Your 2L summer experience is an exceptional opportunity to lay the foundation for your future success as an associate. We sat down with three of our junior associates—Devony Schmidt and Annie Powderly in Global Transactions and Elvira Sihvola in Dispute Resolution—to find out their tips for doing so. Here’s what they had to say:
1. Do your research, consider the practice groups that interest you.
Before beginning your summer, identify the people and teams that you want to get to know better. Take advantage of meet-and-greet events (whether virtual or in-person), speak with professors and professionals in the legal industry, and ask others who summered at your new firm for insight. Also, remember that your OCI interviews are research opportunities and keep in mind who you’d like to speak with if you are offered follow-up interviews so you can continue to educate yourself and get a taste for who the key players are in your area(s) of interest.
Have peripheral vision when you start as a summer associate. Look around, take it all in, and be open to trying new things. You may find that your preconceived interests don’t end up being the practices you enjoy most, so take advantage of opportunities to try different practice groups out! Freshfields is unique in that the firm encourages your summer to be a time for exploration. A good way to do this is by seeking out a diverse set of assignments to make sure that you are getting a taste of all that the firm has to offer. If you try out one assignment and find it doesn’t spark your interest, talk to associates and partners about other kinds of work within a given practice group. You may discover that you love certain elements of a practice.
Shortly after you end your summer and accept your offer to join as an associate, you’ll have the opportunity to broadly declare your preferred practice area (at Freshfields NY our broad categories are ‘global transactions’ or ‘dispute resolution’). This is another reason that you should use your summer as an opportunity to develop a sense of the general practice area you will want to work in as an associate. All of the information you get can help you build your practice. Remember, this is your career, and no one knows you better than you know yourself. Plus, it is in everyone’s best interest to help you find the best possible practice group fit for you.
That said, keep in mind that Freshfields encourages its associates to continue to explore different practice groups even beyond the summer program. The firm offers a rotational program that allows you to try out two different practice areas during your first year. Many of us have tried it and discovered passion for practice areas we had not anticipated. Make sure to speak to other associates who have gone through the program. Ask them how they made their decisions! You might be surprised to find that some of them went through similar thought processes, and could be helpful when you make that decision.
2. Build relationships and make an impression.
Your summer is a unique opportunity in your career for capitalizing on events and a more flexible work schedule to get to know your colleagues across all levels of seniority. Although senior lawyers can be busy at times, find opportunities to approach them and express interest in their practices. This is a time to be bold and persistent. The more you make yourself known, the more you’ve expressed interest in a particular practice, the more top-of-mind you’ll be when it comes time to be staffed on matters as a summer (and later, as an associate).
It’s also important to get to know associates who are closer in seniority to you, as you’ll likely be spending significant amounts of time with them on projects, and they’re a great resource for help if you need clarification on an assignment, or advice about which resources to seek out first.
Don’t feel shy about asking a partner or associate to lunch. The lunch program—which is a staple in all BigLaw firm summer programs—is in place for a reason, to give you an opportunity to get to know your future colleagues and learn as much as possible about the firm. And don’t let a virtual summer change that, reach out to associates through e-mail, instant messenger, or even just a quick phone call. They’ll be thrilled to have a virtual lunch or coffee date and spend some time with you.
Finally, bond with your fellow summer associates! They’ll be your support system during your first year. But, if your firm offers summers an overseas rotation—as Freshfields does (when travel guidelines allow)—do it quickly! You’ll have limited time before you and others ship out for your rotation.
3. When in doubt, ask!
Don’t feel shy about requesting follow-up instruction, templates, or precedents when you’re tasked with an assignment. Every attorney has been in your shoes and knows your summer is most likely the first time you will have been asked to complete assignments like the ones you’ll be tasked with. Asking for clarification is better than “taking a stab” at a project and delivering work product that misses the mark. That being said, aim to ask for clarification before you begin an assignment, or try to gather your follow-up questions and ask them in one go if you can—it will help everyone work more effectively. Talk to the junior associates you are staffed with about their working styles and practices; some associates don’t mind being pinged with periodic questions throughout an assignment on instant messenger, and others prefer a more structured approach. Learning to ask those questions early on, and becoming comfortable with a variety of work styles, will set you up for success early in your career.
Additionally, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification on timing expectations. One of the most challenging parts of the career is balancing tasks that need to be delivered immediately with those that can be done more slowly. Overcommunication is better than under-delivering! If you find yourself struggling with how to ask for clarification, talk to your fellow associates. We’ll absolutely have some tips for you on how to manage these situations!
If there is still a question you have that you feel “silly” asking a superior, reach out to your associate mentor! They are a great resource, and they are not involved in evaluating you at the end of your summer. We all remember what it was like to get started and sometimes feel overwhelmed, and we’re here to help you. We understand that doing this, especially during a virtual summer, may seem intimidating, but you should feel comfortable reaching out to your associate mentor on the phone or over video chat to catch up or ask for advice. Remember, that’s what they’re there for!
4. Manage your time – it goes by quickly!
With networking opportunities, assignments, and formal summer requirements (like trainings), there is no shortage of competing demands on your time during your summer. If you start to feel overwhelmed, let your summer coordinator know! It is important to balance your workload with the time to form relationships with your colleagues. It is also important to be honest about your workload and available capacity—and what you want to see more or less of—with your summer work allocation team. Ultimately, we want you to have the best experience you can have—so don’t be afraid to take part in building it!
Remember that over a virtual summer it may not feel as natural to speak up about your workload or the types of work you’d like to try. Don’t be shy about speaking up. Shoot your summer coordinator an email or give them a quick call. Everyone wants you to get the most out of your summer!
5. Be strategic.
You may not have considered participating in pro bono projects or an international rotation, but they are opportunities to strategically tailor your summer exposure and invest in networking that will benefit you as an associate, not to mention they’re fun and informative. Pro bono assignments are also an excellent way to take on responsibility you wouldn’t get elsewhere and will help you meet and collaborate with colleagues that work outside of your interest area. An international rotation (when travel restrictions permit) can be very valuable in building relationships across your firm’s global network, which you’ll be able to leverage in the future, and they help you gain an understanding of the broader firm.
6. Be flexible.
Finally, a tip for those facing an unconventional summer, particularly as we all prepare for the virtual summer associate program of 2020. Your summer will be exceptional, which also presents an opportunity: because we are learning as we go, you’ll have an opportunity to contribute to the shape that this summer takes. Your insights and creative suggestions are welcome and will be essential for ensuring that you have the most meaningful summer possible. If there is something in particular you want to see or do during your summer, let the teams you are working with know -- whether it’s a social event or a work assignment.
In all, your 2L summer is an exciting time for you to take advantage of and learn from as many experiences as you can. By keeping our tips in mind, you’ll be on the right track for success as an associate. Good luck, and have fun!