Idiotproof Your Summer: Further Etiquette and “No Duh” Tips For Your Internship

how-to-be-a-great-internWe’ve had a great time reading the comments on our “what clothes to buy for your summer internship” post on Monday — it brings to mind so, so many memories of summers past where we’d think, HOW in the name of God did X get through high school, let alone college, with this thick a skull?  Especially in this economy, you need more than just the smarts and scores that got you past the admissions office — you need survival skills and street savvy.  And, in case it needs to be said:  No summer should feel entitled to anything. Here are some from our “greatest hits” list — please add more in comments. Pictured: Clowns, originally uploaded to Flickr by Earls37a.

If your company or firm invites you to a closed-door meeting of any kind — deposition, mediation, etc. — please do not check your Blackberry.  Seriously, I’ve sat in depositions with six people, and the partners and the associates and the witness are taking the day’s events seriously — and the summer associate is sitting there checking their Blackberry.  Tell your secretary where you are; you can check your Blackberry when the partner does.  And yo, that game of Brickbreaker can wait.

  • In the same kind of meeting, I’ve sat next to summer associates who took their shoes off under the table.  Say what?  Seriously?  Shoes stay on.
  • No gum.  Where?  Anywhere, if you can help it, but use this rule of thumb:  are you outside your office?  Then swallow your gum.
  • Here’s another tip — try to make it seem as if you enjoy academic endeavors.  Fake it if you must, but avoid saying things like:
    • Oh, yuck, the library? I hate reading.
    • Yeah, sorry I got all those details wrong; I’m really more of a big picture guy.  (Great! We’ll just tell the partner/CEO to take a vacation, then.)
  • If your back (and computer screen) faces the door/hallway, special rules apply.  1)  If you wear a thong, it should never, ever, show.  (Really, this goes for any underwear, but we would vastly prefer to see the top of someone’s boyshorts to the top of someone’s G-string.)  Test ALL of your pants and skirts for whether you can sit and bend in them without compromising yourself.  2)  Facebook, shopping websites, even Corporette (yes, it pains us to say this) should be considered, by you, off limits during the workday.  You could shut your door, of course, but that’s bad for summer associates — and if your screen is at all visible you don’t want to be seen goofing off.  Even if you have no work at all, sit down and write a letter to a friend, or get some newsletters/legal magazines from the library to read through.  (In fact, employers not only have the right to check your computer’s browsing history and so forth, but it’s also been reported that more than 70% do so.  Keep this in mind while browsing the Internet this summer.)
  • Urban legends abound from people who drank too much at summer events — don’t be one.  We’ve talked before about what your drink says about you, but in this economy, be conservative.  We’d suggest taking one glass of wine and holding it.  No drinking until the afterparty — and there, go with the ratio of one drink to one diet Coke (or glass of water or club soda or whatever).  And please, please, don’t decide it’s a great time to taste different bottles of champagne or to invite your six girlfriends who don’t work at the firm but really want to meet the guys you work with.

Those are the tips that come to mind for us — readers, please add your own…


  1. I did my summer internship with a girl who would make these incredibly inappropriate comments. It was a very strong economy then, and she didn’t get an offer. Two distinct memories here; milder first:

    – while standing at a cocktail party and talking with a group of women, including a female partner, she begins to regale us with how much her feet hurt and how she wanted to sit down

    – while at a summer associate outdoor outing, she casually mentioned (while sober!) to a group of six other summer associates that she had been fired from her teenage job as a camp counsellor for … wait for it … shitting in the lake. Ewwwwwwwwwwww.

  2. I might be dating myself, but I remember when I summered in NYC (03 and 04) there was at least one truly awful email mishap – the kind where a summer associate manages to email something awful to the entire office or, worse, the entire firm. Obviously, people should not use work email for personal correspondence – but even if you are good about that, still open every mass firm-wide email with care. And file it or delete it.

  3. In no particular order:

    1. Wear a bra.
    2. Do not invite associates to take YOU to lunch
    3. Do not tell a partner the reason you cannot take an assignment is because you have a lunch with a first-year associate.
    4. Wear clothes that fit. Recognize that after a year or two of law school, the clothes you wore for your high school internship may not fit anymore. Donate them, and invest in a larger size.
    5. In the current law market, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. If you find yourself working for only one partner, ask for work in a different group. Even if the partner you are working for is very influential you’ll need more than one person gunning for you when offer time comes around.

