Co-author Dina Billian
Law firms in 2020 are reimagining their summer associate programs. The programs will be shorter and virtual. This poses unique challenges for law firms and students. We offer these tips to help law students navigate their 2020 summer associate experience.
Orientation about the firm, nuances about the summer associate program and use of technology will be delivered by videoconference. Stay focused. Recognize that lawyers and recruiters have spent significant time redesigning this program to make it meaningful for you.
Approach your experience with appreciation for their hard work and innovation. Adopt and convey a grateful mindset.
Think about what you want people to know about you in different settings. Consider developing a short “elevator pitch” about yourself so you are prepared when you introduce yourself on day-one, when you connect with assigning lawyers, and when you are participating in Zoom social events.
Technology & workspace
Confirm you have the technology to be effective: a working computer; an ability to participate in videoconferences; a strong internet connection; and a printer. If you need assistance from the firm on these items, let the recruiter know as soon as possible.
Designate a work space that will serve as your office during the program. Set dedicated working hours and keep distractions to a minimum.
“Look great.” The firms will tell you how you should dress, but we suggest wearing professional clothing when you are participating in video meetings. Bright, solid colors look best on camera. Avoid wearing all white, all black or patterned tops.
Before your first video meeting, check the technology. The web cam should be level with your eyes. Check your lighting, your background, sound and audio. Keep a pad of paper and a pen on your desk so you can take notes during calls.
You will have fewer assignments to complete in a shorter time-period. Each time you are assigned a project, make sure you understand the task. Listen carefully, take notes, and follow up if you are not clear.
There are no stupid questions. Ask about the deadline for you to submit the project, how the finished product will be used, and how many hours the lawyer expects you to spend on the project. Maintain client confidences; do not discuss matters you work on with anyone outside the firm.
Proofread every document. Check grammar, citations, and spelling. Your first draft should look as final as possible. Take the work seriously and make work your first priority. Go the extra mile on every project.
Quality counts more than quantity. Don’t assume that projects for partners are more important than projects for associates. Show respect for the work, law firm colleagues and your fellow summer associates.
Communication & Feedback
Communication about your assignments is as important as the quality of your work product. Determine how often and by what means (phone, email, video) the assigning lawyer prefers to communicate. Communicate with assigning lawyers about your progress, advise them of roadblocks, and offer suggestions to fix problems. After you complete an assignment, demonstrate a proactivity by asking if you can assist further.
Also ask for feedback because it’s an opportunity for you to improve. Firms are reimagining how they will provide you with meaningful feedback. When you get the feedback, acknowledge that you have heard, understand, and appreciate the feedback. Communicate ownership and responsibility.
It’s even more important in this new environment for you to be seen and heard. So, participate in every “social” activity the firm offers. Coordinate a virtual coffee break or happy hour with your fellow summer associates, who will be your future colleagues.
Firms will designate a mentor and provide other safety nets to help guide you through the program. Communicate with your mentor frequently, who can help you build relationships with other lawyers and help answer substantive questions.
Concentrate on good sleep hygiene, and do whatever you need to do to relax and stay happy. Maintaining balance is important. Plan for a few breaks during the day so you can breathe, eat, and take care of yourself.
Value the experience
Use this time to decide whether the firm may be a fit for you. Take advantage of opportunities to learn about practice areas, the lawyers and firm culture. Observe the vibe during virtual meetings and discover how it makes you feel. And most of all, express your gratitude for how hard the firm worked to provide you with the best virtual summer experience possible.
Dina Billian is the deputy director of career development at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.