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TheScientist101

Tips on Being a Great Summer Student

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46 minutes ago, TheScientist101 said:

5. I always try to finish the task the night before it's due, sleep on it, and then have a fresh read of a hard copy the day I submit it. Make sure you proof read - nothing is worse then spelling mistakes.

Intentional?? :lol:

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48 minutes ago, TheScientist101 said:

I was asked to provide tips on being a great summer student at a large firm via PM. I thought that others on the forum could also make valuable contributions to the "tips" and that the information could be of value to the LS.ca community at large (even though there are many threads already on the topic).

My top tips to being a great summer student are:

1. Take notes when you're given instructions - seriously, walk around everywhere with a note pad and pen so that if anyone grabs you and starts giving you instructions you can immediately write them down. There were times (especially as a first year summer student) when I had to write down instructions phonetically because I had no idea what the heck I was being asked to do and if i didn't have a note pad with me I would have been screwed.  

2. when you are taking your instructions from a lawyer who you've never done work for, ask the important questions: what file number is this being billed to? how much time should i aim to spend on it? do you want this in memo form? do you want the cases printed and highlighted or will electronic copies be fine? Large firms also have data bases with loads of precedents so whenever I was given a task for a lawyer I never worked for I always went into the data bases to see how that lawyer liked their memos to be set up - I also spoke to Junior associates or lingering articling students for advice regarding how to approach certain tasks for certain lawyers. 

3. Save all of your questions for one meeting rather than asking them as they come up. What I mean by this is once you get your instructions, go away and do your task. As you are doing the task you may have some clarification questions, write them down in a coherent manner  and then, when you absolutely cannot do anything more, go and ask them all in one shot. Don't go and bug the instructing lawyer every time a question comes up - you'll be perceived as annoying and incompetent. 

4. Always attach a "research trail" at the end of any task you've been given. It's important so the lawyer knows what you have done (and what you haven't done) when completing your research. It's also the best way for you to learn how to improve. 

5. I always try to finish the task the night before it's due, sleep on it, and then have a fresh read of a hard copy the day I submit it. Make sure you proof read - nothing is worse then spelling mistakes. 

6. Always ask for feedback on the tasks you've been given, whether it's a week or two weeks after you've submitted it, if you don't hear back, pop your head in and ask if they've had a chance to look at it and if they have any suggestions for improvement. 

7. Work as a team with your fellow students. Competition between students is really pointless - it just makes you all look bad. The lawyers want to see you getting a long well with people. Keep your speech positive and be kind to everyone you encounter. 

8. Be the one the lawyers can depend on. If they are staying late in the office, you should pop your head in and ask if there is anything you can do to help. If they ask you to do something urgently and it means you have to cancel your plans - do it, stay and go the extra mile.

9. If you have nothing to do, go around to the lawyers and tell them you have capacity to take on tasks - even as a student you need to learn how to drum up work. 

10. No task is beneath you. You are the guy that will work the weekend in the copy room putting together evidence books for upcoming trial. You are also the guy to proof read factums, do legal research  and draft pleadings. If it needs to be done, volunteer to do it and be happy about it (no one likes a complainer). 

11. be nice to your support staff. Tell them how thankful you are for their assistance, ask them for help when you need it and, every once and a while, bring them baked goods :)

Good luck to all who will be starting next month!

This is such a helpful post, thank you so much for taking the time. I won’t even ask if they mind grammatical errors (refer to number 5). 

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12 minutes ago, LaFlame said:

Intentional?? :lol:

Grammatical mistakes aren't as bad ;) hahaha - definitely not intentional - I was tempted to edit, but it's so funny that I'm just going to leave it as an example of why it's important to sleep on things before submitting them.

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The research trail is a big one. Inevitably you will spend fourteen hours researching a very specific situation and come up with exactly no cases on point. And then summer student insecurity will kick and  you will think you’re hopelessly incompetent. It’s way way easier to get back to the assigning lawyer with a list of exactly every search term and source you looked at. And then the assigning lawyer might say “I didn’t think there was anything out there, that’s why I let you do it.”

I remember asking a mentor of mine about what made a good summer student. He said “don’t do bad work.” This made me me nervous since I didn’t know what good work entailed. So I asked what was bad work. He said “if it has spelling mistakes or looks like you didn’t care.” It’s a low bar; they understand your limitations as a summer student but also want to see that you take due care and pay attention to detail.

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3 minutes ago, MinesAndMinerals said:

I remember asking a mentor of mine about what made a good summer student. He said “don’t do bad work.” This made me me nervous since I didn’t know what good work entailed. So I asked what was bad work. He said “if it has spelling mistakes or looks like you didn’t care.” It’s a low bar; they understand your limitations as a summer student but also want to see that you take due care and pay attention to detail.

Other careless mistakes to avoid:

- Sloppy/wonky formatting (eg. changing font size halfway through the document; misaligned paragraphs)

- Putting the wrong client or matter name on your document

- Putting the wrong file number on your document

None of these are fatal but they are entirely avoidable.

