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Summer associate positions are prestigious, practical, and paid experiences for upper-level law students. Usually undertaken during the summer after your second (2L) year of law school, these positions are also stepping stones to almost guaranteed post-graduate employment, making them highly sought after.

Wouldn’t it be great to know exactly what big law firms are looking for when they make their summer associate hiring decisions? Well, the Career Services team at New England Law | Boston is bringing you the inside scoop.

Below you’ll find everything you need to know about becoming a summer associate, from what firms look for in a strong application to how to pass the interview process to how to land a job offer at the end of the summer.

Summer associate application process

No use sugar-coating it: summer associate positions are competitive. Law firms might receive thousands of applications for only a few openings. This makes crafting a compelling, clear, and error-free application absolutely essential. You should work with your law school’s career services office, mentors, and perhaps even a trusted professor in making sure your application is in top shape.

Keep in mind too that in order to cull the large number of applications down to a more manageable group, big law firms might set an objective cut-off point based on student GPA and class rank. This serves as their first filter. From there they consider things like participation in law journal, moot court, and previous work experience.

Application due dates vary slightly from year to year, but they are typically due in August of the year before you hope to start the summer associate position.

Summer associate interview process

On-campus interviews

Students who are selected for an on-campus interview (OCI) will be notified within two to three weeks of submitting their summer associate application. They should not make any travel plans around this time (usually in August or September), so they can be available for interviews.

In this first-round interview, a representative from the firm—usually the recruiting manager from the HR department or an associate—will come to the law school to interview the selected students. These interviews last approximately twenty minutes, and the interviewer will have several scheduled for that day in order to evaluate all applicants.

Students should arrive dressed in professional business attire with a copy of their résumé and application materials, plus a notepad and pen. As this is an opportunity for the firm to learn more about the law student, students should be prepared to do most of the talking and come with a list of questions they have about the firm, the interviewer, and the summer associate program.

Common questions students should be prepared to answer include:

  • Why do you want to work for this firm?
  • What area of law are you interested in?
  • Tell me about yourself.

At the end of the interview the student should thank the interviewer, make it clear they would like to join the firm, and make sure to ask for the interviewer’s business card so that the student can send a thank-you note and follow-up email regarding next steps in the process.

Call-back interviews

At this stage of the summer associate interview process, law students have passed the first hurdle of meeting the firm’s academic criteria. Now the firm is looking for how well the student fits in with the firm’s culture.

Call-back interviews are usually scheduled within two weeks of the on-campus interview. In the call-back interview, law students are invited to visit the firm, where they will meet and interview with several associates and partners. These interviews can range from a one-on-one to meeting with several attorneys at a time. Sometimes they will include a lunch interview where associates will take the student out to eat. (While a lunch interview is more casual, remember that it is still part of the formal evaluation process!)

Prior to the call-back interview, students will be given a list of the attorneys they will be meeting with so they can prepare questions and do their interview research. Students should prepare for a long day of answering the same questions from the different attorneys they meet, and they should bring their own set of questions to ask each attorney as well. Students may find themselves asking the same questions over and over again, which is acceptable because the student is learning about each attorney’s experience at the firm.

Firms usually wrap up their summer associate interviews by the end of September, and hiring decisions are sent out by the end of November.

Inside the summer associate program

Summer associate programs generally run from nine to eleven weeks, during which time the law student will experience a modified schedule of what it is like to work at that particular firm.

Summer associates are given a reasonable workload and are expected to take part in any scheduled events outside of the office as a way to connect with associates and partners on a more collegial level. Firms pay just as much attention to the summer associate’s work as they do to their social, communication, and relationship-building skills, which have become increasingly critical in a competitive legal industry.

Summer associates are paired up with an associate mentor and have access to the human resources department to help navigate their time at the firm. Successful summer associates manage both the work and social obligations and should not hesitate to ask for help or guidance if they feel overwhelmed or unclear about their assignments.

Getting hired after the program ends

The summer associate program is essentially one long interview process. Should the law student perform well, they can reasonably expect to receive an offer from the firm.

The firm selects their summer associate class size with the expectation that they will give each summer associate an offer. Offers may be given as soon as the last day of the program or at most a few weeks after the end of the program.

Hoping to become a summer associate in law school? Learn more about how the Career Services Office prepares law students for these experiences and more.