It’s that time of the year again—flowers are blooming, birds are chirping, and law students are getting ready for their coveted Summer Associate positions. As you might imagine, things will be a little different this year. Lunches will be far less extravagant, and full-time offers will be far more difficult to procure.
So, in an effort to help aspiring legal eagles pass their first real legal test, Bitter Lawyer has compiled this definitive list of Summer Associate don’ts. Based on years of experience and countless firsthand accounts of embarrassing summer associate behavior, read it closely and do—err, don’t do—the following.
1. Don’t Be an Asshole
Sounds obvious, I know, but way too many top-shelf law students are so painfully annoying that it needs to be stated as the #1 “don’t.” Remember: You’re not the first Editor-in-Chief, JD/MBA candidate, ex-doctor or soon-to-be Harvard grad to get a job there. You’re just another douchebag with good grades from a good school. You’re there to impress them—they’re not there to impress you. No matter how smart you are, or think you are, you don’t know a damn thing about practicing law. So, for the sake of your own career, don’t pretend that you do.
2. Don’t Sleep with Associates or Partners
It’s tempting. No doubt. But in the history of the world, a Summer shagging a full-time employee has never inured to the benefit of the Summer. And please, don’t fool yourself into believing that no one will find out. Trust me, they’ll think you’re screwing before you’re even kissing. There are way too many bored, sexless nerds watching every interaction, every laugh, every smile. Since there’s not that much to gossip about as a lawyer, Summer sex stories get top billing. As for dating fellow Summer Associates, it’s not advisable, but if handled deftly, it won’t be a problem. Just keep the PDA to a minimum.
3. Don’t Get Wasted at a Firm-Sanctioned Event
Despite the economic downturn, liquor will be flowing, but that doesn’t mean you need to get drunk. A mild buzz is preferable. In my experience, 75% of all Summer Associate cautionary tales are booze-related. Examples include: dirty dancing with a senior partner’s wife; shadow boxing with a humorless M&A icon; and pathetically trying to organize a strip poker competition during a TexMex barbeque. It’s okay to have fun, but do yourself a favor and take a pass on the third Kamikaze shot.
4. Don’t Work “Weird” Hours
For the most part, show up at 9:00 am and leave at 7:00 pm. Don’t try to be the eccentric genius who gets to work at noon and leaves at midnight. No one will be impressed. In fact, people will begin to question whether or not you “fit in” and are capable of managing your time efficiently.
5. Don’t Be the Summer Socialite
Being cool isn’t an important part of being a lawyer. In fact, it’s actually a negative. Partners want grinders, workers, law geeks. So don’t attempt to re-create yourself this summer as some sort of young Johnny Depp. Earrings, bracelets and ponytails work better on actors and musicians than aspiring litigation associates. Don’t dress too hip or too sexy either. Err on the side of being appropriate, not fabulous. In case of a tie, always go with the more boring alternative. No one has ever been dinged for being a modest dresser.
6. Don’t Compromise Work for Social Events
Socializing is an important part of the summer curriculum, but it’s not that important. The business of law is all about churning out legal documents and meeting deadlines. Your job this summer is to prove that you can do that. So make work your number one priority. Singing 80’s karaoke is fun, but it’s not important—and it’s never an acceptable excuse. “Sorry, I was too busy singing ABBA songs last night” will never be a sufficient reason for not finishing a research memo. Having said that, don’t be the loser, self-important summer clerk who’s always “too busy” to go out either.
7. Don’t Turn Down Work
No matter what, never say, “I can’t do this, I’m too busy.” If you actually are too busy and really can’t do the work, simply say, “I’m currently working with Partner X on Project Y, and I have a deadline of Z.” Or something like that. Let the person assigning the work tell you that you’re too busy. What I’m saying is, there’s a way of saying no without actually saying “no.” Similarly, don’t ever turn down work from a less-desirable department. For example, if you’re dying to be a corporate associate and a healthcare litigation partner asks for help, say “Yes!” No qualifiers, no prefaces, no speeches about the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. Save your professional demands and practice area conditions until after you get the offer.
8. Don’t Bring a Gal Pal or Wingman to a Firm Event
It’s just lame. And remember, “plus one” means “significant other.”
9. Don’t use “Personal Issues” as an Excuse for Sucking at Your Job
The lawyers you’re working for have heard it all before. Trust me. “I just broke up with my boyfriend.” “My mother’s ill.” “I have depression issues.” Even if it’s true, just shut up about it. Life is hard. We know. But that doesn’t mean you need to bring your baggage to work—especially as a goddamn summer associate. You’re only there for 10 weeks. Just shut up, do your work and leave your personal problems at home.
Bottom line: Do everything in your power to make sure you get an offer. No matter what. Even if you hate the firm. Even if you don’t want to work there when you graduate. Just get the damn offer! Because if you don’t, your third year will be hell. Because the first question every prospective employer asks a 3L relates to his or her preceding summer associate job. More specifically, “did you get an offer?” If the answer is “no,” you’re in trouble. Because it doesn’t sound great. In an ultra-competitive marketplace, you don’t need to be the small minority who got dinged. So follow the rules, work your ass off, and get the offer!