Are You Interviewing Soon? The Day-In-The-Life-Of-A-Summer-Associate MegaPost
Yesterday I posted some questions that 2Ls might consider when looking at law firms as they begin the job search process (it's not a terrible post; check it out directly below). But this morning I realize that I've gotten a step ahead of myself. I mean, how can someone think about questions before they even really know what people at law firms do. I had very little conception of the day-to-day of a summer associate's life before getting to the firm I'm at. And I probably haven't done a terrific job this summer of really painting a good picture of a typical day. I'm pretty sure that a typical day here looks a lot like a typical day everywhere, so I feel like this might actually be useful. I'm aiming for useful rather than funny, but I will try to accomplish the Herculean task of being both. Thus: a typical day.
1. I wake up at 7:20, which is too early. But I'm living at home, and I'm about an hour and ten minutes away on a typical day (a little bit less if I don't "just miss" a bus or a subway). For people who've never had a "real job" before, you won't appreciate the benefits of not having a long commute until it's too late and you've already plunked down $$$$ on a sublet in a "more fun" area of town, or a "gentrifying hamlet" across the river, or a "slum that someone described quite disingenuously on Craigslist." For people who've had real jobs before, you already know. Nevertheless, the fact that my rent is free makes the commute worth it, at least intellectually. And I've been able to get my Amazon wish list significantly reduced because of the awesome way that the New York Public Library can gather the books I request together and e-mail me when they're waiting for me, all at no charge. This library thing is pretty cool. I still don't understand why downloading music is bad, but libraries continue to be an acceptable way of reading other people's intellectual property for free. Is it because you have to return them? So 30-day mp3s with free renewal up to 5 times and the ability to borrow again and again would make the music industry happy? I suppose it's the scale -- the library needs to buy each book it lends -- but now with stuff like iTunes, could we have an iTunes library where only 1 person can take the song out for every copy the library buys? I've gotten off track here, and so quickly. In any event, I wake up at 7:20, and then waste 20 minutes setting my fantasy baseball lineups, checking e-mail, and seeing if anyone linked to my blog overnight. These are things I could wait to do at work and get 20 more minutes of sleep in the morning. But there's something about the more gradual ascent from sleep to shower to subway that feels better than jumping right from bed out the door. Other people press snooze; I press "Scott Hatteberg 1B/DH; Travis Hafner Bench."
2. It's 8:50. I've completed the bus portion of my journey and I'm now leaning up against something filthy on the subway. There have been 4 days when I've gotten a seat. Either a Friday before a holiday weekend, or a day when I left later than I should. Every other day I lean against something filthy. A couple of times there have been no more things to lean against and I have to touch a subway pole. I've written articulately about subway poles before. Those especially interested can do a search.
3. Sometime between 9:14 and 9:27, I arrive at work. We're supposed to be here at 9:30. This is as close as I can time it and still feel comfortable. If I'm in the mood, I stop at the Attorney Lounge on the way up and get a muffin (if there are any left). The bagels are more popular than the muffins, but I like the muffins better. Not all of the muffins. The banana walnut are pretty bad. The plain white ones are pretty bad too. The corn muffins are okay. The raisin bran with oats on top are probably the best. One day I put cream cheese on a muffin, in part because I wondered if it would be good, and in part because I was too sleepy to remember whether cream cheese goes on bagels or muffins. It doesn't go well on muffins. I don't recommend it. One day I stopped at a nearby baked goods emporium -- there are about 12 within a stone's throw; most are city-wide chains with impenetrable vaguely foreign names, like "Pax," "Le French Breakfasterie," "Bulgarian Bagel Shop," "Europa Cafe," "Asiatic Cafe," "Arctic Cafe," "Authentic Tacos, Pizza, and Kung Pao Chicken," "Cosi," "Pan-Asian Fusion Kosher Delicatessen and Spa," "Regurgitated Flour and Sugar," "Le CaffeineCaffeineCaffeine," and "Sewer Shack." Three of those are real. The rest are worthless filler. Sometimes, if I'm expecting a slow morning where the urge to go to the bathroom will be a welcomed distraction, I'll get some tea too. Sometimes I won't. I like to surprise myself.
4. I arrive at my desk -- I share an office with another summer, which is nice. Some people share offices with first-year associates, which is probably also nice, but in different ways. Sharing an office with another summer means we can ask each other dumb questions about whether the blinking light on the phone means it needs maintenance, needs a new battery, or there's a voicemail message. Or what the energy bars in the emergency kit taste like. Or whether it's appropriate to ask our secretary to send something inter-office mail, or if that's something we should just figure out how to do ourselves. And it sort of means that if I have nothing to do, I don't have to feel like I need to pretend, just because there's a "real lawyer" in the office who might notice. But if I shared with an associate, there'd be someone to ask real questions to, about how to do actual lawyer stuff, and -- the real bonus -- someone to go to lunch with when other plans don't come to fruition. Because the real goal of the summer is to go to lunch. Not really. But it's in the top ten.
