Summer Fridays: Summer Associates & Interns Have Questions. I Have Answers.

Welcome to Summer Fridays, where I’m answering questions from summer associates and interns. Have a question for me to answer? Email it to thislawyerlife@gmail.com.

Today I respond to a summer associate wondering how to improve his attention to detail.

Question: I just had my mid-summer review. My feedback was generally good, but I was instructed to work on my attention to detail. Any suggestions?

Answer:

Attention to detail is extremely important as a junior associate.  At the same time, it’s an area where a lot of people struggle.  When you are instructed to improve your attention to detail, you’re really being told to stop making little mistakes. This applies to both the substance and formatting of your work product.  Some tips:

1) Proofread everything: memos, document mark-ups, emails, etc. Figure out a foolproof way to catch errors. For me, that means printing out the document and reviewing in hard copy. You could also send it to your secretary to review. Or read it from the bottom up, starting with the last sentence. Reading out of context sometimes makes it easier to catch errors.

2) Pay attention to formatting: Your memo may include a killer legal argument, but if you use multiple fonts or font sizes, inconsistent spacing, weird margins, or present a multi-page wall of text without headers, the reader’s eye is going to be drawn to that stuff, not the substance. Ask for sample work product from your assigning attorney to get a sense for their preferred style and mimic it.

3) Use the Bluebook: Even if you are asked to send your research in an email vs. a formal memo, you should still use proper bluebook format for the cases cited.

4) Review markups without tracked changes: If you are asked to turn edits on a document and to make your edits in tracked changes, look at the document without tracked changes showing before sending it to your supervisor.  This will help you catch any typos, formatting problems, or substantive issues, which are easy to miss in a mark-up.

5) Before handing in an assignment: The last thing you should do before turning in an assignment is to look back at your notes from the initial request to make sure you answered the question asked.

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Summer Fridays: Summer Associates & Interns Have Questions. I Have Answers.

Welcome to Summer Fridays, where I’m answering questions from summer associates and interns. Have a question for me to answer? Email it to thislawyerlife@gmail.com.

Today I respond to a summer associate wondering if she should expand her work to other practice areas.

Question: I am summering at a big firm. I am sure I want to do M&A work. Do I have to take on assignments from other groups?

Answer: If your firm requires summers to work on a variety of assignments, then yes, you do need to take on more than just M&A work during your summer.

Remember, this is essentially a 12-week job interview. You need to demonstrate that you can follow the rules.

However, even if diversifying your workload is merely encouraged but not required, you should do it for your short-term and long-term career growth.

Here’s why:

1) Practice group assignments are not up to you.

Even if you are sure that you want to join the M&A practice group, the hard truth is that the decision is not up to you. Some firms recruit for specific practice areas. More commonly, practice group assignments are made at the time the next batch of first-year associates is ready to join the firm, based on the firm’s business needs at that time.

Shortly before you join as a full-time associate, the firm will likely reach out to ask you to rank your top few practice groups. If you only worked on M&A deals during your summer, how are you going to pick a second or third choice? Maybe you went to lunch with a partner in the real estate group and had a good time. That’s great. But do you know what that person is like to work for? Or, perhaps more importantly, what the senior associates in that group are like to work for? How busy are they? What kind of work do the first years actually do all day?

Look, maybe you’ll win the practice group lottery, but maybe you won’t. If M&A doesn’t need any first years at the moment, or there are three associates vying for two spots, you’re putting yourself at a major disadvantage if you have literally zero experience with any other group.

2) Broader exposure is helpful for your end-of-summer evaluation.

Most firms conduct a formal evaluation of you during the summer, both to provide feedback to you and to build a file to support the ultimate decision to give you a job offer. Working across groups and with multiple attorneys gives you a chance to build more relationships and impress more lawyers.

3) Your true interests might surprise you.

I can think of several associates from my own summer class who went into the summer determined to end up in practice group A and then loved the lawyers and work in practice group B or C or D so much that they changed course. You will not have this opportunity to so easily float among practice groups again. Take advantage! At the least, you’ll confirm your desire for M&A above other practice groups.

4) Making connections across groups is helpful for your long-term growth at the firm.

One of the ways big firms attract, retain, and expand their business is by promoting themselves as “one stop shops.” In practice, this might mean that the M&A group will reach out to the white-collar group for assistance on the due diligence piece of a deal, advising the client on potential foreign corruption risks involved in an acquisition. In doing so, attorneys in the M&A group will reach out to the attorneys they know in the white-collar group. This goes both ways – a litigation attorney might get a call from a client wanting to acquire another company. The litigator is going to need to loop in someone from M&A to work the deal.

