Summer Associates Survey 2010:
Chill In The Air

, The American Lawyer

"It surpassed all expectations," echoed another Pepper clerk, noting that the firm's lawyers--including partners--were always available and easy to talk to, and that the matters assigned to associates were substantive and important. "We worked on projects for some of Pepper's biggest clients, and our work was being put to use by partners and associates."

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."