Summer Associate Programs Help New Lawyers Learn the Ropes Remotely
Firms find creative solutions, silver linings during unprecedented summer

by Jessica Folker

Summer associate programs are often a law student’s first glimpse at what working in a law firm is like. And while the experience of writing legal memos and doing research might be the same regardless of whether it’s at home or the office, other aspects of firm life, such as networking and mentorship, are harder to replicate via videoconferencing.

The challenges caused by COVID-19 forced law firms to think outside the box when designing this year’s summer associate programs. Two Denver firms adapted to introduce summer clerks and associates to law firm life, and plan to keep some of the changes in the future.

PODS AND PARTNER MEETINGS

Davis Graham and Stubbs held a six-week, totally remote summer associate program that ran from June 22 through July 31. Five summer associates — four 2Ls and one 1L — participated in the program, which is pretty typical of the class size in normal years, according to Emily Sheldon, professional development and recruiting manager at DGS.

During typical summers, DGS draws distinct lines when it comes to summer associate work assignments, with law students hired directly into specific departments. Three of this year’s summer associates were hired for the firm’s finance and acquisitions department and two were hired for the trial department. But the firm decided to blur the lines a bit this summer, according to Sheldon, allowing summer associates to do a mix of work and get both transactional and litigation experience.

To help everyone handle the lack of face-to-face contact, the firm’s associates were grouped into “pods” of 5-6 people with varying levels of experience and practice backgrounds. These peer-to-peer mentoring groups held virtual meet-ups, such as lunches and happy hours. According to Sheldon, the associate pods were a highlight of the summer, and the firm plans to use the idea in non-pandemic years.

 

This article appears in the Sept. 7 issue of Law Week Colorado. To read the complete article and others from that issue, order a copy online. Subscribers can request a digital PDF of the issue.