If you are anything like I was when I summered, your view of the summer associate program may go something like this: “For those 10–12 weeks nothing matters except securing an offer; for those 10–12 weeks, all I have to do is work really hard, get my offer, and then I’ll be set for life.”
While I understand the temptation to think in these terms, I challenge you to consider whether this perspective is shortsighted. Acknowledging that I write with the benefit of hindsight, I suggest that a view of the summer program that elevates receipt of an offer as an intrinsic good ignores critical things that will happen after the summer program—e.g., the start of your career.
A proper view of the summer program is one that redefines what being a successful summer associate means. What you walk away with, in addition to the offer, should factor into your analysis of what it means to be a successful summer associate—an “Offer Plus” view of the program. This view invites you to ask yourself, “I got an offer plus what?” (And my hope is that your answer includes something other than, “plus free lunch, that’s what.”)
Here are some things to consider pairing with your offer.
Practice Area Preference
You may have heard that you should try your hand at assignments you do not think you would enjoy because you never know what you might end up enjoying. Again, I challenge you to take it further.
Not only should you be willing to try new things, but you should also be prepared to abandon the things you were certain you would like, if it turns out you were wrong. In other words, do not be afraid to jump ship if, when you finally get to the coveted M&A assignment, you absolutely hate it. That is what I did.
I came into Bilzin Sumberg’s summer program certain that I wanted to do transactional work. When I got to my firm, however, I quickly realized that I dreaded the prospect of having to fashion the documents that gave rise to those issues. So, I ran to the litigation department where I learned that this was the proper arena where the transactional issues I cared about would manifest themselves.
Asking yourself tough questions about the type of practice you want to have, and having the courage to answer honestly, will aid you as you eventually seek to develop yourself into a successful junior associate. If all of our resources are pointed towards merely securing an offer, we may secure that offer in an area that we may come to abhor.
Ask What Your First Year Will Look Like
One of the most important questions you can ask an associate who has summered at your firm is, “What are the differences between being a summer associate and being a first-year associate at this firm?”
You may draw some satirical answers to this question: “Well now you have to pay for your own food!” But you will move past these with grace. What you are really seeking to understand is what changes substantively.
For instance, will you be getting your work through different channels? Will you be slotted into subsets of larger practice groups? Will the type of work you are doing change?
A much-appreciated answer I received was, “Well Brian, as a litigation associate you will transition from having discrete assignments to being staffed on cases.”
This was valuable because it shed light both on what it looks like to practice in the litigation practice group as a first-year and the responsibility expected of me.
Undoubtedly, there will come a time when you are exhausted of asking the same questions to new people. Take this as an opportunity to ask them about what it looks like to be a first-year associate in one practice group over another.
Equip Yourself for the First Year
Finally, make it a goal to leave the program with a plan to leverage your last year as a student to equip yourself for the first year of practice.
I do not think your class schedule should be completely tailored to what you will be doing when you graduate, and I do not suggest that all of the edification should come only from what’s available to you through classes, but this last year offers you the opportunity to supplement your knowledge in areas you think you will draw from at the firm. But this, of course, requires you to be intentional about understanding what you will be doing when you return.
Therefore, seek to learn as much as you can about the types of assignments that first-years get and the types of deals or cases that keep the various groups busy.
As you think about the type of summer associate you will be, keep an eye on what you can do to position yourself for success in your first year of practice. The hope is that in your ardent pursuit of an offer, you would stop to think hard about who you are, who you want to be, and how you plan to get there.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. or its owners.
Brian M. Trujillo is an associate in Miami-based law firm Bilzin Sumberg’s Litigation Practice group. He is a graduate of Northwestern Pritzker School of Law.