It’s never too early to start building those relationships. I can tell you from experience that it pays off – you would be surprised at the number of attorneys who remember working with you as a summer associate and will reach out to you if they need to consult a lawyer in your practice group, even years later.

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Summer Fridays: Summer Associates & Interns Have Questions. I Have Answers.

Welcome to Summer Fridays, where I’m answering questions from summer associates and interns. Have a question for me to answer? Email it to thislawyerlife@gmail.com.

Today I respond to a summer associate wondering how busy is busy enough.

Question: I just finished my first week as a summer associate, and it’s kind of slow so far.  How busy should I be?

Answer:

This is definitely a firm-specific topic, so I suggest you talk to your summer coordinator or mentor.  Here’s my two cents.

First, let’s start with the basics: most firms expect you to account for a minimum number of hours per day, usually 7 or 8. Even if you take a leisurely lunch and also attend a training or other meeting every day, that only takes up 10-15 hours of the 35-40 you need to account for every week. This means you have 20-30 hours of time to fill.

Now, not all of that time necessarily needs to be billable.  Your firm probably has some non-billable numbers you can use like “professional reading” or “waiting for an assignment” when you have downtime.  But you should try to spend the bulk of those extra hours working.  During my summer, I made it a goal to pick up one new assignment per week. With ten weeks to the summer, this would give me exposure to 10+ attorneys and several practice groups. It didn’t actually work out that way – I often had more than one assignment to juggle at a time, and some assignments took less than a week while others lasted longer.  However, keeping that goal in mind encouraged me to be proactive about taking on new work.

That said, it doesn’t hurt to go above and beyond every once in a while.  One of my favorite projects as a summer was helping out with a last-minute brief. I stayed in the office until the wee hours of the morning helping the partner get it out the door, but it was exciting because I was doing research and drafting language that was actually getting incorporated into a pleading filed in court.

Bottom line: At a minimum, meet whatever requirements are set out for you. Take advantage of opportunities to work a bit harder and longer – not only will you earn a reputation as a hard worker and team player, but you’ll get some great experience too.

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Summer Fridays: Summer Associates & Interns Have Questions. I Have Answers.

Welcome to Summer Fridays, where I’m answering questions from summer associates and interns. Have a question for me to answer? Email it to thislawyerlife@gmail.com.

Today, I answer a question from a summer associate concerned with turning down a drink at alcohol-soaked summer events.

Question:

I am a summer associate at a law firm, and we received a calendar of events for the summer. Many events revolve around drinking. I don’t drink alcohol. Is this going to be a problem for me? What should I say if people notice I’m not drinking?

Answer:

Lawyers have a reputation for liking a drink, and in my experience, that reputation is based in reality.  So I’m not surprised that the majority of events your summer firm puts on include alcohol. That said, if you don’t drink – for whatever reason – it shouldn’t be a big deal. I’ve seen lots of people successfully handle this in a few ways:

Option 1: Order a beverage – like a glass of club soda with lime – and sip on that. You don’t need to call attention to the fact that it doesn’t contain alcohol if you don’t want to.

Option 2: Order an alcoholic beverage and just hold it all night.

Option 3: Turn down a drink with a simple, “No thanks.” Or with “No thanks, I’m good for now.” (Adding “for now…” might invite a second offer of a drink later, but it usually stops conversation in the moment.)

Option 4: Turn down a drink and explain that you don’t drink: “No thanks, I don’t drink.”

Whatever you decide to do on any given day, the key is to be casual and treat it like a non-issue. Usually everyone else will follow suit. But…sometimes, they don’t. Here’s how this can play out if you come across someone who tries to turn it into a big deal:

Partner: Hey summer associate, grab a beer!

Associate: I’m good, thanks.

Partner: Are you sure? We’ve got wine too, help yourself!

Associate: I’m fine, thanks. So what do you think of tonight’s event? Great venue, huh?

Partner: Yeah, it’s cool. You sure you don’t want a drink?

Associate: Yeah, I’m good. I don’t really drink. So, I wanted to ask you about xyz case you’re working on…

Partner: You don’t drink? What? Why?

Associate: No, I don’t. (Or, No, I don’t, due to allergies/religion/never developed a taste/etc.) I am, however, basically responsible for keeping Diet Coke in business! Anyway, what’s keeping you busy this summer?

Partner: Actually, I’ve got this really great case…

In short:

The easiest way to make this a non-issue is to: (1) have some kind of beverage in your hand, like a soda, making it easier to turn down a drink without explanation, (2) decline casually with a smile, and (3) appear to be having a good time at the event even if gasp, you’re not drinking alcohol. Abstaining around drinkers sometimes causes the drinkers to question their own alcohol consumption. This is a them issue, not a you issue, but it helps to diffuse the situation for everyone if you keep it low key.

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