As law students dealt with the sudden switch to online learning, many also found themselves uncertain about another important first step into the legal field — going through summer-associate programs.
The law firm Michael Best has been trying to offer some stability for summer associates by reimagining a program with COVID-19 precautions that still offers the same experience as was found in years past.
Tanya Salman, partner and co-chair of Michael Best’s summer-associate program, said this year’s program is more like a structured internship. Summer associates can choose a specialization rather than opting for a general-practice experience. The firm also moved in-person networking events online and shortened the program’s length from 10 weeks to about six.
“We really focused on continuing the networking, but doing it in a virtual environment,” Salman said. “We’re making sure everyone is still getting the opportunity to meet one another, but not necessarily in a way that would make anyone feel uncomfortable or affect anyone’s health.”
Michael Best is inviting summer associates to its Milwaukee and Madison offices, along with locations elsewhere the country. Salman said she has heard mostly praise from the rising 3Ls who are part of the program this year.
“The legal market has really shifted so much that for a lot of them, seeing many of their peers without a program, getting the opportunity here has been positive,” Salman said.
She said she’s been able to know the summer associates and assess their work, despite having few face-to-face dealings with them.
“A lot of the time it’s asking the right questions, it’s being professional, it’s asking for help when you need help,” Salman said. “Those are all things where you don’t necessarily need to see someone to determine if the work product is good.”
Just as in years past, the firm’s goal is to hire this year’s summer associates as full-time associates, even if their program looks a little different.
“We were really making sure that we were providing enough work so we’d be able to assess if they’d be a successful lawyer in the long run, especially here at Michael Best,” Salman said. “Then they could also assess the type of work that they were doing to see if that’s something they were interested in and wanting to do long-term.”
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