SUMMER JOB: MARKETING YOURSELF
By Alexandra Duran
New York Law Journal
June 3, 2002
Landing a summer associate position is a time-consuming,
sometimes difficult, and often stressful process. It is no wonder
that the summer associate may think, "Whew! That's done, I'm here!"
once he or she has started working. Actually, the important tasks
are ahead -- strategically marketing yourself to your colleagues.
It is a campaign, with valuable benefits won if done well and consequences
if not. Failing to market yourself can lessen the overall benefits
of this summer experience or even hamper your chances of receiving
an offer at the end of the summer. For some people, as soon as they
hear the word "marketing," they hear sales and think, "I can't sell
myself," or "I'm shy, I can't do this." Attorneys may not be great
advocates for themselves, but they are often wonderful and even
fierce advocates for their clients. So think about it not as selling,
but as presenting the best of you to the people who matter the most.
In order to be really successful at internal marketing, all you
need to do is put your own best foot forward.
The Work Before the Work
Like any new project or venture, set your goals for the summer before
it begins. This pre-work is necessary to make your marketing plan
both actionable and effective.
Begin by defining what "excellent work" means for you and the firm
before you step in the door. For some associates, it means challenging
work, or work on a high profile matter for resume bragging rights.
For others, it must be in a particular substantive area of law,
or work for a particular partner. Some can tolerate open-ended projects
while some prefer short term and highly structured assignments.
Whatever you choose, it is critical that you make a thoughtful decision
about what would constitute excellent work for you and then avidly
Once you have set your goal(s), determine who the A-team is in this
area of the firm's practice. It is always preferable to be aligned
with the best when learning new skills.
Building a Marketing Plan
Law firms are places where substance invariably wins out over form.
The value of your contribution is determined by, amongst other things,
the value to the firm of the matters that you work on and the excellence
of your work product. If you reliably and regularly produce an excellent
work product, a place can and likely will be made for you.
Internal marketing really consists of only two major components:
obtaining assignments of "excellent work" and then "nailing" them,
and establishing and growing strong relationships with colleagues
throughout the firm. As quickly as you can, learn how work is assigned
to summer associates. Is it by committee? By an assignment partner
or coordinator? Across departments? Must you rotate departments?
May you select, request or compete for particular assignments? Knowing
how work is assigned is critical to getting the excellent work.
If you fail to figure this out, you have no chance of influencing
the work regularly assigned to you.
work is assigned, introduce yourself to the assignor and discuss
what types of work would enhance your experience towards your previously
established goal(s). Explain that you are interested in gaining
experience in this area and would appreciate being given the opportunity
to do this work as soon as possible. Remember, personal relationships
are everything, and your enthusiastic effort will not go unnoticed
and will more than likely be rewarded. Respectfully and regularly
make your preferences known, especially if they change over the
course of the summer as your work experience helps to refine your
There is a caveat here, though. Do not get ahead of yourself by
offering your services to too many attorneys at the same time. Once
the work is offered, you must do it to deadline, and do it exceptionally
well. There is always a negative reaction to someone who over-promises
and fails to deliver. Act prudently by starting small and enlarging
your outreach, as your ability to manage and deliver excellent work
When receiving an assignment, ask as many questions as you need
in order to know exactly what the assignor expects. These questions
may include: what is the specific use or purpose of the assignment;
in what format (for example, internal or client-ready memorandum,
e-mail notes, outline, etc.) is it needed; what should it look like
in appearance; are there specific forms or templates to be followed;
are there any preference for research materials to be used; and
whether the attorney may be contacted with any other questions.
Clarify if the assigning attorney would like periodic updates (by
phone, voice mail, e-mail or in person) or just the completed assignment
at the due date.
Take ownership of every work project assigned to you. When your
work leaves your hands, even if it is in "draft" form, it must be
excellent. If you hear yourself thinking, "this will be good enough,"
stop and critically look at it again. Excellent work is the expected
standard in virtually all law firms, and although your work may
not receive accolades or public recognition, sub-standard work will
absolutely be noticed and perhaps recorded in your permanent file.
