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How Summer Associates Can Make the Most of Their Programs

May 26, 2022, 8:00 AM

The summer associate season is upon us. Firms spend months anxiously anticipating the arrival of their summer associates and carefully curating their summer programs. Most firms host many different orientation sessions, social events, training programs, well-being sessions, and visits to top restaurants. The time, however, goes fast and it is critical that the summer program is approached with a clear and thoughtful strategy.

Here are some tips on how to make the most of your summer experience, which boil down to two main concepts—engaging and speaking up.

Engage With the Firm Community and Clients

To get the most out of your summer program, it’s important to be engaged with your firm, its clients, and the entire firm community.

Since you are new to the firm, try to be physically present in the office. Regardless of your firm’s attendance policy, you will learn the ropes and build your network more quickly if you meet people in person.

If you are working part of the time or full-time remotely, you will need to work even harder, because those spontaneous interactions that happen in the hallway or other common areas will not happen. For Zoom or Teams meetings, be sure to come on camera to help build a connection.

You should reach out to people to introduce yourself. Ask which other attorneys are staffed on your matters and make a special effort to meet them. Equally important, don’t forget about the business professionals at your firm—the secretaries, IT team, office administrators—many likely have been at your firms for a very long time and have incredible institutional knowledge that can help you navigate the firm. If you start developing good relationships with them as a summer associate, some day they will surely help save you when you are in a pinch.

When you are in the office, be sure to keep your door open so it is easier for people to drop by and introduce themselves. Roam the hallways and try to speak to as many new people as you can. Ask people to join you for coffee or lunch. Try to attend all summer associate events—they provide a great opportunity to meet other attorneys and fellow summer associates in a non-work setting and to get to know them better.

Of course, you should also try to attend training sessions, DEI events, affinity group gatherings and practice group meetings to which you are invited. Consider these events as part of work and be sure to organize your day around them. Getting to know people and understanding the firm is as important as understanding the work.

Speak Up, Ask for Feedback, Be Yourself

As important as it is to engage, it is equally important that you speak up. That begins with letting the recruiting team know the practice groups in which you are most interested, but being open to trying work in any area.

The summer is a great time to experiment. You may think you want to be a litigator, but then you get a fascinating assignment in tax and suddenly the trajectory of your entire career changes.

Be sure also to speak up to confirm that you understand an assignment. Whenever in doubt, it is always good to reach out or send a confirmation email back to the attorney who gave you the assignment. Restate what you think the assignment is and how you’ll go about accomplishing it. You don’t want to waste long hours barking up the wrong tree.

Still, mistakes will happen. The most important thing about making a mistake is how you manage it. Speak up and own it. Most mistakes can be fixed, so adopt a growth mindset and use your mistakes as a learning experience. Don’t wait, however, for a mistake to happen before asking for feedback. Many people are uncomfortable giving feedback and may not be willing to volunteer constructive feedback.

A terrific way to get input is to use the word “advice.” A wonderful Harvard professor suggested asking, “can you give me some advice on how I could have done this differently or how I could do this better next time?” Lawyers love to give advice.

Also, be sure to speak up about who you are and what is important to you. You should bring your full self to work. Different perspectives and backgrounds are critical for better outcomes for our clients, and innovation happens when people are comfortable speaking up and challenging existing processes.

And of course, we all need to speak up for one another. To create a truly inclusive culture, it is on all of us, including our summer associates, to be actionable allies working each day to help the people around us feel included and respected.

Ultimately, engaging fully and speaking up will enable you to take full advantage of your summer program to get to know many people, the firm, and its clients. As we prepare to welcome one of our largest and most diverse incoming classes ever at Dechert, we would like to wish summer associates everywhere a rewarding, safe, and fun experience.

This article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc., the publisher of Bloomberg Law and Bloomberg Tax, or its owners.

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Author Information

Alison Nina Bernard is Dechert’s chief talent and human resources officer. She oversees all aspects of the firm’s talent program, including recruiting, professional development, diversity and inclusion, culture and human resources.

Nazim Zilkha is a corporate partner and serves as one of the hiring partners in Dechert’s New York office.