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Summer Associates Shouldn’t Complete Fake Assignments

Business – businesspeople have team meeting in an officeI usually like to write all of my articles on summer programs during the summer when organizers and participants of summer programs have the best chance to evaluate practices and implement improvements. However, I was just speaking with a colleague of mine about summer programs, and remembered a weird aspect of some summer programs. While most summer programs give summer associates real work to perform on behalf of clients, some summer programs do not. Indeed, from my experience, some summer programs give associates fake work either because they do not have real tasks for summer associates to perform or because they do not want summers to mess things up for clients. However, summer associates can complete fake assignments in law school, and they should be given real tasks when they work as summer associates.

I am not sure summer programs still give summer associates fake assignments, but this was definitely a phenomenon among summer programs around a decade ago. I personally did not handle fake assignments as a summer associate. If the firm did not have real client work to give me, they would give me assignments on pro bono matters, which I enjoyed.

However, I had one friend who worked as a summer associate at a top firm, and this person had to participate in a fake brief writing competition with the other summer associates at that firm. This friend also had to do a moot court competition, in which she argued the points in her mock brief before a panel of partners pretending to be judges. This friend told me the partners loved to play those roles! My friend lamented that this project did not give her the type of real-world practical experience that she hoped to gain after working as a summer associate.

To be clear, I can understand why some summer programs might want to give fake assignments to summer associates and see how they perform on this work. It is very difficult to objectively evaluate summer associates. Each summer ordinarily completes different tasks, works for different partners, and has different experiences at a law firm. Some firms might make hiring decisions based on office politics or who they like more and not who can create the best work product.

However, partners can give all summer associates the same fake assignment and have a side-by-side comparison of how each summer associates did compared to the others. Moreover, law firms can theoretically make the process anonymous and score associates based on the quality of the work performed and not based on other subjective factors. Moreover, I bet some summer associates would buy into such a proposal since this helps ensure that the summer associate process is fairer for everyone involved.

Also, there is definitely a nontrivial chance that a summer associate will mess something up that could impact a client in unpredictable ways. It is no reach to say that summer associates may be more inclined to make a mistake than a seasoned lawyer who has handled similar matters in the past. In my own experience, I have witnessed summer associates and first-year associates making costly mistakes that likely would not have been made by more senior counsel. Law firms might want to avoid such an issue by giving summer associates fake assignments rather than real projects.

Moreover, I have heard that some clients refuse to pay for work billed by summer associates or might insist on paying far less for the time of summer associates than of full-time associates. Law firm managers might not want to waste projects on summer associates, for which they might not be paid, when they can give such projects to full-time associates and get full payment. However, with the right marketing, attorneys might be able to convince a client to pay for a summer associate’s work since this is at a discounted rate. However, some clients might not be persuaded into using summer associates for project in any circumstances, and this could make firms more likely to assign fake work to summers.

Nevertheless, the point of a summer program for many summer associates is to evaluate what it is like to work at a law firm and discern if this is the right thing for them. This is much more difficult if summer associates do not work on real legal matters. Even though law firms might be tempted to give summer associates fake projects, they should provide summers with real work so they can get practical experience in the legal profession.

Rothman Larger HeadshotJordan Rothman is a partner of The Rothman Law Firm, a full-service New York and New Jersey law firm. He is also the founder of Student Debt Diaries, a website discussing how he paid off his student loans. You can reach Jordan through email at

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