  4. Do NOT shorthand ANY emails you send. Since most correspondence is sent via email, you will certainly do yourself a disservice if you insist on using language like “plz” or “thx” or don’t bother saying Hi to your reader!

    I don’t care how quick the email is, you should ALWAYS include a greeting, body, and thank you, (name). This is not a text message to your friend. Even if you do have a blackberry for the summer, take the time to use those punctuation buttons – they put them there for a reason!

    I’m the age of a lot of summer associates and this stuff irks me, so imagine how much it would bother a senior associate, counsel or partner. Nothing screams immature like a :-) in a professional correspondence.

    • Can I piggyback on this and ask our biglaw friends whether it is appropriate or summer or junior associates to respond to a request from a more senior person with a question followed by “Please advise.”? I’m not in biglaw, but I am a senior person in my organization, and I find that incredibly rude and irksome. If I have given you a directive and you have questions for me, ask them. I will advise you. You do not need to direct me to do so.

  5. I actually just read the drinks post and I have this to add: if you like to drink at events, and you refuse to moderate that, find the associates who also drink a lot (you’ll figure this out quickly). Being the one drunk person in a group of moderately drunk people is a disaster; being wasted with a group of wasted people is a lot more fun, and less likely to lead to stories in the morning because no one will remember.

    And a corollary to the underwear rule: if you’re busty, put on a bra and your intended work shirt. Bend over in front of a mirror. If the shirt hangs off you in such a way that you can see your bra, you have a problem. Fix appropriately.

    And I think it’s totally cool to ask an associate you have a rapport with to go to lunch. It’s not like they’re paying; in fact, they’re getting a free fancy lunch. That said, in this economy, I would not be flouting the lunch rules.

  6. You summer position is a 10-week (or however many week…) interview. Act accordingly. You simply cannot afford to be as relaxed as the people you’re working for. You have to dress and act more formally than they do. Not to say you have to be stiff but just keep in mind you are being judged.

    Also check the spelling and grammar on EVERYTHING you give to someone else. It’s the little things that make you look careless or unpolished.

  7. Great comments. Here’s my two cents:

    If you haven’t been professionally fitted for a bra, please do so. A proper fitting from the pros at Nordstrom or Saks or Macy’s can make a new woman out of you (most women don’t wear the right bra size).

    No cleavage. None. At all.

    If someone from administration tells you what you are wearing is in some way inappropriate, do not argue the point and don’t discuss it with your peers. Just stop wearing whatever was too short, too tight or too revealing.

  8. I know everyone talks about being more formal and diligient when you are a summer associate. However, I don’t think anyone should interpret this as shying away from any personal topics. I know that associates, counsels and partners appreciate it when you can relate to them on a more personal level. Of course, it can be a bit tricky to pull off a personal conversation without seeming nosy. Just think of it as a first-date – don’t go into no-no topics such as sex, religion or politics. Well there is a bit more leeway for the politics subject, especially if you are in DC.

  9. A few, in no particular order:

    1) Be polite to EVERYONE. That means the catering lady in the conference center, the receptionist, the secretaries and tech support. You never know who has the ear of the recruiting manager–and yes–they do ask how you treat staff after you’ve left.

    2) Make sure your idea of “summer Friday casual” or “biz casual” matches with the firm’s. When in doubt, ask. Don’t show up to work in a strappy sundress and strappy heels when everyone else is wearing something much more professional

    3) When someone senior to you summons you to give you an assignment, bring a pad and pen to take notes (duh, yet many newbies forget this!). Additionally, while scrawling frantically, make sure you actually LISTEN. Clarify if you don’t understand. You are allowed to ask “stupid” questions (within reason) as a summer.

    4) Do not comment _on_ your co-workers, colleagues or anyone you’ve worked with. You are too new to understand “hidden alliances.” The person you might slag off might be someone’s nephew, or key hire. Keep your mouth shut.

    5) This is also rather obvious, but the summer is not the time to promote any sort of idealogy–religious, political, etc. Remember the old adage about not discussing religion or politics? Follow it. No one wants to hear if you are a huge Prop 8 supporter or that you campaigned for Ron Paul or you can’t understand why the government keeps hounding the FLDS peeps in Texas. Zip it.

