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by Vault Law Editors | September 15, 2011


For those seeking to launch law firm careers, securing a summer associate position is an important first step. Depending on how the summer program is designed, it is an opportunity for law students to understand the culture and practice of the law firm and to determine whether law firm practice meshes with their career goals. And while the days of the unlimited tab may be long gone, many summer associate programs still weave in social events—perhaps on a smaller scale than in the past—and provide opportunities for summers to get to know the firm attorneys and to have fun.

Vault Law 100 SealGiven the importance of summer associate programs for law students just beginning their careers—it is, after all, an 8-10 week interview for one’s first legal job—Vault decided to explore which programs offer the best overall experience, as well as which programs are the most realistic, best prepare law students for legal practice and are the most fun. This year, for the first time, Vault surveyed law firm associates on their summer experiences as part of the annual law firm associate survey (to which approximately 16,000 law firm associates responded).

The firm that claimed the top spot for the best overall summer associate program didn’t need extravagant events to please its summers. Associates at the No. 1-ranked Fish & Richardson were happy with the firm’s balance of real work and laid-back social events. As one Fish associate puts it, “Our summer program = what you see is what you get. We stay off the side of extravagance, but really provide our summers with a good view of what life as an attorney is like, including real projects for real clients.” Associates at Fish also valued the opportunities to build relationships with attorneys and partners at the firm. “My summer class was small, and we worked on real projects, including significant cases, from the day we arrived. Summer events, one or two per week, were mostly relaxed and informal, and gave us great opportunities to meet and get to know associates and partners. Nearly everyone I met that summer remembered me (and the work I had done - beware!) when I arrived as an associate,” says an associate at Fish.

Joining Fish & Richardson as the top 10 firms with the best overall summer program are:

1. Fish & Richardson
2. Baker & Hostetler
3. Cravath, Swaine & Moore
4. Williams & Connolly
5. Arent Fox
6. Baker & McKenzie
7. Dewey & LeBoeuf / Ropes & Gray (tie)
8. Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton
9. Chadbourne & Parke
10. Venable

While it has already proven itself prestige-wise—coming in at No. 2 on the Vault Law 100 again this year—Cravath has also demonstrated its commitment to preparing its summers and providing them with realistic experiences. As the only firm to snag two No. 1 spots in the summer associate rankings, Cravath landed on top for the most realistic summer program and the summer program that best prepares for practice. “The firm treats summers like first year associates, except with some free lunches and fun events thrown in. Summers do regular work on cases. If that means late nights and weekends, then so be it. They don't sugar coat the associate experience. But with the long hours come interesting and meaningful work,” says one Cravath associate. “I chose my firm's summer associate program because they told us it would be a realistic depiction of life as an associate. We did in fact get very substantive work, and while encouraged to attend summer events, many of us were wrapped up in matters that took priority over the social options. I felt challenged and invested in both my team and my work, and also prepared to make the decision of whether to return to a NY firm,” says another.

If it’s fun you’re after this summer, look no further than Ropes & Gray. While associates note that the program isn’t as lavish as it once was, they also rave about their social experiences as summers. “It's a great program - one of the best summers that I've ever had. While it does give summer associates a flavor of what it will be like to be an associate, the responsibilities are light and the focus is on getting to know your classmates and the other folks at the firm,” says one Ropes associate. According to another associate at the firm, “Ropes & Gray's summer associate program provides an excellent blend of real work and social events. Because the firm does such a great job choosing the right candidates, the summers often bond immediately creating a collegial environment. Each summer is set up with associate and partner mentors who provide them with guidance and insight into the inner workings of the firm.”

The top 5 firms providing the most realistic summer associate program are:

1.Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP
2.Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP
3.Baker & Hostetler LLP
4.Arent Fox LLP
5.Venable LLP

The top 5 firms offering the summer associate program that best prepares for practice are:

1.Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP
2.Williams & Connolly LLP
3.Arent Fox LLP
4.Wachtell Lipton Rose & Katz
5.Boies Schiller & Flexner LLO

The top 5 firms with the most fun summer associate program are:

1.Ropes & Gray LLP
2.Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP
3.Alston & Bird LLP
4.Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, LLP
5.Schulte Roth & Zabel LLP


Filed Under: Law
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