Splitting Summers:
I have a question for law students or lawyers who as law firm summer associates "split" the summer, working for half of the summer at one firm and half the summer at a second firm. Here's the question: If you accepted an offer of permanent employment at one of the two firms, did you accept at the firm from the first half of the summer or the firm from the second half of the summer? And why?

  The reason I ask is that many law firms strongly prefer students to join them for the first half of the summer rather than the second half. I would guess they have this preference because they think students are more likely to pick the firm where they spent the first half of the summer. I'm wondering, is this sense accurate? And if it is, why are students more likely to accept offers from the first-half firm?
DavidBernstein (mail):
I always thought firms wanted this (1) for admnistrative convenience and (2) relatedly, because they want you to bond with the Summer Associate class. If 85% of the Summer Associate class is showing up in a three-week period in late May/early June, it makes perfect sense for a firm to request that a summer splitter also show up then for the reasons alluded to above.
11.27.2006 4:18pm
Guest44 (mail) (www):
Some firms also have minimum length requirements (8 or 10 weeks) that make it very difficult to split with any other comparable firm.

Besides a summer's natural inclination to prefer the first firm, the first/last requirements may be linked to firm special events that they want to make sure all summers attend, even those who split.
11.27.2006 4:20pm
I split between two different offices and I definitely didn't bond nearly as much with the summers/lawyers in the second office. Everyone already knew each other, and I was the random guy coming in seven weeks late.
11.27.2006 4:24pm
Anonymous Law Clerk:
I'm clerking and haven't yet accepted either offer, but I am more likely to accept the firm I went to first half.

Although I tell myself that this is because the first-half firm is a better fit--and, really, I think it is--there were also several factors working against Firm #2. By the time I arrived there, the social group had sort of formed, so I never got as close to my fellow summer associates; some of the best work assignments were probably gone; I cared less, since I already had an offer and had had a good experience; and I was a bit burned out and ready for the fall semester. (Burned out, you ask? The constant social nonsense is tiring; give me a normal job with long hours any day.)

Of course, there's also some selection bias. The first-half firm was my first choice going in, and it was a more-prestigious firm with a stronger preference for the first half. So it wasn't accidental that I went to it first.
11.27.2006 4:46pm
James R Dillon (mail):
I fall into a similar category, as I split between two offices of the same firm (New York and L.A.), and I did in fact choose to return to the office that I spent the first half of the summer with (New York). In my case, at least, I was leaning toward New York from the beginning, since I went to law school there, but was willing to consider L.A. as an alternative if I really liked it. L.A. definitely bore the burden of persuading me to leave New York, though, which it failed to carry. I suspect that most students who split between firms or between different offices of the same firm probably start the summer with the firm or office toward which they're more strongly leaning. That being the case, I'm not sure that artificially switching the order would change the outcome-- for example, had I started in L.A. before New York, I still probably would have gone to New York.
11.27.2006 4:54pm
Bobbie (mail):
Numbers show that summers consistently pick their first firm over their second. If you're looking to write an article, e-mail big firms in Texas since everyone in Texas splits.
11.27.2006 5:07pm
I did not split when I went to work this past summer, but several people at my firm did. The comments about the social bonds being formed early in the summer are most definitely correct--despite the fact that our summer class was huge, I don't think the people who showed up for the second half of the summer ever felt entirely comfortable with the rest of us, who had already bonded. In addition, the first half of the summer was much more heavy on social events. I think the general idea at our firm was that the first half of the summer was for you to get to know your fellow summers and the attorneys at the firm. As the summer progressed and you made more connections throughout the firm, you got more assignments, your bigger, summer-long assignments started coming due, and you did less socializing and more work. While we definitely had some cool events during the last part of the summer, the great bulk of the socializing took place over the first six weeks or so. People who showed up late missed most of the fun stuff and the missed out on getting the bigger assignments as well.
11.27.2006 5:17pm
Ken Reba:
From the title, I thought this was another post tearing apart the erstwhile President of Harvard.
11.27.2006 5:18pm
Bay Area 2L:
As a law student, I've watched the splits happen and am contemplating one myself for the coming summer, and it certainly seems like the social dynamic outlined above is the major factor. That said, is anyone else disappointed by this? I would hope that we law students, when deciding where to spend the next 3-30 years of our careers, would approach the decision a little more critically than, "Gee it was nice drinking with all the new summers!" or "That weekend trip in June sure was fun," or "I just got here and everyone already knows each other! I'm going to have to INTRODUCE myself!"

