If there’s one theme from the community’s input thus far on our “Top Tips for Summer Associates” thread in TIL, it seems to be: do everything.  Given our plan for this second post in our “Tips for Summer Associates” series, we clearly agree.  This post is about taking full advantage of your summer: attending all the events, loading up on summer lunches, rubbing elbows firm-wide. But not just for the fun.  You may not be thinking about it yet, but the internal networking opportunities provided by the summer program are second to none, and it’s important that you make the most of them.

Summer Events

First of all, the low-hanging fruit:  attend as many of the summer events as possible.  Of course, most of you will be trying to do that anyway.  (Many firms put together great slates of programming.)  But even if you’re someone who has significant competition for your attention this summer (e.g., a family waiting at home after work, non-firm friends living in same city) or doesn’t particular enjoy spending time with a work crowd after-hours, we’d strongly encourage you to make a special effort to prioritize attending as many summer events as possible (and proactively avoid scheduling conflicts).  Not only are the events free, fun, and (sometimes) relatively exclusive, they’re often the very best way for your to get to know—and develop personal relationships with—your summer classmates.

The summer experience provides you with an unparalleled opportunity to lay the foundation for a broad and strong core network across your firm.  As you may have experienced with your 1L section, college hallmates, or high-school homeroom class, beginning a unique (and, particularly, an exciting and uncertain) journey and sharing common experiences brings strangers together in powerful and lasting ways.  A special bond and group identity can grow among summer classmates that can provide you with valuable connections, resources, and support throughout your career.  But it doesn’t happen automatically.  And when you return to the firm and see your classmates again, you will all be busy first-year associates, scattered among the firm’s groups and absorbed into the fabric of various practices that may or may not interact with one another regularly.  During the summer, take the time and make the effort to get to know your classmates at a personal level and cultivate the lasting connections of a shared journey.

Summers:

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(Pro tips:  (1) The more exclusive events are often number-limited and require RSVPs.  Plan ahead, get your responses in early, and avoid making conflicting plans.  It’s also incredibly helpful, as we discuss below, to make friends with the recruiting staff.  They’re in charge of deciding who goes to what.  (2)  Keep it under control (i.e., beware the nerd-breakout phenomenon)!  Let’s face it, we lawyers aren’t the coolest bunch.  Many of us are huge nerds, who have spent our lives prioritizing work over parties and not always feeling comfortable in mixed social crowds.  Then, all of a sudden, we’re summer associates.  Part of a cohesive and like-minded (i.e., nerdy) team, having a blast at some incredible event with an open bar and feeling on the top of the world.  It’s liberating.  And makes you want to cut loose.  And that’s great.  I think more lawyers should cut loose more often.  But if you’re not used to cutting loose and you’re feeling newly uninhibited, it’s easy to overdo it.  I call it the “nerd-breakout phenomenon”.  There’s a great comment in the TIL thread about the permanence of reputational effects.  Read it.  Don’t lose your head and do violence to your reputation by acting like an idiot.  Keep it under control.)

Summer Lunches

The summer also provides unique opportunities to establish a core network among the ranks of existing associates.  In addition to the summer events that associates also join, it’s all about the summer lunches.  Up to a couple of times a week, you’ll have the chance to spend an hour or two—hopefully over an incredible meal on the firm’s dime—in close conversation with a small group of associates from across the firm.  Many summers tend to think of the associates as the “add-ons” necessary to have a sweet lunch with their summer friends.  But I’d encourage you to flip that thinking on its head.  The best part of summer lunches is getting to know the associates.  With the right questions, you can learn an incredible amount—about the firm, its practices, its personalities, associate life—over a five-course tasting menu (and make great friends, to boot).  It’s the perfect occasion to go to school on others’ experiences, as we talked about in our last post.  And when the time comes to work on something new—during your summer or in the years after your return—these are the more senior folks whose offices you can pop by to get an explanation, help finding a precedent, advice on a thorny issue, etc.  To this day, some of my closest friendships and most valuable connections at my old firm were forged with then-junior associates over meals at Midtown steakhouses.  It was those folks who helped me pick the right group to join upon my return when I was torn about which practice to pursue.  And they helped me make a last-minute decision to jump at a chance to move to the firm’s London office for a few years.  And now some of them are the firm’s young partners who continue to be incredibly generous with their mentorship and support, given our longstanding relationships.

