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NYU: How to Succeed as a Summer Associate

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[This e-mail and the attached memo from NYU career services is a bit of an oldie, going back to 2008, but it's still good stuff. It made plenty of buzz around the legal community when it was first sent out, especially for the list of "Real World Examples of Career Limiting Behavior." You can read the whole thing, or jump straight to the goods.]

The attached memo contains guidance to foster your success in your summer position and is intended to supplement the information provided to you by your summer law firm regarding firm policies and procedures. In order to maximize your opportunity to receive an offer for permanent employment in this uncertain market, the Office of Career Services believes that it is especially important that all summer associates abide by the tips relating to professionalism, general demeanor/behavior, assignments, feedback/evaluations and office protocol. In addition, be mindful that you may need to remain flexible in selecting a particular department from which you wish to receive an offer. Firms have been redeploying their associates in departments that are the busiest, and you will want to demonstrate a willing spirit in this regard.

All 3Ls should plan to participate in Early Interview Week from August 18-22, 2008 since market changes may impact hiring practices in ways that are not predictable at this time. In the past, such changes have included not hiring into particular practice groups, not extending 100% offers to a summer class, and not giving permanent offers until after Early Interview Week has taken place. If you sign up for Early Interview Week and receive a return offer from your summer employer, you may cancel your interview schedule up until the day of the interview, provided you are accepting your summer offer.

To sign up for Early Interview Week, you must first complete your Summer Registration Form which can be accessed on the CSM home page under "EIW Requirement". Once you have completed your Summer Registration Form, the employer selection module will be open on the FOLLOWING day. Prior to selecting your EIW employers, you will need to post or revise your resume on CSM. To post your resume, click the "Document" tab. To access the employer selection module, click the "OCI" tab and select "Session 2008 EIW Week". The deadline for submitting your 50 (40 maximum in New York City) employer selections is July 9.

If you have any problems during the course of your summer, whether in your interactions with attorneys or staff, your workload or performance, your participation in firm work or social events, or personal commitments or problems that are interfering with your ability to perform your job, please seek out the advice of an OCS counselor. We wish you the best of luck this summer!

School of Law
Office of Career Services
245 Sullivan Street, Fourth Floor
New York, NY 10012-1301



I. Professionalism:

A. Your reputation is your most valuable commodity. You are always being evaluated for your professionalism and behavior, whether at a client meeting, firm social event, or in your office over the weekend. To date you may have been judged exclusively on academic performance; success in a law firm is based upon other qualities, such as judgment, interpersonal skills, leadership and time/people/resource management. Behavior is the most important indication of an individual's judgment. When in doubt, skip the alcoholic beverages and keep a clear head, even if others do not. Be careful about humor, jokes and actions; sexual harassment is not a hypothetical topic.

B. The legal industry is a service industry. Demonstrate responsiveness and reliability by returning phone calls and emails, and meeting deadlines. You must inspire confidence in clients as well as partners, associates and staff.

C. Be consistent in your performance. Many of your assignments may not be complex or difficult; being an effective associate means handling any/all tasks thoroughly, promptly and well. The degree of trust you inspire will determine the amount of responsibility with which you are entrusted.

D. Be a team player. No associate is an island; don't try to upstage others, either your summer associate colleagues or other attorneys. Don't be competitive; your good work should speak for itself.

E. Resist the tone of entitlement. As an NYU Law student you may have been heavily recruited during a robust economy and you may be wined and dined over the summer. Don't let it inflate your sense of self-importance. Once you have proven yourself, law firms can be very supportive and even flexible in helping you achieve your professional goals--but first you must establish your reputation.

F. Poor judgment costs NYU students permanent offers. NYU students rarely fail to receive positive evaluations and permanent job offers due to poor work quality. The problems almost always stem from exercise of poor judgment:

1. Not communicating problems with work until it is too late;
2. Overindulgence at social events or inappropriate behavior;
3. Inability to get along with others, to understand law firm culture and the respect for a hierarchical . structure;
4. Arrogance or a bad attitude about work; lack of hard work/cooperation.

II. General Demeanor/Behavior:

A. Maintain a positive attitude. If you are feeling ambivalent about your experience, do your best to suppress those feelings around the office. If you verbalize your uncertainty about the firm's geographic location, practice or culture, your unhappiness may become a factor when the firm is deciding whether to extend you an offer. If you choose to reinterview through EIW, having an offer for permanent employment from your summer firm will boost your candidacy.

