Do great work. Typos – never. Handing in something in draft form – never. You are trying to get a permanent position. Doing your best work is your top priority. Ask someone else to proof read your written work if you are not a good proof-reader.
Make a good first impression. Ultimately, your brilliance and personality will shine through, but it does not hurt to make a good first impression. Be on time for appointments and dress appropriately. If everyone in your office is casual, then be casual. Otherwise, a suit is safer because there will be people in every office who think lawyers should wear suits. Find out what is expected in your office environment and dress accordingly.
Treat everyone with respect. Many a summer associate has unknowingly tarnished his/her chances of getting an offer by treating support staff badly. If you are rude to your assistant, the copy staff, the janitor, etc., it will make it back to the hiring committee and will not bode well. Be a positive part of the office team. The same thing is true with attorneys. Do not go into your summer job with the attitude that there are certain attorneys you need to impress (the partners, hiring committee, etc.) and that the others don’t matter. Be courteous, professional and do good work for everyone.
Ask Questions. When you are given a project, do not leave before you: (1) understand the project; (2) understand what the attorney wants you to do; and (3) know how much time you are supposed to spend. Is the assigning attorney using terms you don’t understand? Ask what the terms mean. Does the attorney want highlighted cases, a memo, or just an oral report? Ask. It is more important to give the assigning attorney what he/she wants, then for you to look like you know everything after two years of law school. If you start working on the project and are still confused, ask for clarification. You might feel stupid and might feel like the attorney thinks you are stupid, but it is far better to ask and turn in a good work product, then to avoid the issue and turn in something that is off the mark. Knowing how much time the attorney wants you to spend will help you gauge whether you are on track.
Accept and decline work gracefully. You have three projects with upcoming deadlines and an attorney asks you if you can take on another project with a short deadline. You don’t have enough time to take the project and do your best work on all of them. At some time during the summer, you will undoubtedly find yourself in this situation. You have two choices: (1) take the project, pull all-nighters and hope that you somehow manage to do all of the projects well; or (2) learn how to politely decline. The best way to say no involves two steps. The first step is to express interest by saying something like “gee, that project sounds really interesting,” or “I would really like the opportunity to assist that that project.” Then, step two is to say when you would be available by saying something like, “I have three things on my plate right now, so I cannot do the project this week but I would be happy to assist first thing Monday.” What you want to express is that you would like to help, but you are concerned that you would not be able to provide quality work within the time constraint the project demands. If you have to turn down a project, consider circling back with the attorney when you finish your other assignments and volunteer to help with anything that is needed.
Show enthusiasm. You’ve just been assigned a project on a boring tax issue. Do not let your lack of interest show and do not let the project languish on your desk. Remember, you are a professional and it is your job to provide the best service you can to the client, regardless of your level of interest.
Get to know people. Meet as many people as you can and make a good impression on them. Make a special effort to get to know people in practice areas that interest you. Take the initiative to introduce yourself or arrange a lunch. Having met and made a good impression on people certainly helps when the hiring committee meets to determine offers. It also helps you decide whether the firm/office is a good fit.
Go the extra mile. It’s 4:30 and a lawyer is looking for someone to help with a project due the following morning, do you: (a) politely decline because you have plans with friends; (b) explain that you would like to help but you already have enough work; or (c) accept the project willingly and with enthusiasm. If you answer (c) and do a good job, you are certain to impress. If you answer (a) or (b), it does not mean that you will fail, but you just missed an opportunity to shine. Before you take on the project, make sure you can actually complete it and your other work without sacrificing quality. Otherwise, you are not doing yourself or your client any favors.
Circle back. You turned in a project last week and have not heard anything from the assigning lawyer. Does the lack of feedback mean that the work was fine, or did the lawyer throw it in the trash in a heated rage? Don’t wonder about it. Stop by the lawyer’s office and say that you are checking in to make sure you provided what the lawyer wanted. Volunteer to help out with any follow up research/work that is needed.
Have fun. Don’t be so nervous about your summer job that you are unable to have fun. It is important to show your personality as well as do good work.