You think you'd like to work for a law firm, preferably a prestigious one. But, how do you know if law firm life is for you. A Summer Associate Program (or SAP) will help to determine whether a law firm is for you. A SAP will give you a first-hand look at what it's like to work at a firm. Meanwhile, you'll perform all the tasks that new associates perform. Wait - I can't believe I got through that without laughing.
Actually, summer associate programs are invaluable and give you the opportunity to experience and observe a lawyer's life and to flee before it is too late. Think of it like a combination sleep-away camp/root canal.
Here are some simple rules to remember about Summer Associate Programs:
Summer Associate Program Rule #1: If Satan is enticing you to hell and damnation, do you think he's going to show you the torture chambers?
This rule had greater application back in the heady days when associates were feverishly sought after by law firms suffering from internet boom dementia. Then, getting a job required something like a law degree and a pulse. These days, with a gimpy economy and too many lawyers, law firms are more picky. This difference can be seen in these examples of interview transcripts, one from the internet boom, and the other from 2002:
Hiring Partner: David Gorman?
Candidate: Could be.
Hiring Partner: Welcome aboard.
Hiring Partner: Phi Beta Kapp. . .
Candidate: I was president.
Hiring Partner: . . . B.A., London School of Economics, M.B.A., Harvard . . .
Candidate: I graduated cum laude and summa cum laude respectively.
Hiring Partner: . . . spent time at Coopers . . .
Candidate: I worked on the Price Waterhouse merger internally.
Hiring Partner: . . . currently ranked 3 at Columbia. . . law review. . . honor board. . . moot court. . .
Candidate: I may be able to graduate a semester early and teach for a semester at NYU
Hiring Partner: . . . considering clerking at the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. Yeah. . . see. . . if it were the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals we might be able to work something out. . . but with the 5th. . . . Thanks for coming by.
These days, firms are a little more willing to show you the soft under-belly of firm life. So be prepared to bill, bill, bill.
Summer Associate Program Rule #2: In the eyes of the partners you serve almost no useful purpose 90% of the time. The remaining 10% of your time will be spent photocopying.
It's true. Sure, you may think that doing that 50 state survey of the rules on 'what constitutes transacting business in a state' or updating a partner's text on utility easements provides a valuable service. Well . . . in fact. . . it does provide a valuable service - but you'll never get a partner to admit it.*
There is a famous billing code that sees more use than Paris Hilton's headboard. It's called "Document Production and Distribution." It used to mean photocopying and mailing. It now means helping a partner figure out how to send an email with 27 PDF attachments.
Summer Associate Program Rule #3: Do everything you are asked to do well and on time. This is very important.
You shouldn't become a lawyer if you need this reminder.
Summer Associate Program Rule #5: Don't disturb the mid-level associates or the senior associates.
Mid-level and senior associates bite; and because they are subject to periodic mass-extinction level events, they are very aggressive, defensive and suspicious. Don't be alarmed by their presence; but don't make eye contact either. Move slowly, and show deference. They will usually leave you alone if you act in this way - although some have been known to assault summer associates seemingly without provocation. Generally, scientists believe that these assaults were actually provoked by behavior not previously known to be provocative to senior or mid-level associates (such as smiling or complaining about getting fat from all the liquor and food offered by the firm). On occasion, mid-level associates have been known to cull the herd of summer associates by separating the weak SA from the pack. Don't let this be you.
By following these rules, you can have an educational, fun and safe experience as a summer associate. Alternatively, you can spend the summer driving spikes through your head. Both options are equally enjoyable.
* Try and wear dark clothing, blacks or dark greys. It is difficult to get toner out of whites.