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by Vault Law Editors | January 13, 2021


Compiling your OCI bid list and eventually selecting the law firm at which you will work as a summer associate are no easy tasks. It may feel nearly impossible to wade through so many impressive law firms and decide which one is for you. Luckily, you don’t have to make this decision blindly. In Vault's latest Annual Associate Survey, we asked law firm associates the following question: Looking back, what advice would you give to yourself as a law student considering which summer associate program to select? Below are some responses associates shared with Vault.

“Be self-reflective about what work environments work best for you and what doesn't and what kind of work you want to do. Ask questions and learn about what makes firms different—they are not all the same.”

“Take the time to do more second looks to get a variety of associate perspectives.”

“A law student should understand their own relative priorities as it relates to the following: (i) specific practice areas, (ii) firm culture, (iii) exit opportunities, and (iv) ability to build relationships with colleagues. Many of the top firms have relative advantages/disadvantages in these areas and can be prioritized accordingly.”

“Pick the one with the people you like the most. Whether you think the people you work with are going to respect you is probably the biggest differentiating factor. The second biggest factor is how their billable requirement works—more than just the number of hours required; there is often a lot of additional complexity there.”

“Focus on the practice area you'd like to gain the most experience in and the type of work, not the prestige or salary. While the latter may seem important at first, at the end of the day that's not what makes you a better lawyer.”

“Focus on firms that will help you determine (i) whether you want to be a litigator or transactional attorney and (ii) what practice group is the right fit. Unless you are certain that a mid-tier firm is right long term, start your career with prestigious firms because it will continue to open up doors.”

“Choose one where you're going to be truly comfortable to try new things and fail/feel supported by partners. Don't choose based on prestige only. Partnership relationships and doing work you like are more important if you want to be a lawyer for the long haul.”

“Pay close attention to the attorneys at the two- to three-year mark. Are they happy? Do they get exciting work? Do they get along with their colleagues?”

“It's very difficult to tell if a firm will be a good fit or what area you will want to specialize in, so pick a firm that has a range of options and allows you some flexibility to change your field of practice as you get more experience.”

“Base it on the people. People are the best indicator of fit.”

“In choosing a summer program, you need to balance the firm culture with the training/mentoring opportunities. The first years as an associate are formative. If you get good training and experience, you can take that with you somewhere else that may be a better cultural fit.”

“Pick a place where you like the associates and can imagine spending lots of time with them.”

“Take all interviews and offers seriously. You may not get even your top three picks.”

“Take the best [summer] clerkship you can get, and commit to working hard.”

“Split your summer if at all possible so you can develop a perspective on firm cultures.”

“I would tell myself to really do research beyond what was on the website and salary.”

“Choose a place you see your self in the next five years. Walk the corridors, and talk to as many people as you can.”

“Ask more about culture around work-life balance, particularly regarding how responsive associates are expected to be over thew weekends/holidays.”

“Humble yourself, and realize you don't know anything about the career just yet.”

“Focus on the culture of the firm and mentoring opportunities when deciding which firm to choose.”

Deciding which summer associate program is the best fit ultimately comes down to your priorities, whether that means culture, prestige, training, commitment to diversity, career outlook, or some other factor. Taking advantage of touchbacks, meeting firm attorneys, and digging into what differentiates the firms are important steps in determining if a firm aligns with your goals.

This is an excerpt from the 2021 Vault Guide to Summer Associate Interviewing & Top-Ranked Programs. This guide provides expert advice on law firm interviewing and succeeding as a summer associate, as well as in-depth profiles for top-ranked summer associate programs. If you are a student at a partner law school, you can access this guide for free via Vault Campus—check with your Career Services office! 

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