Summer Associate positions are highly sought after by law students. Students compete fiercely for these jobs by studying excessively for exams, competing in extracurricular competitions, and vying for connections with attorneys.
Law students are always excited about summer associate programs, but many students know very little about the actual mechanics of a summer associate program. One of the basic questions that law students typically have is how long are summer associate programs?
The typical Big Law summer associate program is ten weeks long, but there is some variation with some firms holding anywhere between 8-12 week long summer associate programs. The typical ten-week program can also vary depending on what is going on in the national economy.
There you have it, the typical program is ten weeks long, but there are some variations. In fact, as I write this in June of 2020 we are in the midst of an extremely unusual law school summer internship season due to COVID-19. There are also some additional questions that law students have about summer associate programs, such as when do the programs typically start and what do summer associates actually do?
Unusual circumstances affecting summer associate program length
If you had a job as a 1L or 2L Summer Associate this summer I’m willing to bet that your program has been cut back significantly, is partially online or your program has been canceled entirely. It’s a really unfortunate situation for everyone, many law students were excited about their programs only to see their summer plans dashed.
Many of my friends have been stuck in their apartments trying to scratch out a sharply reduced and online summer associate position. When I say that your ten-week program is dependent on outside economic factors, the Coronavirus is a great example.
Another example of when summer associate programs were heavily impacted was during the 2008 financial crisis. During this time period law firms made enormous cuts to their summer associate programs, some canceling them entirely, and others deferring first-year associates for up to one year.
When do summer associate programs start?
Start dates for summer associate jobs vary more considerably than the program lengths. Typically, most programs will start sometime in Mid-May and run into late July. But I have also seen some programs start in late May and run into early August.
What do summer associates actually do?
I want to first mention that working as a summer associate could not be any more different than working as a first-year associate. If your summer associate experience is during normal times (no pandemic) than you are going to be wined and dined, taken out for fun activities, and given extremely interesting cases. Did I mention you will also be paid a ridiculous amount? Summer associates are commonly paid more than $3,000 a week in compensation, whatever is the equivalent of a first-year associate at the firm.
The amount of substantive work you actually do will differ depending on the firm you work at. Summer associate programs are generally divided into two camps: rotational or open assignment. The rotational program is where the firm establishes a formal rotation for you to work in several different practice groups over the course of the summer. Most firms with rotational programs will give you some choice in what practice groups you want to work in. The idea is to give each summer a nice taste of what the work is like in any given practice group.
The open assignment system is what my firm had. Most firms will have you rank various practice groups by your interest level and then will try to have work assignments prepared for you by your interests. It works pretty well because you get a decent experience in each practice group, but you might not discover a practice group you really would like because you did not rank it highly.
Summer Associate programs are interesting, fun, and probably the best job you will have during your legal career. Cherish these ten weeks that you have as a summer associate, you will probably end up with life-long friends and perhaps a better knowledge of what practice group you want to work in.
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