If big law was on your radar and you’ve been fortunate enough to land a summer associate position, congratulations. Landing the initial summer offer during 2L OCI is arguably the hardest hurdle in the process, even if there is a whole summer of work and the ultimate prize of a full-time offer still ahead of you. Because big firms handle most of the vetting process at the initial OCI stage, full-time offers at the end of the summer have historically been close to a sure bet. Even now, in the New Normal, this practice has generally remained steady. Nonetheless, nothing is ever certain. Although the firms generally want to ensure every summer associate receives an offer, sometimes a summer associate is simply out of the loop in a way that results in an unfortunate no-offer. Considering there is no guarantee, even if the odds are in your favor it is wise to remind yourself that the summer is still a long-winded interview. Things can go wrong. Outside of proceeding with guarded optimism, there are two fundamental mistakes you should avoid at all costs.
Effective communication is crucial in any workplace, but it forms the core of the associate-partner dynamic at a firm. As you may know, assignments to the juniors and summers are given out by the senior associates and partners in the practice groups to which the juniors and summers belong. Although there is an initial presumption of trust when you start at the firm, nothing can erode that trust faster than your inability to communicate about anything and everything at all times. Progress reports on assignments? Check. Deadline issues? Check. Work volume updates? Check. Anything you do, especially as a summer, should be communicated to keep those involved in the loop. For example, imagine a situation where you’ve been given an assignment with a deadline and you are having trouble finishing the assignment on time. Do you go into double overtime to try and hammer it out or do you tell the assigning attorney? Many summer associates choose the former, banking on themselves to finish without alerting the assigning attorney. Although the hard work you are willing to put in is admirable, here’s the problem: you cannot be certain your doubled efforts will save you from blowing the deadline.
When you work at a big firm, it is very unlikely you will be working on only one matter at a time. This means that you’ll have to be juggling several assignments at once, and you can’t control if you get another few between your decision to double your efforts and the deadline. Because of this, there is literally nothing to gain by keeping this to yourself unless you are 100% certain that you will be able to finish on time by grinding away extra hard. If that cannot be guaranteed, there’s 4 reasons why letting the assigning attorney know is essential. First, you’ll be doubling your efforts either way so simply doubling your efforts has no true benefit by itself. Second, it keeps the assigning attorney in the loop on your progress. Third, it allows him or her to either seek extra help if the deadline is firm or give you some extra time to complete the assignment. Finally, it will insulate you by acting as a buffer when receiving new assignments. To expand on the last point, if your assigning attorney knows you are running close to a deadline, it is much easier to let others know you can’t immediately get started on their assignments because you always have the attorney available to make a call on your behalf. Call this insurance, because it saves you from not only receiving conflicting assignment priorities but from the potential unintended negative consequences of rejecting assignments outright. As a junior or summer, you don’t want to be rejecting assignments. You’re building your individual brand and trying to absorb everything like a sponge. Rejecting an assignment just looks bad unless you have absolutely no other options. Effectively communicating this to the assigning attorney avoids any negative consequences because it allows you to use the assigning attorney to your advantage: the assigning attorney can reject another assignment on your behalf because he or she is monopolizing your time temporarily. As a result, you’re in the clear.
At the end of the day, you have to remember what is at stake when you do not effectively communicate. In the example above, you run the risk of potentially blowing the deadline. There is arguably nothing worse that a summer associate or junior can do on the job. The most precious asset of every attorney is time. Can you imagine what happens when an attorney has to waste time he or she could have spent billing new work to fix that type of mistake? Let’s just say you don’t want to imagine what happens. As a summer, you’re not going to be receiving ground-breaking legal work. If you cannot do the most fundamental thing expected of you, manage your time properly, things will go downhill for you very fast. Always communicate, you have too much to lose otherwise.
Failing to keep a positive attitude is something that is surprisingly common, yet s0 unquestionably basic that it is a head scratcher. When you enter as a summer, you have to keep a positive attitude at all times. Whenever you are at the firm or at a summer event, your face should be beaming. You should sound excited, curious, and ready to learn. You should be asking questions, constantly asking questions. You must have a hunger to absorb as much information as you can handle. Most importantly, however, you have to keep a positive attitude when receiving and submitting an assignment. There are countless stories of attorneys claiming on mid-summer and final reviews that certain summers were not very excited when receiving assignments. Even worse, looking like they were indifferent during the interaction. Worst of all, actively complaining about the assignments they received. Do not be this type of person. This is common sense 101. You should be all smiles at all times and ready to tackle any assignment you are given, regardless of how you feel about the assignment. Remember, this is an extended interview. Little things that you may not notice are being noticed by the attorneys you are coming to contact with on a daily basis. Something as simple as seeming grouchy when receiving an assignment is a red flag. You are there to work, and you are being paid a lot of money when you initially provide very little value. It is in your own best interest to do this not only so that you get a full-time offer but because you want to gain as much experience as possible. Experience is value.
There’s another important point that intertwines the positive attitude and communication prongs: don’t say no to assignments, even if you are busy. Rejecting assignments was mentioned above, but often times as a summer you will be tested on your ability to keep a positive attitude during busy spells. Even if you have several assignments, someone may call or email you asking you if you are busy in hopes of giving you another assignment. Do not make the mistake of saying you are, in fact, too busy for a new assignment. This is a big mistake. Your early value as an associate is in your ability to be a grinder, whether you like it or not. Again, unless you have something that has a strict deadline (at which point you should follow the procedure above), always welcome new assignments. Stay as late as you need to stay to get them done if there are deadlines that need to be met, but do not reject assignments as a summer. You are being tested on your ability to survive in big law. Surviving means being capable of handling long work weeks with a ton of legal work on your plate. This is not a 9-5. This is get everything you have been assigned and more done. If you keep a positive attitude at all times and you make sure you communicate whenever necessary with your superiors, you should be well on your way to a permanent offer after the summer ends.