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11 minutes ago, wakawaka said:

Other careless mistakes to avoid:

- Sloppy/wonky formatting (eg. changing font size halfway through the document; misaligned paragraphs)

- Putting the wrong client or matter name on your document

- Putting the wrong file number on your document

None of these are fatal but they are entirely avoidable.

Along the same lines are citations. I haven’t done any litigation work since summering, but I was told that nobody will check your citations and there’s a very good chance they might end up in a filed court document. So do them right.

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16 minutes ago, wakawaka said:

Other careless mistakes to avoid:

- Sloppy/wonky formatting (eg. changing font size halfway through the document; misaligned paragraphs)

[...]

None of these are fatal but they are entirely avoidable.

I don't know. Maybe not fatal, but I certainly have no hesitation about drawing rather adverse inferences from anything like the above bold portion. It's 2018the year of the pooch—and by now there is absolutely no excuse for failing to learn Word's formatting and style functions like a proper tech-savvy grown-up person. Law is largely professional writing. Word processors are the tool of the professional writer. Learn how to use your tools for goodness' sake! I'd have questions seeing a mechanic holding a monkey wrench the wrong way; or, getting pants returned by my tailor to discover they repaired them using two different and mismatched threads to repair them.

A good rule which I think all of the above falls under is to avoid ever submitting work that forces more work upon the person to whom you provide that work.

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I think all the tips and advice boil down to one main thing: make yourself useful. Figure out what that means to different people and different files, and what you can do to be dependable and add value. Everything comes down to that.

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1 hour ago, MinesAndMinerals said:

Along the same lines are citations. I haven’t done any litigation work since summering, but I was told that nobody will check your citations and there’s a very good chance they might end up in a filed court document. So do them right.

Big firms don’t check a student’s citations before putting them in a filed court document?!!!!! My small firm always does.

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Brilliant, thanks for writing this out. I'm bookmarking this thread for future use.

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48 minutes ago, providence said:

Big firms don’t check a student’s citations before putting them in a filed court document?!!!!! My small firm always does.

I was skeptical as well. Could of been an apocryphal “one time we didn’t check the students citations and bad things happened” type of thing. Either way, citations illustrate the type of little things you must be getting right as a summer student. As noted above, you really really don’t want to create work for the assigning lawyer.

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1. Always ask for a deadline. Some lawyers will tell give you an assignment and tell you something to the effect of "get this to back to me when you can". PUSH for a real deadline, whether it is in person or over email. Assignments boomerang back on you without notice. You may have thought you had a week, but the lawyer could be asking you for your memo after 3 days. Having that deadline in place keeps both parties accountable 

2. Ask how your task fits into the bigger picture of the file. Let's be real, Summer Students get a lot of "discrete" tasks (running a closing checklist, doing due diligence, researching one incredibly obscure legal issue). Try to get clarity (if the lawyers have time) on how your task fits into the file. First, this will help you do your job better. For example, if you are filing a motion to get an injunction, maybe your research on the legal issue assigned to you comes up empty, but knowing the end goal of the client, you are able to find other supporting cases that support injunction via a different argument. Second, you'll pull more from your summer experience and your keenness will reflect well on you as something that is eager to learn, not just slogging through task after task. 

3. Aim to do work correctly, not quickly. I've seen some students try to finish work a day or two before a deadline to impress a lawyer. This will not impress anyone. In order of preference, it is better to do something (1) on-time and correctly; (2) late but correctly; (3) early but incorrectly. No brownie points for finishing way earlier unless it is clearly expressed as such. 

4. Keep a spreadsheet of all your work and deals. You'll be amazed how many things you work on over 10-15 weeks. Keep a log of every lawyer you worked for, the task you did, the overall client and file matter number and how long it took you. This will be useful come review time and it may help you follow up with lawyers and files in subsequent work terms. 

4. Make life easier/be a service provider. As a strategic rather than tactical point, a good junior lawyer (imo) is sort of like a great server at a fine-dining restaurant - someone that anticipates their clients' needs without being overbearing. Your clients as a summer student are the partner and associates who assign you work, who in turn, have their own clients. You should be attentive, see what is on their plate and make their lives as smooth as possible without being too distracting (popping your head in their office every twice a day to ask if they need help). 

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11 minutes ago, OzStudent said:

As a strategic rather than tactical point, a good junior lawyer (imo) is sort of like a great server at a fine-dining restaurant - someone that anticipates their clients' needs without being overbearing. Your clients as a summer student are the partner and associates who assign you work, who in turn, have their own clients. You should be attentive, see what is on their plate and make their lives as smooth as possible without being too distracting (popping your head in their office every twice a day to ask if they need help). 

An articling student who was new to our rotation told me that she'd check in with me once a day to see if there was anything I'd need. She must have read the look on my face after she said that, because she never came back again, lol. When we need you students, we shall beckon you from your caves. (but, ok, sure, you can chat with us sometimes and generally don't be afraid to offer to be helpful)

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Very good tips. I feel like they are litigation focused so I’m adding a few from a transactional perspective - although many of the ones above still apply.

