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4 elements of a successful summer intern program

What makes a successful summer recruiting program?

A Philadelphia firm whose program is consistently ranked among the top five firms attributes its success to several factors, says Mindy Herczfeld, director of legal recruiting for Cozen O’Connor.

These factors include work variety, strong attorney involvement, and a not-so-competitive environment—as well as personal mentors and interaction with the partners.

1. Provide an attorney at every turn

Perhaps leading the success is the continued attorney involvement at all levels of the program, Herczfeld says.

At the top is a program director, who is available throughout the summer to answer questions from associates about areas of interest and where they see their careers moving.

Another attorney acts as assignment coordinator. The coordinator makes sure the associates get a variety of work they enjoy, thus eliminating complaints about being stuck in one dull area all summer long.

Each student gets between 8 and 16 assignments, the average being 10 to 14.

Yet another attorney assigns the work and assesses the quality of the assignments once completed.

And beyond that, each associate has two personal mentors:

  • The first is a writing mentor who reviews the associates’ work and makes suggestions for improvement; and
  • The second is an associate mentor who is assigned on the first day of the program and serves as each student’s go-to person for questions ranging from career advice to how to use the copier.

Herczfeld says the mentors are newer associates who have been with the firm for fewer than five years.

The firm opted for that restriction because the similarity in age and experience encourages a quick bond with the newcomers. It’s easy for a student to ask a younger attorney basic questions such as, “What should I wear to this event?” or “How should I approach Partner A?”

The firm assigns the mentors according to common interests, such as golf or anything that might give them a starting point for a good relationship with the new recruit.

2. Hold open discussions

Along with the attorney assignments to the program, the firm encourages the other attorneys to be proactive in getting to know the students. It encourages them to issue casual invitations such as, “Would you like to go to lunch and talk about this practice area?”

And it encourages the summer associates to do the same.

What’s more, to give the students a full view of what’s going on, management takes what some firms see as a radical approach, she says. The partners explain the firm structure and operations and lay out plans for the future.

3. Assign a variety of work

Of all the things the associates say they like about the program, the variety of work assignments they’re given ranks at the top, Herczfeld says.

Associates spend half of their nine weeks in the litigation department and the other half in the business department.

Besides giving them wide experience, the work variety helps them identify the practice areas they will be most satisfied in. Many times a student comes in planning to begin practice in one area only to leave wanting to do something completely different, she says. The broader experience lets them see where they fit best.

4. Encourage collaboration, not competition

Still another factor attributed to the program’s success is the steps the firm takes to create a personal connection among the interns.

That begins at the schools where the recruiters limit their search to people who fit the firm academically and culturally.

What’s more, the firm brings in only the number of students it thinks it will eventually need. “It doesn’t hire 20 and then say we only have 10 spots,” says Herczfeld. “As a result, there’s no sense of competition and that encourages the new associates to help each other out.”

In fact, she says, “The firm encourages them to proofread each other’s work and bounce ideas off one another.”

Related reading:

How a mentor program can improve your associate retention rates

5 strategies for engaging millennials in the workforce

How to get new staffers off to a strong start









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