VOL. 116 | NO. 48 | Monday, March 11, 2002
Summer associate programs look at tight budgets, but continue programs
Summer flings might turn long-term work for law clerks
By SUE PEASE
The Daily News
As any law student can attest, law school competition is fierce. Everyone is working for those top grade point average ranks to be as attractive as possible to law firms.
But, just as important as the GPA is the essential law firm clerkship.
If after three years of law school, a student doesnt garner a clerkship, the employment outlook may not be as bright.
"You would really be up a creek," said Joann Nicholson, a clerk at the local firm Deal Cooper Holton PLLC.
For cities fortunate enough to have a law school presence, students may have the opportunity to clerk year round, as in Nicholsons case.
However, summer associate programs, where law school students work as clerks for a half or whole summer, are traditionally the process in which firms mostly large ones hire new attorneys.
While some firms have veered away from hiring new graduates, many continue the programs hoping the extensive process will cut down on hiring mistakes.
"I think the direction some firms have taken is it may be better financially to let other firms do the summer associate programs," said Hunter Humphreys, hiring partner for Glankler Brown PLLC.
There is a great cost in attracting and then hiring and training new attorneys until the point where they are profitable for a firm.
"I think that is why, in part, some firms have taken a different direction let somebody else train them and then hire them away," Humphreys said.
But, for Glankler Brown, which still does most of its hiring through the summer associate program, the expense of developing a relationship early on and really getting to know a candidate outweighs the risk, and in the long run, hopefully, fosters loyalty.
"On the one hand, you are spending a lot of time on your summer program, but on the other hand, you are more likely to get the people who you really want and end up staying with you," Humphreys said.
While summer associates have the opportunity to gain training, its also an opportune time to discover the firms culture, meet other attorneys and explore a new environment.
And, much of that happens after work, during social gatherings, where it is still important today to "wine and dine" summer associates.
Sue S. Hunter, director of attorney recruitment and development, for Baker Donelson Bearman & Caldwell PC, agreed entertaining is crucial.
"Absolutely. Because we are competing for the top talent in these law schools, we feel we should not only impress them with the type of work we have, but because there is a certain amount of competition, you want to show them a good time," Hunter said.
For instance, a law student may clerk half a summer in Memphis and half a summer for another firm in Atlanta. So, firms often want to showcase restaurants, nightspots and other city offerings.
"Because, you know you are having to compete with a cosmopolitan city such as Atlanta," Hunter said.
With an uncertain economy, many companies have tight budgets, so entertainment expenses are scrutinized. But for many, if social outings are effective, they will stay in the budget.
For example, one year Hunter said summer associates working in all the firms offices were flown in to Memphis for a weekend of activities, such as Redbirds games and dinner outings.
Its an opportunity for students to learn about the firm, meet with decision makers and other summer associates, she said.
"Obviously that was costly, but we will continue to do that, because I think it is very effective," Hunter said.
"I think firms are willing to spend the money, if it is money well spent."
Humphreys agreed entertainment during summer associates programs is important, to an extent.
Baker Donelson hosts on similar activities, such as Redbirds outings and dinner parties, he said.
"I think we have a good combination of work and work experience along with an enjoyable time for these people," he said.
So, what happens after a law student has worked as a summer intern and not received an offer of hire?
Most law students wont need to worry, because today, they typically work more than one internship.
"More and more firms are hiring for half summers instead of full summers," Humphreys said.
Each summer during law school could provide various internship opportunities and therefore several offers.
Also, simply having a good firm name on a resume helps, along with the experience of clerkship.
Although law firms arent exempt from todays mindset of frequent job changing, they look at their summer associate programs as fostering long-term employees.
"Thats how we approach it. Not that they will be gone in three years, but people we will work with us for many, many years," Hunter said.
"We really look at it as an investment on our future."