Advice from Real Attorneys on How to Succeed at Your Summer Clinic or Job

This week, PDO surveyed a few area hiring attorneys and attorneys who supervise summer law clerks and clinical students, asking them for advice for students on how you can succeed at a summer clinic or job—to increase your odds of getting a great reference or possibly a job.  Read on for their candid advice.

Attorney Number 1 (midsize firm):

Get to know the recruiting committee.

Get to know each and every lawyer at the firm.

Be nice to secretaries and paralegals.

Best tip: if the firm has a lunch room-eat in the lunchroom with the lawyers.

Attorney Number 2 (government)

It’s good when interns/employees are enthusiastic about what they’re doing, even if it’s only legal research.  Also, even if the employer doesn’t require a set work schedule, I think it is best to have regular and predictable times at work (if full time, like 9-5 or 9-6 or something of that nature)—even if people don’t talk to the intern that much, they like to know they are there when they have a project or a question.

Attorney Number 3 (boutique litigation firm):

I think the best thing a student can do is to treat the summer experience as if they were a full-fledged member of the team doing exactly the same kind of work they would do as if they were an associate.  We recently had a summer associate who arrived just in time to help get a case ready for a big trial. It required a lot of nights and weekends and was not exactly a “wine and dine” experience.  However, because the summer associate showed an ability to step up and become part of the team under difficult circumstances, the summer associate earned a reputation for reliability, and an offer to join our firm after law school. 

Attorney Number 4 (large law firm)

The best thing you can do to improve your chances of getting an offer is to turn in high quality work, on time, and to avoid disrupting others during the process of completing your assignment.  I once had a summer turn in a decent product, but I later found out that the summer had picked the brain of pretty much every associate in the firm in order to complete the project.  Part of the summer experience is showing that you can think for yourself.  And if you have a question (which is fine) – go to the assigning attorney – the other associates weren’t given the assignment (possibly for a reason) and they may lead you down the wrong path.

The other tip I would have is that you should avoid trying too hard to “shine” at a law firm. Most firms have an “innocent until proven guilty” hiring philosophy.  If you can simply show that you fit in and turn in quality work, you are more likely to get the offer.  That’s not to say that you shouldn’t be friendly or make an effort to meet people, just remember that not everyone woke up this morning with the goal of entertaining you.  It’s not summer camp and the attorneys are not camp counselors – they are under deadlines and have job requirements outside of the summer program.  You will all be a lot happier if you take your opportunities as they present themselves, as opposed to trying to “create” something for yourself.  Most attorneys are genuinely interested in the summers, and will make an effort to get to know you at some point during your time at the firm.

 Finally – do not date or flirt with anyone at the firm, particularly if they are married.  There are plenty of opportunities to meet the love of your life independently of the summer program.  And while you may make one friend, you will probably make several enemies in the process.

Attorney Number 5 (judicial clerk who will be going to work at a firm)

I think enthusiasm for the type of work the student is doing and the place the student is working are both really important. 
The next one is a bit hard to convey.  I think students need to show how they can be valuable.  I suppose the best way to accomplish this is by turning in well-written, well-edited memos.
Attorney Number 6 (large local firm)

1. Respect your staff.  First, it’s the right thing to do.  Second, your secretary or paralegal can save your butt the first time you screw up.  Or, if they don’t like you, they can watch you flounder.

 2. The second tip is the result of a half dozen conversations I’ve had with lawyers around town and in a nearby state in the past few months relaying horror stories of new clerks/associates who come from the “entitled” generation.  I know there are many excellent young students at the U who are this age and work just as hard as our generation did.  But from the stories I’ve heard, there is definitely a mix of work ethic coming up through the ranks.  While these kids may very well get jobs early on based on their grades and outgoing personalities, the real test is whether they work hard.  If they don’t, within a few years they will be shown the door.  I’m relieved to say that everyone we’ve had at [our firm] so far have been rock stars.  BUT prove that you are not the negatively stereotyped “Millennial” that all of us have heard about, read about, and are worried about.  Show that you have strong work ethic.  Take on assignments with gusto.  Finish work product on time, even if it means staying late.  Often, a partner will give you one chance to prove yourself.  If you do good work, he or she will praise you to other members of the firm.  Of course, the opposite is true as well.  Your reputation is everything as a lawyer, whether it is in your own firm or with the bar in general.