“What’s been most surprising is how supported and connected we all feel”
For US law students, the summer associate experience is a formative experience; a chance to experience associate life and get to truly know a firm's culture. Like every other year, the White & Case Summer Associate Class of 2020 have made solid friendships, worked hard, had fun at social events and built their legal knowledge via assignments across multiple matters and practices.
The big difference this year is that the program has taken place entirely online, with 107 summer associates across the US showing up to work from their homes. We asked four members of this year's class—Alani Fraga, Tejaswini Gupta, Josh Howard and Samantha Kokonis—to tell us about the highlights and unexpected challenges of being an online summer associate.
The unexpected upside
"We're 107 summer associates across eight different US offices, and what's been surprising is how supported and connected we all feel," says Miami summer associate Alani. New York summer associate Josh says: "There's a real feeling of being in the same boat, and the sense of camaraderie and bonding that comes from that."
Tejaswini is part of the Washington, DC Summer Program, and says that the sense of really being part of the Firm extends to social events organized by each office, including a unique way to get to know the partners in DC: "I especially enjoy the house tours, where a partner welcomes us to their home and shows us around while regaling us with wonderful stories and experiences from their time at the Firm."
Samantha appreciates the cook-a-longs, cocktail- and mocktail-making lessons, charades night and other social events organized by her colleagues in the New York office. "These are such fun things to do with both my fellow summer associates, junior associates and partners. We're all in this together and we have connected on a very human level."
Discovering interests, challenging assignments
Summer associates get the chance to rotate between practices and complete multiple assignments, including pro bono work. It's a chance to confirm your interest in a particular area of law, as Samantha explains. "Having worked at a pharmaceutical company prior to law school, I knew that I was most interested in pursuing a career in patent litigation. The opportunity to work with White & Case lawyers in the Intellectual Property practice group has been an unparalleled experience. Exposure to the incredibly interesting work has assured me that I am on the right path."
Speaking mid-way through the program, Tejaswini points out the range and variety of work that she has undertaken to date. "I have had the chance to work on a myriad of assignments from a variety of practice groups; three projects for the Antitrust team; a research project for the Global Financial Services Regulation group; and another project for the International Arbitration group. The work allocation team is very approachable and have ensured I get all the experience I expressed an interest in."
"The work has been a real highlight for me"
Josh explains that the work that he has done has opened his eyes to different areas of law. "The work has been a real highlight for me, including being part of a big pro bono class action. I've also been able to cultivate my interest in investor-state arbitration. Previously, I had little to no experience in this area, but between my own research and my assignments, I'm now excited to pursue it further."
For Alani, stand-out moments so far include the welcome opportunity to deepen her knowledge in transactional work and foster connections with New York lawyers as well as her Miami colleagues. "I'm getting to see a deal from the inside, answering all the questions that I had at law school and learning so much every day. I feel fully part of the team, which is phenomenal."
How to network in an online world
How can summer associates make those important personal connections and build their network when there's no possibility of casual "watercooler" conversations and other informal interactions? Tejaswini finds a reason to get in touch, saying that "I usually reach out to associates and partners after their practice presentations to talk more about their work." Alani says that she's been warmly encouraged to ask questions and supported by mentors and buddies alike. Samantha adds that, "I wasn't expecting the level of collaboration and teamwork, especially in this virtual workplace."
As well as scheduling calls and time with individual lawyers, the summer class have taken advantage of many informal opportunities to connect, such as drop-in "lunchroom" meetings when associates or partners can drop in for a chat or to answer questions. All four agree that the key is being proactive and say that they have been pleasantly surprised at how receptive associates and partners have been.
The final word on the online White & Case Summer Program goes to Josh: "Everyone has been so friendly and eager to speak to us. I've had many great conversations and I have really appreciated how open and approachable everyone has been."