Then again, the presence of all the free tote bags, pens, highlighters, umbrellas, liquor, bouncy balls, memory sticks, and mints suggests 1) the law firms don't think we're any better than that and 2) we really are motivated by such shallow concerns. Oh well. At least I'll get my stadium throw.
11.27.2006 5:36pm
Christine Hurt (mail) (www):
Orin, I "summered" in Texas, where splitting is the rule, not the exception. In fact, some students split their time three ways. I have no empirical data, but the conventional wisdom is that students fall in love with their first firm and it's hard to compete once they come in the second half. (Usually the whole class turns over i firms where splitting is the rule, so it's not really about bonding with your class so much as bonding with "a brand.") I definitely tried to recruit students in the second half of the summer who obviously were quite enamored with their first firm. ("But at V&E, they did it this way. . . .")

I once read that women tend to buy the first wedding dress they try on, even if they try on 50 dresses after that. Because they don't usually wear clothes so striking and fanciful, they are taken with themselves the first time they look at themselves in the mirror and associate that feeling with the first dress. Likewise, for most students, the first law firm clerkship may be your first "real job," where you had an office, a secretary, fancy lunches, important clients, etc. That would be my theory, and it was true for me (law firm, not wedding dress). I even know of someone (related to me) who stayed at his first firm instead of going on to his second firm because he just felt that there was no way that it could be any better than this firm. The other firm was not happy about that and did not seem to think that saving that salary was any consolation to the affront. . . .
11.27.2006 5:55pm
C.H. (mail):
As a general matter, I found summer clerkships a terribly inefficient and misleading way to chose firms and/or specialties. I wish that law schools had a medical school-esque system of rotations during the 2L/3L years so that you could get a real sense of what it is like to practice each specialty (not to mention a broad base of experience).
11.27.2006 6:03pm
Texas 3L:
I split my summer this year and chose the second-half firm.

Reversing the order wouldn't have changed my decision - the firms I clerked offered completely different career paths. Between litigation at a big firm and transactional work at a local boutique, I preferred the boutique.

I think my experience is probably unique, though. At least one of the first-half clerks I worked with was unswervingly smitten with the first firm and the summer class, and there was no way she was going to like another firm as much.
11.27.2006 6:13pm
Greg (www):
I didn't split my summer, but at least 2 people did at our firm. They both came in late and both chose our firm over the one they summered at first. But, then again, we had a very cool summer associate class who were very friendly. :)
11.27.2006 6:50pm

As has already been touched on, I think the biggest reason for favoring the first half is simply because that's when everyone gets to know each other. I was a summer associate at a local DC firm for the entire summer, but there were others who came in for the second half who didn't get to know everyone nearly as well. Also, a friend of mine who was a summer associate at the same firm in DC for the first half and went to Atlanta for the second half of the summer reported feeling the same way.
11.27.2006 6:57pm
Comish (mail):
I chose my 2nd half firm. But the reason is that there were very few similarities between the two firms. The first half was with a small firm in a small town. The second half was with a big firm in a big city.

In my experience, most folks chose the first firm they clerked with. That's when the experience is new and exciting. And the attorneys have more energy to do recruiting. By the 2nd half, everyone is too tired to keep up the pace, and the veneer has worn off the experience.

At least half of the 2nd half recruits had already made up their minds because they loved their first firm so much. And changing people's minds is more difficult than convincing them in the first place.
11.27.2006 7:42pm
In addition to the points others have made, I think there's also something of a selection bias here -- the fact that law firms seem to cater more to first-half students, that relationships with summer classes are more easily formed, etc., leads students to go first to the city or the firm they are leaning towards anyway. Then, either through self-fulfilling prophesy or genuine satisfaction, they end up accepting an offer at the first firm.

My own experience was that I split between a large NY firm and a small plaintiffs firm. I won't accept at either one, but I liked the small firm much better. The "bonding" issue wasn't an issue -- since the firm was so small (and the people less stressed) making friends was easy.
11.27.2006 9:14pm
RI Lawyer:
CH - Some law schools do have something approaching the medical school model of rotation. For example, Northeastern University Law School, which I attended, operates on the "co-op" model. After first year all students alternate 11 week class periods with 11 week employment periods. By the end of third year all students have had nearly a full year of actual experience working in 4 different environments. There is no requirement that the substantive areas need to be different, as in the med school model, but most students get exposure to a broad range of employment settings and substantive areas.
11.28.2006 9:47am
Former Hiring Partner:
Our NY-based firm found that over several years we almost never got back summer-splitting associates who went to another firm first, but did about as well with splitters who came to us first as we did with full-summer associates. This pattern was so clear that long ago we required a longer commitment to our firm that really precludes spending more than a couple of weeks at another firm.

