Condolences to law firm managers. You have to deal with a bunch of 20-something interns who haven’t a clue (but think they do).
There’s a time for forgive and forget and there’s a time for strict standards. When it comes to your summer associates, pay close attention. With so much competition these days, there’s nor reason your firm shouldn’t have the best that law schools have to offer. The following 10 behaviors by summer associates should make firm partners think twice about hiring:
1. Makes a bad first impression
Some people make bad first impressions. That’s understandable for a cocktail party or date, but not a professional event. If your summer associate can’t make eye contact, circulate the office and shake hands with everybody, or shows up to work in wrinkly or inappropriate attire, imagine the first impression they’ll leave on a judge or jury. The air of incompetence is not in-style this summer.
2. Avoids social events
Most summer interns are afraid of drinking too much and making idiots of themselves in front to firm partners, but that’s no excuse to eschew work events. If your summer associates can’t even attend events mostly designed to make them feel welcome, what are they going to do when you ask them to attend important after-hours events with potential clients, or professional galas that look well on the firm? Avoiding social events may be a sign your intern has no room in his or her priorities for the firm.
3. Is slow to answer your emails or calls
This is a no-brainer. You need associates who are serious, hardworking, creative, and—well—constantly available. That’s the nature of the law, it never sleeps, and your inters (for the first few years, naturally) shouldn’t either.
4. Doesn’t get along with other associates or summer interns
Yes, it is a cut-throat process, getting a job offer. But, it’s probably a bad sign if one summer associate doesn’t seem to get along with all the rest. Sure, the group may have disparate personalities or work styles, but so does the firm. You need a team player, not a lone-wolf in this business.
5. Name’s unknown to the partner
There’s flying under the radar and not getting noticed at all. If none of the partners ever know a summer associate’s name, it’s likely this person either (a) didn’t have any noticeable achievements or accolades from colleagues, or (b) doesn’t know how to network. Either way, it’s not the type of lawyer your firm needs in this do-or-die industry.
6. Doesn’t respect the support staff
Associates shouldn’t just be known by partners, they should be liked by support staff, too. A summer associate is lower on the food chain than support staff. They’ve not been hired, they’re here on trial, and they haven’t earned their place at the firm. Any associate who treats support staff like subordinates has no respect for the food chain—which sometimes means doing nitty-gritty and menial work and certainty not scapegoating support staff.
7. Makes too many mistakes on documents
There should be a learning curve in legal work, especially for summer associates. But, you should start to be concerned when an associate shows too many mistakes. Already, summer interns are given the lowliest jobs, which means it shouldn’t be too difficult to handle. And, mistakes are a sign that an inter was too afraid (or too arrogant) to ask questions of a colleague or classmate. Simple spelling mistakes reflect a carelessness (or lack of technical skills) that your firm just can’t afford. Another thing that’s costly? Constantly re-checking the work of one of your lawyers. You’ve got to have faith that your associates know the answer, know where to look for the answer, or know the right questions to ask to get it from somebody else.
8. Constantly appears frazzled
This is a difficult job. There are long hours. If your associate already feels overwhelmed after a summer, you should question their stamina for the “real world” of the law.
9. Says “no” too often
There is a time and a place to say “no” to work. But, your summer internship is not one of them. Saying “no” too often may be a signal that an associate has eyed another senior attorney or partner and plans on exclusively working for them, which means when hired, it will be more of the same. Or, saying “no” might signal poor organizational skills, where the associate is incapable of multitasking or managing his or her workload. Either way, take note of the person who says “no” too often.
10. Lacks social media or technical skills
Today there’s no excuse for poor PowerPoint skills or lack of Excel knowledge. Even law firms can’t get far without a website or social media presence. These are not skills left to the support staff. Rather, they represent the general willingness to progress and grow with the speed of new technology and a desire, on the part of an associate, to become more efficient and productive at what he or she does. You’d really have to go out of your way these days to lack such technical skills. And, as clients demand more innovative law firms, you can’t afford to hire one more traditionalist who favors to the yellow legal pad to an iPad.
As a manager you face unimaginable pressure to streamline costs, improve profitability, and do more work with fewer employees. In order to be successful in today’s harried corporate culture, you need to master the critical skills and competencies required for building and maintaining a productive and profitable workplace.
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