Winston & Strawn Associates Sean Suber and Crista Welch talk about the importance of relationship building and provide their tips for summer associate success.
Summer programs fly by. What should law students keep top of mind from Day 1?
Crista Welch: Be ready to take advantage of every opportunity to get to know the people and become actively involved at the law firm where you’re spending your summer. Attending social events and department meetings are great avenues for cultivating all-important relationships with the other law students in your summer class, firm attorneys, and professional staff. Regardless of where you land in your first job as an attorney, the relationships you forge as a summer associate will have lasting value as you build your practice in the years ahead.
Sean Suber: In addition to the hands-on experience it provides, think of your first (and subsequent) assignment in terms of how it can help you build relationships at the firm. Be responsive throughout the project to keep the lines of communication open. After completion, ask the assigning attorney for a few minutes to discuss your work product. Your initiative will build the trust and confidence of colleagues, and the feedback you receive will benefit your professional development.
What is the best piece of advice you received to help you hit the ground running?
SS: Reach out and talk to the people you would like to work with. Identify attorneys who could be informal mentors to you in your practice areas of interest and let them know who you are, what you want to do, and how you can contribute. In my time at Winston, I have found people to be warm, welcoming, sincere, and always willing to help you make the most of your summer at the firm.
CW: Collaboration is a key component of law firm practice so attorneys will give work to those who they want to work with. During the summer program, it’s just as important for others to get to know you personally as it is for them to learn who you are through your work. Always make time for interactions away from your desk. Accept invitations to coffee, lunch, or outside networking events and make time to attend – and stay until the end – of all summer program activities. Your career will be that much more fulfilling when you’re working with people who also become your friends.
What was the most memorable aspect of your summer associate experience?
CW: It’s a tough call—we had a lot of fabulous lunches and fun events. But what has stayed with me was the sense of support I felt as a summer associate. The partners and associates I worked for were genuinely excited to meet and mentor our summer class. I’m particularly grateful to the junior associates who took the time to answer basic questions for me (usually things that my Civil Procedure class didn’t cover). As a summer associate, it’s important to remember that the firm is interviewing you—but you are also interviewing the firm. Make sure you are starting your career somewhere that values its employees, and where the employees value each other.
How does relationship-building during the summer help law students become successful lawyers?
CW: Providing exceptional client service is a key part of developing your personal brand. As a summer associate, your clients are the internal partners and associates you work with on your assignments. Building the trust and confidence of your internal clients by consistently providing stellar work product that makes their lives easier leads to more responsibility and ultimately opportunities to interact directly with external clients.
Why are firm social events such an important aspect of summer associate programs?
SS: Summer program events and activities enable you to bond with fellow law students, introduce yourself to additional attorneys at the firm, and hone your networking skills. Expanding and diversifying your contacts will be an important goal as you progress in your career. The more you get out there and practice, the more natural it will become.
How can summer associates ensure they make a great first impression?
CW: In addition to having intellect and grit, the law students Winston selects for its summer program have strong interpersonal skills and fit well within the firm’s collegial environment. So my best advice is to be yourself and have fun. Go in with an upbeat attitude and relaxed body language. Engage fully in conversations and listen to others more than you talk. When the time comes to tell your story, make sure it’s memorable and showcases what makes you interesting both in and outside of work.
What are your go-to tips for keeping your relationships – and yourself – energized and forward looking?
SS: Talk to people in person! It may seem “old school,” but meeting with people in person is the best way to build relationships and throw some variety into your day. Generally, meeting with someone face-to-face is more engaging as it allows you to capture their attention, and prevents you and the people you are working with from multi-tasking and losing focus. Additionally, as a summer associate, meeting face-to-face is a great opportunity to allow people to put a face to a name so they can remember who is doing the work for them.
Give us one final piece of advice for making the most of law firm summer programs.
CW: Be gracious, friendly, and respectful to all professional staff you come in contact with throughout the summer. These talented individuals are integral to a law firm’s practice and will be an excellent source of information and assistance to you throughout the summer.
SS: Strong relationships are built on honest, authentic communication. If you’re unsure about something, ask (but first consider whether you can answer it yourself). Be honest about your commitments, even if that means turning down an assignment when you know won’t be able to give it sufficient time and effort. And finally, when you make the inevitable mistake, own up, fix it, and move on.
This is a sponsored blog post from Winston & Strawn LLP. You can view Winston's Vault profile here.
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