Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Keys to Summer Success

In most cases, your upcoming summer experience is essentially a 8-10 week interview, either for another position next summer or post-graduation, or to determine whether you are someone this employer can recommend to others in the future. Although this may seem intimidating, keep in mind that you would not have been hired if the employer did not think that you were going to succeed. Whatever type of legal employer you work for – firm, government or public interest organization, corporation or judge – there are things you can do to help ensure that you will be in that employer’s good graces at the end of the summer. Be sure to remember, however, that this summer is not only about performing for the employer. You have an invaluable opportunity to learn more about the profession in which you will be working and gain practical experience . You should make it your aim to get as much out of the experience as you can.

Here are five things you can do to help ensure that you get the most out the summer.

Do good work and work hard. Nothing will impress an employer more than proving them right about your ability to do the job. After all, receiving an offer for the summer means that those who interviewed you believed you have what it takes to succeed in their organization. The quality of your work product should be your priority from your first day on the job to your last. Proof-read all of your work carefully and submit only polished and completed assignments, not drafts. Be meticulous and efficient on every assignment (even the ones that aren’t particularly interesting to you). Take the responsibilities that are given to you seriously and show that you value the opportunity that has been afforded you. Don’t miss deadlines, be late to meetings or over-extend yourself. If you reliably produce excellent work product and demonstrate a commitment to the work, you greatly increase your chances of being asked back if there is a position to fill.

Ask lots of questions. Asking questions is one of the best ways to learn and to express your interests. Be proactive about your professional development by exploring legal issues and seeking career advice from the attorneys you work with. In addition, you should not be afraid to ask as many questions as you feel you need to in order to understand fully the work assigned to you. Before you walk out of the room after receiving an assignment, make sure that you understand things such as the format in which your assignment should be completed (e.g., memorandum, oral report, draft brief, letter to client), by what date the assigning attorney wants the project completed and whether there is a limit on the amount of time you should spend or the kinds of research materials that you may use. Follow up with the assigning attorney if you realize later that you are still unsure about how best to proceed. No question will make you look as bad as answering the wrong question in a memo or racking up thousands of dollars in LEXIS fees for a client that will not pay for electronic research. Confirming that you understand the parameters of your assignment helps ensure that your final work product is acceptable to the assigning attorney.

Build relationships and stay in touch. Build relationships with the attorneys or organization where you will be working, as well as with any other law students who are there for the summer. Show initiative and an ability to work independently, but not competitiveness or arrogance. Most legal employers value attorneys who are able to work well in a team environment. Try to work with as many different attorneys as you can over the course of the summer. Doing so will give you exposure to various work and lawyering styles, as well as to more attorneys who may have a say in later hiring decisions. Remember that you can learn a lot from the support staff, who sometimes can be more approachable when questions or problems arise. It can be easy to fly under the radar during a summer position. This won’t help you when future hiring decisions are made and the decision-makers can’t remember your work, what you were like or, even worse, can’t remember you at all. Once the summer comes to an end, don’t just disappear. You have made some significant contact with people who will soon be your professional peers. Even if you don’t end up working full-time for the employer you work for this summer, relationships you develop may prove to be valuable connections for your future career.

Seek out feedback and other growth opportunities. This not only serves the purpose of finding out if you produced satisfactory work, but also allows you to gather information that will help you improve on your future assignments and general lawyering skills. You may be asked to complete another assignment for the same attorney, so listen carefully to feedback. This will help you improve your performance the next time around. Attend training programs or seminars that are given or promoted by your employer. Take advantage of opportunities to learn more about the profession and/or an area of law in which you think you might like to practice. For example, if you are invited to attend a deposition or hearing, sit in on a settlement or contract negotiation or participate in a client meeting – go! If you aren’t invited, ask if you may tag along. Also, to the extent possible, attend internal meetings and social events to find out as much as you can about the organization where you are working to determine whether it is the right place for you. This also has the added bonus of putting yourself in situations where you are more likely to meet (and hopefully impress) attorneys at that organization. However, make sure that you leave yourself with enough time to complete your assignments in a proper and timely fashion.

Be professional and have a great attitude. Maintaining a positive attitude throughout the summer goes a long way to making a favorable impression – farther than most people realize. A positive attitude means not only acting professionally and respectfully at all times and toward all people, including support staff, but also showing a genuine interest in and enjoying the things that you will experience. Part of your evaluation will be your ability to mesh with the culture of the organization and the other people who work there. For most employers, someone who is consistently respectful, confident and courteous will more likely been seen as a person who will “fit-in” well. Don’t get drunk at social events, don’t tell or email dirty jokes or otherwise make insensitive comments. Use discretion when discussing cases, clients or other attorneys . . .you never know who may be riding in the elevator with you and may overhear your comments. Be a positive addition to any team. Realize not only that you have something to contribute, but also that you can learn from the others with whom you work. All attorneys experience setbacks, defeats and criticism during their careers. If these things should happen during the summer, take them in stride. Don’t let them deflate you for the rest of the summer. Stay positive and confident, learn what you can from the experience and move forward.

Good luck and remember to have some fun!