This blog post is written for 2L summer associates at law firms. It is advice on how to impress the law firm and how not to blow a job opportunity through self-inflicted wounds. I know a few things about hiring, not hiring, and firing in a demanding professional setting. Some of these things I have learned the hard way back when I was a junior professional. If my 11-year old son was in your shoes, I would offer the same advice to him.
THINGS TO DO
Do 1: It’s a summer long job interview (do you think there’s a chance they won’t give you an offer?). If you think by getting hired as a summer associate entitles you to a permanent job offer, you are mistaken. The firm is giving you a chance to impress and will be watching you carefully over the summer. At the end of the summer, the firm has a serious decision on whether it wants to spend over $100,000 in wages and benefits to acquire your services. Remember also that if you are not guaranteed of getting a permanent job, it means that you are in fact competing with others for a limited number of jobs. Competition does not mean that you should not be collegial with other summer associates (you certainly should), but you are being measured against others.
Do 2: Show that you can do your job really well (do you have the necessary talent and skills?). This means that you should do all that is asked of you and then some. Memos and written products should be edited many times, and you should present only your best product. The job of your supervisor (senior associate or partner) is not to fix dumb mistakes and poor writing. Typos will not advance your cause because it shows you are sloppy and lazy. You must be timely with the delivery of your work because professionals at all levels work on tight deadlines, and everyone depends on others as a part of an interconnected project. Research projects should be thorough, and you should be able to provide a detailed report on your research steps and methods that resulted in the final product. If you’re answer to the question “what researched steps did you take?” is something like “I checked Google,” you will not have helped your cause because it shows that you are lazy, lack independent initiative, and don’t have proper research skills.
Do 3: Show that you’re a hard worker (can you work 60-80 hours per week every week as your routine work schedule without whining about the hours or the personal sacrifice?). You should be working hard every day. If you don’t have enough work, ask for more projects. You should be proactive in managing your schedule and workload. If you’re leaving the office early while the rest of the team on your project is still working (and they will be having dinner at the office or spending the weekend there), how do you think you will be perceived? It could be that there may not be appropriate work for you to join the team for dinner at the office or over the weekend, but you should be showing that you are more than willing to lend a hand. You are not at the firm to be wined and dined. You are there to work, and your firm should know that is how you think about the job.
Do 4: Show initiative (can you function independently and create value for others?). One of the best advice I received from a senior investment banker when I was just starting out was something like this: “The good professional always accomplish what you asked, but the really good one’s do something that was not asked.” This advice really left a mark on me as a junior professional. It is a surefire way to impress someone. If your supervisor asked you to do research on an issue, and you take the initiative to do more than what was asked and the additional work is actually useful (perhaps anticipating a thought or filling in a missing idea), he or she will remember you. Take the initiative and show that you can handle more responsibility and work and that they can trust you to do the work.
Do 5: Show that you are a team player (can you function in an institutional setting?). Law practice at law firms are done in a team context. If you don’t like working with other people, you shouldn’t work for a law firm. You will be a part of a team (the commercial litigation group, the IP group, the insurance group, the real estate group, etc.). You should understand your role in the team (the most junior person), and figure out how you can contribute positively to the team’s endeavor. Sometimes you will thrown into the project without specific purpose or thought other than a sense that bodies are needed, and you will need to figure out your role and how best you can positively contribute.
Do 6: Learn as much as you can for yourself (can you quickly grow as a professional?). Learn by doing and watching. Ask for assignments and make sure that you’re not going home too early. Get on deals or cases, and really dig into the work. This is experience, and in case you have to interview in 3L you can really talk about what you’ve learned and what skills you bring (while maintaining client confidentiality of course). One of my major cases as a law clerk was a tort litigation involving the FELA statute, and based in part on my ability to talk about the cutting edge issues that ultimately led to a Supreme Court review, I got a job at the Justice Department, in the Torts Branch of the Civil Division. As an investment banking summer associate at Citicorp International Securities in Seoul (not a major financial center in the world), I was the most junior member of a team that did a small (eight figure) cross-border bond deal. Based on this experience, I got a job at a major investment bank in London (a major financial center in the world). Learn as much as you can from your experience because each case or deal will become a part of the tools in your toolbox. Do the small task that is asked of you, but also try to understand the project more broadly.
