Acing It as Summer Associate: Serena S. Gopal from Blank Rome LLP
I have been fortunate to have two summer associate experiences at Blank Rome LLP, the first very different from the second, but both have been positive and have changed my life.
For my very first summer assignment as an incoming 2L, I was matched with one of our firm’s most seasoned partners, who is incredibly smart and handles very complex issues. idea what he was talking about. My vigorous note-taking during this meeting was actually writing down a long list of words in Google.
I was too afraid to ask stupid questions. I remember the words “supply” and “law of the sun” and I think I passed out after that. I timidly returned to his office an hour later and admitted that I actually had several questions for him, giggling as he asked, “So… what does this mean?” Fortunately, he laughed back and gently explained the assignment again, this time reducing it to a college level of understanding.
Tough start, but can’t get any worse, can it? Wrong. My second assignment consisted of drafting a response to a complaint. The complaint couldn’t have been more basic and bare-bones, and some of the junior associates wisely advised me to use an earlier draft as a sample.
So I did, wrote the response and sent it. In fact, I thought it put together pretty well. That is, until I realize that I left the sample case caption information on it and the third response read “Demied” instead of “Denied”. Ugh, but I reread it 10 times! Quickly learned pro tip # 1: You may catch more typos while reading a hard copy than on your computer screen.
You can mess it up and survive
What I take away from those seemingly embarrassing moments: You can mess it up and survive. And, your attorney knows that you might not know – and probably don’t know – what you’re doing at first.
The learning curve can be steep, but rewarding – the summer associate experience is what you make of it. After reaching a skill level (minimum) my first summer, I came back my second summer with a game plan, ready to go.
In the end, I was writing full motion briefs and contributing in a real and meaningful way. Another pro tip: If you build good relationships and goodwill during the summer, you can get started as a full-time associate.
I also encourage all summer associates to use their own experiences to learn more about themselves as future lawyers. Do you find you enjoy litigation or transactional work? What types of tasks do you like to do? Which one do you despise? Who do you like to work with? Why? Having so little time to make a good impression can be scary, but take comfort in knowing that many of the lawyers you will be working with have been you.
Essential tips for success
In my opinion, becoming a successful summer partner is a mixture of three essential things.
First of all, take initiative. Make a comprehensive checklist of questions to ask the relinquishing lawyer before you meet to discuss your assignment, so you don’t forget anything and limit unnecessary follow-ups.
Second, communicate well: Communication is paramount and will prevent a bad situation from getting worse. If you’re lost, be honest about it instead of going out in the dark and giving the attorney what he never wanted.
Third, pay (strong) attention to detail. Personally, I felt like I couldn’t contribute as much substance as a summer, but I could add value in other ways: if I was working on a litigation, I would learn the local rules which apply; if I was asked to review documents, I did so very carefully (and in print!).
This brings me to my last pro tip: make sure you always know and understand the purpose of your assignment. For example, if you are asked to research X legal issues, make sure you know why you are doing it and in what context. What is the ultimate goal? Sometimes you might get an “Oh, you don’t need to know the facts, just do it”.
My response was to politely ask where I could find the complaint or motion we were responding to, just for my own curiosity. More often than not, putting your assignment in context will help guide your research or any assignment given to you – and that’s how you learn to become a (good) lawyer!
A few goodbye tips: start slow and don’t bite more than you can chew. Prioritize social events, even if they’re on Zoom now. Be kind and considerate to all your colleagues, including lawyers and administrative professionals. Always maintain your professionalism; and finally, use your time wisely, it steals.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. or its owners.
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Serena S. Gopal is a partner in Blank Rome’s Philadelphia office and was previously a partner at the firm during the summer of 2018 and 2019. She focuses her practice on general litigation matters. She obtained her law degree from the Faculty of Law of the University of Villanova.