Do You Have to Be an Annoying Suck-Up to Succeed as a Summer Associate?

Thumbs up! I read this advice for summer associates this morning, and it made me want to poke my eyes out.

I’m trying to imagine what I would have done if a summer had approached me at a firm event and said, as suggested:

I’m working on an IP matter with Joe. Your IP practice was one of the reasons I chose the firm, and I am researching an interesting X issue.

Where to start?

  1. The firm I worked at did almost exclusively IP work (at least in our office), so anyone who summered there for any other reason was woefully misinformed. If someone told me they chose the office for that reason, I would have just looked at them blankly and (hopefully) suppressed the strong urge to respond, “Duh.” If they told me they came for some other reason, I would (hopefully) have suppressed the urge to get them fired for being so clueless.
  2. The idea that any summer has really been tasked with “researching an interesting issue” is laughable. Rule of thumb, if you’re assigned research as a summer, it’s probably either a) fairly obvious what the answer is (and you were only given the assignment to boost your confidence) or b) it’s a complete wild goose chase on a tangential issue that no real associate has time to deal with. With rare exceptions (see, e.g., my amicus brief to the Second Circuit, which — admittedly — was on a totally tangential topic and probably never got read), you’re not doing any real work as a summer associate, and trying to pretend you are just makes you look like an idiot.
  3. Name dropping who you’re working for? Really? If I care, I’ll ask you. Otherwise, what am I supposed to do with this information? Mutter, “He’s great,” while mentally flashing back to the time I pulled two all-nighters in a row for him while being berated for not working enough? Odds are I’m not sharing that little anecdote with you.

Look, I’m sympathetic to the plight of the lowly summer, and I know what it’s like when summer associate positions go wrong.

But, for the love of god, can’t we all stop with the moronic sucking up?

At a minimum, know your audience! Maybe the 80-year-old partner loves talking about ERISA (I knew this guy, and he was very nice if somewhat hard to take seriously), but the average associate is dying to talk about anything else.

Want good reviews from the associates you work with? Do what they ask you to do, competently and reasonably quickly, and then find something entertaining to talk about any time you’re not getting or returning an assignment. Sports, celebrity gossip, local restaurants, hiking trails, bands, anything!

Trust me on this one — a few minutes on the Daily Mail gossip site will make you a lot more popular than hours spent reviewing the bios of every partner in the firm, in case you need to suck up at a cocktail party. (That being said, it would behoove you to recognize the managing partners of the firm on sight. Just sayin’.)

Good luck, have fun, and try not to annoy the crap out everyone you encounter!

I’m sure you’ll do fine.

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  1. I agree! Travel was one of my favorite topics to discuss with folks while I was a summer associate. It is summer and lots of people take summer trips with family or friends — and that can turn into hours of chit chat about that time you backpacked through Europe, etc. You don’t need to “suck up,” but instead, just be yourself. Remember you want to make sure that they like YOU and that YOU will be a good fit. If you aren’t yourself, how are YOU and the FIRM going to know you are a good fit?

    • Yes, travel is another good topic. Almost everyone is interested in it, and it’s an easy way to kill an hour at lunch. “So, anyone got exciting trips planned?”

      Agreed on the fit question. I feel like perfectly normal people (who happen to be summer associates) convince themselves they have to fit into some weird template of a brown-noser to succeed. When, ironically, this just backfires and makes them seem really annoying!

  2. “you’re not doing any real work as a summer associate, and trying to pretend you are just makes you look like an idiot.”

    This is not true for everyone’s summer position. Or are you referring specifically to Biglaw?


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