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Four Keys to Success as a Summer Associate

Updated: Jul 11, 2022

Summer has arrived - and that means that ‘tis the season for summer associate programs! While the firm swag, summer lunches and wine-fueled festivities are the most memorable highlights of this time of year, this is also the time that summer associates start making a name for themselves in what will be their professional home for at least the first few years of their careers. So if you’re a summer associate, enjoy the party by all means! But don’t forget that you are laying a foundation for your professional future. Here are four tips to make that future as bright as possible.

Think long term, but be flexible. Start thinking now - not later! - about where you would like to do after you leave your firm.

“What?!?” I can hear you saying. “I don’t even have an offer and you’re telling me to think about my next move?” Yes.

Fewer than one in four law firm associates at AmLaw 100 firms become partners at AmLaw 100 firms. So even if you are gunning for partner, there is a good chance that things won’t work out as you hope. On the other hand, even if you plan to just work in Biglaw for a year or two and then sail into the sunset, you should also plan for how to be successful within your firm, in case you love your work, your colleagues, and your lifestyle more than you anticipate.

Every associate needs a dual vision for career success - one within Biglaw and one outside of it. There’s no time like the present to start creating that vision.

Prioritize your own priorities. You know a lot about working hard, about sacrificing your short-term pleasures for long-term achievement. You excelled at that in college, and you are doing the same in law school. But let me tell you something that might blow your mind: now is the time to stop putting everything off and start really investing in what is important to you.

If you wait until you “have time” to invest in your family, your spiritual life, or your health, you may find yourself years into the future without a clear career path - remember that three out of four Biglaw associates don’t make partner - and without any of the intangible wealth that makes life worth living. So start working now toward the life you want.

Be your own marketing department. We all know that law school is far from perfect, but it has something very important going for it: with intelligence, hard work and a little luck, you can distinguish yourself and be recognized just by doing high-quality work.

In Biglaw, this is simply not the case.

From the day you had your first screening interview, you were building a reputation within your firm. We will explore in a later post how to be intentional about your reputation, but for now just be aware that everything you do either enhances your profile within the firm or detracts from it. Your reputation will largely determine whether you rise or fall within your firm, so cultivate and protect it.

Network for what is now and what is next. Your relationships within and outside your firm are very important. Don’t neglect them in the hustle and bustle of work! Relationships will provide you with valuable information: what makes for success in a given practice group, what opportunities are coming up, and what working with that partner is really like. At the same time, don’t just invest in relationships with your current colleagues. As you continue to think long term and prioritize your own priorities, you will meet potential colleagues and employers and people who may one day be able to share opportunities for pro bono work and board service. Investing in authentic relationships along the way will ultimately pay off. More importantly, it will help you create a community of people whose company you enjoy and who genuinely care about you and your success. In this disconnected world, such relationships are priceless.

If you’d like to get your Biglaw career off to a great start with the help of a certified narrative coach, please email me at or text or call at (212) 634-9392. I’d love to discuss your goals and how I can help.

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