I wanted to give it all that I had.
I arrived the first day, and my colleagues were likewise dressed like we were being re-interviewed. By the end of the second week, everyone else had started to wear business casual—but I stuck to my suits. At the end of week three, one of the senior administrative assistants called me over to her desk and from a place of genuine caring, said “Mateo, you look sharp, but what are you wearing?”
“My suit?” I responded puzzled as to where she was going with her question.
“Do you see anyone else in the office wearing a suit that isn’t going to court?”
“No, Mickey,” I admitted. “But I want to be prepared in case one of the deputy attorneys general asks if I want to go to court with them.”
She understood, and subsequently explained what Superman knew instinctively. I, like most practicing attorneys, should keep a clean suit in my car ready to put on when an opportunity presents itself, but come to work in business casual and let my work be the main differentiator.
Mickey had humbled me, but also gave me invaluable advice. Practically speaking, the message was to be prepared for opportunities that may arise in the workplace by keeping a change of professional clothes in your car. Ultimately, it comes down to being prepared for any opportunity, because the more you put yourself out there, the more opportunities will arise.
I took Mickey’s lesson—and my three suits—with me when I joined Hooper, Lundy & Bookman. In our current work-from-home environment, I still keep a tie handy for impromptu video calls, but otherwise it’s strictly business casual.
For new summer associates, my advice is to dress professionally, but find a balance with the office culture. If you—like me—are more sartorially-inclined, share your style, but ultimately let your work speak for itself.
Shawn Trabanino: Don’t Hesitate to Ask for Help
My summer associate position at Foley & Lardner in Silicon Valley in 2018 was not remote, but it was conducted in a satellite office at the firm, which draws parallels to those working remotely because most attorneys at the firm were remote. The satellite office included three attorneys and me, along with a single associate.
I presumed I would be working with the associate for the most part, but the associate left after a month, leaving me to work directly with the partners. As a summer associate looking to impress, this was alarming given that I was still only a law student with a dearth of knowledge.
Luckily, the partners were genuinely amazing people, and were happy to help with any questions I had. The way that you ask for help, however, is critical. I attempted to learn it all on my own without asking for any help until ultimately I hit a wall. I urge you not to do this—go ahead and ask for help.
You should not ask general questions, but rather, come prepared with details and targeted questions that indicate you have critically thought about the issue at hand. Additionally, provide the document, either by e-mailing it to the partner in advance or by bringing a copy. Finally, come organized and efficiently ask questions because you want to respect the partner’s time.
Working remotely, you are unable to casually drop by an office for a question and you may have moments when you want to ask someone for help. I urge you to learn from my experience and reach out to attorneys at your firm. This means being honest and forthcoming that you need help and can’t do it all alone—people are happy to help.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. or its owners.
Matthew Lahana is an associate in the litigation department of Hooper, Lundy & Bookman in San Diego. His practice areas include civil litigation, governmental reimbursement and payment, managed care, medical staff operations, and fraud and abuse defense. He attended the University of Southern California, Gould School of Law.
Shawn Trabanino is an associate in Hooper, Lundy & Bookman’s business department in Los Angeles. His background is in venture capital and he focuses on acquisitions, joint ventures, advising health-tech emerging companies, health privacy, digital health, and telehealth. He attended the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law.