Right on the heels of law school exams comes a new set of challenges: How to make a good impression at your summer job. (Assuming, of course, that you have a summer job. If not, check out this excellent advice for getting one.)
You Never Get a Second Chance to Make a First Impression!
Here’s some general advice that’s applicable to all kinds of work situations:
- Understand your goal. Before you show up to work the first day, give some thought to what you want to get out of the experience. What’s your goal? If you’re a summer associate, perhaps your goal is a permanent offer at the end of the summer. If you’re working in a public interest organization, maybe your goal is a solid recommendation. If you’re just finishing up your 1L year, you might want to learn more about an area of law and make some connections for the future. These are all slightly different endpoints, so think about what your desired outcome is. (Knowing that makes it easier to get there.)
- Aim to be agreeable. Let’s be honest, lawyers don’t have the best reputation for being easy to work with. That might make you think the path to success involves being a complete pain. Not so! Even the most high-strung, mean lawyers want to hire people they consider easy to work with. You’re a lot more likely to get an offer, or get a good recommendation, or whatever, if your boss likes you and thinks you’re easy to get along with. And, of course, it should go without saying that you want to be nice to everyone you encounter in the office. A long-time secretary has a lot more power than you probably realize.
- Carry a pad of paper and a pen with you. If you’re ever asked to meet someone in their office, DO NOT walk in without a pad of paper and a pen. Your job is to figure out what they want you to do, and do it. How are you going to do that if you’re not taking notes? Even if you don’t actually take any notes, having writing materials with you makes you look prepared and eager to help. Which make you look likeable and competent. These are good things!
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions, within reason. You’re not expected to know everything in your new job. (In fact, you’re hardly expected to know anything in most cases.) What you are expected to be is a quick study. This means you have to ask questions, so you can learn how to do the tasks you’re assigned. That being said, think carefully about who you ask. The assigning partner might not be the best choice! They’re busy, and may not have time to answer your elementary questions. However, asking something along the lines of “Hey, is there someone on the team who could give me the basic background of this case?” gives the assigning person the opportunity to either give you the background themselves, or to send you to someone who can. In either case, it allows you to get the information you need, and it leaves the impression that you’re a conscientious employee who wants to do a good job.
- Use the resources available to you. If you’re at a firm, odds are good you have a librarian at your disposal. This person can be invaluable in helping you answer difficult research questions. Use their expertise! In addition, don’t overlook the commercial resources available to help you out. Lexis and Westlaw both have help lines you can call, staffed by people who know a lot more about legal research than you do. Use these resources! They can help pinpoint sources of information, saving you time and saving the organization money. Win, win. In many cases, the law librarians at your school can help, as well. Think creatively, and don’t just sit at your desk feeling overwhelmed.
- Keep your eyes open. Finally, don’t forget that this is your opportunity to evaluate the organization you’re working for, as much as it’s their opportunity to evaluate you. Pay attention to what goes on. Are these people you’d like to work with in the future? Are you treated well? Is the work something you feel good about doing? Of course you need a job when you graduate, but you don’t necessarily need THIS job, or one like it. If this isn’t the job for you, better to figure that out now!
Best of luck! If you’ve got any questions, leave them below and we’ll help you out!
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Here are a couple of other resources for summer associates, which might be useful:
- Want to Make a Good Impression at Your Law Firm Job? Check Out This Interview with Greenhorn Legal!
- Do You Have, or Want, a Summer Associate Position? Some Tips for Success
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Oh these are great tips! Especially the pad and paper.
I would also encourage you to always dress and present yourself professionally.
A partner’s secretary told me (while I was a summer associate) that she really appreciated that I dressed up and looked professional for work. Is it a huge deal? Probably not, but that is how you want people to remember you. And perhaps she mentioned to that partner that she thought I presented myself in a professional way. Who knows! But I got a job offer at the end of the summer.
Also, Alison, any advice on how to navigate social events (which are a big part of the summer experience)?
Good point on the clothing! It’s important to read the vibe of the office, but, when in doubt, it’s always better to be slightly overdressed than slightly underdressed. (Or maybe that’s just my Southern background showing.)
Great question on social events, too. First, don’t drink too much. And, if you do, don’t jump in the Hudson River (not a hypothetical). But, in general, I’d say attend when possible, but don’t beat yourself up if you miss something every now and then. Although, “I’d love to have lunch with you. Thanks so much for the offer. Unfortunately, I can’t do it today, but maybe next week?” is better than, “No, I”m busy.”
Always keep in mind that you’re a guest in the place you’re working, and behave accordingly. As in, be on good behavior!
I used to hire law clerks at my old firm and these tips are great. If you work at a firm with a law clerk supervisor be sure to go to that person with any questions of protocol or etiquette. They are there to make you look good and to keep you from pissing off the partners.
PS — Love the Hudson River story in your comment. Wish I could have seen that!
That’s a classic story! Up there with Tucker Max.
Great tip to talk with the law clerk supervisor. In large firms, the recruiting people can be very useful, as well. They know everything that goes on, and the personalities involved, and can often provide good advice on matters of etiquette.