Nine Summer Associate Don’ts

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. There are lots of hot dudes and chicks running around New York, Chicago and LA—screw them instead! 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.” It doesn’t mean the hot, drunk chick with the Egyptian ankh tattoo you met last night.

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!

  • Bill Dugan

    Yea, I think this is well written.  I second the motion that there should not be any sleeping with the staff.  Wait till you get the offer, and start work.  Then all bets are off.  It reminds me of an old poem:  She offered her honor; and he honored her offer.  And all that night he was on her and off her.  (The male summer associate waited until he got the offer before performing this act of charity).

  • BL1Y

    My firm has about a 30% increase in SAs because too many people accepted.  We usually give 90-100% offers, but I’m guessing this spike will make us ding a few people, even if they did alright.  If you’re an SA this year, look at how many people your firm has had in the past, and if this year’s numbers are way off, haul ass extra hard.

  • Law Student22

    thanks for the advice. need what I can get.

  • DantheMan

    Awesome this is right on. I made a few of those mistakes in my day.

  • BigLaw Partner

    This is good advice.  Like the writer of this article, I’ve seen lots of smart law students make asses of themselves and ruin their chance at getting an offer.

  • daman

    i took a huge dump in my partners office as a joke once. i was a summer associate. it was hilarious and he thought it was too. i didnt get an offer though

  • Alma Federer

    You men disgust me.  The article makes some good points, and you guys are crapping on the floor of a pratner’s office?  Are you for real?  And how charitable Dugan is to recommend waiting before sleeping with the female partner?  Will lawyers follow such sage advice?  I think NOT.

  • Jonnie

    good advice – do what you can to get an offer and work hard.

  • Anonymous

    @ Daman,
    They say that’s a sign of aggression.

  • Anon Female

    This article has some really good tips. This would have been good to read for some of my friends when they were summers since some did make a couple of these mistakes.

  • haha

    Daman- that’s an auto-offer at our firm.

  • Anonymous

    Although not listed, I think summer associates should be permitted to “date” (a.k.a. screw) other summer associates.  Otherwise they will get very frustrated if they are the only ones not getting any.

  • Ace in the Hole

    A couple of people I know dated when they were both summers at Skadden.  The people at the firm were none too pleased.

  • CTLee

    I would say 8 to 6 more than 9 to 7.  Rolling in at 9 in the morning?  Who do you think you are, an assembly-line union schmo?

  • NY Snob

    9 is the right time.  Things start a little later in the big city.

  • daman

    @ alma federer, What is a pratner?

  • BL1Y

    Our official start time is 9:30.  Most people show up between 10:00 and 10:30, but summers should come in right at 9:30 anyways.

  • Lady lawyer

    Keep you pants zipped and your skirts down.  It’s a jungle out there and it’s time to use your lion skills.

  • Whacky

    Even better advice – re consider why on earth you would EVER want to work in such a draconian, boring and socially disfunctional environment like a law Firm! ..grow some balls and go corporate or get out!

  • Billy B

    Whacky: “Grow some balls and go corporate?” Isn’t that a contradiction? Since when is going corporate a ballsy move?

  • Skeptical SA

    How seriously should I take the advice about conservative dress?  Really, no earrings?  Should I only wear blacks and grays this summer?  Only skirt suits? (That was another piece of antiquated advice I received 1L year.) I understand that BigLaw = conservative, but this seems a little ridiculous.

  • Correction

    WRONG about the dressing part. At least for biglaw interviews and at least ITE, a cool person with lower credentials got the job over a “modest dresser” with higher credentials. Being social and outgoing is important, especially if you are in litigation. DUH.

  • mean partner

    Let’s offer some real specific advice:

    10. Don’t use the copier for anything personal: someone will ask you to lunch, you’ll forget the humorous poem about the managing partner and the firm will forget it knows you.

    11. Never drink at the firm. Ever.

    12. Do not snoop through a partner’s office, even to see how many hours other people bill or what partners make.

    13. Do not comment on how “hot” or “hideous” a partner may appear. They WILL hear about it.

    14. Do not use westlaw or lexis to find out if a partner or sig other has ever been arrested.

    15. Don’t bring friends in on the weekend or late at night to show the firm off. The working people do not like being seen as exotic animals by the social set.

    16. If you are asked to do something beneath you, do it as long as its work: if a partner mistakes you for the copy boy or a court reporter, handle the problem and let them find out in due course. You’ll be notches up for not having a stick up your a_ _.

    17. Do not discuss politics: you never know who defended slime from Gitmo or who thinks anti abortion demonstrators are the true voice of America.

    18. Do not do a “Rank the Look of the Summer Associates” chart.

    19. Do not make partners feel unhip by making comments that underline that they don’t know your favorite artists or haven’t seen a movie since the 80’s . So you went to Coachella last year? Took in a Gaga concert? They won’t know the names and you’ll make them feel you are unserious.

    20. Can you say “pro bono?” Don’t.

  • Michelle Beth

    And be grateful you won’t end up a TTT. Life is hard for TTTs. I know because I am one.

    • Quadoz

      Beth: Life is hard for TTT’s if you went into it thinking you were going to do any type of corporate work.

      I’m a TTT crap tier grad, but I make good money for what I do. Small criminal defense matters during the day and I kept my cop job at midnight. Hours are as many as I choose. I either take a case or refer it to a friend.

      A law degree is simply a piece of paper and a tool. It will get you in the door, what you make of it is all on you.

      City Cop by Midnight, Rookie Lawyer by Day

    • Guano Dubango

      If you are attractive and fertile, I have another option for you.