6 Steps to Landing the Best Summer Associate Position

Mar 15, 2017 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

Thinking of skipping out on applying for summer associate positions this summer and dedicating yourself to the pursuit of fun? Not so fast. Not only are associateships an important part of boosting your skillset (not to mention career options) during law school, but the two -- work and fun -- are not mutually exclusive, as highlighted by a recent Above the Law article. Which begs the question: How do you go about landing the best summer associate position? Start with these six steps.

1. Know what you want.

In the case of law associateships, the word “best” is relative. While one opportunity may put you on the inside track to the law job of your dreams, another may lead you down a completely different, dead-end trail. Therefore, the first step on your journey to a fulfilling summer associate position is determining what you want.

Perhaps you already know which area of law interests you most. If not, now’s the time to look more closely at different practice areas, consult with working attorneys about their likes and dislikes, and eventually hone in on positions which best meet your goals.

Other questions to ask yourself while pondering which associate positions to apply or bid for? Where you want to work, preferred type/size/”vibe” of work environment and desired number of billable hours.

2. Understand the process.

As with most things in life, knowing how the process works can give you greater insights into coming out on top -- starting with on campus interviewing (AKA OCI). Your law school reputation and grades are two very important pieces of the puzzle. If you attend a top school and do well there, you’re likely to be flooded with offers whereas if you’ve performed poorly at a lower ranked school, your path to a summer associate position may involve effort beyond the OCI. Still, as a participant in the process, understanding how it works and where you fit into it can lay the groundwork for success.

3. Bid smart.

How you bid during the OCI can make or break your chances of getting an offer. Not only are there limited hours in the day, but you will also likely have a limited number of bids. This is not a situation that calls for throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks. Rather, due diligence can help you strategically select how and where to bid. The better your school and grades, the better your chances of landing a position with more selective firms. (If your law school doesn’t provide more specifics on this subject, check out AmLaw’s rankings for a better sense of where your chances are good, poor and possible.) While it’s worthwhile to apply to a handful of “reach” firms, focusing the bulk of your bids on realistic candidates is a strong defense against ending up with no offers.

4. Network

You’ve heard it before and you’ll hear it again, and with good reason: The value of networking cannot be overstated. This includes working the network you already have while taking a proactive role in building it. From reaching out to well-connected family friends to attending alumni events, there are near-endless opportunities to turn relationships into opportunities. This, of course, involves persistence, but it also has serious payoff potential.

5. Refine your resume.

The more you know about each prospective firm, the more you can target your resume to present yourself as a winning candidate. Certainly, if you’ve got outstanding grades from a top law school, these should be front and center. However, there are other ways to shine as well, including through leadership experience, volunteering, and previous work experience.

And while this may sound obvious, it’s worth repeating: proofread, proofread, proofread. “Attention to detail” is a must-have trait for lawyers, and an imperfect resume is a glaring red flag.

6. Use references strategically.

Some firms may ask for references; others may not. Either way, references should be viewed as an opportunity not an obstacle. Keep in mind that it’s not about name-dropping, but about providing well-positioned, professional references who can speak to your capabilities and potential. (While choosing someone in the legal sector is a bonus, it’s not a requirement.)  Depending on the job at hand, different references may be appropriate so it’s helpful to have a roster of several.

Just be sure to ask first before listing someone as a reference. They won’t enjoy the unpleasant surprise of getting a call, and you won’t enjoy the unpleasant surprise of being eliminated from consideration because of it.

While immersing yourself in applying for summer law associate positions may sound labor-intensive, it’s a worthwhile endeavor. After all -- and if all goes well -- getting an offer to join a firm as a summer associate may well lead to a full-time position after you graduate.

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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