    6) If you are a lady, note that A/C can be out of control in many high-rise office buildings. Buy a lightly padded bra if you “need it.” Control the headlights.

    7) Make an office emergency kit. It should have toothbrush, tampons, contact stuff, advil, etc. You might need it.

    8) Keep a blazer in your closet at work. You might need it for an emergency meeting.

    9) Don’t hook up with your co-workers. Don’t do it!

    • Yes, please be polite to everyone. You don’t really know what their story is by looking at them. Please don’t treat techs like your slaves or like they are lower life forms. Some of us have as much education as you do, believe it or not. I know that some techs are snotty but not all of us are. We can be valuable allies, especially when your computer, the main printer, and the server all break at once and you have an important report due in 1 hour.

  10. 9) Don’t hook up with your co-workers. Don’t do it!

    Because it really needs to be repeated

  11. This is so obvious, but make sure you act happy to be at the firm. Don’t talk badly about people or projects, don’t talk about how you would be happier working in some other city, and don’t make visible efforts to find other employment during your internship. You can always turn down an offer from a firm you dislike, but overcoming a rejection is really hard.

  12. Ditto on the hitting up associates for lunch. It’s fine if it’s your mentor, and you get along well, and you say “hey, I really want to catch up, do you have time for lunch?” But I had a summer who told me that we didn’t take the summers out to lunch enough and then basically forced me into taking her out. Not only did she become known as “the lunch grubber” among the associates, but I told a hiring partner about this in a cab ride home from an event. Lucky for her, she got the job. In this economy, though . . .

    • Were you trying to diminish her opportunity for an offer by divulging her shameless lunch-related pressure? Just curious, because I don’t think I would have mentioned that to the hiring partner so as to give the girl a fair shot beyond lacking common decency.

  13. NancyP — I had a summer who told me not only that *I* didn’t take him out enough (I was his liaison and took him out every 2 weeks) but he wanted me to organize “bigger” lunches with him and larger groups of summers. Spoiled. Brat.

  14. From both law firm and now gov’t experience. You are junior; I am senior. I have worked long and hard to establish myself as a professional. I can now slack off in some ways *because* I have proven myself. You cannot. Please do not assume that because I duck out early, means you can. It may mean I was here 14+ hours the night before, or the partner told me to get out of here because he knew the kind of hours I was doing earlier. Similarly, don’t come in late just because I do. I have earned that (and probably cleared it with my management; they know, I’m not sneaking in).

    Seniority and many long hours of proving yourself takes time and IS NOT something developed overnight. I cannot say that often enough.

  15. I’ve done a couple of summers in Biglaw and find a lot of these comments a bit extreme. California firms just do not wear suits everyday. You won’t fit in if you do.

    And some of these so-called no-nos are really not going to matter to most of your co-workers–except for someone who is really uptight and judgmental. And to be fair, that subset of people (who are really concerned about what people think of them and expect others to be as concerned) is probably the demographic that reads this blog.

    The truth is, if you’re getting dinged because you complain your feet hurt (?!) or slip your shoes off under the table, they were just looking for a reason to get rid of you anyway. It should just be noted (for potentially nervous summer associates) that doing good work will cancel out all but the most minor unprofessional dress and conduct.

  16. “All but the most minor” = “all but the most egregious.”

  17. Interns (legal and otherwise) TEN TIPS FROM AN EMPLOYER

    1. Have opinions on politics, taxes, and business–read !

    2. Know who won and who lost in WWI, WWII , Korea, Vietnam, and Gulf War I.

    3. Don’t start sentences with “I don’t know”. Don’t walk around with a blank website blackberry look to your face, make eye contact and wish people a good morning or whatever. Get in the corparate game.

    4. Don’t prove that you are texting /e-mail idiot in ways that have already been outlined. Put it down. You don’t have to e-mail your sister or boyfriend all day–that’s company time and company money.

    5. Come early and stay late. Give up your country club entitlement attitude. No stupid excuses like “I couldn’t find my keys”.

    6. Know when Congress is in session and what they are doing. Same with the President. Act like you know that the Pentagon is not a club but a building where the Department of Defense is located.