Also, you will not get repeat work from this assigning attorney
if your performance was only adequate. Your value will always be
evident and appreciated when you manage your own expectations and
the expectations of others. When this happens, excellent work will
flow easily to you and you will undoubtedly experience greater job
Positioning Your Work Product
Excellent work speaks for itself. It can, however, also benefit
from a little "positioning." By discussing what you learned from
your recent work with both your assigning attorneys and mentors,
you can highlight your work product while seeking assignments of
greater challenge. But be careful not to permit this discussion
to cross over the line and become bragging or touting - use an observational
tone and be matter-of-fact in describing the substantive knowledge
and skills you have gained. Ask for advice on what to tackle next
so that you effectively manage your learning curve and career path.
Begin your professional alliance and build trust by seeking out
and taking the advice of these colleagues. Once they see you as
a potential member of their team, they will think of you (since
you are regularly reminding them) for the type of work assignments
you want to do. In essence, they have become your internal agents
and will assist you in your search for excellent work.
At the completion of each assignment, circle back around to each
individual you worked for or with and inquire if they were satisfied
with your work product. Ask if there was something you might have
done differently or better. It is not only the details of this discussion,
but the inquiry itself, that internally markets you as a valuable
addition. An ability to get along with others, your flexibility,
eagerness to learn, and desire to please will all be noted.
It is not enough to simply deliver great work product. You must
also build and develop strong relationships throughout the firm.
If you treat everyone as a valuable client, it is possible to build
strong relationships by being a "good enough" communicator -- it
does not require being a "great" communicator.
Many of your colleagues experience similar concerns about their
own communication skills, and they will be grateful if you just
make an attempt to communicate with them. "Small talk" can be difficult
for some people; however, there is no rule that says that you must
engage in small talk. Topics for discussion can include substantive
law and open-ended questions that are designed to result in your
learning something important to you -- about the practice area,
about the applicable law, or how to work well with clients. Being
sincere and listening well to the other party in the conversation
is more important than any "clever" remarks you may think are required.
Developing good working relationships with your colleagues throughout
the firm provides the opportunity to have a wide variety of individuals
as mentors. Some will mentor you in the substantive law, while others
can teach rainmaking skills, or the art of billing for maximum realization.
Your professional career will hopefully be long and enriching, with
interesting turns and opportunities, and these mentors can facilitate
these opportunities through their professional insight and support.
If you nurture these relationships, giving as well as receiving,
they will last for years and add tremendous value to your professional
career and, perhaps, your personal life.
Attend summer associate social activities as well as firm functions
that include the entire organization. Join the softball team, either
as an eager fan or an active player: spirit and enthusiasm is always
noticed. Most people prefer to work with those with whom they share
common interests and values, and whose company they enjoy. A firm
is, after all, a social arena as well as a team of individuals solving
substantive legal problems.
A summer associate position is a very long and complicated job interview.
The probability, over such a long period of time, is that at least
one thing will go wrong. But having introduced yourself and engaged
with as many colleagues as time permits will dramatically increase
the number of people who speak favorably of you when it counts.
Individuals at all levels of the organization can influence whether
an offer is made, including secretaries, paralegals and the mailroom
staff. It is imperative that you engage with all level of employees
in a congenial and professional manner while nurturing these relationships.
If an offer is not extended, you are more likely to have won over
individuals who may still be favorably inclined to assist you in
your job search through referrals, recommendations and advice. These
are valuable relationships indeed!
The End of Summer
At the end of the summer, do not just disappear from the firm. Speak
with colleagues you have and have not worked with. Explain that
you hope to have an opportunity to work with them in the future
even though it did not occur during this summer. Why do this? Because
good manners matter. Often, although nothing is ever mentioned,
the absence of good manners is noted as a slight, and not forgotten.
Finally, do your best to enjoy yourself and be amiable. The work
demands are great and individuals deal with stress differently.
Be a positive addition to any work project so that you are always
part of the problem-solving solution and welcomed onto the team.
Your enthusiasm and good attitude is the best way to market your
skills and generate a summer-end offer for the fall.
Alexandra Duran, a former general
counsel of Fashion Institute of Technology who first began practicing
law with a large New York firm as a summer associate, is founder and
principal of Career Transitioning and coaches attorneys in advancing
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