5. I check my e-mail, voicemail, paper mail, and whether I've left anything on my desk with the intention of doing it this morning, but have forgotten about it sometime between leaving yesterday and arriving this morning. Like, "Why's this paper here? Oh, yeah, it's because I have to read it. I should do that." Papers on my desk right now: a phone extension without a label as to whose it is; three drafts of something I wrote last week; a sample form an associate gave me to look at; a fourth draft of the thing I wrote last week; an e-mail I printed; a mapquest map of somewhere I went last week; some handwritten notes from a conference call I sat in on; the name of an associate who wanted to know if I was free for lunch; my Lexis card with password on it; a petty cash voucher form for a $2.00 subway trip that I theoretically could get reimbursed for but don't really have the energy to figure out how reimbursements work just for $2.00.
6. So I'll either have an assignment I'm working on, or I'll have to check if someone has feedback on something I did and needs me to do more on it, or I'll e-mail someone and see if they have anything for me to do. At the firm I'm at, we're assigned to a couple of attorneys for two- or three-week cycles, so we can sample a bunch of different practice areas and work with a bunch of different people, but it's flexible enough that it's no problem to keep working on projects after one rotation is done, or to go back to people you were working with before and see if they have anything new for you to do if things are slow from the people you're assigned to. It's actually a loose enough system that you can make as much of the summer as you're motivated to, as far as trying out different work and different people -- you're not limited as far as where you can turn, but you're also always under some people's charge so you don't feel like you're totally on your own to find work. The flipside is that you sometimes need to make an effort to find work, and that different summers can have radically different amounts of work just depending on who they get assigned to and what projects come up. But I'm guessing that happens in most places, regardless of what the structure of the summer program is. During interviews, I heard from a lot of firms about whether you do rotations or you're assigned to specific groups, or it's a free for all -- the basic structure of the assignment system. But I'm realizing that the more important dimension is probably how rigid it is -- no matter what the baseline is, are you able to "contract out" by doing assignments in areas you want to try, and with people you want to work with. A system where we had to stop each project on the Friday our rotation ended, and couldn't do anything not assigned by the people assigned to us would feel different -- not necessarily in a bad way, if there was enough work being assigned by your people, and if you were assigned to divisions you like -- than a more flexible system. And the ability to change your preferences throughout the summer -- like, if you originally had to rank practice areas and were assigned to your top 3 for stints during the summer, but got to the firm and decided you don't like what you picked as #2 but want to try something else entirely, or you start doing #3 and realize you want to do more of it -- seems useful, because we know nothing coming in, and just being at a firm provides a lot more knowledge about what these people actually do in the different groups.
7. The assignments themselves. Actually this part's pretty much what you might expect before the summer. Researching on Lexis and Westlaw, writing up summaries of cases or memos or other big stacks of paper, reading through big documents looking for small stuff, helping to organize or arrange or manage big stacks of paper, filling out forms, checking rules and procedures, drafting e-mails, memos, perhaps some contractual language, drafting initial stabs at sections of a brief, sitting in on conference calls, going to hearings, tagging along in court, perhaps sitting in on a client meeting. That's basically the collection of tasks. Which seems a lot like what a first-year associate does. I suppose asking about guidance wouldn't be terrible -- but I think probably all firms know how much guidance summer associates need, and all are probably pretty good about not giving people stuff they can't handle, at least not without appropriate directions and starting points. The work itself has been appropriate to get a taste, but I wouldn't think it's something most people should be concerned about going in -- what they teach us in law school is enough to handle the stuff they want to throw at summer associates, at least from what I've seen. These firms know what they're doing in this arena -- there's nothing to be gained from giving out work people are ill-equipped to do.
8. After some work and some e-mail checking, it's time for lunch. I've already mined the summer lunch territory in previous posts. The days we don't go out to lunch, usually people give a talk over lunch about what they do and what their group at the firm does, and from talking to friends at other firms, that seems pretty standard. Sometimes hard to tell until you actually get an assignment from a group; and also, as much as they pretend otherwise, it seems like, on a broad scale, the work in one department is a lot like the work in every other. It doesn't seem like there's a tremendous amount of variation except for the general point that litigation is more Lexis research and brief writing, and corporate/transactional is more contract reading and contract writing.
9. Afternoon, same as the morning, basically. Some more work. I'm running out of steam on this post. I think firms do differ on how many hours they expect a summer to be at work. I have friends who stay pretty late. That's something to ask about, but perhaps not until offer is in hand. And maybe you want to be busy enough to have to stay late, I don't know. Some people do. Some projects require people to stay late. Whether you stay late may be a combination of a crapshoot and your own work habits and style. Just like there are people at law school who study more than they need to and are always in the library, there will probably be people at your firm who make things take longer than they need to and stay late for reasons that may not be apparent to people who do things differently. Everyone works differently and gets differently stressed about stuff. It's not all that dissimilar from school in this sense. I get the sense firms are not dying to make you stay later than you need to.
10. And one or two nights a week, the day finishes with some sort of summer associate event -- territory, once again, I've mined before. We've had the same mix of stuff as our peer firms, often at the same time -- bowling, scavenger hunt, culinary class, Broadway show, concert, etc. It's fun, and usually comes with lots of food. It's nice because it makes the summer feel like summer camp and not just work, and helps you get to know your fellow summer associates. Okay, certainly the humor has petered out at this point in the post, and I don't know that I have any more to say under the "day in the life" backdrop, at least not right now, so I think I'll end it here. Phew. Hope someone found this helpful.