VOL. 122 | NO. 110 | Thursday, June 14, 2007
Law & The Courts
Law Job Interview Begins With Summer Programs
By Amy O. Williams
SUMMER HELP: Third-year law students Farris DeBoard, left, and Tannera George, summer associates at Burch, Porter & Johnson PLLC, review work with Doug Halijan, center, a firm partner and chair of its recruiting committee. -- Photo By Amy O. Williams
Farris DeBoard is a rising third-year law student at Tulane University in New Orleans. But what he learns during his eight weeks as a summer associate at Burch, Porter & Johnson PLLC might make the biggest impact on what practice area he pursues and where he'll be doing it.
DeBoard is one of thousands of law students around the country participating in summer associate programs. For him, working as a summer associate at Burch, Porter & Johnson is perhaps the best way to gain insight into what it would be like to work as an attorney there.
"The first day I was here I went out to lunch with the most senior partner at the firm, Michael Cody," DeBoard said.
Almost every day he and the three other summer associates currently working at the firm are paired with an associate or a partner. There also are social events outside the office, such as a recent weekend canoeing trip to the Spring River in Arkansas, which several of the partners and associates attended.
"They are doing their best to get to know us and help us get to know them," DeBoard said of the firm's attorneys.
While law firms like Burch, Porter & Johnson work hard to woo its summer associates, the associates themselves are given an opportunity to prove what they could contribute to the firm if employed there. At Burch, Porter & Johnson, summer associates typically work a six- to eight-week period during the summer between their second and third years of law school.
"We don't want them to sit in an office all day every day. We try to involve our associates in going to court."
- David L. Bearman
Partner at Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz PC
"Both sides get to know each other really well during the course of a summer," said Douglas F. Halijan, a partner at the firm and chair of its recruiting committee. "Firms want to be sure the folks they hire are going to be able to fit into their firms."
The number of associates firms hire typically represents the number of spots the firm might have open over the coming year or two, said Lynn Gardner, a partner at Glankler Brown PLLC and chair of its hiring committee.
At Glankler Brown, the firm has scaled down to three summer associates this year, which was difficult, Gardner said, because of the high number of resumes the firm received.
"We get hundreds of resumes each year, and all of them look good," she said. "We have fewer summer associates this year than we have had in the past to make sure the ones we have have plenty to do."
Not there to make coffee
The tasks summer associates typically are involved in vary from firm to firm, but there is no doubt research and writing is involved. For Gardner, having fewer summer associates at Glankler Brown this year presents an opportunity to better evaluate their work ethic and analytical skills.
During their time at a firm, summer associates will do work for lawyers such as research and drafting pleadings. But they also have the opportunity to watch their profession in action, often in the courtroom.
"We don't want them to sit in an office all day every day," said David L. Bearman, partner at Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz PC. "We try to involve our associates in going to court."
Many of the attorneys at Baker Donelson started in the firm's summer program, including Bearman. He said the program helps summer associates by exposing them to different practice areas.
"Not every law student knows the precise area of the law they want to gravitate toward," Bearman said. "If we have someone who is not sure if they want to do litigation or transactional work, we'll try to give them a little bit of both to help them make that decision."
One of the biggest assets to having a summer associate program is that law firms get to see how someone who might look good on paper can perform in the work place and interact with clients and attorneys.
Making sure it fits
At Burch, Porter & Johnson, summer associates are told from the beginning to consider not only if they fit at the firm, but if the firm is a good fit for them. Over the weeks they are working at the firm, Halijan said partners and associates make a point of trying to get to know the summer associates by taking them to lunch and attending social activities.
"Firms want to be sure the folks they hire are going to be able to fit into their firms, not just being able to do the work but from an interpersonal standpoint," Halijan said. "You get a better sense over the course of six to eight weeks about whether they will be good interacting with your clients that you might not get a chance to see if you were just evaluating someone just on the basis of their resume and their writing sample and their law school transcript."