So, you’ve landed a coveted summer clerkship with a law firm. Summer clerks (also called summer associates) are an important recruiting tool for many firms. In fact, some legal employers hire new attorneys exclusively from their summer associate ranks. Unfortunately, not every summer clerk is offered a position at the end of the summer. Below are a few tips to help you land the job and prevent surprises come Labor Day.
1. Treat Every Event Like an Interview.
Summer clerkship programs frequently offer a full calendar of social events designed to acquaint you with as many members of the firm as possible. These events range from country club luncheons, firm-wide soirées, and wine & cheese outings to white water rafting trips, softball games, and beer-guzzling parties. While these activities are fun, it is important to treat every event like an interview. The truth is, no matter how casual, friendly or downright outrageous the event, you are under perpetual evaluation by every attorney in the firm. You must therefore always display the professional demeanor that you would in a job interview.
2. Wow The People in Power.
Making a great impression on the people that count – the managing partner and director of recruiting, for example – can go a long way in securing a permanent spot among their ranks. Identify the decision-makers in the firm and seek work assignments from them. Try to develop a personal relationship with those in power and make them aware that you are willing and available to assist.
3. Find a Mentor.
Mentors can greatly enhance your summer associate experience. Mentors provide insight into the firm, answer questions, provide a sounding board for concerns, proofread your work and give feedback on your performance. If your firm does not assign summer associates to a mentor, you should seek out an experienced associate or partner to help you navigate the challenges of the summer.
4. Seek Feedback.
While many summer associate programs include periodic performance reviews, you should not hesitate to seek feedback throughout the summer on the assignments you have completed and your performance in general. Feedback will help you determine if you are on track or if problems exist in your performance, attitude or decorum.
You might approach attorneys directly and inquire about your performance. However, if this prospect is intimidating, direct your mentor or another attorney to inquire on your behalf and report feedback to you. Even if your firm conducts periodic reviews, it is wise to seek feedback between scheduled reviews to ensure that you are on track.
5. Get to Know Everyone.
Law firm members cannot make a hiring decision if they’ve never met you. Building personal relationships with established employees is an important key to getting hired. While impressing the managing partner and head of recruiting are obvious tickets to success, don’t ignore the importance of employees lower in the firm hierarchy. Secretarial staff, first-year attorneys and even the law librarian can ultimately play a role in hiring decisions.
6. Work Hard, Play Hard.
While working hard is an obvious prerequisite to employment, playing hard is equally important. You should make an effort to attend most firm functions even if the firm maintains that the event is optional. Chronic absence from firm-sponsored social events may give the impression that you are not interested in employment with the firm. It also limits your opportunities to meet other attorneys and staff members.
7. Follow the Rules.
Following law firm rules and procedures seems like a no-brainer but many summer associates slip up on the details. Seemingly innocuous lapses such as wearing capris to work, sending personal e-mails or arriving to work five minutes late may come back to haunt you when hiring decisions are made.
8. Know When to Say "No".
It is likely that, at some point during your summer, you will be overwhelmed with work assignments. Many firms have a point person who distributes assignments and monitors summer associate work loads. Moreover, experienced attorneys have the habit of grossly underestimating the time and effort it will take a summer associate to complete a task. Even when workloads are monitored, your in-box may overflow and you may be unable to juggle all assignments. While turning down work may seem like a career mistake, taking on so much work that you cannot complete tasks in a timely and proficient manner will do more damage to your employment prospects.