Ten Tips to Thrive as a Virtual Summer Associate

The Bencher—Nov/Dec 2021

By Peyton Farley and Albert Gutierrez

Although the legal profession is slowly finding its “new normal,” the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are still prevalent. The pandemic has undoubtedly had an impact on attorneys, judges, and law students in many ways. For law students, specifically, many legal interns and summer associates are still navigating through non-traditional summer programs. This article outlines 10 tips to successfully navigate working remotely from the perspective of two summer associates who participated in a part virtual, part in-person hybrid program.

1. Be Willing to Adapt

The firm you are working with was required to make several changes to move their summer programs into the virtual environment. Because of this, it is even more crucial to have patience and understanding with on-the-spot changes that can happen from day one. Everyone is trying to navigate through this new territory together, and just as much as you want to make a good impression, so does the firm. Being able to adapt to last-minute schedule changes, technical difficulties, and other unplanned glitches will show your firm that you are flexible and will prepare you for the last-minute changes that arise in practice.

2. Learn to Communicate in Different Ways

The cornerstone of a successful summer associate working remotely is communication. Attorneys and supervisors have no way of gauging your workload and deadlines. You may have an empty schedule, or you may be inundated with several projects with short turnarounds. Actively engaging in conversation with attorneys and supervisors and informing them of your workload status, needs, and struggles is important to ensure you have a manageable workload and don’t find yourself overwhelmed. It is also very important to keep the attorneys informed regarding their respective project statuses and to reach out early if you believe you will have trouble meeting a deadline. Although summer programs are designed to give you a glimpse of what attorney life is like, remember that there are people in place to help you, but you must let someone know.  

3. Be Open to Different Experiences to Make the Best of the Situation

Working remotely is a completely different experience. Attorneys are aware of this. Avoid complaining about working remotely and instead embrace the flexibilities that come with the remote program. Begrudgingly being upset about working remotely does not make the experience better. Understanding that the firm is trying to accommodate you and make the best of an unexpected situation can still help you learn, grow, and meet many experienced lawyers and law clerks.

4. Show Respect for Others as if You Were with Them in Person

Respect goes a long way in an in-person or remote experience. However, when working remotely, respect is a key component for success. Treating everyone you meet online with dignity and respect helps make the most of your interactions, especially when interactions are scarce. Being sure to address each attorney by their preferred name, communicating timely, and being engaged during phone conversations are all ways to show your respect for those you are working with. It is much more beneficial to be remembered as the respectful summer associate than the summer associate with a bad attitude.

5. Take Initiative

Ultimately, legal internships and summer associate programs are a great way to start building your reputation and take control of your career. If there is a practice area that interests you or an assignment you would like to work on, speak up! The firm will appreciate you showing interest in its work, and you will get to experience a new practice area. Taking initiative could be asking to attend a hearing with an attorney, writing a new article for the firm’s website, or even inviting an attorney to lunch to learn more about them and what they do. The more you show interest in the business of the firm, the more opportunities are likely to come your way.

6. Seek Help When You Need It

If you find yourself struggling with an assignment or are unclear of the attorney’s expectations, reach out for help. No one expects you to get everything right the first time. What matters most is the effort you put in to seeking solutions to the problems at hand. By taking the initiative to seek help, you will show the firm that you are willing to go above and beyond to produce a quality work product. One source of help is the legal assistants and paralegals, many of whom have a wealth of information they are willing to share. If you are still unsure of what to do, reach out to the attorney directly for additional clarification or guidance.

7. Find Small Ways to Go Above and Beyond

The life of an attorney is busy! Finding small tasks to check off his or her to-do list is a great way to make yourself valuable to the team. From calling the court to schedule a hearing to helping an attorney draft a quick letter to the client, there are several small but helpful tasks you can help an attorney with that can make his or her day easier. By going above and beyond to help an attorney, you are showing the firm that you can anticipate the next steps, while offering a valuable contribution to the team.

8. Seek Out Shadowing Opportunities

Although the legal format has been changing, the law still goes on. If given the opportunity to attend a virtual hearing, mediation, or conference, take it! These opportunities are a chance to be exposed to the law, learn, and develop interests. And one great perk to the virtual environment is that you don’t even have to commute.

9. Learn to Market Yourself

You start building your legal career on day one of law school. Your summer legal experience is another tool you can use to build your personal brand. If you know there is a certain practice area you would like to work in, seek out assignments in that area. In addition, do not be afraid to share your law school and career accomplishments when appropriate. The firm is looking to learn more about you in hopes that you may join its team one day. By networking with the individuals in your firm and making your interests known, you can start building your individual brand before you even start practicing.

10. Enjoy Your Limited Time

Working remotely comes with its own set of challenges. Make sure to take the time to make the most of your summer experience. Schedule Zoom calls, send emails, and seek out opportunities to introduce yourself. Although you will be working remotely, the attorneys at the firm are still eager to get to know you. Do not let the virtual environment keep you from learning more about the firm and the attorneys you will be working with. Your summer legal experience is hopefully the start of a very long career. Enjoy your time from day one!

Peyton Farley is a third-year law student at Regent University School of Law in Virginia Beach, Virginia, with hopes to pursue a career in estate planning upon graduation. Farley worked as a summer associate for Vandeventer Black, LLP in summer 2021. She is a Pupil member of the James Kent American Inn of Court in Norfolk, Virginia.

Albert Gutierrez is a second-year student at the University of Richmond School of Law. Originally from Miami, Florida, Albert attended Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, where he double-majored in politics and Hispanic studies and played on the varsity baseball team.

© 2021 Peyton Farley and Albert Gutierrez. This article was originally published in the November/December 2021 issue of The Bencher, a bi-monthly publication of the American Inns of Court. This article, in full or in part, may not be copied, reprinted, distributed, or stored electronically in any form without the written consent of the American Inns of Court.