Your time as a summer associate will be a whirlwind. You’ll get hands-on experience, participate in client projects, and get to know dozens of new colleagues and classmates. It is an intense and busy time, so you’ll want to bring your A game all day, every day.
But sometimes people make mistakes.
We asked our hiring partners to tell us about the mistakes they’ve seen from summers past so you could keep these in mind as you embark on your own summer associate experience.
“Being too afraid to ask questions.
Make sure you ask questions and follow up when you need more background or help on a project.”
Rob Suffoletta Partner Austin
“Not meeting enough people.
The summer is your best opportunity to meet people across the firm and really learn about what they do. Even if you know you want to do XYZ, meeting people across the firm is an invaluable part of the summer program.”
Myra A. Sutanto Shen Partner Palo Alto
“Not taking every assignment seriously.
Making mistakes is acceptable, but some errors—for example, forgetting deadlines, not asking questions to make sure you understand the assignment, or not proofreading written work—should not happen.”
Tarek Helou Partner Washington, D.C.
“Not confirming the expected due date for a project.
Even when a project has a far-off deadline or no deadline, the best practice is to provide at least a weekly update on where things stand.
Any doubts or questions about the project should be asked as soon as possible.”
Tony Weibell Partner Palo Alto
“Not communicating frequently is the biggest mistake, and it is surprisingly common.
Summer associates sometimes assume that they need to be able to conduct research and provide an answer with little or no guidance from experienced attorneys. A law firm is not an academic setting, and in some areas of law (like the national security area in which I work), it often may be impossible to provide a helpful response on a project without understanding unwritten norms. And that usually requires frequent communication with experienced attorneys.
If a summer associate goes silent for many days, I usually start to worry…”
Stephen Heifetz Partner Washington, D.C.
“Viewing the work as isolated assignments rather than integrating into a team.
Summer associates frequently treat the job as a series of individual projects. In litigation, nothing is an isolated issue or analysis – it all relates back to an overall assessment and strategy. Summer associates should ask about the background of the assignments, learn about the case, the client, the team. They should ask to participate in team meetings and to observe discussions with the client. Seeking and experiencing the larger picture will produce better work product and give the summer associate a more complete view of what litigation involves.”
Wendy L. Devine Partner San Francisco
“The biggest mistake summer associates make is to prioritize and plan work incorrectly, especially if the project does not have a looming deadline.
If you get a project with a generous deadline, make sure short-fuse projects don’t get overwhelming and lead to a slip on the delivery of the projects with the longer deadline.
The longer deadline does not mean that these projects are less important. If given the opportunity to plan your own work by having more generous deadlines, make sure you still deliver on time (and with high quality work product).”