Most law students are desperate to get ‘real’ law experience. Some enroll in clinics or take on pro bono work to beef up their resumes. But everyone dreams of landing that magical summer internship. You know – the one where you play rub shoulders with partners or work with practicing lawyers on meaningful cases.
Alas, not all summer associates programs are created equal. Worse case scenario: You’re running copies and making Starbucks runs. In a better situation, you might sit in on meetings and edit briefs. And then there are those internships where you’re handed tasks and even (gasp!) asked for your opinion. Alas, every firm paints a picture where you’re a valued team member who’ll apply what they’ve learned. But which firms actually live up to that promise?
Today (July 15), Vault, a leading source of professional and academic market intelligence and ratings, released its fifth annual rankings of the best summer associates programs. Based on surveys completed by 17,000 first- through third-year associates, respondents evaluated firms both on how well the summer program prepared them to practice and how fun their experience was. Associates scored each question on a 1-10 scale (with 10 being the highest rating), with the overall ranking being an average of these two scores.
BOSTON’S FOLEY HOAG TOPS LIST THANKS TO HANDS-ON EXPERIENCE AND FUN
This year, Foley Hoag nabbed top honors overall. This Boston-based firm, with only 249 attorneys worldwide, overtook 2015 winner Morrison & Foerster (which dropped to sixth overall). Of course, getting into Foley Hoag isn’t easy. The firm employed just 16 summer associates last year, paying them $3,077 a week. However, the firm also hired all 16 too, starting their first years out at $160,000. Despite its relatively small size, the firm runs a number of practices, including tax, intellectual property, corporate, environmental, energy, real estate, and securities law. Pro bono work is also a cornerstone of the firm, with attorneys clocking in 100 or more hours per year on average.
Overall, Foley Hoag ranks 11th among the best law firms to work, scoring top five rankings for reasonable hours, transparency, and LGBT diversity in Vault’s most recent annual survey of practicing attorneys. While the firm ranked second among summer interns for fun, the biggest draw was the firm’s commitment to providing meaningful experiences. “[The} ‘assignment bank’ system was a great way to get hands-on with a variety of assignment types from a variety of departments,” noted one anonymous respondent.
Los Angeles’ O’Melveny & Myers, which ranked third last year, climbed to second in Vault’s latest summer associate rankings. Its scores were buoyed by leaping from 18th to 3rd for fun and from 7th to 4th in preparing associates for practice. Employing 700 attorneys, the firm hired 56 of its 59 summer associates in 2014, with interns paid $3,100 a week (and first years also landing $160,000 deals). Described by employees as a “social and friendly environment” where “partners take mentoring seriously,” the firm makes a point of providing summer associates with support and access. “Amazing summer program,” writes one associate about O’Melveny & Myers. “The organizers really go all out in making sure we have fun, get to work on projects we are interested in and with attorneys we would like to meet and work with, and the attorneys are involved, available, and enthusiastic. The summer class itself is talented and diverse.”
BEST OPPORTUNITIES FOUND ON THE EAST COAST
Rounding out this year’s top five are New York City’s Paul Hastings and Proskauer Rose and Philadelphia’s Saul Ewing. In fact, neither Paul Hastings nor Saul Ewing was even ranked last year (and Proskauer Rose ranked 11th in the 2015 rankings). And they weren’t the only firms making big moves, with New York’s Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer going from being unranked to 7th and DC’s Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld vaulting from 10th to 18th overall. At the same time, DC’s Venable and Los Angeles’ Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher tumbled out of the top five while Kansas City’s Shook, Hardy & Bacon and Memphis’ Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz slipped out of the top 10.
Regionally, the east coast dominated the list of best summer associates, with New York City (11), Washington DC (7), Boston (2), and Philadelphia (1) comprising over two-thirds of the list. Los Angeles led the west coast (3), while Minneapolis (2) housed as many top programs for summer associates as Chicago (1) and San Francisco (1). Surprisingly, none of the top firms were based in Florida and Texas, the second and fourth most populous states.
PHILLY’S SAUL EWING PROVIDES BEST PREPARATION TO PRACTICE
In the individual categories, Saul Ewing ranked as the top firm for preparing summer associates for practice. Last year, the firm only hired six associates (and hired five), paying a modest $2,596 a week for interns (and just $135,000 for first year associates). However, that small class also means summer associates receive lots of personal attention among the firm’s 268 attorneys. Runner up Paul Hastings distinguishes itself, according to one Vault survey respondent, for providing summer associates with “real work assignments for billable work that are commensurate with what a first-year associate can expect to work on.”
Venable dropped from first to third among the best places for preparation, though one respondent noted that Venable summer associates “often find their [work efforts] into correspondence or client memos,” no different than junior associates. At the same time, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, which is becoming known for sending its summer associates overseas for two weeks, shot into this year’s top 10 after being unranked in 2015.
Shook Hardy & Bacon, ranked by Vault readers for being among the top law firms for diversity and product liability, earned the highest marks for “fun,” with summer associates observing that the firm sponsor numerous social events to promote the Kansas City area to out-of-towners. New York’s Schulte Roth & Zabel, last year’s most fun firm, fell to fifth.
To see how firms rank, along with summer associate weekly pay and hiring stats at the top firms, go to the next page.