1. Learn how to use Word. As a junior it’s your job to make sure that everything is formatted properly and consistently. People do all kinds of annoying things in Word docs and when you get them from the other side you’ll need to be able to work with this.

Why is this signature block so hard to manipulate?  Oh, I see, because some ‘tard made it by creating a table in the document and then painting the table white so it’s invisible. Why would anyone do this?  Is this supposed to be fancy?  What an asshole. Oh well, it’s the company’s precedent so I guess I’ll work with it.

How do I make footer on page 17 but only page 17 of a 30-page document?

Why after pressing enter in this section of the document does it skip two lines and how do I make that stop? 

These are questions that seem stupid but you actually have to figure all of this out. Google is your friend and can tell you how to do anything or fix anything in Word.

I’m not saying you need to take a course or read a how-to manual but every time you get a task and it presents a Word problem actually take the time to figure this out properly rather than doing something that sort of looks right and hoping nobody notices.

2. See number 1 but for Excel. 

3. When somebody asks you to make a change make all of the conforming changes to the rest of the document. If a defined term is changed from EBITDA to EBIT and EBITDA is no longer a concept in the document, make sure there aren’t a bunch of places in the document that refer to EBITDA if there shouldn’t be. Make sure all defined terms actually appear in the document and all defined terms that appear in the document are defined somewhere.

4. When somebody gives you comments make sure they are all put in the document and put in properly. Come up with ways to check your work to make sure this got done completely and nothing slipped through the cracks.

5. Come up with some way that works for you to deal with the volume of incoming deal emails. Figuring out what emails are actually directed at you, irrelevant to you, relevant to you and need to be answered soon, or relevant to you but can be answered later (but not forgotten about), is a skill and requires some kind of system. Find one that works for you using Outlook flags, pads of paper with checklists, whatever you like. If you are not naturally good at this and are a scatterbrained academic type you need to get good at it now or find another line of work.

6. If somebody asks you to draft any kind of document ask them if they have a precedent or if they know where you should look to find a precedent. If you ever find yourself staring at a cursor blinking on a blank Word page thinking about how to draft something from scratch there is a 99% chance you have misunderstood the task at hand. 

7. Start building your own bank of precedent documents or at least knowing where in your emails you should look to find your previous work. 

8. This is possibly more for articling students and first-year associates than summer students but: as you are doing all of the above and being a high-functioning secretary, take the time to actually read and understand the mechanics of the document and how it works and why the changes are being made. There is some push/pull because your job as a very junior person may be unrelated to understanding what the hell is going on and you can make your bosses very happy by being an automaton with high responsiveness and attention to detail.  You may not get much credit for actually knowing what’s going on because your immediate job is to make sure the signature pages are sent out and collected - indeed you may have to ignore the substance for a while to get those goddamn sig pages out right now! But a couple of years later if you’ve been an automaton you’re going to find out you don’t know how to do your job, and you won’t be able to impress anyone by taking the initiative because you don’t know how. 

Don’t let this happen to you, even if you have to go back and re-read the deal documents during downtime and once the sig pages are in. You need to understand what is going on even if nobody else really cares right now. Look out for your own professional development!

If you have questions about how some document mechanic works stop by when it’s slow and ask about it. If it shows some thought I will be impressed. If you get good enough at this you might even spot something wrong with a document in real time and point it out to me - you might even be right. That’s when I will know you are a good junior and I will want you on my deals. (But obviously don’t do this just to do it, you need to actually be right, or at least wrong in a way where I can see why you thought that.)

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I think the above is perfect advice. 

I'd like to emphasize Word and Excel skills for students reading this who think that their remarkable legal minds will be what they show off as first year associates/articling students/(slightly) advanced secretary. Maybe, but that wasn't my experience.

A lot of what worked well as a first year was implementing systems that made it quick and effective for me to ensure someone else's decisions were carried out with respect to documentation.

Some of that is formatting and being bad at formatting means it takes you 2 hours instead of 10 minutes - that can be night-destroying. Some of it is about making sure you conform a whole document, like NYC says above - the easiest examples are changing all the defined terms, but the learning curve involves slowing down and thinking about how all the pieces of a document (or suite) fit together. On the simple end - maybe that new section you added makes a cross reference in another document wrong. Eventually it's more than that: a senior revised the timing of the exercise of the put option and that affects the timing of other rights. The latter is more applicable to a first year associate.

For the first while, if I had to input someone's comments, I would print a copy of their comments and check off each mark of their pen as I put it in. Then I'd re-print (or have a copy ready) and check that I'd made all the changes re-checking each pen mark as I went through. Whatever works for you, but have the patience to go slowly when you can. 

I have very little to add to NYC's points. This all resonates with my experience.

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Posted (edited)

1. Be there when the lawyers need you.

2. Mingle with as many lawyers as you can and get involved with as many events/extracurriculars at the firm as possible, without killing yourself. When you come back to the firm for articling, nobody will remember exactly what tasks you did for them, but they’ll remember how they felt about you.

Edited by hitman9172
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