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The summer is fast approaching, and you’re preparing to begin work as a law firm summer associate. You’re eager to meet your new colleagues, roll up your sleeves, and explore your firm’s many different practice areas. You are particularly excited about your firm’s flexible work assignment system, which allows summer associates to get new assignments through the firm’s staffing partners, their mentors, or organically. At the same time, you feel a bit anxious about all of the different variables and want to make sure that you navigate the system strategically and are able to determine by summer’s end which area of practice is the best fit for you.

Here, we share some of the benefits of a flexible work assignment system, as well as tips and best practices from Sullivan & Cromwell partners to help you make the most of your summer associate experience.

Be prepared

While there will be many resources available at your firm to facilitate your integration, some advance preparation will allow you to hit the ground running on day one. Aisling O’Shea, a litigation partner based in S&C’s Washington, D.C. office, says, “My advice is to take some time before or at the very beginning of the summer program to think about what type of work you might want to try and what you’re hoping to gain from your summer experience.” This could mean reconnecting with lawyers you met during the recruitment process to ask for their insights and advice, exploring your firm’s website, or speaking with your law school classmates about their summer experiences. A flexible assignment system means that there will be plenty of opportunities to change course along the way, but showing up to your firm armed with some key ideas and information will enable you to start your summer with confidence and make a positive impression on your new colleagues.

Be proactive 

Aisling also encourages summer associates to take a proactive approach to navigating a flexible assignment system. She continues, “If there’s an area of practice that interests you or a type of work you’d like to try—like white-collar, for example, or securities litigation—don’t be shy about reaching out to associates or partners in that group and letting them know that you’d love to work on a matter with them if the opportunity arises.” Even if they do not have work available right away, they will appreciate your enthusiasm and initiative and are likely to keep you in mind for future assignments. Just remember to communicate with the appropriate individuals at your firm if and when you take an assignment outside of the formal system so that everyone is aware of what’s on your plate. 

Be open-minded 

One of the many advantages of a flexible work assignment system is that it allows summer associates to customize their summer experience. Pavan Surapaneni, a General Practice partner based in S&C’s New York office, says, “Having a varied menu of choices as a summer associate gave me the latitude to figure out what really interested me and what type of lawyer I wanted to be. I was able to pursue work I genuinely enjoyed and develop my own perspective, which has been invaluable to me throughout my career.” To that end, be sure to keep an open mind during the summer and take advantage of the opportunity to explore different practice areas—you may be surprised by what interests you. Aisling says, “A flexible work assignment system means that you can take a one-off assignment in an area that you may not have otherwise tried. You have the ability to engage in whatever work appeals to you, and you’re free to change your mind along the way.” 

Be an engaged mentee

Many law firms have formal mentoring programs for summer associates, and mentors can be a great source for work with a flexible assignment system. Generally, a mentor’s role is to introduce you to other lawyers at your firm, offer guidance and support, and—in some cases—provide you with work assignments. Regardless of how your firm’s mentoring program is structured, it’s always a good idea to ask your mentors what they’re working on and express curiosity about what they do—even if their area of practice does not align with your specific interests. Often, your mentors will offer to introduce you to lawyers in other departments or sub-groups, which is a great opportunity to develop informal mentoring relationships, learn about interesting new matters, or gain valuable career advice. Says Pavan, “I’ve had countless mentors at S&C; all of the partners in my group have served as mentors to me, and I’ve also sought out mentors outside of my practice. Some of my mentors have focused more on my professional advancement, and others have supported my personal development, but all of them have had a tremendous impact on me.”

We hope these tips and best practices are helpful to you as you embark on your summer associate experience. From all of us at Sullivan & Cromwell, best of luck!