Checklist for Summer Associates

From Mary Crane (, who conducts our 1L Etiquette Dinners.

If you are about to start your first job in the legal profession, your performance over the next several weeks will be absolutely critical to your success. Thus far, your GPA has helped demonstrate that you have the ability to acquire and use legal skills. Your summer employment experience will help demonstrate that you also possess a variety of non-technical skills—from developing business-social relationships that leave others feeling “this is someone with whom I’d like to work” to managing the psychological pressures associated with an intense environment in which priorities shift on an hour-by-hour basis.

The following checklist will help you navigate the Summer of 2021.

Manage Time & Projects

  • Set aside a chunk of time every Sunday to preview the week ahead. Review the status of ongoing assignments and key deadlines. Anticipate opportunities or challenges that could arise. Arrive in your office each Monday with a game plan for the week.
  • Be prepared to constantly revise your game plan. Hour by hour, you will likely need to reprioritize specific tasks and larger assignments. Undertake regular head checks in which you ask yourself, “What’s the most important thing that I need to accomplish during the next 20 minutes?”
  • Manage expectations. As soon as you realize that you may not meet a deadline, notify the relevant supervising lawyer. Do not delay this conversation. The sooner you inform a senior lawyer, the sooner they can put a work-around in place.
  • Forget multi-tasking. Multiple studies confirm that the human brain is not structured to multi-task. Try performing two tasks at the same time, and you will only succeed in doing both tasks half well.  Instead of multi-tasking, focus on monotasking. Give 20 minutes of undivided attention to your most important task. At the end of each 20-minute period, address emails and voicemails. Then repeat.
  • Ask for feedback AND demonstrate that you hear and will respond to any criticism that you may receive. When a senior lawyer indicates that you need to improve a particular skill set, immediately visit your favorite recruiter and ask for assistance. (“Could you please point me to an online tutorial or a personal coach?”)

Manage Stress

  • Keep stress in perspective. Yes, the legal profession is stress-filled. And yes, you will be asked to work long, hard hours. But it’s unlikely that you will need to make the life-and-death decisions that military personnel, firefighters, law enforcement officers, and airline pilots make on a regular basis.
  • Understand that some stress can be positive. In fact, as every actor/actress will attest, a little stress can improve and enhance performance. View mild anxiety as a confirmation that your performance matters to you, your employer and to an end-user client. Use stress as an impetus to seek continuous improvement.
  • Exercise consistently. While you may not feel “in charge” of anything at work, you can take control of a daily 30-minute exercise session. When you engage in aerobic exercise, your body releases endorphins that will trigger positive feelings and reduce stress. Your brain may also release a shot of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps boost mood.
  • Recognize when you’re resorting to non-healthy stress-reduction activities (drinking in excess, eating in excess, binge-watching, etc.). Thus far, you’ve sprinted through life—from high school, to college, to law school. This summer, you begin a marathon. Think carefully about how you will sustain your body and brain through a very long race.

Manage Social Events

  • R.S.V.P. as soon as you are invited to a business social event (welcoming reception, business lunch or dinner, baseball game, etc.) and indicate that you will or will not attend. Once you have indicated that you will attend, only an absolute emergency excuses your absence.
  • If you happen to be an introvert, remember, it’s absolutely critical that you attend some of these events. Law firms are in the business of building relationships. Get comfortable with initiating and participating in conversations.
  • Understand that billable work always takes precedence. Yes, you must attend social events. When faced with an assignment that needs to be revised and a firm reception, however, billable work comes first.
  • Prepare a handful of questions that you can ask anyone, before you attend any reception (online or face-to-face). These will encourage others to speak and thereby take pressure off you to carry a conversation. Questions might include: What projects are you focused on this summer? Where were you employed as a Summer Associate, and what’s your best memory of that summer? Do you have summer vacation plans?
  • Eating and drinking. Whether a reception is conducted live or via Zoom, remember that the food and beverages are secondary. Your primary goal should be to connect with others. Feel free to eat and drink anything that you can manage neatly. With regards to Zoom, avoid foods that might be especially noisy when you chew.

For all Zoom events, ensure that you have a business appropriate background.