Success in Your Summer Law Job

So you’ve got a summer law job! Congratulations! Whether you are working as a law firm summer associate, a judicial intern or extern, or as an intern at a corporation or a governmental or public interest organization, this is your chance to shine. Your summer job provides you with two great opportunities. The first is to put into practice the analytic, research, and writing skills that you’ve been building in law school – and to apply those skills to the problems of real-life clients. And second, this summer may be your opportunity to build bridges to your professional future, either by securing a job for after you graduate, or by building networking relationships that you can draw on once you’re a practicing lawyer.

Either way, the impression you make on your summer employers is crucial.  There is lots of advice out there about how to be the best summer associate you can, and I’ve compiled links to some good advice below. As someone who was a summer associate at two large urban law firms, did work for several public interest organizations, and supervised numerous summer associates as a practicing lawyer, my personal advice can be summarized as follows:

1)      Know that you are already a professional. Act like one. Be responsible, responsive, proactive, hard-working, and respectful.

2)      Go above and beyond. Do what your assignment asks as thoroughly, efficiently, and promptly as you can. Then go beyond what you were asked. Try to anticipate what the logical next step would be in the case and offer to perform that next task.

3)      Nail down your assignments. Understand what you are asked to do and how to do it. Do this as early in the process as possible, so that you don’t waste time. As you are receiving an assignment, ask questions until you are sure you completely understand what the attorney is asking you to do – and what she doesn’t want you to do.

4)      Make sure you have the skills you need: ask for help.  Efficiency is important; clients don’t want to pay for hours you spent flailing around. So don’t flail around. Make liberal use of the resources available to you so that you get to your answer or your outcome as efficiently as possible. Ask for help with research from law librarians (they are amazing founts of knowledge), Westlaw and Lexis representatives, or other professionals who can help you locate information or learn how to do a drafting or discovery task. If the firm has a bank of sample memos, briefs, discovery documents, transactional documents, etc., access them and use them to model your own work. Don’t reinvent the wheel.

5)      Get more training. You can never be too good a researcher. Use part of your time this summer to get better at using Westlaw, Lexis, Bloomberg, Google Scholar, Google Advanced Search, and other search engines.

6)      Work hard. This is the best way to make yourself known and liked by your employers. There may be many opportunities for you to get wined and dined by your summer employer, and you should take some of those opportunities – you want the lawyers there to get to know you as a person. But don’t take too many of them. If you go out to a 2-hour lunch every day and then come back lethargic from food and leave at 5:00 p.m., you won’t get much work done. And doing good work that impresses your employers is the main reason you’re there.

7)      Don’t work TOO hard. The law school academic year is a grind. You probably didn’t eat right or get enough sleep or exercise. You probably ignored your friends and family. Remedy those problems this summer.  Recharge and renew yourself so that you can return refreshed for your next year of law school!

Below I’ve linked to some useful sources that provide more detailed advice about how to succeed in your summer job:

i)                    “The Law Firm Summer Associate Dance,” http://www.law.yale.edu/documents/pdf/CDO_Public/cdo-summer_associate_dance.pdf

ii)                   “Successful Summers,” http://www.law.northwestern.edu/career/jobsearch/documents/summer_success.pdf

iii)                 “Secrets of Success for Today’s  Summer Associates,” http://www.bakerlaw.com/files/Uploads/Documents/News/Articles/LITIGATION/Wang_&_Weiser-Law360-6-1-09.pdf

iv)                “Five Success Tips Every Summer Associate Should Know,” http://ms-jd.org/five-success-tips-every-summer-associate-should-know

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