The Significance of Summer Programs

Law Students and Legal Employers Report

Executive Summary

Summer programs, long ago established as a key element in the recruitment and hiring of law students, are events in which both employers and the students they hire make substantial investments. This research effort was an attempt to assess the role of summer programs, as well as their structures and influences. This included pursuit of the primary goal of better understanding the purpose of summer programs from employers' points of view and more accurately measuring the impact of these programs on students.

Both students and employers begin their programs with individual expectations for their summer experiences. But did students get what they wanted and needed? Did employers realize their goals and receive a return on their investment? Do contemporary summer programs contribute toward fulfillment of the expectations, interests, and needs of both these stakeholders?

Those are the baseline questions underlying this NALP Foundation study. Our survey invited employers to articulate expectations for their summer programs, describe the investment made, and share the degree to which they were innovating with summer program structure and content. Queries to students invited them to report on their summer experiences, assess the degree to which their expectations were met, and indicate how those experiences would influence their future job choice decisions.

The confidential responses of legal employers and law students who participated as 2002 summer associates provide new information on the important questions that follow:

What expectations do employers have for summer programs and are those expectations met?
The possibilities the study explored included inquiry into employer goals for offers and acceptances, whether employers expect summer program costs to be recovered through summer associate productivity, the effort to develop student loyalty and/or retention, assessment of candidates, and public relations.

Employer goals for offers and acceptances are significant. Most reported a very high standard for the ratio of acceptances to offers. Nearly three-quarters of employers reported that for their summer programs to be considered a success, they expected an acceptance rate of at least 75%.

The primary purpose of summer programs, according to employer reports, is measuring the skills and maturity of students. Other purposes frequently reported include the goals of developing loyalty to the organization or office and developing positive public relations.

The majority of employers reported that they did not have billable hour expectations for summer associates. Thus recovery of program costs through billable work products was not a significant goal for the majority of those reporting.

What influenced students in selection of their summer employers?
The geographic location of a summer employer was the factor students reported most as influencing their job choices. The reputation of the employer and its organizational culture followed geography in importance to students. Along with practice type, these characteristics were reported as factors that influenced summer job choices by only about one-third of students.

Do summer employment experiences influence students' future job choice decisions?
The answer is "Yes, somewhat." Specifically, the type of summer employer tended to correlate positively with student expectations for the type of employer they would seek after graduation. This was especially true for students with 2002 summer jobs in law firms.

Overall, however, only about two-thirds of students reported that their summer experience was a positive influence on their interest in practicing for an employer similar to their summer employer.

When taken in the context of many other factors influencing student job choice, summer experiences were not highly rated. Fewer than one in ten students reported that their summer job would be one of the top five influences on their post-graduate job choice, rating these programs well behind salary and benefits, the opportunity to make a difference, professional development opportunities, and flexible work options.

Finally, well over half of all summer associates reported that they would accept an offer from their 2002 summer employers, but about one in five reported that they would not.

What is the impact of split summers on student decision-making?
This study revealed that most employers extend the option of splitting the summer to students. However, only one in ten of the students responding to this study did so, with many students providing anecdotal comments on the merits and liabilities of splitting. Among the students who split their summer, they were no less likely to accept an offer from their second half employer than they were from their employer during the first half.

How did employers adjust summer programs between 2001 and 2002?
Overall, employers reported relatively minor changes in the sizes of their summer programs, defying the impact of the economic downturn. Similarly, most employers did not change their hiring criteria, although one-third incorporated greater rigor into this process.

Most employers reported that budgets for summer programs were unchanged from 2001 to 2002 and, similarly, made no change in compensation for summer associates. Most employers reported that the hours billed by summer associates were unchanged from 2001, although one in five New York City employers reported increases. Interestingly, about one-quarter of employers increased the number of social and recreational activities in 2002 when compared to 2001 and offered the same number of training programs.

What were the class sizes, program lengths, and budget allocations of 2002 summer programs?
Class sizes, as might be expected, correlated with the firm or office size, with a typical size being six to ten students from employers of 101 or more attorneys.

Summer programs were predominantly ten to twelve weeks in length nationwide, although variances from eight weeks to fourteen weeks were reported. Larger law firms were more likely than smaller firms to host programs that were twelve weeks long.

Among all offices reporting, more than one-third reported budgets of $25,000 or less with about one-third reporting budgets of $25,000 to $50,000. Relatively few offices reported budgets of more than $100,000. More than a third of employers reported that they spent 60% or more of the budget on entertainment and social activities.

The median compensation paid to summer associates was $1,775 per week, which, overall, ranged from $1,300 per week to $2,400 per week. Very few employers extend benefits (health, life, and disability insurance) to summer associates.

Standard program elements of most summer programs include office tours, receptions, and orientation. Some employers added tours of client facilities, tours of courthouses, and other events. One in five summer associates reported that required receptions were "neutral" experiences.

The training options provided by most employers were similar, but associates who worked for smaller employers were more likely than other students to report that they valued their training experiences.

Mentoring was generally available to summer associates. A majority of employers reported that partners served as mentors for summer associates and that they typically had specific duties to perform as prescribed in a formal program. Summer associates also had the opportunity to shadow lawyers and observe interaction between lawyers and clients, trial court, and depositions. Nearly half of summer associates reported that they had the opportunity to visit another US office of their summer employer and, of those who did so, most reported it as a positive experience.

Among all employers, most used a formal work assignment system to distribute work projects to summer associates, and one in five required students to participate in pro bono activities during the summer. By a large majority, most summer associates reported that they were satisfied with the work they received during their summer program experiences in terms of both quantity and quality. Women, however, were somewhat less likely to report satisfaction with the quality of the work projects they received when compared with the responses of men. Summer associates reported generally positive experiences with both formal and free-market work assignment systems.

Feedback to and/or evaluations of associates were provided on a per-project basis, at mid-summer and at summer's end. Partners, associates, and recruitment administrators were all participants in delivering feedback and evaluations to summer associates. Most summer associates reported that they did not complete a written evaluation of their summer experience but did have the opportunity to participate in exit interviews. In general, summer associates reported that the evaluation and feedback processes were positive experiences, although one in ten reported a negative assessment of the written evaluations from partners at the end of the summer.

Social outings and recreational activities vary by geography and office size. Golf tournaments, theater, concerts, sporting activities, and adventure or team-building activities were among activities most frequently reported by employers. Baseball's popularity with summer associates was evident as nearly 90% reported that these outings were positive experiences.

What summer program training experiences did students value most?
Training to use research skills, training to develop writing skills, and training in substantive legal practice areas were the experiences summer associates reported as the most valuable.

Summer associates with jobs in smaller law firms were far more likely to have reported certain training experiences as being the most valuable, including substantive legal practice, analytical thinking, depositions, and supervision of support staff.

Students reported more than a dozen additional training experiences of value, including billing, business accounting, client counseling, marketing, and interview training.

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