Being chosen by a law firm to be a summer associate is an honor and a first step toward what most hope will be a rewarding career in Big Law. But for many, it is also an anxious introduction to an unfamiliar social and work environment.
Add to that uncertainty the unique circumstances created by the Covid-19 pandemic, which disrupted law firms’ programs last year and continue to alter summer programs this year. Many programs were virtual and shorter than usual in 2020, and many will be virtual this year, though some firms have said they hope to have in-person meetings later in the summer.
We asked new associates who participated in recent summer programs to share what what lessons they’d share with new summer associates. We collected stories from 10 firms across the U.S., and we debut the first set below.
We hear from Best Best & Krieger’s Marco Ornelas in Riverside, Calif. He says he learned the meaning of “corporate casual” dress code while gaining insight into the firm’s culture during an “epic” summer as a 1L in 2019 filled with trips to a brewery, horse races, and baseball games. His second summer associate program at the firm in 2020 was shorter and completely online, yet he says he met more attorneys in Zoom sessions, and learned from deep discussions with municipal lawyers about the killing of George Floyd and the unrest that followed. He’s expected to join the firm as a first-year in municipal law this fall.
Blank Rome’s Serena Gopal, an associate in the firm’s Philadelphia office, writes about vigorously note-taking her way through meetings as a 2L with a senior partner and then Googling unfamiliar terms. “I was too scared to ask any dumb questions,” she writes. She gradually overcame her fear of asking questions, however, realizing “your assigning attorney knows that you might not—and likely do not—know what you are doing at first.” Gopal recommends that summer associates sharpen their communication skills and pay attention to the details.
Mintz’s Keshav Ahuja, a first-year litigation associate in Boston, describes gaining exposure to various areas of legal practice as the most valuable aspect of the programs, along with forming relationships with peers during his time as a summer associate. “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,” he says.
Greenberg Traurig’s Sobeida Peralta, a summer associate in Chicago last year, advises that “you need more than a strong work ethic to succeed as a summer associate and then as an associate.” Peralta, who came to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic at age 12, says new summers should help other team members and meet as many attorneys as possible, including finding senior associates and partners willing to mentor you. “Don’t be afraid to reach out to people you admire, or simply want to meet, because you are working remotely,” she says.
And finally, Foley & Lardner’s Whitney Swart, an associate in Washington, D.C., found that sharing her background as a certified birthday clown helped her break the ice at mixers and overcome feeling a bit insecure. She counsels, “it’s well understood by those who are mentoring and training you that you are at the firm to be taught. Be humble and receptive to criticism without being self-deprecating or letting insecurity cripple you.” Those probably are words to remember in any type of training situation.
Click on the young associates’ names below to read their stories on how they managed to succeed in their summer programs.
- Best Best & Krieger’s Marco Ornelas (Riverside, Calif.)
- Blank Rome’s Serena S. Gopal (Philadelphia)
- Mintz’s Keshav Ahuja (Boston)
- Greenberg Traurig’s Sobeida Peralta (Chicago)
- Foley & Lardner’s Whitney Swart (Washington, D.C.)
Join us again soon for our second installment of “Acing It As a Summer Associate.”