13 Tips to Make the Most of Your Summer BigLaw Internship
May 10, 2016
“What can I do to make sure I get a job offer at the end of the summer?”
As the co-head of hiring for Dechert’s New York office and in my past roles on the hiring committees of two other international firms, I have been asked this question by law school students a lot. And while I always give the best answer that I can, the question I think incoming summer associates should really be asking (and which I have yet to hear) is how they can make the most of their summer BigLaw internships. Naturally, the number one objective for any summer associate is to get that offer, but the most successful ones realize that these positions afford them much more: a unique opportunity to not only prove themselves worthy of a job offer but to learn more about their chosen firm, their chosen career and the possible practice areas available to them. This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to observe the inner workings of a law firm and its various practice groups, which should not be missed. Below are some tips for summer associates to keep in mind as they get ready to start their BigLaw internships.
- First and foremost, remember that this is an 8-12 week job interview.As noted above, your main goal as a summer associate is to ensure that you obtain a job offer at the end of the summer program. The best way I have found to do this is to remember that a law firm summer internship is really a very, very long interview and to conduct yourself with this in mind.
Therefore, as you would in a job interview:
- Dress appropriately every day. When in doubt, better to overdress or go for the more conservative choice.
- Build in extra time so you are never late. This means late for anything, including any meeting, training, or firm social event.
- Proofread and double check any written materials (including emails) you are handing in or sending, as you would your resume.
- Be polite, friendly, and professional to everyone, including support staff, but remember the professional part most of all, as you are business associates and not friends (yet!).
- Show enthusiasm and interest. Remember, the person you are speaking to does this for a living and most likely feels passion for the subject. Try to learn what you can about it and develop an interest. If you can’t muster up any real enthusiasm, be polite and fake it!
- Prepare and ask intelligent questions. Before meeting with an attorney to receive an assignment, look the person up on the internal website and, if comfortable, ask junior associates or your mentor about the attorney’s work area and personality. When you receive an assignment, make sure you understand what the attorney is looking for and his or her timing expectations. If you don’t understand or aren’t sure, ask questions to clarify.
- Remember: this is your main chance to observe and learn from actual practicing attorneys before embarking upon and making decisions about your career. While summer internship programs give law firms the opportunity to get to know law students and understand their personalities, work ethics, intelligence, and capabilities, summer internship programs also give law students the opportunity to get to know the law firm, its culture, its people, and its various practice areas. This is the best chance a law student has to observe lawyers at work on a day-to-day basis and gain an understanding of what the practice of law is like and the difference between various practice groups and sub-specialties.
In order to take full advantage of this opportunity:
- Attend all trainings and practice group presentations. Law school teaches you a great deal, but this is your chance to learn about what practicing attorneys really do. Pay attention and you may be surprised by what you learn and what types of law end up interesting you.
- Attend all social events you can. Remember that work does come first and that you are on an extended interview (so professionalism and decorum should be maintained even in social settings and social events should be skipped if necessary to meet work deadlines), but try to attend as many of the summer social events as you can. When at the events, don’t just stay with the other summer associates. Make the effort to get to know as many attorneys as you can. The more people at the firm you get to know, the better sense you will get of the firm and its culture. This is also a great informal opportunity to ask for more information about the practice groups you may be interested in.
- If possible, try assignments for numerous practice groups in the first half of the summer. You may think you know what type of law you want to practice, but keep an open mind. You would be surprised by how many associates enter a summer program convinced they will never want anything but litigation and end up choosing transactional work or vice versa.
- In the second half of the program, once you have had a chance to narrow your possible interests, try to focus more intently on one or two groups you are most interested in and do a bit of a deeper dive. It will not only give you a stronger idea of what those groups are like, it will send a signal to the attorneys in the groups that you are truly interested in what they do and joining them.
- Observe the lifestyles, strengths, and personalities of the junior and mid-level associates in the practice groups you are interested in and, if possible, those of their clients. Keep in mind your lifestyle, strengths, and personality and be honest with yourself. Is the group mostly comprised of type-A, outgoing people who travel often and work late? Is it mostly comprised of low key, intellectual people with clients who expect them to be in early? Do you love to travel? Are you a morning person? Can you see yourself five years from now living the life of these associates and being happy? If you are like most law school students and lawyers I have met, you are intellectually curious and can find interest in numerous types of law. Paying attention to the lifestyle and personality of associates in a practice group and targeting a group you can see yourself naturally fitting into will make your chance of long term success higher.
By staying professional throughout the summer and focusing on learning as much as you can about your firm and the opportunities available there, you will greatly improve your chances not only of getting a job offer before fall classes begin, but of securing a position that you will find rewarding for years to come. Here’s to making the most of the summer!