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by Morgan Ratner, Sullivan & Cromwell | December 05, 2023

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As we approach year-end, first-year law students may want to start thinking about where to focus their attention and energy during the spring semester so that they are well-prepared for their summer and can make the most out of their experience—regardless of which organization they join. Here, Sullivan & Cromwell Litigation Partner Morgan Ratner shares some advice on making the most out of your spring semester and tips for navigating the summer successfully.

Prepare During Your Spring Semester. When considering which classes to take during the spring semester, Morgan says, “I would take any class or clinic that will provide you with consistent opportunities to write. One of the first impressions you will make on your new colleagues will be related to your writing skills, from emails to more formal memos. And that’s true across the board, whether you plan to work on litigation or corporate matters.” Beyond classes and clinics that develop writing skills, Morgan suggests courses on statutory interpretation, administrative regulations, or the like. Morgan notes that, at Harvard Law School where she attended, these subjects are covered in a first-year course called Legislation and Regulation, but that the name might vary at other schools. She notes that parsing statutes and regulations is a critical skill for lawyers—especially litigators—and strongly recommends taking this type of course if it’s available.

The spring semester is also a great time to get a jump on your upcoming summer as a summer associate. In particular, Morgan recommends using the spring semester to reconnect with lawyers with whom you were in touch during the recruiting process—some of whom you may have spoken with almost a year earlier. She advises law students to seek out potential mentors proactively and early on, noting that the summer months will fly by and that renewing these relationships during the spring semester will help ensure that you’re able to hit the ground running once the summer begins. 

Hit the Ground Running for Your Summer. Once you begin working, Morgan recommends leveraging your summer colleagues. She notes that fellow summer associates are “invaluable resources” for questions that you may feel shy about asking early on and emphasizes that some of them may be your colleagues for years to come. She advises, “remember that everyone with whom you work matters, whether lawyers, fellow summer associates, or professional staff. The future leaders of your organization may be your classmates, and those relationships can be just as important to cultivate as those with current partners and associates.”

Morgan also recommends preparing vigilantly for your first client call or meeting, which may feel stressful. She notes, “the most important thing to understand is your role: are you expected to be contributing substantively or shadowing? Even if you’re there to shadow, don’t hide—introduce yourself to the client. If you’re there to contribute, make sure that you have all of the necessary materials in hand and that you’ve made yourself an expert on the material for which you’re responsible.” Spending time in advance mentally preparing for these types of interactions and thinking about how to contribute effectively will help set you up for success and ensure that the first impressions you make are positive. And don’t overlook the less-involved chances to learn: Morgan stresses that even shadowing opportunities are important to seek out proactively and often provide the most interesting and valuable experiences. “Spending the morning observing an oral argument or even just sitting in on an ordinary client call can be an incredibly helpful way to develop your skills, to learn about a matter, and to understand just what your job might look like a few years down the road.”  

When it comes to balancing work and social opportunities during the summer, Morgan advises students not to overthink things. She says, “We often talk about balancing those two things as though they’re mutually exclusive. One way to feel less overwhelmed is to remember that most of the things you will be doing during your summer tick both boxes. For example, social events can be a great opportunity to connect with your new colleagues and learn about practices you might be interested in or what they’re working on. And substantive work can be a good chance for bonding, too. You could go to coffee or a lunch and use that as an opportunity to talk about a case or to get feedback on your latest memo. Once I shifted my mindset and realized that working and forming relationships went hand in hand, I found it much easier to navigate my summer experience.”

Finally, Morgan notes that managing time effectively is critical to making the most out of your summer experience. Her best advice? “It’s not groundbreaking, but ask questions, and communicate openly.” She says, “As a summer associate, you are likely to have lots of guidance and hands-on support—take advantage of it. If you have questions about how full your plate is, what to prioritize, or whether it’s appropriate to ask for an extension, ask your mentor or the recruiting staff. It’s important to seek advice, particularly when you’re trying to prioritize a variety of things within the unique framework of your summer program.” She also notes that attorneys may not be as familiar with the summer calendar as you are and says that consistent, clear communication and transparency are critical.  “Don’t forget that at the end of the day, we all want you to succeed!”

Regardless of where you’re headed, we hope you found this blog post helpful and that you have a rewarding experience next summer. From all of us at S&C, good luck with your spring semester!

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