Summer Associate Programs That Work
  By Brooks R. Foland
Brooks R. Foland is a partner at Thomas, Thomas & Hafer, LLP, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He can be contacted at
The stated goal of most summer programs is to provide an opportunity for law students to experience the practice of law in the real world. But if all participants are being honest, then we must admit that the primary purpose for law firms is to conduct a ten-week interview. For that interview process to have a fighting chance, certain things must be expected of both summer associates and employing law firms.
Real exposure. Summer associates learn to practice law by real exposure to legal analysis, writing, and face-to-face, client-attorney interaction. To make the summer experience as realistic, educational, and meaningful as possible, management should encourage all attorneys to take summer associates to meetings, court appearances, and depositions. Newer associates who are not far removed from the internship process can help identify unique and interesting legal events in support of this goal.
Mentor . Each summer associate should be assigned a mentor—or two. The general role of mentors is to discuss the types of work that the summer associates are interested in and, if possible, secure those particular types of assignments. All attorneys in the firms should give assignments, and summer associates should seek them, but the mentor should be a gatekeeper determining the assignments’ appropriateness in subject matter, complexity, and duration. Mentors should also be able to answer any questions regarding firm procedure or philosophy and any other questions the summer associates may have regarding the practice of law. Choosing complementary mentors from among the newer associates in the firm can help summer associates with questions they might not feel comfortable taking to a partner, which helps ease the social transition.
Feedback. Assigning lawyers have a duty to provide feedback and/or constructive criticism to summer associates after they complete a project. This is how they learn and how they develop the skills necessary to be accomplished practitioners! Returning marked-up writings with detailed explanations of changes or sitting down with the summer associate to review work provides great insight. In a perfect world, summer associates should seek out this feedback if it is not freely given. However, it can be daunting for summer associates to approach more experienced attorneys, and this is where a new associate mentor can assist them.
Treat them like a lawyer. If your firm is going to pay the summer associates like lawyers, then treat them like lawyers in many other respects. If possible, give them an office for their stay and put their names on the door. One recent summer associate recalled that such “trivial things” made her feel like she belonged. Pair them with support staff, if possible, to help build professional relationships. Teach summer associates the importance and mechanics of billing and what is expected of young attorneys in those areas. When appropriate, invite them to participate in various marketing activities. Finally, your summer associates should be involved in pro bono work, community events, seminars, and writing for legal publications.
All work and no play. A summer program that includes a variety of cultural, social, and sporting events allows summer associates to get to know the attorneys, clients, and fellow summer associates on both a professional and personal level. So take them to dinners, ball games, or even on the firm retreat. Encourage them to play on the firm’s softball team or in golf outings and to attend firm events. These fun activities give summer associates the opportunity to become familiar with the communities in which we practice.
The life after. A successful summer program that afforded many valuable lessons and opportunities may not only lead to permanent employment for the summer associate, it will resonate throughout the early years of the associate’s practice. Partners, associates, staff members, and summer associates all play a key role in the success of these programs.