    7. Act like a lady, not like some sitcom character–go read Emily Post”s Ettiquette Guide.

    8. Write (not e-mail) thank you notes for all lunches and career guidnace appointments.

    9. Be genuinely interested in other cultures and religions. Don’t act stupid like you don’t know that Iranians and Turks are not Arabs, but Persians and Turks.

    10. Call all your superiors sir or ma’am–and if you don’t “feel” like doing that use “Mr. or Ms.”–even if you are told otherwise. You are there to work not to be chummy.

  18. I have to agree with M. I’m about to be a summer, but before I went to law school, I was a paralegal at V15 law firm in New York, and some of the advice I’ve read so far are just over-the-top. Granted, you don’t want to be *the* summer who gets drunk and falls into the Hudson, or have your thong hanging out of your pencil skirt, but some of these no-nos are only no-nos if you’re pulling a “mean girl”. Most of the attorneys I used to work with (partners and associates) “txted” emails all the time (thx, pls, emoticons, etc.). They also had no problem discussing their personal lives or their views. In general, I would say use common-sense, be respectful and responsible, watch yourself to a certain extent, but don’t let that hide or disguise your personality. As much as it is a 10-week interview, it doesn’t mean you have to subsume your identity to follow “rules.”

  19. Be polite & professional to other law firms, in-house legal departments, etc. that have rejected you already. True story. A law school acquaintance who was an average student was rejected nastily by a law firm b/c she wasn’t good enough for them. Until she won an important bilingual mooting competition. Then they wanted her, but she’d found a different position. She was deeply hurt, pi**ed off and was going to write them a really nasty letter. I advised her not to burn bridges, to write a polite letter saying that she had only just received their letter of offer because she had been studying away for awhile [partly true]; thank for the offer but I have a position, look forward to seeing you around.

    • Anonymous :

      Totally agree!! I am in my current role right now after being rejected for a diffrent role in the same organization. You will never know when the tide turns your way.

  20. I agree with the “mean girls” comment above. There was poster in the “summer wardrobe” post who stated that wearing open-toed shoes screams that one wants to marry a lawyer and not be one. I found that type of attitude to be a bit extreme.

    As a mid-level NYC attorney who has seen more than a few summers come and go, the best advice I can give is to act grateful for the work (especially in this economy) and do NOT, under and circumstances, engage in female territorialism/competition with any other summers or any of the lawyers. I saw two summers go very wrong that way and as far as I know, they are both still unemployed.

  21. Feel free to have an opinion on politics, but recognize if your position is an extreme one (and then keep it to yourself). It’s not a good idea to be at a law firm event talking about how evil America is and how you hate all the white people running the government. Likewise, don’t refer to Catholics as “papists” or the French as “cheese eating surrender monkeys.”

    Avoid expressing any political/religious/social opinion that starts with “I don’t see how anyone could think…” You’re probably insulting someone within earshot, and just showing that you really don’t understand both sides of the issue (pretty big weakness in a lawyer).

    Don’t complain how your firm is just a “boy’s club,” especially to your male coworkers who are getting fewer lunches and less interesting assignments.

    And finally, I know this has been said, but don’t hook up with your co-workers! I did it and it was a mistake. Both times.

  22. anon @ 10:06: a summer is only at the job for 10 weeks. it won’t kill her to dress accordingly during that time. it is a disservice to advise that open-toed shoes will be tolerated. as a mid-level chicago biglaw, i’ve had many gossip sessions w/ partners about THAT summer with THOSE shoes. while one would like to think that her work product should speak for itself, it doesn’t. your post substantiates an even more imp point: because opinions vary, err on the side of conservatism.

  23. Some of the “Dos” in these comments would be “Don’ts” at my law firm.

    If a summer associate called me “Ma’am,” I would be mortified (I hate being called that–it makes me feel ancient and I’m 37) and think that person was very odd. No summer or junior associate has ever called me “Ma’am” or even “Ms.”

    It just goes to show how different the culture can be at different offices.

  24. On the other hand, Molly, many women would probably like to avoid a firm where the other women spend their time gossiping about the scandalous open toed shoes of the summer interns. Dear God, I don’t know how bad the economy would have to get before I wouldn’t be happy to be spared a job in that environment, but it’s not there yet.

  25. “sir” and “ma’am”??? “Mr.” and “Ms./Mrs.”??? No way. I think Employer is thinking of summer interns on the Hill.

