Summertime, and the pressure is on, at least for 1Ls and 2Ls who have landed spots as law firm summer associates.
Medium-sized to large firms typically bring in law students for 10-week tryouts filled with research, writing, and events, both professional and fun. They choose these would-be associates carefully, encourage interaction with associates and partners, and give them as many professional experiences as possible.
Among the questions firms seek to answer through this sizing-up process: How does she respond to comments on her work? What is he like to work with in a high-pressure situation? Would she or he be a good fit for the firm?
The sizing up goes both ways. Firms also design their summer programs to give students an idea of what it’s like to work there as an associate.
“They get work from all kinds of different lawyers in all kinds of different practice groups,” said Scott Andresen, a shareholder who chairs the recruiting committee at Minneapolis firm Bassford Remele. “We don’t have rigid practice groups where someone gets assigned to a practice group as lawyers and we don’t do that with summers.”
Bassford assigns each “summer” a mentor associate who went through the program, and brings back the previous year’s summers so the students have someone to answer questions they’d rather not ask others at the firm. Mentors make sure the summers get out of the office to watch trials, depositions, motions, arbitrations, mediations, discovery and expert meetings, Andresen said.
Summers have fun while at Bassford, but the fun is more organic than planned, he added. At much larger Gray Plant Mooty (185 attorneys across four offices), the extracurricular events are planned and plentiful.
Gray Plant has eight summers in its Minneapolis office this year, plus two more in its St. Cloud office, according to Adam Nathe, a partner and chair of the firm’s attorney personnel recruiting committee.
“We’ve had a summer associate program for a very long time and still have some of those attorneys here at the firm,” said Nathe, himself a former summer there. “It’s a good statement about how we really do give the summer associates a real experience of what it’s like to be an attorney here and make that adjustment into the legal marketplace.”
Having a firmly established program doesn’t mean it’s always the same, however. This year, in a nod to millennials’ workstyle, Gray Plant decided to have summers share offices rather than work alone.
“They’re a generation that has grown up working collaboratively, and has different expectations coming into the workplace,” Nathe said.
The firm was a little nervous about the office-sharing arrangement, according to Nathe and Angie Roell, attorney recruiting and development coordinator.
“It’s something that we hadn’t done before, but the feedback that we’ve received from them has been very positive,” Roell said.
Gray Plant has two lawyers who assign work to its summer associates from a pool of assignments, based on the summers’ areas of interest while and the firm’s needs, Nathe said.
And then, there’s fun. At Gray Plant, that means the opportunity to join the firm softball team, do charitable work, and to go to happy hours, picnics, dinners, and this year, celebrate the firm’s 150th anniversary. Firm attorneys, staff, their families and summers will be invited to an anniversary event at TCF Bank Stadium at the University of Minnesota for games and volunteer opportunities.
“The goal is for our senior attorneys to give our other attorneys the opportunity to meet the summer associates,” Nathe said of the plethora of events, planned and unplanned. “We do anticipate that the summer associates will be joining us. We want as many attorneys to meet them and get to know them throughout the summer.”
The Maslon law firm has two 1Ls and two 2Ls this year, according to associate Shauro Bagchi, who co-chairs the summer program with associate Katie Maechler.
Attorneys at Maslon put assignments they want to give summers on the firm’s intranet for Bagchi, Maechler and Astrid Eglitis, director of recruiting and professional development at the firm, to dole out.
“In determining the types of assignments to give to the interns, Katie and I might decide an assignment that’s a little more complicated is more suited to a second-year,” Bagchi said. “With respect to attentiveness, work product, the sort of lawyering skills and the soft skills, our expectation is uniform.”
Each week, the firm holds a panel discussion about a topic that the summers have expressed an interest in, Bagchi said. The firm also requires summers to square off against one another in oral arguments before a panel of litigators who give feedback. Summers are given three hours to prepare from a half-page fact pattern.
“It’s a little bit make-believe, but that’s the fun part of it,” Bagchi said.
Actual fun includes bowling and happy hours with affinity groups within the firm, such as the diversity group and the women attorneys. None of it is completely frivolous, however.
“This is a people business,” Bagchi said. “Our biggest asset is our people, and given the sophisticated work that we do, we often have to spend a lot of time in stressful situations with each other.
“We want to evaluate if these are the types of people we want to spend these types of situations with” and vice versa, he added.
With all this pressure during work and events, Bassford makes sure its summers know they’re not competing with one another, according to Andresen. The 50-attorney firm intends to hire each summer it brings in.
“What we tell them is, if you have a good summer, which is what we expect you to have, which is what we want you to have, we have a job for you,” he said.