“What I Did Last Summer” Continues: Summer Associates in West Virginia & Salt Lake City

Chris Peterson: Summer Associate, Jackson Kelly Law Firm, Charleston, West Virginia

How did you learn about the position?  I picked a place where I wanted to live and started Googleing law firms in that area. When I saw one that had practice areas I was interested in, I drafted a cover letter and tried my luck. That’s how I found this one. Although I was really applying to one of its offices in another city, I got hired at their headquarters in West Virginia instead. But close enough.

How did you apply and what was the application process like?  About a month and a half after I emailed them my cover letter, resume, and transcript, I got a call from the firm’s administrative manager. We set up a video conference interview for two weeks down the road, but then I had a conflict and had to move it up. They were super accommodating, and the IT staff here at the school was really helpful and great with setting everything up. There was an issue with the microphones during my interview, so I had to call the person I was interviewing on the phone and use that as a microphone. So I was sitting at a table talking into a camera with a phone to me ear. It was super awkward, and the lady I was interviewing with must have felt really bad for me because she emailed me that night offering me a position.

 What was a typical day or week at your position like?  I got to work a pretty 9-5 schedule. My firm had a lot of different practice areas, and my supervisor was pretty good about allowing us to pick to work in the areas we wanted to. So I got a lot of good experience in environmental and employment law, as well experience in general litigation. Most of the attorneys I worked with were really good about working with me to make sure I knew what I was doing and that I was going in the right direction. On a typical day I would have my hands in between two and four projects.

What was the coolest part about the position?  The coolest part of the position was being out of the classroom and actually being able to apply some of the super abstract theories that you learn about. It is really refreshing to get out into practice and learn that you actually understood some of what you learned, or that it didn’t matter that you didn’t understand what you were supposed to learn. Aside from that, the constant food was a pretty nice perk. West Virginians like to party.

What did you gain from the experience?  Aside from gaining working knowledge of how a firm is structured and works, I got some really good experience in an array of practices. This helped me sort out what I was interested in and what I was going to keep as far away from as humanly possible. I also met some great people and established really strong contacts with them.

What advice would you offer future applicants?  Be proactive in your search. Cast your net wide and don’t just hope on OCI. It’s a really tough market, but jobs are out there, you just have to be willing to put in the leg work in finding them.

Erika Skougard: Summer Associate, Parr Brown Gee & Loveless, Salt Lake City

How did you learn about the position?  I first learned about the position from the 1L “Mock Interviews” that PDO set up.  I happened to have Cheylynn Haymann (a shareholder at Parr) as my practice interviewer. She was so great, it gave me a positive general impression of the firm. So I applied through OCI.

How did you apply and what was the application process like?  I applied through OCI. Before my interview I spoke with a 3L who had spent two summers at Parr to get some background about the firm and tips about interviewing there. My first interview was here on campus with two senior shareholders who were alumni of SJQ. We chatted mostly about professors and shared funny stories about first year exam anxiety, and I asked a few questions about the firm’s summer program. They invited me for a callback interview, which lasted about 3-1/2 hours and included lunch. I met with at least ten attorneys altogether and really clicked with most of them. I asked a lot of questions, and they seemed to welcome that. My day there gave me a pretty realistic sense of the overall culture of the firm.

What was a typical day or week at your position like?  I arrived in the office most days between 8:30 and 9AM (sometimes a bit earlier if I had a deadline or training) and usually left around 5:30 or 6PM. I shared an office with two other summer associates, a rising 3L from Columbia and another from BYU. Three other summer associates shared another office on the same floor. All summer associates met weekly with the attorney who supervised our work assignments, to talk about our progress and workload and receive new assignments. Over 12 weeks I worked on 15 research projects for about a dozen attorneys. Most involved internal memos to the attorneys, though I did have the opportunity to draft a couple of summary judgment opposition memos and a motion, and also attend a few depositions. There were quite a few social activities, including lunch with attorneys, concerts, waterskiing, a few Friday afternoon movies and skeet shooting.

What was the coolest part about the position?  I loved a lot of things about my experience, but my favorite part was building friendships with fellow summer associates. The six of us got to know each other really well and built a great sense of camaraderie. I still keep in touch with my two office-mates and look forward to seeing them again next summer.

What did you gain from the experience?  My summer experience gave me a real-life view of the practice of law and put the concepts I learn in classes into a new perspective. I got a lot of practice writing – a LOT of practice. And I definitely improved my research skills. My very first assignment on my very first day was for a senior named partner. He described the issue he needed me to research and I said, “I’ll get right on that” – and then panicked. I had absolutely no idea how to even begin researching this question. Eventually I found clues to what I was looking for and those led to other clues and soon I had some useful answers to bring the attorney. Each project got a little easier than the last, mostly because I had more ideas about how to get started in my research.

What advice would you offer future applicants? Be yourself in interviews and in summer jobs. It sounds cliché, but it’s really important. Interviews and summer jobs with law firms can feel so intimidating, it’s tempting to think you have to be phony to fit in. But that’s just not true. Sure, professionalism is important, but find the professional version of YOU. You’ll be more confident and enjoy yourself so much more if you aren’t constantly pretending to be someone you are not. And it will help you get a job: hiring lawyers are human beings and most would rather work with someone who is authentic. Also, don’t worry if you make a fool of yourself at some point. If you don’t, it means you aren’t trying.