30 in 30: ABA experts share top tips for summer associates

Members of the American Bar Association shared 30 tips for success for students who have summer associate or clerkship positions. From left: Erica Bartimmo, Logan Murphy, Brian Koji, and Katie McCray. Photo by Marie-Salome Desbats

By Brittany Given

On Oct. 21, 2019, the Office of Career and Professional Development hosted a panel to help students with summer associate or law clerk positions by shining a light on what they can expect and how to make the most of their time in the law firm.

A panel of local attorneys and members of the American Bar Association (ABA) shared their top tips in a special ABA 30 in 30 session with students. Panel members included Logan Murphy,  shareholder with Hill Ward Henderson in Tampa; Katie McCray, senior counsel at Wilson Turner Kosmo LLP in San Diego; Erica Bartimmo, corporate counsel for Jabil Inc. in Tampa; and Brian Koji, shareholder with Allen Norton & Blue, P.A. in Tampa.

Top Tips

  1. Find a Mentor: This is easy to say but hard to do because everyone is likely very busy. Make yourself visible and valuable. Go into attorneys’ offices and ask what they are working on and if you can help. Seek out more than one mentor if you can.  
  2. Receive Software Training: If the firm offers training, make sure you sign up. Get to know the IT person or team.
  3. Learn the Law: Learn as much as you can. Even in firms that specialize, there are different subtopics.
  4. Understand Research Economics: Ask if you should research on Google or other free search engine before heading to Lexis Nexis or Westlaw.
  5. Accept Assignments: Volunteer to do research or extra assignments if the opportunity arises.
  6. Know Who Does What: Remember there are other team members who make up a successful law firm besides the attorneys. Get to know the paralegals and administrative staff, too. Sometimes it is better to ask a paralegal a question before going straight to the attorney.
  7. Get Time Estimates: Some assignments should only take an hour while other assignments will take all week. If you feel like you are spending too much time on a project, let your supervising attorney know.
  8. Know Your Firm: Research the firm online before you start working there.
  9. Look the Part: If you look like a lawyer, you’ll be treated like a lawyer.
  10. Incorporate Assigning Attorney’s Styles: Write how the assigning attorney wants you to write rather than how your Research & Writing professor wanted you to write.
  11. Be Respectful: Always err on side of being respectful. Don’t forget to be respectful to assistants.
  12. Solicit Feedback: Ask what the attorney thought of your work if feedback is not provided. Feedback is the most valuable part of a clerkship. Don’t be defensive when you receive criticism.
  13. Learn from Mistakes: Attorneys expect that you will make mistakes. You are evaluated on how you learn from your mistakes.
  14. Socialize with Caution: You need to go to firm social events. It’s part of the job and part of your evaluation. Do not overindulge.
  15. Report All Time: Write down everything you do.
  16. Utilize a Calendar System: This is very important because often malpractice is a result of missing a deadline.
  17. Read Time Reports: Make sure clients’ names are spelled correctly. If you think you spent too much time on a project, talk to the assigning attorney about it.
  18. Organize Work: Learn it and do it in a way that makes sense to you.
  19. Do Your Best Work: You can use briefs or other assignments you create as future writing samples as long as you get permission.
  20. Proofread and Double Check All Written Materials: When you think you are done editing, edit it one more time, have someone else edit it, and then edit one last time.
  21. Keep a List of Major Projects You Completed: This will help you reflect on all you’ve learned over the course of the summer.
  22. Indicate Satisfaction: When you’ve enjoyed working on an assignment, let the assigning attorney know.
  23. Recognize Your Internal Clients: Your primary clients are the partners and more senior attorneys.
  24. Create an Action Plan: Think about what your summer goals are and what you’d like to learn while at the firm.
  25. Join Bar Associations: Membership is a wise investment in your knowledge base and professional network.
  26. Get Active in the Community: These activities will give you exposure and offer you opportunities to begin building a network of contacts.
  27. Network Inside the Firm: Learn who is who in the firm. Socialize with everyone in the firm.
  28. Be the First One in the Office: Lawyers will be impressed to see you have arrived early and are already hard at work.
  29. Be on Time for Meetings: Be sure to arrive promptly even if others do not.
  30. Master Time Management: Devise a daily routine and stick to it.

Students interested in landing a summer associate position should talk to the Office of Career and Professional Development, participate in on campus interviews, and reach out to firms that specialize in the type of law students are interested in practicing with a targeted cover letter. Joining the ABA is a great way for students to network and meet other lawyers and judges, as well as find mentors and learn about the practice of law.

The ABA Section of Litigation Judicial Intern Opportunity Program will begin accepting applications for second-year students on November 4and for first-year students on December 1. Applications must be submitted by January 10, 2020.