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by JoAnna Tonini | July 01, 2020

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Whether you are firmly in the introvert camp or are introvert-leaning, you may be wondering how to get the most value from your summer associate experience, form meaningful and professional relationships, and add value to the workplace. This article is intended to provide some guidance on how introverts can successfully navigate the summer associate process. 

It is important to first understand that introverts already have the tools to succeed as associates. The goal of the summer associate program is not to try and be someone you are not. In fact, much of lawyering involves talents at which introverts excel. A typical day for many lawyers (and especially junior attorneys) does not involve making public speeches or oral arguments. Rather, it consists of researching, reading, writing, and analyzing—in other words, problem solving. Introverts should lean in on the skills they already have (and enjoy!) to succeed. Below are a few skills that introverts can use to their advantage in building a successful summer associate experience.

Observing and listening is a powerful tool to your growth as a future attorney. This is especially true for summer and junior associates when the learning curve is high. Many of the judgment calls you make will depend on you “reading the room.” Does your firm place a heavy emphasis on face time in the office? Or does it vary depending on practice group? Observing the communication styles (both oral and written) of other associates with each other and with partners can assist in determining what is expected of you as a member of the team. 

If your law firm staffs matters leanly, you will likely be working in a small team consisting of yourself and the partner and maybe one other associate. These are wonderful opportunities to get to know another attorney’s working style. Ask to sit in on a call or a meeting, even if it is a routine one. Better yet, volunteer to take notes. For calls, see if you can join the call from the partner’s or associate’s office as opposed to calling in separately. You will be amazed at how much you learn simply by watching and listening to how attorneys manage calls with clients or opposing counsel. Oftentimes, the attorney will debrief and share their thoughts with you afterwards. Additionally, as someone with a fresh pair of eyes, you enjoy the benefit of having a new perspective on the matter. Where you have them, I encourage you to ask questions and make suggestions—you may touch upon an idea that the rest of team has not considered, and it shows the team that you are thinking critically about the task at hand. If you feel self-conscious about speaking up in a group setting, send an email or seek out the associate or partner on the side when they have a free moment.

The summer associate program is a wonderful opportunity to begin forging relationships with your peers and colleagues. To facilitate this, firms will often offer programming outside of the office. While these events may seem large and appear to involve lots of socializing, try focusing on quality over quantity. Start with a goal to get to know two or three new people each time. If you find yourself engaging in an in-depth conversation, try seeing if that attorney is available for a subsequent chat over coffee to continue the discussion. Likewise, if your firm offers coffees or lunches with attorneys, these are ideal opportunities to seek out one-on-one or smaller group discussions, especially with attorneys who work in the fields that interest you. Ask them how they landed in their practice, what their average day looks like, and any current or recent interesting projects. Chances are they are more than happy to share details about their work and give you advice on how best to get integrated into a practice, and there is a better chance they will remember you the next time they need assistance on a project. Follow up afterwards with an email thanking them for their time. As you get deeper into the summer and meet more people, you may find yourself becoming more comfortable in larger group settings. Make an effort to try new experiences, and use each occasion to find out what works best for you.

Finally, do not forget the staff. If you are assigned an assistant, your relationship with him or her is just as important. Take them out for lunch and get to know them. Assistants have a wealth of institutional knowledge and can make a real difference in your professional development. Introverts are known to notice the little things. Greet the mail room staff when they make their daily rounds. Thank the custodian. They will remember.

Introverts have unique strengths that are important and necessary to a successful workplace, and this is no less true for lawyers. Embrace them and be confident that you will find your footing. Good luck!

JoAnna Tonini is an associate in the New York office of Jones Day.  The views and opinions set forth herein are the personal views or opinions of the author; they do not necessarily reflect views or opinions of the law firm with which she is associated.

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