    I think learning when/how to ask questions is something to think about. If you have an assignment, of course the assigning attorney wants you to understand it and do a good job. But that doesn’t mean you should ask your questions every thirty seconds. There’s nothing more annoying than getting asked a question that could be 1. easily answered by google or 2. makes it clear that the summer hasn’t really looked at the assignment yet. Try to ask your questions in batches rather than one at a time.

  26. Anonymous :

    This is all so absurd.

    The ONLY thing that matters is that you DO GOOD WORK consistently. If your work is thoughtful, well researched, and free of typos (or almost free), then you’ll get an offer regardless of the number faux-pas you make. This is because partners and senior associates will regard you as someone to whom work could actually be entrusted in the future.

    However, if you plan on screwing up an assignment here or there, then I suppose these things might matter more. But still, I think its easier to worry about getting the assignments right than following the social norms completely.

  27. anon @ 10:06 here :

    By no means do I think that wearing open-toed shoes are a great idea for summers. I never wore them as a summer. I was just making the point that it’s a big leap to assume that someone is looking for an MRS instead of a JD because she wears an open-toed pump. Nonetheless, I think that the advice is indeed practical, because it deminstrates that some people do make snap judgments about someone’s entire life plan based on their footwear alone.

  28. Most firms have a dress code. It’s entirely appropriate to contact the recruiting coordinator or whoever is running the summer program and ask them about the firm’s dress code. Then, follow it. It’s really that simple.

    Also, if you see older attorneys flaunting the dress code, that doesn’t mean you should. There are a lot of unwritten rules about who can break the dress code and when they can do it, but wait until you are actually working there to worry about those. If I know I’m going to be doing diligence or going to the printer until 3 am, I might go business casual on a Tuesday. That doesn’t mean you should.

    All that being said, I’ve worked at two fairly conservative Midwest biglaw firms and I’ve never seen the women acting as catty as the commenters here. If someone *gasp* dared to show a toe, I think we’d all get over it. The few times I’ve seen fashion really affect a summer it was when they went completely over the top–major cleavage, mini mini skirts or tennis shoes might hurt you (and I’ve unfortunately seen all of these).

    When it comes to work, act greatful for the work and interested in what you are doing. Even if you think you would rather work at Starbucks then learn about ERISA, smile and say you found the assignment really interesting. Show interest in people’s practice areas and ask questions about how what you are doing fits in with the broader case or deal. Try to reach a little beyond the immediate assignment and think about the impllications of what you are doing for the bigger picture, and discuss those with the person handing you the assignment. And proofread, proofread, ask your friend to proofread, and then proofread again. Nothing annoys me more than a summer associate who treats the person they are working for as their proofreader.

  29. Anonymous @5:12 is completely wrong. It’s not hard to find a first year associate of passable competence (which is pretty low, since first years and SAs don’t know anything yet). Your firm will measure you as both an asset and a liability. If you’re going to irritate your coworkers, lose clients, or cause a law suit, your firm would rather have someone just as competent but without the liabilities.

    I agree with the comments about not using “Mr./sir” and “Ms./ma’am.” Refer to your superiors in the same way they are spoken about to you, or how they refer to themselves. If the person you assigns your work says “Call Mr. Jacobs,” then he is Mr. Jacobs. But, if Mr. Jacobs signs his e-mail “-Bill” then you can call him Bill. (Good luck figuring out who is to call Michael and who to call Mike.)

    It’s better to learn to calibrate and adjust your actions than to just memorize a bunch of silly rules. Remember, manners are about making people around you comfortable, regardless of what is “proper.”

  30. Delta Sierra :

    Anonymous at 5:12: As a client of Big Law, with a chatty lawyer there, I can’t agree with you that good work is the only thing that matters. The hiring and firing people expect a new hire to observe the corporate culture within that particular office, and go along with it. Not slavishly, but plenty. Consider: they do not want to have to explain away your behavior or appearance to a stuffy client.

    Also, professional work has NO typos. You’ve been through college, there’s no excuse. Trust me on this one.

  31. This is getting out of control.

    Like everything else in life, use common sense. Watch what the associates at your firm do (or whoever the full time employees are), and do likewise. Err on the side of caution.