I think the earlier commenters have identified the reasons. Bonding is important, not just with other summers but with associates and partners, and that is easier when all the summers are new. There's probably a selection bias among law students, who choose their primary objective as their first firm and then take a flyer at a different kind of firm or a different city as their second choice. Law firms certainly look for summers to start at their firms and my guess is the more prestigious the firm, the more likely the firm will press for and get that, and the more likely the student is to take a job at the higher-prestige firm.

And don't discount the value of tote bags and coffee mugs with a firm's name on them. We think we're smarter or less susceptible to suggestion than to be taken in by such things, but we're wrong. If you have any doubts, go to a gym here in New York and notice that every single investment banker or BigLaw lawyer has a gym bag with his employer's name on it.
11.28.2006 10:23am
Ragnar Danneskjold (mail) (www):
I went with the firm I clerked for in the second half. After working for the first firm, it was no longer an option in my mind.
11.28.2006 11:06am
markm (mail):
"And don't discount the value of tote bags and coffee mugs with a firm's name on them." You realize you're confirming the layman's stereotype of lawyers here...
11.28.2006 11:09am
Houston Lawyer:
Another issue with second-half summer associates is that the partners and associates who are heavily involved in recruiting get burned out pretty fast. There is generally a fair amount of enthusiasm for the arrival of the first set of summer associates. This doesn't last very long.

I believe that most summer associates select their favorite for the first half of the summer. I also believe that the first group to woo you has an advantage. Those of us from modest upbringings can be quite stunned by a summer associate program.
11.28.2006 11:13am
Bryan DB:
At our firm, we've had a number of splitters (I wasn't one of them). 4 splitters in the last 2 years. 3 of the 4 came at the end of the summer, and stayed. 1 of the 4 came at the beginning, and went to the second firm. So we're kind of the opposite of the trend.
11.28.2006 12:48pm
Splitter (mail):
I split, 8 weeks in one place, 6 in the other. Because of a clerkship, I don't have to accept an offer, but I am far more likely to go back to place I was at for the second half. Several of us started at once, so I guess I didn't have the lack of bonding that others experienced. My choice is based more on content - the second half did cutting edge work with a reasonable lifestyle. The first is great as well, but the work is just not as interesting.
11.28.2006 1:46pm
ardbeg78 (mail):
I spent several years on the summer associate committee (as an associate) of the New York offices of 2 large firms, both headquartered out of state. Over approximately 8 years, none of the summers who spent the second half (approximately 4 - 6 weeks) with our firm came back full time. Also, none of the summers who split between two offices of our firms came back to the New York office after spending only the second half with in New York. This pattern held for summers who spent their entire 1L summer with us, and came back for the second half of their 2L summer, as well. I tend to agree that a lot of it has to do with the social /bonding aspects, which are easier to establish when coming in together as a class. Also, for those who spent their 1L summer with us and went to another firm for the first half of their 2L summer, my sense was that they came back as a mere courtesy to convince themselves that they were making the right decision.
11.28.2006 3:12pm
Former Hiring Partner:
markm, you wrote that my comment about not discounting the effectiveness of branded tote bags and coffee mugs was "confirming the layman's stereotype of lawyers here."

What stereotype do you think I am confirming? That we're susceptible to the same sorts of influences as other human beings? If anything, being typically human is not the layman's stereotype of laywers. ;-)

My point was that even detached, cynical, analytical types (which certainly describes many lawyers in big firm practice) are just as susceptible to the branded giveaways as everyone else. There's a reason that your local public television station gives you a branded tote bag or an umbrella when you pledge $100, that everyone in my family got baseball caps from the car dealership where we got our last car, etc., etc. And the reason is that, however obvious the motivation or hokey the item, these things do build brand (or firm) loyalty. Even among lawyers.
11.28.2006 6:53pm
Brian G (mail) (www):
I was thankful to get one offer. I wouldn't have split even if I had the chance. Personally, if I were a hiring partner, I wouldn't allow it at all. Because, if you can't fully commit to me, why should I invest in you?
11.28.2006 6:56pm