I’m part of the (what I like to think of as legendary) class of those who were summer associates in 2019 and started as a first-year associate remotely in 2020. While this has certainly been a strange start to my legal career, the summer associate experience was incredibly valuable in making the transition easier.
When I came in as a summer associate, I knew I wanted to be a litigator, but like most law students, I only had a general understanding of what this meant. As someone aptly put it “you don’t know what you don’t know.”
As a summer associate, I think it’s best to go in with two goals: (1) to learn about what areas of law you have an interest in and what that work entails; and (2) to get to know people at the firm and form relationships and friendships.
At Mintz, the summer associate program puts an emphasis on giving you substantive work to help you achieve that first goal. It’s great to have some idea of what general practice areas you think you may be interested in, but it’s also important to go into it with an open mind. One of the great things about working at a big law firm is that you have a wide array of areas you can get exposure to and you may find some areas more (or less) interesting than you expected. To the extent you can, try working on different types of cases and see what you like.
As for the second goal, while I’m sure we all have some Zoom fatigue from the past year (“you’re on mute” has become the official opening line of every meeting), the social aspect of the summer associate experience is definitely the highlight. Working at a law firm can be daunting, particularly as a summer/first year associate. You spend a lot of time trying to gain confidence in your abilities and convincing yourself that you know what you’re doing.
Having others who are in your position and who you can always run to for a sanity check is invaluable. Those friendships have carried on into my first year as an associate and any time one of us has a “silly” question, no one hesitates to run it by the group. Some of the people who were in my summer associate class have become my best friends.
When I was a summer associate some of the highlights were the extracurricular events, like attending a cooking class or taking a Duck Boat tour of Boston. While these types of events may not be happening in a Covid-19 world, whether it’s some form of a virtual game night or just a good old fashioned happy hour, having at least one weekly event outside of the formal work environment to get to know your fellow classmates goes a long way in developing camaraderie with your class.
Networking Is Key in a Remote Environment
In terms of networking, the work-from-home environment has created some additional hurdles, but they can be overcome. When everyone is in the office, it’s easier to meet people just by passing by them in the hallway or stopping by their office. Though you can’t do these things in a virtual setting, you can still find ways to reach out to people. It can involve some “cold” emailing, but I’ve found that people are generally willing to take time talk and offer advice.
It’s also important to remember that this type of networking isn’t meant to be a job interview, but rather, an opportunity for you to learn about what life is like working at the firm. The most difficult part of being a new associate has very little to do with actual knowledge of the law—it’s about the “soft” skills. It’s about the proper ways of communicating with assigning attorneys, learning how to adapt to different working styles, and presenting your abilities in an effective way.
Getting some tips and advice about these kinds of things from the people you’ll be working with will set you up in a good position when you eventually join the firm full time. This also gives you an opportunity to find attorneys you’d like to work with and learn in greater detail about different practice areas.
My last piece of advice is to remember that the summer associate position is meant to be a learning experience. It’s okay to make mistakes and it’s important to remember to not stress over them if you do. I know this is easier said than done, but overthinking it doesn’t do anything—just learn from it. This is something that every summer associate goes through, and keeping the right perspective will make dealing with it easier.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. or its owners.
Keshav Ahuja is an associate in the litigation section at Mintz in Boston. While a summer associate at Mintz, he also worked as a legal legal intern at Greater Boston Legal Services, where he conducted legal research pertaining to eviction defense and public housing issues. He received his law degree from Boston College Law School.