Summer Associates Survey 2010:
Chill In The Air

, The American Lawyer

At Bingham McCutchen, this year's second-place firm, summer clerks also took their duties seriously--perhaps in part because the firm laid out the stakes up front. "We told them all this is a ten-week job interview," says  Bingham national director of legal recruiting Ari Katz, "and that a job offer wasn't theirs to lose. They had to earn it."

How did the Bingham associates respond? "They all worked hard because they wanted to make a good impression," says Katz. (As of early September, the firm hadn't decided how many of its 43 summers will get offers.)

While job prospects may have been better, that didn't stop many 2010 summer clerks from obsessing over their firms' hiring plans. That's not surprising, considering that three-quarters of all summer hires surveyed said they were counting on big-firm salaries to pay off law school debt. "Please, please, please don't make us wait until March/April for offers!" wrote one intern from Las Vegas's Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck in the open-ended comments section of our survey. An Arent Fox clerk agreed: "If we deserve the offer, then please give it to us at the end of the summer. If I did a good job, please don't torture me by making me wait."

The presence of fewer summer clerks this year meant there was plenty of work. The interns of 2010 said they got hands-on experience drafting a wide range of briefs and motions, as well as deposing and prepping witnesses, and working on IPOs, mergers, bankruptcies, and project finance and private equity deals.

"I had the opportunity to work on a [U.S.] Supreme Court brief, several appellate briefs, and a huge congressional investigation," raved one associate from Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr.

An intern from Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton reported that he had been deployed to Brazil to assist an M&A deal, while a Chadbourne & Parke summer associate described honing his business development skills by helping put together a client pitch, which he got a chance to test out on former New York governor George Pataki and other Chadbourne partners.

Of course, not all the summer assignments were equally exciting. "Due diligence is as boring as they say," complained a second Cleary clerk. And some summer associates found they had far too much work on their hands. "Ease up on the night and weekend work for summers," suggested a White & Case intern. "There is plenty of time for that later!" A Clifford Chance intern who also got stuck on a due diligence project agreed: "Make weekends sacred. It's neither efficient, nor necessary, to require associates to sacrifice their entire weekends for several weeks. . . . People need time out."

For those who had downtime, firms supplied a broad mix of recreational opportunities, such as jet skiing, fishing trips, whirlyball, skeet-shooting, white-water rafting, baseball games, and golf, plus casino and comedy nights, a Lady Gaga concert, and plenty of karaoke.

Summer clerks also seemed to have at least some dining opportunities reminiscent of prerecession days, including ten-course meals, lunch at the Four Seasons, and, for some Haynes and Boone summers, a dinner in Dallas where one intern fondly recalled "smoking cigars and drinking scotch while being served steaks."

Still, as was also true in 2009, this year's summers generally had to make do with less sumptuous meals and more pedestrian outings and activities--and many clerks felt shortchanged. "Snacks on the terrace should have booze," wrote a Kirkland & Ellis clerk, adding that, in his view, the firm had cut back on the summer events too much. "Lunch budget and no dinners sucks." And few associates wanted to be reminded about how good things used to be. "One of the most aggravating things about the summer program was. . . hearing about how awesome the firm's summer program was in the go-go days," wrote a Ropes & Gray intern.

Because of this year's condensed summer program schedules, many clerks complained that they didn't get enough of a chance to show off their abilities, or get a feel for the type of law they'd like to practice. "Two months is not enough time both to show the quality of work I am capable of and to be evaluated," wrote one summer clerk from Benesch, Friedlander, Coplan & Aronoff in Indianapolis.

"I would love the program to be longer," agreed an intern from DLA Piper U.S., "as it seems like, just as we get settled in, the summer is almost over. However, I understand the financial aspects at play."

Given the stakes, a number of associates expressed the belief that their firms should have set explicit guidelines for how much time they should be putting in. "Be clearer at the beginning of the summer about expectations (How many projects should we complete? How many hours a day should we actually "bill" vs. be at work?)," suggested an intern who spent the summer at Hogan Lovells.

"Don't answer 'it depends' to questions concerning the appropriate number of assignments," wrote a Morrison & Foerster clerk, adding that "more than any other year" this is "one of the things we are worried about."

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