    Obviously, firm culture matters a lot. Look around. If it seems like wearing a suit every day and calling everyone “Sir” and “Ma’am” is what everyone else is doing, then do likewise. If all of the female partners and associates are wearing colorful summer clothing with open-toed shoes, then feel free to do likewise.

    The only way you want to stand out is for your work. In every other way, blend in. It’s not rocket science.

  32. [email protected]:06: i completely agree. it’s sad, but the culture of the firm dictates how one should dress. mine is ultra-conservative, which means no toes. if you’re not willing to dress the part during this 10 week interview, it says to me you don’t want the job bad enough. btw, demonstrates is spelled w/ an “o”.

  33. Anonymous :

    I agree with Corporette and Molly on this one. Our handbook explicitly prohibits the open-toed shoe. Christ, even Anon had to agree she never wore open-toed shoes during her summer. I also disagree with those who say that you dress like other associates. Other associates have proven their worth. You haven’t. It’s a job interview everyone. Save the shoes for when you get your foot (or toe) through the door.

  34. divaliscious11 :

    Best advice ever given to me was make sure the first assignment you do for any partner or associate is absolutely stellar. Unless your a droid, your going to ‘not quite get something right’ – you want that to be a fluke…not a pattern of behavior……

  35. tokenmale :

    Thank goodness I’m male and don’t have to deal with this catty nonsense.

  36. OK, so sir/ma’am, Mr./Mrs. debate aside (it would have seemed out of place at my FL firm), a few other pointers:

    Make sure that whatever you are wearing isn’t too low – seems obvious, but the test is if you are sitting down, perhaps leaning slightly forward at work at your desk, and a tall Partner walks in. If they’d see too much skin, put on a cami.

    Remember that most firms appreciate discretion. Along with the no sensitive topics, not over indulging, keep a lid on what info you give about the firm to outside sources. You want to work there some day, remember that what you say can affect the reputation of your workplace.

    Do NOT… DO NOT get catty with the other summers. Partners and other associates notice and do not appreciate it. Ostracizing someone you may not like is juvenile and reflects poorly on you pretty much regardless of your reason (some obvious exceptions, but remember that you still must be professional). Additionally, you may be working with them someday – why start out on an uncomfortable foot?

    Don’t be afraid to ask people in practice groups you’re interested to meet with you for a few minutes to discuss their practice. This may turn in to lunch, but also gives them the option of a quick chat and getting back to work. Your mentors are a great place to start with figuring out who to ask if it isn’t already obvious.

  37. Late to the after party but wanted to comment anyhow. I worked in marketing at Big law and in other industries that have summer interns. My biggest thing is to drop the act that you are a licensed professional. You may be a 3L but you aren’t an attorney, so cut the crap when you talk to the staff. I’ve seen many summers not get offers because they were rude to secretaries or marketing. All support staff help run this place and often summers are asked to help.
    I once had a summer tell me that he couldn’t help me since it “wasn’t his job”. We were going after a $70m project and he was tasked with helping me with something not very glamorous. One call to his supervisor cleared it and one visit to hr nixed him.
    Often summers don’t realize how important and sometimes highly regarded support staff can be. Hey, I may not have billables but if you want some new work, I make that happen. Don’t treat me like a flunkie! And don’t walk around like you are hot stuff, too good to talk with anyone who doesn’t have the appropriate initials after his name.

  38. summer intern :

    Oh this is such a wonderful read! While I am only week four into my internship, I have a question of my own. Why can curvier girls get away with showing insane amounts of cleavage and not adhering to business dress? I am thinking of one specific girl right now, she wears low cut tops, but the real kicker is she wears athletic pants (aka yoga pants) in leu of slacks or dress pants. I made a comment to a friend who has been around long enough to establish herself, and she said that women who look young or who are “attractive” have to bump up the professional look to be taken seriously, when dowdy women can get away with less. Has anyone heard anything similar or seen this in action? It seems so far fetched but I am not saying it doesn’t make sense in some way.

    • Speaking from personal experience, well-fitting, professional trousers can be difficult for a curvy (as opposed to an overweight) woman to find, especially if she is a woman of color who is not proportioned the way that many women of European descent are. That said, the solution should be tailoring, not yoga pants, but she’s learning, and she might not have a mentor who can advise her on how to professionally dress her body when going to department stores doesn’t work.