THINGS NOT TO DO
Don’t Do 1: Don’t slack. You’re not entitled. Look around: everyone graduated from fine schools and have done well. Here’s a truth: all junior associates are fungible. As a junior associate, you are not a special snowflake. The firm is paying a lot of money for you, and it expects to recoup its cost and make a profit for the firm by billing clients or positively contributing to the firm’s projects.
Don’t Do 2: Don’t cop an attitude. If you’re asked to make copies or do other “menial” work, you should do it cheerfully. Be thankful that you’re being asked to do something that is helpful to the project. My very first professional task as a very well-compensated investment banking associate at a global investment bank in London (after having practiced law as a clerk on the Third Circuit and an attorney at the Justice Department for 4 years, and after earning my MBA in finance from the Wharton School) was to reserve a suitable conference room and arrange for a proper lunch for the meeting participants . . . I did the task cheerfully because it was important for a successful client meeting. Now, if all you are doing is administrative menial work for the whole summer, then there is a serious problem with the firm and you will have gained an insight into whether you should work there permanently (the answer should be “no”). But if you’re asked to help in whatever way that is helpful, you should be thankful that you have a chance to help the team. For example, it is 2 a.m. in the morning, everyone is hungry, and there is one pick-up restaurant in the city: As the most junior person, you should volunteer to get food, and people will appreciate you, remember it, and think rightly that you are a team player. If you cop an attitude, a supervising person’s natural reaction is to not want to work with you.
Don’t Do 3: Don’t be a needy pain. When I was a vice president (a mid-level manager) at an investment bank, I used to manage junior professionals (associates and analysts). I measured subordinates who reported to me by a simple criterion: In a cost-benefit analysis, how much do you help me do my work? And, how much of my time and effort is needed to support your work of helping me? My supervisor (the managing director) applied the same calculation to me. You have to do your job well. The cost side of the equation means that I did not look favorably upon an associate or analyst who required my constant attention (who couldn’t work independently). There’s a balance. Obviously, you are not expected to be a fully functional professional. You will need some guidance. But at the same time you should be mindful of whether you are too needy or the type that needs constant guidance or handholding. This kind of a junior professional can be characterized in a number of ways: lazy, immature, insecure, not competent for the level . . . none of which is good. Sending repeated emails to and conferring daily (or hourly) with your supervisor is probably not a good idea. This would be painful and distracting to your supervisor. On the other hand, completely going “radio silent” is probably not a good idea either. You have to keep other informed because your work is interconnected as a part of a broader project and you will likely be working with Type A personalities. Maintain a balance of seeking guidance, informing your supervisor, and doing your work independently and with thoughtful initiative. You need to manage your relationship with your supervisor, which is called “managing up.”
Don’t Do 4: Don’t think that a social gathering or office party is “off time.” Every event at the firm or sponsored by the firm is actually work. Do not drink more than one serving of alcohol (preferably you should not be drinking at all). Eat with commonsensical table manners. Wear sensible attire: business formal or business casual. Look out for institutional norms and observe them (assuming they are appropriate). You don’t have to have the etiquette of an Emily Post protégé, but be mindful of your manners. Maintain professional demeanor. This does not mean that you shouldn’t have fun or “loosen up” (e.g., the tie may come off, you can laugh at ease, you can talk about sports or performance arts, etc.), but you are still on firm time and the event is a part of the extended interview process. If you act like a collegiate partier or an idiot at a firm event (perhaps alcohol induced), do you think that the firm will trust you with clients?
Don’t Do 5: Don’t treat non-lawyer professionals and other employees poorly. Treat every person at the firm with proper respect. You will be surprised at how helpful administrative assistants and paralegals can be. If you mistreat someone because they are “below you,” you will have given your potential employer a good insight into your basic character. No one wants to work with a jerk, though jerks are unavoidable in the workplace.
Don’t Do 6: Don’t discuss personal matters or controversial non-work subjects at work or on social media. For example, keep your politics to yourself because the person on the other side might be a Clinton or Trump supporter. Discuss religion . . . why? Ask your supervisor to “friend” you at Facebook . . . really? On the subject of social media, it’s a bad idea to discuss work at any level (substantive work, firm business and environment, professional relations, office gossip, etc.) on social media. Social media should be literally read as “social” and not “professional.”