What Does a BigLaw Summer Associate Do? (with examples)

By Andy A. Edited by Lemon Law School

BigLaw Summer Associates experience the actual practice of law in the environment of a large firm setting. As a summer associate, you have the opportunity to work on potentially high-profile cases with big-name clients under the supervision of associates and firm partners. 

Firm summer programs are also designed to allow law students to learn about the culture of the firm, and for associates and partners to evaluate the caliber of these law students. Although there is some hard work involved for summer associates, the summer programs are designed to allow summer associates to have a lot of fun.

Summer associate programs are similar across law firms and are usually split between Corporate and Litigation groups, but there are also niche practice areas like Healthcare and Intellectual Property. Let’s look into exactly what summer associates do. 

1. Work on real client-matters with associates and partners (corporate & litigation examples included)

Regardless of which practice areas assign you work as a summer associate, most of your assignments will originate from real clients. Corporate and Litigation are the two most popular practice areas for summer associates, so I will discuss these two practices in detail.

Corporate (or another transactional practice)

Corporate practice work will depend on the firm. Most large BigLaw firms of 500+ attorneys have similar corporate practice groups like Funds, Mergers & Acquisitions, Capital Markets, and Private Equity but some specialize in certain areas. Your work as a summer will likely involve work in one or more of the above categories, unless you recruited directly into one particular group. 

As a summer associate in a corporate practice, you are likely to perform due diligence mergers & acquisitions, drafting smaller contracts, and legal research. You may be asked to draft side letters, riders, or other ancillary documents that are like “bite-sized” pieces of work designed to give you a taste of what actual practice is like.

What is Due Diligence?

A firm will usually train their summer associates to do due diligence, but here’s an overview of what it is. As a summer associate, you will review a ton of contracts related to the transaction and record any issues you spot. Attention to detail is crucial here. The point of due diligence is to achieve the following goals in deals such as mergers & acquisitions, private equity, and other investments.

  • Understand the target company that is being acquired (or your client’s counterparty in a merger)
  • Uncover anything currently unknown that would hurt the value of our client’s investment
  • Uncover anything currently unknown that would hurt the value of the target company
  • Uncover anything currently unknown that would hurt our client in this business combination
  • Find any information about the target company that would give our client negotiating leverage.
  • Get the proper approvals from third parties that have agreements which may halt the business combination.

Drafting Contracts

As a summer associate, you may also receive drafting assignments. Your firm may start you off with drafting a smaller contract like a confidentiality agreement. You shouldn’t be overly concerned with knowing everything about contract drafting as the firms will provide you with templates and prior deals you can use as a baseline. Your firm will train you and provide great resources for you to succeed in drafting. More broadly, all law firms know that law students are trained in a certain way and they account for that.

You thought you could escape from legal research by joining a transactional practice? Many students incorrectly think that legal research is only for litigators. As a transactional lawyer, you need to know the law well. And to do that, sometimes you have to do legal research. That’s how you ultimately bring value to your clients. 

Your partners may ask you legal research memos on a niche topic in a related field of law. Legal research is the most elementary assignment out there. Make sure you know how to do legal research on Westlaw or LexisNexis and how to properly use Bluebook citations before your summer program (your law school should be teaching you this during 1L). 

One way you can perform legal research more efficiently is to use the Lexis/Westlaw support line (via webchat or telephone). The Lexis/Westlaw representatives are experts at conducting legal research and will certainly save you much time in your assignments. Many summer associates overlook this resource.

Litigation

In a litigation practice, summer associates will spend most of their time doing legal research. They may also review documents from the discovery process or receive small drafting assignments like drafting a Request for Interrogatories.

This is pretty self-explanatory. Law schools teach this during 1L from day one. Make sure you know how to do legal research on Westlaw or LexisNexis efficiently, how to use Bluebook citations, and how to format and write a proper legal memorandum. You should also be prepared to orally report your findings to your assigning attorney. 

Document Review

Discovery is a part of litigation where both parties are permitted to request certain information from each other. These may mostly take the form of documents or photos. The point of discovery is to find anything you could use as evidence to support your argument during trial.

As a summer associate, you may receive an excel sheet to fill out with specific information that you find from a set of discovery documents. Attention to detail is crucial here. 

Drafting Assignments

During litigation, lawyers have to file a ton of documents and respond to certain requests. These documents and requests need to be drafted! For instance, you could be drafting a Request for Interrogatories, which is a request for certain documents or information during the discovery process. You may also be drafting the complaint, which is a document that contains allegations against the defendant, the specific laws violated, and the facts that led to the dispute. 

Pro Bono Opportunities

Pro bono refers to legal services provided to individuals or organizations for free or at a reduced rate for the public good. BigLaw firms usually have many pro bono clients that include non-profit organizations, social enterprises, and startup companies. Some examples of assignments for pro bono clients may include drafting corporate governance documents for a non-profit organization and assisting with the preparation of legal documents for immigrants.

2. Attend training seminars

Your summer program may consist of mandatory or optional training seminars from internal or external sources. Different practice areas may also have lunches where they discuss what they do or how you can acquire specific skills related to their practice. If you aren’t hired into a specific practice from the start of your summer program, attending these practice area lunches is a great way to get your foot in their door. 

3. Eat tons of free food.

Photo by Jay Wennington

As a summer associate, you have the opportunity to get lunch (and coffee sometimes) with associate(s) and partner(s). These summer lunches are covered by the firm. The firm also hosts a ton of internal social events where food is in abundance. You’ll probably eat at the fanciest restaurants in the city and attend happy hours at upscale bars. 

Make sure you put together a hit list of restaurants you want to try!

4. Attend summer program events (the fun part)

Summer program events are the fun part. They are also pretty much mandatory because they are yet another way for firms to assess your character. Here are some common summer program events:

  • Attending baseball, or basketball
  • Getting box seats to a concert
  • Eating at fancy restaurants
  • Going to fancy bars
  • Seeing a broadway musical
  • Attending a cooking class
  • Attending a pottery class
  • Playing poker with raffle tickets at a casino night
  • Get a table at the club (usually the last event)
  • Even axe throwing

The list goes on and on. Your recruiter will plan a ton of fun events for you. Just remember not to get drunk at these events, and don’t make a fool out of yourself. There have been summer associates who have been no-offered as a result of their questionable behavior at these events. 

We wrote a detailed article about how you can succeed as a summer associate with actionable advice for specific situations here