Not to be the bearer of bad news, but you know summer is over when “some guys (and gals) from school” are no longer in the office. One of the biggest variances from law office to law office is the type, substance, and amount of work given to summer associates. But the question presents itself every summer, was this summer “the best days of your life,” what about for your summer associates?
We all know that Bryan Adams’s favorite summer was the Summer of ’69, but was the Summer of ’18 the best summer for you, your firm, or your summer associates? Hopefully the “summer [didn’t] seem to last forever,” but was productive and enjoyable. One of the many differences from law firm to law firm is the work they entrust to their associates and how the associates are managed.
What’s the Best Work for a Summer Associates?
At our firm, we like to give our summer associates (summer apprentices as we call them) substantive work, often revolving around research, discovery, and on occasion, drafting. This of course varies from summer to summer depending on what work is available and the confidence you have in the individuals you have hired. I have been fortunate in the last two summers that I have had two excellent summer classes, with all of them able to do substantive work (under my or one of my colleagues’ supervision).
Over the last two years, I have found that the best experiences for summer associates often align with what is best for the firm. This is not an accident but rather a product of what work needs to be done and when. Odds are that the work that is available to be given to summer associates on any given summer will be the same odds of how often certain things need to be worked on generally. For example, the chances of needing a summer associate on a trial are much smaller than needing one for a deposition; this is, obviously, because depositions happen much more often than trial. Therefore, while the summer associate system may not be designed to get summer associates the broadest range of experience, it is designed to get them (on a macro level) the experience for what they will be doing most often.
When I was a summer associate at the firm, I was very fortunate to have done a lot of work on a motion for summary judgment and general pre-trial work. Therefore, I got very little experience in discovery, despite that being, percentage of days wise, one of the largest portions of every case. Conversely, over the last two summers, our summer associates have gotten a substantial amount of discovery work with a fair amount of research and drafting when the opportunity arose.
Managing Summer Associates
Managing summer associates can be tricky, with no right or wrong way to do it. Over the last two summers, I have had some difficulty in transitioning back to my pre-summer mindset and work. As a more junior associate, my job changes quite a bit between having and not having summer associates. When I don’t have summer associates, my job is primarily researching, drafting preliminary motions and discovery documents, coordinating with clients and opposing counsel, attending court (as well as supervising paralegals). However, when we have summer associates, my role transitions to a much more management based one, which involves delegating a lot more of the work I would normally do, and reviewing and editing.
One thing I have found myself balancing for the last two years is when to continue to give edits and comments and when to decide that its time for me to take over. This depends a lot on the particular summer associate you are working with and the timing of whatever they are working on. As long as you are prepared, timing should not be an issue (unless something comes up) but what about how you decide when you need to finalize something?
One thing I find useful in determining when it is time for you to take over, rather than giving an assignment with edits and comments back to a summer apprentice, is when you have seen that the summer has taken your edits and comments and fully applied them throughout the brief as opposed to solely in the section(s) that you made the comments. This shows that (1) the summer associate is learning from the work they are doing for you (good for them); and (2) they have done all they can do to the brief before it is time for the review (good for you).
However, just like in all management, every summer associate requires slightly different things to get the most out of their work. Some summer associates need more or less direction, some need a place or statute to start with, and some just need a template or example. All of these things are a result of their past experiences and comfort level in doing what you ask of them. Simply because one summer associate needs more instruction does not necessarily mean that they are not as “good” as summer associate that may not need that instruction. In my, albeit limited, experience, I have found that often the summer associates that need more instruction, or come back with more questions, are often just nervous that they are not doing something right, are nervous about billing if they think they are not doing something correctly and will have to re do it (the firm takes care of this on the backend before invoices go out), or do not want to mess something up that will be going to opposing counsel or the court. When this happens, I tend to tell summer associates the same thing, don’t worry.
Without meaning any offense, I let them know that while I trust them and think that they are competent, soon-to-be-attorneys, that we would not have hired had we believed otherwise, I would not submit something that they did without first fully reviewing it.
Assigning summer associates work is important, both to ensure that they are doing work the firm can use and to evaluate them for potential full jobs.
Brian Grossman is an attorney at Balestriere Fariello. He graduated from Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in June 2016. Brian represents clients in all aspects of complex commercial litigation and arbitration from pre-filing investigations to trial and appeals. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published at Fri, 10 Aug 2018 17:42:56 +0000