How to Make Your Summer Program One of the Best in the Country

Joe Biden isn’t the only national news out of Delaware these days–Young Conaway’s Summer-Associates Program ranked first in Delaware and 4th nationally (out of 162 participating firms) in The American Lawyer’s latest survey. The survey was conducted from early June to mid-August, and drew responses from 7,633 Summer Associates.  

This is a program to which we devote a lot of effort–not just funds, but effort–in the form of attorney event attendance, one-on-one mentoring, and real-time substantive feedback.  Young Conaway approaches recruiting and development from a fairly unique perspective–when we make hiring decisions, we do so with the expectation that the new lawyer will join the Firm and stay with us, well, forever.  That long-term-investment approach definitely carries into the amount of hard work and attention that is given to our Summer program.

Associates were asked how interesting the work was, how much “real” work was assigned, how the training and guidance measured up, how positive the interactions were with partners and associates, how well the firm communicated its goals and expectations, how accurately the firm portrayed itself in interviews, and the respondents’ inclination to accept a position if one were offered.  The respondents were also asked to rate the firm overall as a place to work.

Eligible summer associates were first- and second-year law students (classes of 2009 and 2010) clerking at firms for at least three weeks during the summer. Respondents were guaranteed anonymity.

So what makes the program great enough to rank among the best in the country?  A number of things, starting with the hiring philosophy discussed above.  But philosophy alone cannot carry the day.  Real, live, people, must play a role, as well.  In that respect, although all of the firm’s attorneys are given some credit because all participate in some way, the real accolades are deserved by two lawyers in particular.

Tricia A. Widdoss, Esq., who had responsibility for firm recruitment and associate development, as well as the Summer programs for the past three years, deserves countless kudos for her creative ideas, innovative initiatives, and her unyielding enthusiasm and devotion to making the program a success and to each of the Summer Associates placed in her care.  There is a tremendous amount of hand-holding to be done–of the lawyers’ hands, mostly–to make sure that all candidates are given a broad range of assignments from as many practice groups as possible.  (This can be particularly difficult when one group falls in love with a candidate and doesn’t want to share their new all-star.  Not such a bad thing from the Summer’s perspective, of course).

Danielle Gibbs, Esq., is the other half of the winning equation.  Danielle is the Hiring Partner, which means that she has the responsibility to manage all of the behind-the-scenes choreographing to make sure candidates are getting enough exposure to the departments where they may want to be placed.  It also means countless hours spent at committee meetings and at the two formal evaluation meetings provided to every summer associate.  It also requires review of enough writing samples to make your eyes cross and twice as many work-product memos and assignments generated by the Summer Associates over the course of the summer.

The ultimate goal of the Summer Program is to provide summer associates with a structured program emphasizing continued development of their legal skills while also allowing them a sampling of private practice. Young Conaway accomplishes this goal through a centrally coordinated assignment allocation process, a summer-long writing program, and extensive mentoring and feedback, all fostered by the firm’s open-door and accessible culture.  Most important, though, are the exceptional candidates who seem to get more brilliant every year, who make the attorneys actually look forward to their arrival each summer.  They are truly a remarkable group of students who we are thrilled to have join us as colleagues.

See the full American Lawyer survey results.  Or, see more information on Young Conaway’s recruiting program.