June 3, 2013
It is summer associate season; the time of year when firms and law students perform the intricate dance of legal hiring – both groups are looking to impress the other. As a firm, chances are your incoming class has read every tip on how to succeed this summer. However, little is written on what firms can do to make the transition easier. After speaking with hundreds of summer associates, I have compiled three things firms should tell summer associates on the first day.
Policies & Expectations – The morning your summer hires arrive is filled with equal parts fear and caffeine. Each of them is eager to prove themselves, to show their value, but they can’t do this without a little help from you. Set expectations about the dress code, working hours, billable hours, and deadlines. Show them how to use the phones and where the office supplies are kept. The result will be far fewer clueless summer associates spending billable hours asking simple questions.
Research – Summer associates are law students. Remember law school? It’s the land of unlimited time and access to research; floors of books, fast computers and dedicated Westlaw printers. Student research philosophy tends to focus on being exhaustive, rather than efficient. This is very different from how firms operate. Teach your summer associates your firm’s rules regarding where to start research (books vs. WestlawNext), how long a given task should take, and when to ask the library for help. Doing so will make your summer associates more efficient researchers.
Billing – The billable hour is a number that will hang over the head of every summer associate. Sit them down and explain how it works. Show them the billing system, demonstrate how to keep accurate notes, and teach them what counts as “billable”. Inform them of your cost recovery strategy and stipulate that you expect them to record their time accurately. In the end, the more they know, the more diligent they can be, resulting in fewer write-offs and less partner time spent reviewing summer associate time entry.
While nothing guarantees success, by teaching summer associates these three things right away, you’re leveling the playing field and giving them the opportunity to succeed where it counts – in their work.