B. Attend firm social events regularly. Summer associates may be expected to attend many social events while still completing assignments thoroughly and on time. Firms are more likely to extend permanent offers to summer associates who make a sincere effort to become socially integrated at the firm. Take the initiative to meet attorneys, especially those with whom you would like to work. Be yourself and make friends; summer classmates can provide reliable feedback and tips. However, attendance at firm events and summer lunches should not be at the expense of your work. Note that it is generally inappropriate to bring guests to firm events unless the firm specifically extends an invitation to guests.

C. Be careful about confiding in work colleagues. Those at work are your professional colleagues more than they are your friends, and their primary concern is the work of the firm.

D. Be consistently courteous to support staff, including the recruitment staff, paralegals, secretaries, messengers, mailroom and duplicating center staff, security personnel, and other firm employees. Your ability to get work done now and in the future will depend upon these people. The recruitment coordinator is an important ally and often has a strong "informal" influence on your return offer. Resist the urge, however, to 'spill your guts' or 'let your hair down' with recruiting personnel. Give specific instructions to support staff members; try to anticipate your need for night or weekend support in advance.

E. Maintain client confidentiality. Be careful about discussing matters or reading confidential materials in public areas, such as elevators, restaurants or the subway.

F. Be selective in your comments when asked for a critique of the summer program. Present any suggestions in a positive and constructive spirit as you are still under evaluation. Critiques occasionally allow a firm to uncover a disgruntled employee or someone with a perennially bad attitude.

III. Assignments:

A. Approach all assignments with enthusiasm. Do not communicate any criticism or negative commentary about a partner or associate, summer associate or client. If an assignment is ethically objectionable, talk to your OCS counselor for advice or ask your mentor for the best strategy to deal with this issue.

B. Quality is job #1. You don't win extra points for taking on a huge number of assignments if you don't complete them in a timely manner and with a high degree of excellence.

C. Know your deadlines and meet them. While you should not turn down assignments regularly, you should let assigning attorneys know about other projects and their deadlines. Similarly, let assigning attorneys know immediately if a deadline cannot be met and inform them of any delays. Ask for help in prioritizing assignments, if necessary; it is not your role to determine which project is more urgent.

D. Always take a pen and legal pad whenever meeting with any supervising attorney, whether a partner or an associate. Write everything down; terms and details that may not make sense initially will be invaluable later on. Always ask for and write down the client and matter numbers, the due date, and the form in which the assigning attorney wants your work product (e.g., memorandum, brief, oral answer).

E. Ask questions to clarify each assignment and the issues to be researched. Ask the attorney to focus the issue as much as possible and for as much background information as may be available. Ask whether there is a more junior associate on the matter to whom you can refer your questions; it is often not possible or cost-effective for a busy partner or senior associate to provide you with guidance throughout the assignment. Try to ask all your questions at once so that you do not have to return many times.

F. Be resourceful in finding the information and research materials you need. Always consider efficiency and avoid "reinventing the wheel." Junior associates and the professional library staff at the firm are excellent resources. Similarly, use forms or templates when available.

G. Proofread all memoranda, even emails, for typos. You are being judged, in part, by for your attention to detail; if you do not demonstrate your care and diligence on the simplest tasks, you will never be entrusted with the complex matters. Even if an assigning attorney asks for a "draft," be sure it is in the best shape possible. Use Spell Check carefully, and don't rely on it to catch all spelling and grammatical errors.

IV. Feedback/Evaluations and Mentors:

A. Embrace feedback as a key component of your education, and don't pressure yourself with expectations of perfection. Your supervisors will look for a positive attitude in understanding mistakes and taking affirmative action to improve your skills. Above all, your first legal job should be a learning experience.

B. Recognize that feedback can be formal or informal, and seek out the feedback of supervising attorneys on your work. Make a polite request by email and be persistent in following up, but don't be a nag.

C. Find out if your firm assigns mentors; if not, find one. NYU alumni are an excellent place to start. Take advantage of having a mentor to guide you and to answer your questions about the firm, assignments, procedures and other issues that may arise during the summer.

D. If you have any inkling of a problem at your mid-summer evaluation, call your OCS counselor immediately to develop a strategy for the remainder of the summer.

V. Office Protocol:

A. Hours. In general, between 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. each business day, you should consider yourself "on-call." Check with your supervising attorney before scheduling any daytime appointment or errand, and, if you must leave, always be reachable by phone and by email if you have been given a Blackberry. Inform your secretary of your whereabouts if you leave your office so that you can be located easily. Expect to work 7 to 10 hours of true billable time per day, Monday through Friday. Be prepared to work on weekends as needed.

