Summer Associates Rank Their Firms
It’s a testament to the untempered enthusiasm of law firm summer associates that even a highly publicized round of mid-summer layoffs at one of the nation’s largest firms can’t keep them down. In The American Lawyer’s annual Summer Associates Survey, the 3,963 would-be lawyers who completed the poll heaped almost universally positive praise on the 134 firms where they spent the summer—even at Weil, Gotshal & Manges, which announced the downsizing of 60 associates and 110 staff in mid-June.
Almost all of Weil’s summer associates said they would be likely to accept a full-time offer from the firm if it came their way. “Would highly recommend it as a place for people who are outgoing, don’t take themselves too seriously, but work/play hard,” wrote one Weil summer in the open-ended response section of the survey, before mentioning “Layoffs!,” perhaps cheekily, as the most memorable part of the summer.
That’s not to say the summer was completely free of angst. Summer associates reported being slightly more worried than last year about the number of jobs available, and they also sensed more anxiety among their classmates. And with fewer openings in law firm summer associate programs, those who landed the coveted positions came ready to work, knowing that if they didn’t make the grade, plenty of other law students would be ready to replace them. “We’re in a tough legal market,” said one Venable summer associate in an interview. “The sense I got from my class is that each person felt fortunate to be there, knowing other people had so many problems getting jobs, and that there’s so much of a crunch at associate-level hiring.”
Some summer associates complained, as they did last year, that a glut of social events—ranging from karaoke nights and kayaking trips to scavenger hunts and baseball games—made it difficult to finish assignments. Many associates seemed to welcome the exposure to how much law firm associates work, and urged firms to be upfront about what they should expect. “Don’t feel pressured to hide the hours we will be working in the future. We are all aware of the big-firm grind, and directly addressing it is a better [policy],” wrote one associate at Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy.
“We know we will work long hours as an associate—being a bit more open about that so we can realistically see our future would be helpful,” said another summer, from Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.
Still, a vocal minority of respondents had the opposite observation: that the workload was a bit too intense. “I was given some amazing work, but I also didn’t expect the hours to be as long,” commented one summer associate at Dykema. Echoed another, from Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz: “Work summer associates a little less.” (A third, from Baker & McKenzie, reported that “billing 11 hours at the first day of the program” was the summer’s most memorable experience.) On average, the workload wasn’t too oppressive; respondents said they worked an average of 27.5 hours per week on billable matters and spent about another 19 hours on nonbillable matters—while being paid an average $3,000 per week.
In selecting which firm to go to, summer associates ranked a firm’s reputation as the most important factor, followed by their desire to live in a particular city, a firm’s strength in a practice area of interest, and their likelihood of getting a permanent job offer. Once it came time to evaluating a full-time job offer, the summer associates said they valued job security the most, followed by a firm’s strength in their practice area, their desire to live in a particular city, and a firm’s perceived work/life balance—a slight change from last year, when the desire to live in a particular city was the most important factor in evaluating an offer and job security was third.
When ranking their firms, summer associates were generous scorers. Nine metrics went into overall firm rank, including the level of training and guidance, partners’ interactions with summer associates, the respondent’s willingness to accept a full-time position if offered, and interest level of the work. Cozen O’Connor held on to its first-place position from last year, scoring a perfect 5, a distinction also shared this year by Foley Hoag. Cozen summer associates described the firm as a laid-back yet hardworking place where attorneys seemed to enjoy their jobs and were always willing to provide guidance. At Foley Hoag, summer associates praised the firm for valuing employees’ quality of life. (For full rankings of firms nationally and city by city, go to americanlawyer.com.)
But even the bottom-ranked firm, Clifford Chance, scored a still-respectable 4.22. Summer associates at the U.K. firm penalized Clifford Chance slightly for the amount of “real work” assignments they got; for how accurately the firm portrayed itself during the interview process; and for how well the firm communicated its goals and expectations. (A firm spokesman had no comment.)
Cravath, Swaine & Moore, last year’s lowest scorer, rose to 99th out of 112 firms this year. The firm scored higher on every metric, most notably on the firm’s level of training and guidance and on how well it communicates its goals and expectations. Several summer associates commented that they thought the firm gets a bad rap: “Cravath has a reputation as being an inhumane place where partners slowly suck the life out of their associates and a place chock- full of arrogant lawyers,” wrote one. “These perceptions couldn’t be farther from the truth.”
When it came to the summer’s most memorable moments, many summers cited frothy social events, including cigar smoking in the chairman’s den (Patton Boggs); a competition to eat the spiciest curry in New York (Alston & Bird); and taking a backstage tour of the Staples Center arena in Los Angeles (Paul Hastings). But other summer associates seemed to find equal enjoyment in the work itself. One Irell & Manella summer’s biggest thrill? “When I went to observe a deposition, the deposing attorney called a break to confer with me on a sticky issue. When the deposition restarted, the attorney used my question! I was so stoked.”