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INSIGHT: Making the Most of Being a Virtual Summer Associate

June 3, 2020, 8:01 AM

It’s a hard year to be a summer associate or intern. With most programs going virtual, summer associates and interns will lose a lot. And it’s not just the loss of the Big Law long lunches and after-hours gatherings. Summer associates and interns will lose the face-to-face interactions that create lifelong mentors, friends, and colleagues.

Here are a few tips for making the most of your virtual summer: Some repackaged from in-person summer programs and some new to the virtual environment.

  • Your work still matters. With many law firms extending full-time offers to summer associates before they even arrive, it’s easy to think you need to only put in the absolute minimum. But the work still matters. What group you’re placed in, who you work with, and what assignments you get will be shaped by the impressions you make this summer. And because summer associates often help pro bono clients, your effort will make a difference in people’s lives. It sounds too obvious to say, but I’ll say it: Do good work.
  • Be flexible. We’re committed to giving you a meaningful summer-associate experience that integrates you into the firm—whatever that means. But, to be honest, we’ll be making it up as we go along. So please be patient if the administrative details aren’t as nailed down, if there are bumps in the road, and if the whole experience isn’t as satisfying as it could be. Your good humor and willingness to roll with things makes it easier on everyone and cements your reputation as a team player.
  • Quality over quantity. With truncated summer programs, aim for a couple, high-quality pieces of writing rather than drips and drabs of quick research. Of course, you may not get to pick your assignments and cases need what they need. But to the extent you can, try for projects that let you deeply research and show off your writing abilities. It makes for an impressive “file” if you’ll be returning to the firm and makes for a marketable writing sample if you’re looking for a clerkship or another position.
  • “Meet” as many people as you can. Networking remains essential. Try to have a video chat or phone call with the assigning attorney at the start of every assignment, and a video chat or phone call at the end of every assignment to receive feedback. See if you can drop in on practice group virtual happy hours. See if attorneys in practice areas you are interested in will do a virtual coffee. Attend panel discussions and follow up with speakers you found interesting afterwards. The more people that can associate your name with a face or a voice, the better.
  • Find an assignment to practice your speaking. From presenting research results to briefing a practice group lunch on a recent case to being a judge in a virtual moot court, find some way to practice your public speaking and have your voice heard. Oral reports increasingly are replacing formal legal memos, so find a way to organize and present legal concepts in a coherent, concise way.
  • Stick close to your fellow summers and interns. Your fellow summer associates and interns are your colleagues, not your rivals. Work together, share the credit, and have each others’ backs. Have a group chat where you can swap stories, ask questions, and vent about partners. We hear about it when summers and interns try to get ahead by pushing others down.
  • Find mentors—formal and informal. Having someone trusted that can answer your questions frankly is worth a lot. You may be assigned mentors, but mentors can be anyone—people you work with or just people you hit it off with at a virtual happy hour. Find people of all seniority. A partner can explain firm finances, but a second-year associate knows better how the document management system works.
  • It’s probably us, not you. It’s easy to read into things. Is a partner that doesn’t get back to you with feedback upset? Is an associate who cancels lunch sending a message? Probably not. We’re busier than ever juggling work and other obligations, including family or children. If we have a problem, we’ll tell you, and our stresses aren’t a reflection on you.
  • Reach out. Trying to navigate one of your first legal jobs—or perhaps first professional job ever—from home, in the middle of a pandemic, is tough. If you’re feeling lost or overwhelmed, reach out to your friends, your mentors, and your supervisors. We all want you to succeed.

Going from the Zoom School of Law to Zoom LLP won’t be easy. But I wish you every success. Have a great summer.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. or its owners.

Author Information

Sean Marotta is a partner with Hogan Lovells’ Supreme Court and Appellate Practice Group and member of its D.C. Summer Associate Committee.

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