It’s almost that time of the year again. Yes, for firm librarians it’s time to start thinking about summer associates. In conversations with my online research trainers, the question keeps coming up – “what do you want them to know before they start?”
It’s an ongoing debate/issue/theme in the law library community. What law students need to know to be successful during a summer associate stint at a law firm doesn’t always match what they learn in law school. More law schools are attempting to provide real life experiences for students, through practicums, clinics, classes. I can’t speak to the success of these, but I do think it’s a great start. In addition, there are more conversations, whether online, in-person, or through a program at a conference, where law firm and law school librarians are discussing the issues faced by summer associates, and trying to find solutions or, at least, common ground and a starting point.
Yes, we want the students to be able to research efficiently and effectively. This means they should be willing to take advantage of all the resources offered by a law firm. And to do so while “thinking like a lawyer”. It’s harder than it seems. They must be proficient in Westlaw, Lexis, and other online services, but they also have to think outside the major resource “box.” Public records, both for companies and individuals, expert witness information, and non-legal materials, the list goes on and on and on. I don’t expect my summer associates to be able to research in non-legal materials, but I do expect them to know that these things exist and be willing to ask for them or to ask how they can find them. They will be working on both billable and non-billable projects. They’ll be working for attorneys who care whether they incur online research charges.
My advice for law students who want to work for a law firm over the summer is to take advantage of every training offering from the library that you can. You may not use a specific resource, but, then again, you might use one to find that one elusive answer. And, if you’ve already had training, you’ll be a step ahead. Yes, the law firms offer training – sometimes we make it mandatory, sometimes not. And we understand that a summer associate may have a conflict that takes priority over training. So again, if you’ve had some training during law school, you’re not starting at ground zero.
Students should, and law schools should encourage, take advantage of the sessions and availability of the online vendor representatives. Some of those representatives are assigned both to firms and to law schools – so they see the questions asked in real life situations. Some have switched from law firm training to law school training – same thing, they’ve had experience where the summer associate will be.
The biggest difference between law school and law firm… not every question has an answer. I know I’ve said it before (I’ve said most of this before). Most of the questions asked in a law firm require extrapolating information from research and coming up with a reasoned conclusion. Frequently one single resource doesn’t provide the answer, multiple resources might be needed to get information allowing a summer associate to write a well-drafted memo in response to a question/issue.
And, above all, summer associates should not be afraid to ask questions. If you don’t understand an assignment, you might answer the wrong question. A summer associate can always ask for clarification from the assigning attorney. Law librarians live and breathe just to answer questions from a summer associate (or any attorney, paralegal or staff member). We would rather you ask than have you provide incorrect information. There may be stupid questions, but we’ll never tell you that you asked it.