B. Dress code. Conform to the office dress code; look to other associates for standards. Do not seek to stand out because of your personal appearance. Keep a pressed suit, clean shirt and appropriate accessories in the office in the event of an unexpected client meeting or court appearance. You would not want to be left behind for lack of proper attire.

C. Responding to emails and telephone calls. Return time-sensitive emails and telephone calls within a half hour if possible. If your firm has given you a Blackberry, you are expected to be accessible by email and be immediately responsive. When clients email or call, let them know you are working on their questions and you will be conferring with partners/associates; it is fine not to know an answer, but failing to respond to an email or call is not acceptable.

D. Use of email and the internet. Assume someone is reading all your email; never use it for pranks, junk mail, jokes, games or personal use. Beware of the feature that sends email to everyone/replies to everyone; always review who is listed in the "To:", "Cc:" and "Bcc:" categories before sending an email. Refrain from using the internet for personal reasons.

E. Use of copy and fax machines, and long distance telephone calls. Be aware that clients are charged for these services. Learn and follow the proper procedures for billing clients accordingly.

F. Use of Lexis and Westlaw. Make sure it is permissible to use these services on each client matter; incurring these charges may not be appropriate for some clients or matters. Call the Lexis and Westlaw 800 numbers for help with your searches if necessary; each firm has a representative whose job it is to help you use these resources efficiently and effectively. It is never appropriate to utilize your NYU Educational Account with Lexis or Westlaw to conduct research for a law firm or client.

G. Billing and time records. Keep accurate and detailed time records. Bill all time spent on an assignment; the partner will decide if time is "discounted." But, do not inflate hours or "round up;" bathroom breaks and phone calls must all be subtracted from billable time. Learn the firm's policies and spending limits for billing meals and car service.

VI. Additional Strategies for the Summer:

A. Departmental offers. If you hope to be given an offer in a particularly small or popular department (such as in the entertainment, tax, trusts and estates, labor and employment, copyright, or real estate departments), be sure to work closely with several lawyers in that department so that you can begin to think about and plan for your choice(s) early. Being "flexible" in your choice(s) of department will also help insure that you receive a permanent offer. Try to ascertain whether the firm definitely has openings for new graduates in your department of choice. Some NYU students have lost permanent offers when their departmental choices (submitted at the end of their summer) did not match the firm's needs.

B. Splitting summers. If you are splitting the summer, realize that you need to accomplish ten-plus weeks of work and socializing in fewer weeks in order to obtain two return offers. Work to maintain your energy and enthusiasm during the second half of your summer when summer associates typically begin to feel burned-out. You want to strive to be just as well-known and well-regarded as your summer associate colleagues who are spending the entire summer at the firm. Because the presumption is that your loyalties are divided, extra effort is often required to earn a return offer.

C. Preserve your options. All 3Ls should plan to participate in Early Interview Week from August 18-22, 2008 to cover all of your bases, since several law firms do not give permanent offers until after EIW has taken place. 3Ls are permitted to drop their entire EIW schedule once a permanent offer is secured.

VII. What to Do If You Do Not Receive an Offer:

A. Many firms give their summer associates early assurances that there are enough permanent offers for everyone at the end of the summer. The firm's goal may be to put you at ease and give you a sense of confidence early in the summer. By dispelling your concerns, they hope to increase group morale and decrease competition among summer associates. Realize, however, that these promises may or may not be fulfilled at summer's end.

B. If you do not receive a return offer from your summer employer, we recommend that you take the following steps:

1. Immediately inform your career counselor at the Office of Career Services. If you believe that the decision not to extend you an offer was based upon discriminatory or other illegal reasons, please discussion the situation with and OCS Counselor.

2. Clarify with your firm exactly why you did not receive an offer. Employers decide not to extend offers to summer associates for many reasons. Sometimes these reasons are clearly explained to the student, but more often the explanations are vague. Determine if the problem was simply a "run-in" with one partner or if your basic legal skills were called into question; it is always easier when the firm can confirm your superior legal skills.

3. While it is very difficult under the circumstances, make every effort to approach the situation calmly, rationally, and with a positive attitude. Do not confront those supervising attorneys who supplied negative reviews, but seek them out with an open-minded attitude and look at the situation as objectively as you can. Identify how you can learn from the experience. Regardless of who is right or wrong, if you approach this difficult situation in a positive way, you are more likely to secure the firm's cooperation and assistance going forward--and you will need it.

4. Find out how many offers the firm has actually given, and in what departments. The higher the proportion of students who did not receive offers, the less weight prospective employers will place on your lack of offer.

