Which Summer Associate Program is Right for You?

by Nicole Weber | July 29, 2015

  • My Vault

When it comes to finding a career in the legal industry, one of the most important decisions prospective lawyers can make is choosing the right summer associate program. Vault’s annual Summer Program rankings, released along with the Quality of Life rankings, highlight the firms that receive rave reviews from junior attorneys when it comes to providing a stellar summer experience.

This year, a new firm earned the Best Overall Summer Associate Program title: Foley Hoag rose from the No. 2 spot it occupied last year, bringing O’Melveny & Myers up one spot to become this year’s No. 2. Newcomer Saul Ewing joined the Best Overall ranking at No. 5 and was also named the No. 1 Summer Associate Program that Best Prepares for Practice. Although Shook, Hardy & Bacon dropped to No. 18 (from No. 6 last year) on the Best Overall ranking, associate ratings earned it the title of Most Fun Summer Associate Program.  

The summer associate experience is a law student’s first foray into life as an attorney, and understanding how each firm structures their program is crucial. Students should think about whether they are looking for a summer that provides a real sampling of what life as an associate will be like, one that emphasizes social events over work assignments, or one that attempts to balance both work and play equally.

The findings are a result of Vault’s Law Firm Associate Survey, which was taken by more than 17,000 law firm associates and included questions on summer associate programs. Vault asked first- through third-year associates who had worked as summer associates at their current firms to rate the program both in terms of how well it prepared them for full-time practice and how much fun they had. The average of these two scores determined which firms ranked on the Best Overall Summer Associate Programs list.

The Top 10 Best Overall Law Firm Summer Associate Programs are:

  1. Foley Hoag
  2. O’Melveny & Myers
  3. Paul Hastings
  4. Proskauer Rose
  5. Saul Ewing
  6. Morrison & Foerster
  7. Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer
  8. Venable
  9. Gibson Dunn & Crutcher
  10. Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld

After ranking No. 2 in this category last year, Foley Hoag is now the winner for Best Overall Summer Associate Program. Though the firm’s program is “small,” it still earns high marks from junior associates. One associate commented that the “‘assignment bank’ system was a great way to get hands-on with a variety of assignment types from a variety of departments.”

O’Melveny’s summer program continues to get great ratings. The firm climbed even higher this year after landing at No. 3 in this category last year, up from No. 15 the year prior. As one associate told Vault:  “Amazing summer program! The organizers really go all out in making sure we have fun, get to work on projects we are interested in and with attorneys we would like to meet and work with, and the attorneys are involved, available, and enthusiastic. The summer class itself is talented and diverse.”

Morrison & Foerster may have lost its No. 1 status from last year, but it still ranks highly at No. 6. “We make efforts to provide a balance between work and social activities,” remarked one MoFo associate. “We also make efforts to provide associates with a true picture of life as an associate, including work assignments that are actually used rather than ‘make work’ assignments that are made up and not used.” Another commented, “Our program errs on the side of more work rather than more fun. People get real assignments and real deadlines, with fun things peppered in.”

Additions to the Top 10 this year were Saul Ewing and Freshfields. While Freshfields did not rank last year, it has made the Best Overall Summer Program rankings in years past. As one associate told Vault, Freshfields’ program has a “great mix of interesting work and fun social events” and the firm “sends every summer associate on a two-week secondment to a foreign office, which is a great way to meet others in the firm’s network—the free trip is also a nice perk.”

Vault ranks the Top 50 firms in this category. Click here for the full list.

The Top 10 Summer Associate Programs that Best Prepare for Practice are:

  1. Saul Ewing
  2. Paul Hastings
  3. Venable
  4. O’Melveny & Myers
  5. Foley Hoag
  6. Cravath, Swaine & Moore
  7. Proskauer Rose
  8. Morrison & Foerster
  9. Chadbourne & Parke
  10. Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer

Saul Ewing’s debut in the summer program rankings includes the impressive title of Best Prepares for Practice, which undoubtedly has to do with the exclusivity of the program. “The firm only picks a handful of people, 5-7 each summer,” one associate told Vault. “They interview at least eight times that many at the call-back stage. It’s hard to get in as a newbie.” Another stated: “I was exposed to each of the major practice groups and was able to choose my group. We attended firm-wide events which allowed for exposure to the firm as a whole and not just a particular office or group.”

Last year’s winner, Venable, is still high on this list. “The summer program is more work than play,” remarked one survey respondent. “But this keeps expectations upon return quite grounded. The program is designed to lend real insight into the day-to-day work at the firm. Summers are relied upon for their work efforts, which often find their way into correspondence or client memos. The same is true as a junior associate.”

Paul Hastings joined the Best Prepares for Practice ranking this year, with high ratings sending it straight to the runner up spot. Associates appreciate that the firm’s program “provides a realistic experience in terms of what it is like to work here” and that “summer associates get real work assignments for billable work that are commensurate with what a first-year associate can expect to work on.”

Among additions to this list are Freshfields (No. 10); Perkins Coie (No. 14); and Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld and Fox Rothschild, which tied for No. 16. Vault ranks the Top 25 firms in this category. Click here for the full list.

The Top 10 Most Fun Summer Associate Programs are:

  1. Shook, Hardy & Bacon
  2. Foley Hoag
  3. O’Melveny & Myers
  4. Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy
  5. Schulte Roth & Zabel
  6. Cahill Gordon & Reindel
  7. Proskauer Rose
  8. Paul Hastings
  9. Morrison & Foerster
  10. Ropes & Gray

Shook, Hardy & Bacon climbed two spots from last year to take the title of Most Fun Summer Associate Program. “Social events are fun and numerous,” commented one associate. “They are geared to introduce out-of-town summers to Kansas City but provide a deeper insight into the city for summers from the area.”

Schulte Roth & Zabel, which held the No. 1 title last year, remains near the top. “Schulte has an outstanding summer program.  Consistently one of the most entertaining programs due to the excellent work by the recruiting department as well as a group of partners that are consistently engaged in the program.” Another remarked, “The firm’s summer program is outstanding for fun. The quantity and quality of the social events is just right and the class bonds deeply.”

Three of the Top 10 firms for Most Fun Summer Program made considerable jumps since last year: Foley Hoag (up nine spots); O’Melveny (up 15 spots); Proskauer Rose (up nine spots); and Paul Hastings (unranked last year). Vault ranks the Top 25 firms in this category. Click here for the full list.

View the entire Law Firm Summer Associate Program Rankings.

Read More: 
Announcing the 2016 Law Firm Diversity Rankings
Which Law Firm Has the Happiest Associates?
Vault’s Top 100 Law Firms for 2016
Vault’s Top Law Firms by Practice Area and Region
What Every Law Student Should Know about OCI 

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Filed Under: Law

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