Friday, May 05, 2006

With summer programs set to begin in just over a week at most firms, I've been receiving lots of e-mails asking if I have any advice for making the most out of a summer at a firm, making a good impression on the attorneys, and getting an offer. I thought about this for a few minutes in the bathroom this morning, and came up with ten tips for law students looking to me for summer advice. I'll share five of them today, and save the other five for Monday.

1. Be on time for meetings. I say this not only as a warning against showing up late, but also as a warning to the suck-ups who think they're supposed to show up ten minutes early to everything and don't understand why I'm not ready for them. If I call a summer associate and tell him we're meeting at 10:00, I don't want to see him lingering outside my office at 9:56, waiting to catch my eye. I've booked those four minutes for other work, and it's work I need to get done. What am I supposed to do with you for four extra minutes? I don't want to invite you into my office and have you sitting on my couch while I make a phone call, because you're going to look at things, and look at me, and ask me questions, and touch things, and mess up the couch, and expect me to talk to you, and I don't want any of that. But if I leave you in the hall you're going to think I didn't see you, and I'm going to have to try and avoid eye contact and you're going to be a distraction for those four minutes and I won't be able to get anything done. I schedule meetings for the time I want to meet, not five minutes before and not five minutes after. Don't be a nuisance.

2. Ask someone else. I know we all say you should ask questions when you don't understand something, but, honestly, it's a waste of my time to sit down with a summer associate and explain how we like our memos formatted. Of course you should get clarity on every assignment before you waste time doing the wrong thing, and of course there are things you're not going to know everything right when you start -- you're not going to know anything at all right when you start, I know that -- so you should absolutely feel free to ask questions. Just don't ask me. Ask someone else. Ask an associate, ask your secretary, ask someone you find lingering in the halls looking like she has nothing to do. Ask a paralegal, ask another summer, I don't care. Find out which associates work for me and ask them how I like things. But don't ask me. I don't have time and I'm just going to snap at you, make you feel stupid, and make you regret you even bothered. Neither of us want that.

3. Your problems are not my problems. You want to go to your best friend's wedding and it requires you miss a Friday. You don't know whether an assignment is important enough to skip the summer associate event, or whether we'd want you to go have fun and do the work tomorrow. You've been asked to go to court and don't have a suit in the office. You don't know if you really want to work at a law firm after graduation. You have lice. These are all problems, sure. I'm not saying they're not. But if you want to be treated like an adult -- and, even more important, receive an adult's salary -- you need to act like an adult and solve your problems on your own instead of bringing them to me. Of course you can arrange your work so you can miss a Friday, of course there are assignments you don't need to do right away and you can go on the summer associate strip club trip instead, of course you can go to the bathroom during a conference call if it's really an emergency -- but I'm not your parent and I'm not your friend and I don't want to take on the burden of solving your problem. You can solve it yourself. You can tell the people you're working for that you won't be here on Friday, you can gently ask if the assignment is more critical than the summer associate dance party, you can slip out of a room for a moment. It's okay. You don't have to turn it into a federal case and waste my time thinking about it. Ask once. Listen to the answer. Don't ask again, don't write me a memo, don't make it a discussion, don't take my time. I want to think about me, not you. If you must be annoying, be annoying in front of someone else. I guess this isn't that different from the previous tip.

4. Read my mind. This one is pretty self-explanatory, and I touched on it in a recent post. We're not always clear about what we want, but that doesn't excuse you from knowing. You're smart enough to know what people mean even if they say something else. If I tell you to send the client an e-mail, it doesn't make sense that I really want you to send the client an e-mail without me looking at it first, except in the cases where I don't really want to be bothered reading every e-mail that gets sent to a client. So maybe I want to see it, maybe I don't, but whichever one it is, you should be able to figure it out and not do the wrong thing. Don't send it right to the client without checking with me, if I want you to check with me, and if I want you to send it right to the client, please don't bother me with it, because you're just being a nuisance then, and violating rule #2. You need to know what I'm thinking, even when I'm not being clear, and even in situations when I might not even know what I want, and am just talking to hear myself talk. I don't always mean what I say or say what I mean, but if we decided you were smart enough to work here, you're smart enough to figure it out. I'm not that complicated a person. You should be able to know what I'm thinking. It probably involves you leaving my office and doing some menial task anyway, so just do it. Quickly.

5. Eat like a civilized human being. This should be obvious, but for too many summer associates it isn't. This shouldn't be the first time you've ever eaten in a restaurant. Napkin goes on your lap, fork gets held like a fork, not a shovel. Butter goes on your plate, then on your bread -- don't double-dip your knife after it touches something that touches your mouth. Take some of the shared appetizer and put it on your plate instead of reaching across the table for more calamari every time you want some. Ask to be passed the bowl of pasta instead of precariously carrying it from the center of the table to your plate and dumping it on the tablecloth. Don't look waiters or busboys in the eye. Order the same number of courses as everybody else. Don't order things I don't like, even if they're your favorite things to eat. Don't complain about the food unless I do. And if I do complain, don't disagree with me. If I think it's lousy, you think it's lousy. No exceptions. Don't sit down before me, in case you sit in the seat I would have chosen. Don't eat too quickly. Don't eat too slowly. Don't touch my food. Don't talk with your mouth full. Don't chew on the ice in your water. I hate when people chew on the ice. Hate it. Don't do it.

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