NEW YORK – To be completely honest, being a 1L summer associate at a big firm can be intimidating, even for those of us with significant prior work experience. Armed with a good grade in contracts, one may feel more confident participating in the market, negotiating a lease or trading promises for peppercorns. Yet your first few weeks in big law, you’re suddenly thrown into a world not of contracts and consideration, but of structured finance, bankruptcy and complex corporate transactions. You move from trading peppercorns to stuffing them into special purpose machines, exchanging spices with other restaurants to hedge against future shortages and seasoning the food of every patron precisely according to their individual flavor preference. Working in big law is the difference between eating in a restaurant and running one.
Maybe this metaphor comes easily to me because I’ve actually run restaurants and other service businesses in my life as an entrepreneur prior to law school. As one might expect, I did not learn about chapter 7 (thankfully), swaps or SPVs there either. However, I did learn about optimization. I learned that success relies on the talent of employees, and continued success relies on the transmission of knowledge from one employee to another. While Weil does offer trainings, the firm’s greatest asset in transmitting knowledge is the relaxed interaction between attorneys. Weil’s open door policy is obvious when walking through the halls. Associates are regularly seen in partners’ offices, asking questions and discussing client matters. Partners seem to genuinely solicit and respect associates’ ideas. Not a single day of work has passed without hearing laughter in the hallways. There are no Gordon Ramsays screaming at associates at Weil. Instead, attorneys make space for one another, professionally and personally, taking a genuine interest in each other on lunch breaks, between meetings and at social events. Associates can call friends in other departments (including those with whom they “summered”) to explain the complex nuances of many highly technical matters because they actually have friends in other departments. Having spent time in Weil’s London office, I saw a truly cohesive transnational corporate culture that, regardless of boundaries, emphasizes comradery, quality and support. Calls in London consistently involved people with different accents on the other side of the line. Associates could ask for advice from people in offices around the world they may have never met because the corporate culture offers a seamless and collegiate interaction between offices.
Mentorship has been a hallmark of my summer associate experience. Summer siblings, partner mentors, summer program coordinators, assignment coordinators, supervisors, trainee “buddies,” department siblings, and unofficial advisors all come together to ensure that summer associates have meaningful assignments and the resources to complete them successfully. Newer associates are quick to impart both cultural and substantive knowledge to ensure that summers have a successful learning experience, not only because they remember being in this situation, but because it’s the way partners and senior associates seem to interact with them.
Mentorship is more than a buzzword used to attract summer associates for 12 weeks. Once it sinks in that associates look at summers as future coworkers, the entire experience is far less intimidating and much more enjoyable.