This is a guest blog post written by Vinny Versagli.
Finals (and for many of you the write-on competition) have mercifully ended, and the time has finally come to take on a new and exciting challenge – your summer job. For some of you, this will be your first taste of legal practice and perhaps even your first experience in a professional work environment. For others, this will be an opportunity to expand on your previous legal experience and perhaps earn a post-graduation job offer. No matter what, you want to make sure to leave a great impression on the people you work for. With that goal in mind, here are a few simple rules you can follow to make sure you have a successful summer at work.
Attitude is everything
Ok, so your attitude may not really be everything – obviously your work product matters too – but it is very important. No one wants to work with a person who is unpleasant to be around. Having a positive attitude and a willingness to help whenever and however you are needed is a big first step to leaving a great impression with your colleagues. There is a three-word phrase that I learned very early in my career as a lawyer: “Happy to help.” No matter how mundane the task you are asked to complete, you need to take it on eagerly. The reality is that many of the assignments you will be given this summer, and frankly as a young lawyer, are not going to be the most complex or interesting. If you can maintain a good attitude in the face of any task, you will earn the respect and appreciation of your colleagues, especially your supervisors.
Of equal importance is the way you treat your colleagues. Be kind and courteous to everyone in your office this summer without exception.
Communication is key
If you are going to be a successful lawyer, you need to be an effective communicator. The same is true for your summer job. Make sure that you understand the projects you are given before you start them. A good practice is to repeat your understanding of the project to the person who assigned it to you and ask if you have it correct. This simple step can keep you from wasting hours going down the wrong path and prevent significant frustration on the part of your supervisor when you turn in work product that is completely off target. With projects that involve a significant written component, it is best to circle back with the person you are writing for before you start to write. Tell them what you have found with your research and what you plan to write about and ask if you are on the right track.
Communicating effectively about your workload and deadlines is also important. Many of you will receive assignment from several different colleagues over the course of the summer. Remember that they often do not know what else is on your plate. While you are always “Happy to help,” you also need to let them know about other projects you are currently working on that might not allow you to take on theirs. A good response can be: “I’d be happy to help with that. I’m working on a memo for Cindy right now that’s due tomorrow at noon, but I can turn to it after that. When do you need it completed?” This demonstrates your willingness to help while alerting them that you may not have the capacity to complete their project if it is time sensitive.
Lastly, always respond to voicemails and emails in a timely fashion and always acknowledge your receipt of requests for assistance. Even when no substantive response is required, a simple “Yes. I would be happy to do that.” lets the person know that you received their message and will do what has been asked of you.
Your supervisor is your client
Think of your supervisor this summer as your client. Your job is to make his or her life as easy as possible. That means adjusting your work product and work habits to meet their preferences. You may be eager to show off your legal writing skills but if your supervisor wants a short email with bullet points, he or she will not be pleased to get a formal, ten-page memo. With each project you receive, take the time to understand what your supervisor wants from you. Always make sure you know the deliverable that is expected and when it is due. For written projects, it can be helpful to find similar work product that has been completed by or for your supervisor previously, so you can see the format and style of writing he or she prefers. Many firms, government, and public interest employers maintain databases of prior work material so be sure to consult those helpful resources.
Remember that your supervisor’s time is more valuable than yours. (This is quite literally the case for those of you at law firms.) When you have a question about an assignment, make sure the answer has not already been given to you or is not easily accessible elsewhere. Avoid the urge to just run to your supervisor’s office or fire off an email every time a new question arises. Think through the entire assignment, aggregate your questions, and ask for a brief meeting to discuss them. When you do meet to discuss an assignment, always bring a notepad and paper so you can take notes on what you are being asked to do. This will help alleviate the need for simple follow-up questions later.
Set your work schedule to coincide with your supervisor’s. If he or she arrives at 8:00 am every day, you should be at work then too. If your supervisor breaks for lunch at noon, so should you. As a summer associate or intern, you may not be expected to work as late as your supervisor, but you should be prepared to do so when needed, even if it means disrupting personal plans. Accommodating your supervisor’s schedule may not always be convenient for you but the payoff is worth it. You will develop a reputation as a hard worker who is always ready and willing to help whenever you are needed.
Always submit your best work and never miss a deadline
This seems painfully obvious, but I must say it nonetheless. Every assignment you submit must be well-written and completely error free. Never submit anything but your very best work product. Errors of inexperience are understood (to a reasonable degree) and will be forgiven so long as you learn from them. Careless errors will not be. Typos, missed meetings, and the failure to follow instructions reflect a lack of attention to detail that will shake the confidence of your supervisors and leave them hesitant to give you additional work or a positive recommendation.
You must also never miss a deadline. Missing deadlines in practice can have real and significant consequences. If you ever feel you are in danger of doing so, communicate it to the person you are working for as far in advance as possible. Sometimes projects end up being more time consuming than anticipated, and it is OK to ask for help when needed. However, if you wait until the last minute there is nothing anyone can do to help you.
Ask for feedback
When possible, ask for feedback on significant projects you complete. Doing so will help you improve your work product over the course of the summer and will demonstrate to your colleagues that you are taking an active role in your professional development. If and when you receive constructive criticism regarding your work, do not take offense or become defensive. Understand that the person is only trying to help you become a better lawyer.
Take the time to get to know your colleagues. Talk with them at the office, go to lunch with them, or grab drinks after work. The easiest networking opportunity you will have this summer is with your colleagues and the relationships you build with them can be critical to your future success. They can often be great connectors to new networking contacts and even potential employment opportunities. Not to mention the fact that they will have a wealth of knowledge to share about the local legal market and their areas of practice.
For those of you in law firms, your summer will be filled with social events hosted by your firm. Go to them, every single one. Most of the lawyers at your firm will not have an opportunity to work with you over the summer, so firm social events may be their only chance to get to know you and vice versa. Do not miss out on these opportunities to build positive relationships with the people you hope will be your future colleagues. Skipping out on firm social events can leave the impression that you are not particularly interested in being a part of their community, which is counterproductive if you are hoping to earn a post-graduation offer.
One thing that is critical to keep in mind during any work-related social event is that you must always conduct yourself in a professional manner, even if others do not. Avoid having too much to drink and do not engage in behavior that is rude or disrespectful.
If you have any questions this summer, please don’t hesitate call or email us. We’re here, and we’re always happy to help. Good luck, and have a great summer at work!