(Pro tip:  Be sensitive to the lunch budgets.  Free expensive lunches are a great deal for associates, too, but—don’t forget—most associates are really there for your benefit.  And although firm associates make a great starting salary, many lawyers show up at the firm with a couple of hundred thousand dollars in debt, not to mention families, etc.  This is all by way of saying that you should be sensitive to the budget for everyone’s sake.  Don’t blow it without a group discussion.  And, if the group does blow the budget, always offer to pay your share.  It’s a class move.  Some associates will decline that offer and decide to pick up the difference among the associates—because they make more money than you, you’re still in school, to pay it forward (if associates did it for them when they were summers), etc.  But that needs to be their choice.  Believe me—getting stuck with an unexpected $50-100 out of pocket for lunch—particularly when it’s attributable to someone else’s ordering choices—can leave a bad taste in your mouth.)

Partner Contacts

Working our way to the top of the food chain, one of the most important—and also under-utilized and under-appreciated—opportunities provided to summers by the summer program is partner access.  Law firm partners are incredibly busy.  But they tend make a concerted effort to be available to summer associate classes—the new crop of recruits in which the firm is investing heavily to carry the partners’ business forward.  It’s important that you take advantage of that “recruiting” mindset to begin cultivating a personal rapport with the men and women who not only make the hiring, firing, and (so important to those wishing to make a run at partner themselves) promotion decisions at the firm, but ultimately have the final say in a range of decisions that will be hugely important to your daily life in the years to come, such as practice group assignments and matter staffing.  Personal relationships with partners matter, and, once nestled in the associate trenches, it’s not always easy to find opportunities to build non-work connections—particularly with partners outside your group.

Former Summers (i.e., you lawyers out there)

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 And remember, even at the largest firms, the partnership itself is not that big.  With a deliberate networking effort over the course of ten weeks, you can actually make a huge dent in getting to know the whole firm.  (The real firm.  The one that’s there year in, year out.)  So when you arrive at that large cocktail hour, for example, instead of bee-lining to your summer classmates and huddling with your peers (a clear tendency of most summers), introduce yourself to a new partner and start a conversation.  Let him or her get to know you.  When sitting down to dinner, don’t isolate yourself among other “recruits”.  Rub elbows with those recruiting you.  I know it can be a bit intimidating (they’re the bosses, you’re worried you won’t impress them, etc.), but partners are people.  And people like knowing the people around them.  Be polite, friendly, interested, and enthusiastic, and the conversations will leave you better off than you were when you were safely anonymous—I promise.

Make Friends With the Recruiting Staff and Summer Coordinators

When I was summer, I made it point to make friends with the recruiting staff, and it was one of the best decisions I made that summer.  Not only do the recruiters tend to be fun, outgoing people who are great to know, generally, they’re also in charge of putting together all those cool events and running the guest lists.  (If you couldn’t score an RSVP to that popular outing, it’s great to be close with the people trying fill any spots that pop open at the last minute.)  But it’s not just about the summer.  This is the same recruiting staff organizing the interview lunches for callbacks and the on-campus recruiting events (where firms send select groups of associates to mix and mingle with top recruits around the country) throughout the years to come.  If the recruiters know and like you, you’re going to be on their standby list of people they can call upon to fill needs as they arise.  If you like going to fancy lunches and taking free trips, that’s a great thing.

Similarly, as we noted in our last post, it’s a great idea to become friends with the summer coordinators.  They’re the traffic cops of your summer and have a huge amount of say over what you’re working on and with whom.  They’ve been at the firm a few years and know which are the plum posting and which are the dogs.  Of course, they’ll do their best to fill their staffing requests in a fair and equitable way, but they’ll also have some discretion in how assignments are divvied up.  If they know and like you, it can really help you get access to the matters you’d like to be a part of (and avoid those you REALLY wouldn’t).