5. Upon confirming the firm's policy on references, establish two references at the firm. The advice of the hiring partner can be helpful. Find out exactly what your references will say. Your version of the story in interviews should mirror what your references will say. Getting a written reference letter on the firm's letterhead, though lawyers may be reluctant to give you one, gives you more control in later interviews than a telephone reference.

6. Get a reference letter from either a professor or from a prior legal employer, in addition to your references from your summer firm.

7. Plan to increase your volume of interviews during EIW and Fall OCI, and embark on an aggressive networking and letter-writing campaign.

8. Spruce up your writing sample.

9. Work closely with an OCS counselor to prepare for your interviews and schedule a videotaped mock interview. Be confident and non-defensive in your interviews although you may be feeling shocked, hurt and angry at the way your employer treated you; work through those feelings with your counselor in the OCS before you embark on any interviews. During your job search process, never speak critically about your summer employer. You also will want to be able to answer the question "Did you get an offer?" easily and comfortably.

VIII. Real World Examples of Career Limiting Behavior:

A. Unimpressed with the quality of the wine being served at the summer welcome dinner, summer associate orders a special bottle of wine. To make matters worse, summer associate charges the wine to the firm.
B. Summer associate complains about having a windowless office and then claims to have been "promised" a window during the interview process.
C. Summer associate is criticized for filing motion without attachments . . . summer associate blames the secretary.
D. Summer associate shows up at all firm events involving food, and is so busy eating that they fail to socialize with anyone else.
E. Summer associate makes typographical errors in memoranda.
F. Summer associate paints their toenails in the office, assuming 10 p.m. is "her own time".
G. Summer associate refuses to work past 7:00 p.m. or on weekends.
H. Summer associate sleeps 12 hours a day during the firm's three-day sailing trip.
I. Summer associate fails to Shepardize.
J. Summer associate yells at support staff.
K. Summer associate misses a deadline.
L. Summer associate makes up citation to support the position he/she is trying to prove in a brief filed with the court (resulting in immediate termination and letter to Board of Professional Responsibility).
M. Wishing to play on the firm's ice hockey team, summer associate loudly and persistently discusses their skill as a high school hockey player and claims that he would easily be the best player on the ice. The senior associate who organizes the team is a former NHL player.
N. Summer associate decides to give client legal advice without the express permission of supervising attorney.
O. Summer associate refuses to make edits to a draft brief because "I was an English major in college and I know your edits are incorrect."
P. Summer associate engages in public display of affection with co-clerk in library.
Q. Summer associate turns in a research project that did not answer the question assigned.
R. Summer associate throws up after a firm cocktail party as a result of excess consumption of alcohol.
S. Summer associate visits Internet porn sites at the office.
T. Summer associate forwards a sexist joke to several attorneys at the firm.
U. Summer associate has loud, crass personal conversations regularly from office phone.
V. Summer associate plagiarizes paragraph in memorandum from hornbook.
W. Summer associate is not available to stay late to assist in closing in order to have drinks as planned with other summer associates.
X. Summer associate falls asleep at negotiation session in conference room.
Y. Summer associate removes several attorneys' phones for an afternoon as a practical joke.
Z. Summer associate takes a significant amount of office supplies (including 10-12 notebooks) home for personal use.
AA. Summer associate organizes summer associate outing to strip club and bills firm.
BB. Summer associate plucks flowers from flowerpot in firm's lobby.
CC. Summer associate asks printer to create 500 copies of bound document instead of 50 after mishearing directions from partner.
DD. Summer associate trash talks an associate in public area in law firm.
EE. Summer associate berates female partner for her lack of skill at firm softball event.
FF. Summer associate tells a partner that the way he is trying to make a fire during a firm canoe trip is "dumb"; same summer associate, later on the canoe trip, goes skinny dipping with senior associate.
GG. Summer associate uses lunch budget for personal grooming, including a manicure/pedicure.
HH. Summer associate extends disingenuous lunch invite to attorney in order to dine at an expensive restaurant.
II. Summer associate is participating on a conference call with a partner. At 6:45 p.m., summer associate points to their watch, whispers "I have concert tickets," and leaves the room.
JJ. Summer associate receives an e-mail from a senior associate, sent to the whole summer class, requesting a volunteer to help with an assignment. Summer associate promptly e-mails the senior associate back, informing senior associate that he is busy, but so-and-so (another summer associate) should have some time and can help out.
KK. Summer associate says to a British-trained senior associate "I don't know where you went to law school, but in America summer associates get more sophisticated work assignments".
LL. Summer associate proudly informs one senior associate that upon the receipt of an offer of permanent employment, she would only work with two members of the department and be the "go-to" person for them because she doesn't really enjoy working with anyone else.

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