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 pursue it.

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.

However 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 interests.

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 increases.

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 satisfaction.

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.

Developing Relationships

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.

The Results

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 their careers.

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