How to be a good summer associate

So you earned top grades, survived the interviews, and landed that coveted summer associate position. Now all you have to do is sit back and enjoy the expensive lunches, attend the after-work social events, and accompany the partners on that out of town trip, right?

Not so fast, cautions Aretha Blake, director of the Center for Professional Development at Charlotte School of Law. Many aspects of legal employment have changed in the face of economic hard times, and summer associate programs are also not exempt from cutbacks.

“I think this year programs are coming back, but they’re smaller than people have been used to,” Blake said. “Unlike in years past, students should not have an expectation that every summer associate will receive an offer for the next summer or a permanent job offer.”

Blake said firms projected for future needs when they determined the size of their summer classes, but they are more aware than ever of the need to bring in associates who will provide value to the clients with the basic skills necessary to become successful attorneys. Blake recommends associates think as if they are in a summer-long job interview, by showing they can be an asset to the firm long-term.

“Programs really are focused on student performance and preparedness, so students should be focused on good work product,” Blake said.

Blake’s tips for standing out include: pay attention to details, communicate well with supervisors, and make every interaction count, even with support staff.

When associates work on a project, they should research thoroughly, read, re-read, and proofread all work. It’s common sense, but the basics can be easy to overlook.

“No one expects perfection… but practicing law is a detail-oriented business and you want to show you’re conscientious and will do good work for future clients,” Blake said.

Research skills are another important tool for summer associates because many projects and assignments will be in complicated areas of law that associates may not be familiar with.

Blake said associates should be able to do background research to understand the area of law as well as the particular project at hand. This process may start with asking questions to clarify the assignment and the supervisor’s expectations.

“Be confident enough and assertive enough to be inquisitive,” Blake said. “Determine where you might go astray and ask questions to get back on track. That’s a skill that’s underutilized.”

Although firms are not wining and dining summer associates with the lavish perks of years past, these tips can help secure the most-sought after benefit of all, a permanent job offer.