Big Law Summer Programs

Coral Gables Counseling Center - Friday, May 15, 2020
By Emy Fernandez, MBA, Life Coach

Summer is approaching and with it, Big Law would have been flooded with law students as the firms’ summer programs would have started.

Students would have had the opportunity to show off what they got.

And, law firms courting the students, would have had the opportunity to show off what they got.

Yes “would have” – with COVID-19, there’s been a shift.

Big Law has found itself either canceling its sought-after summer programs or adjusting them.

The summer programs were already around when I began working in the legal industry in 1978.

It’s a thing. It’s always been a thing. Law students and law firms – both showing off what they know and what they got.

But this summer, Big Law has found itself either canceling or shortening the summer programs.  Not all firms are moving forward with the full program.

Some reasons are financial – yes – but others are not – as some firms remain committed to paying the students for the full summer program despite shortening it.

When I saw this shift – it saddened me.

It saddened me because the value of these summer programs – not to be dramatic but – are priceless.

Priceless because for students to work alongside attorneys, paralegals, and legal assistants with years of experience – in a law firm environment – putting theory into practice – is so rich and powerful for the students.

Yes, they’ll be earning money – but that’s just a bonus. The real value is in working along-side experienced attorneys. And, learning how to work with paralegals and legal assistants.

By cutting these programs in half or eliminating them, students are being deprived of learning how to handle problems that come up in the real world – in the law firm world.

How has everyone been set up to work remotely?

How is transactional work being handled now? Closings? City zoning meetings? How are depositions working out virtually? Hearings? Trials?  Are there any trials now?  If trials are going on – are they bench or jury trials? How are criminal trials being handled?  How are prisoners’ rights conserved – speedy trial, trial before their peers? Mediations – are they virtual? What about arbitrations?  What’s happening with international work if firms have travel bans now?

How is Big Law working out issues like these during such a historical time as a Pandemic? If law firms keep their summer programs intact, this year the students would have an educational experience unequal to anything else in history.

If there were another Pandemic in the future – not just a hurricane, blizzard, tornado, forest fire, tsunami – but a PANDEMIC – affecting the entire world – CHECK! Been there – done that…

And it has me thinking – “If the issue is not the money for some of these firms – why have these programs been shortened or canceled?”  And, even if law firms feel financially constrained –  should the summer program be the place to cut costs?

Some firms have made an effort to remediate the problem by paying the students regardless and promising to hire them after they graduate. It’s a consolation prize.  But, is this what the law students need? Is this what the law firms need?

The students that go through a full summer program in 2020 putting in the time will come out so much stronger and confident than those that only receive the monetary value without the work. They’ll begin their careers with a foundation that no other student in history has had.

Law firms – yes – may hire these students after they graduate as a consolation because they were deprived of a summer program but they’ll be hiring attorneys without the experience that a summer program would have offered them.

These students won’t know how to handle difficult legal situations thrown at them in a “new” normal. If law firms don’t do the training now in the summer, they’ll have to do it when these students are hired as attorneys.

And, finally, if for no other reason, what does this say about the firm to the students and the law schools? Is this a firm that resolves issues by working its way out of them or by being innovative and solution-focused?

With this blog, I’m not minimizing the concerns or the issues that law firms are facing during this time.  And, I don’t stand in judgment or criticism. On the contrary, I believe that the value the law firms and its attorneys and staff have to offer isn’t possible to buy.

I know, it’s a very big mindset shift on the part of firm management. And, to create this mindset shift, it’s important to know when our thoughts around our fears – in this case, the pandemic and the future – are guiding our actions – as in canceling or shortening the summer programs.

Show our future attorneys how it’s done by showing up regardless of what the world looks like.

And to those firms that are moving forward and showing up with their full summer programs – thank you!