Building a Varied Practice as a Summer Associate

Building a Varied Practice as a Summer Associate

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When dipping into the work of a law office for only 10 weeks, it can be challenging to both see a variety of practice areas and maintain the continuity required to meaningfully dig into a project. The attorneys and recruiting staff at WilmerHale do a great job balancing these concerns. The firm's approach ensures that every summer associate can both work on a mix of interesting cases and invest in learning the material and building the relationships that come with being a member of a case team.

WilmerHale ensures that each summer associate gets exposure to a variety of types of legal work by giving out assignments in a thoughtful manner through several different channels. Rather than sticking summer associates to a single partner, practice group or case team, the firm assigns each summer associate a series of discrete tasks. None is meant to drag on and eat up the entire summer. Instead, our attorney and staff practice managers aim to expose each of us to different types of matters with different attorneys in different practice groups. The result is a set of experiences tailored to each summer associate's skills and interests.

Part of what makes this work is that there are at least three ways summer associates can get assignments. First, there is the organized, central assignment system. After meeting with an attorney mentor at the beginning of the summer to calibrate assignments to each summer associate's interests and skills, this central system distributes a mix of work to everyone. It ensures that we always have something to do and can get access to work in any practice area, even if we don't know which lawyers handle those matters.

Second, the summer program managers ensure that we have access to a range of interesting, one-off experiences by soliciting volunteers over email to take on particular tasks. These assignments often take summer associates out of the office: My colleagues have accompanied partners to depositions in intellectual property litigation, traveled to an out-of-state prison to conduct discovery, attended meetings with pro bono clients, and accompanied a young appellate litigator to his first oral argument. Through these opportunities, summer associates are able to see WilmerHale attorneys in action and be a part of some of the most interesting matters in the firm.

Finally, summer associates can get assignments directly from attorneys with whom they have connected and wish to work. After spending a few weeks collaborating, eating lunch, drinking coffee and attending firm events, summer associates tend to find those attorneys and practice areas for which they are best suited. Due to the fact that WilmerHale is filled with friendly people, and the firm manages the summer program in a flexible manner, it's easy to ask one of these attorneys for an opportunity to work with her, whether she is a partner, counsel or associate. It may take a few days for the right task to emerge, but once the details are worked out, the attorney welcomes the summer associate onto her team. For some summer associates, these connections are driven by particular skills or experiences. For others, it's more about personalities. As the summer has progressed, this informal channel has become the best way for me to work with the people and on the matters I'm really excited about.

This system ensures we each build a balanced and varied slate of projects, while giving us the time to really dig into those matters that are most interesting. Most assignments start as a particular, discrete task, but the supervising attorneys usually present the opportunity to continue working on the team after the first project is over. If you've enjoyed the project, this lets you continue learning the case and build on a growing body of knowledge and skills in that particular area. In the case it doesn't turn out to be a great fit, the assignment system offers summer associates an easy, low-stress way to move on. Some of my friends' experiences in other firms' rotational systems have provided them with variety. But a forced march from one practice area to the next has left them continually starting from scratch, unable to get their minds around a case or build a relationship with a particular team. In contrast, WilmerHale's approach lets each summer associate not only choose her own adventure, but also alter course as often as necessary. The result is a bespoke experience that fits each person's skills, background and interests.