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Punctuate Your Exit with Gratitude and Good Judgment


Vol. 39 No. 9
ByErin Binns

Erin Binns is assistant director for career planning at Marquette University Law School.
You have things to do before you go. You need to wrap up your summer internship or job with the same attention to detail and deliberate actions that got you the position in the first place. Your departure should be thoughtfully orchestrated. Recommendations, references, and offers can hinge on your end-of-summer behaviors and choices. The following tips are intended to assist you in closing the door on a legal position in a manner that impresses your employer and benefits you.
Get your work done. All projects need to be completed and in top form before you head out. Pay attention to your exit date and be careful not to backload your summer with big projects you won’t be able to complete or that won’t reflect your best work. Failing to complete assignments can be fatal. Equally problematic is rushing to get work in on time and then turning in a substandard product. Your final projects should reflect the growth and refinement of your legal skills that occurred over the course of the position. A shoddy assignment at summer’s end can overshadow earlier successes and will certainly call into question your professionalism and time management skills.

Unfortunately, I can always find a true story to illustrate the point. This is a tale of a law student who managed to lose a full-time job offer with a large Midwestern law firm in the last 24 hours of his summer employment. Rather than hunkering down and finishing a memorandum that was due to a partner, the student attended the end-of-the-summer golf outing and the dinner and drinks that followed. The night wrapped up well after midnight.

The following day the student arrived late to the office and e-mailed a partner noting that he was sorry but he wouldn’t be able to get a memorandum finished before the end of the day, which was his last. Bad choice. The student was poised to receive an offer for full-time employment. The lawyer made certain that didn’t happen. The lawyer had attended the previous day’s events and witnessed first-hand how “the student eschewed work for drinks and play, which is not the firm’s way.”

Update and remind. Prior to your end date, communicate with the lawyers for whom you’ve done work or continue to do work. Follow up on assignments you previously submitted to confirm that the assigning lawyers don’t have any residual questions or quick follow-up assignments. Prepare written status updates and add them to case files or submit them to the overseeing lawyer if you’ve contributed to a project that will be ongoing after your departure.

When it’s not predetermined, take initiative early in the summer to communicate when you’ll need to transition out of the job or to a part-time status as classes begin in fall. Remind the lawyers you’re working with as this date approaches. Gentle reminders of your end date are particularly prudent in the last two weeks if you take on any large projects. Protect your reputation by establishing the expectation up front that you may not get the work finished before you leave.

Round up references. As a student and young lawyer, it’s important that you develop a strong fan base. You’ll benefit tremendously from having lawyers who are eager to endorse you and who can speak specifically about your work. Summer jobs and internships are a terrific place to meet people to add to your cheering section. It will be notable to future employers if you’re not able to present a reference from a summer position.

Arrange time to talk with the lawyers for whom you’ve done the most work and/or with whom you’ve established a good rapport and ask them to serve as references. It’s easiest to meet with these folks while you still have ready access to them, so arrange for meetings in your last days at the office.

Use this time to educate the lawyers on your summer successes, share with them your professional goals, and provide them with a current résumé. When you equip your references with stories of your achievements and goals, they’re able to give detailed, on-point endorsements. If you know a future job search requires written recommendations (e.g., a judicial law clerk position), this is also the time to request letters.

Get a report card. Summer positions offer you the chance to test run legal skills in real-world settings. Getting an honest assessment of how you measure up is important for your own professional development and can serve you well as you prepare for future job searches and make decisions about courses and internships. Many of you will spend summers with organizations that regularly hire students. Because these organizations have a revolving door of students, the lawyers will have a good sense of how your skills measure up to those of your peers. You’re undermining your own learning and growth when you leave without this feedback in hand.

Employers may have formal mid-summer and end-of-summer evaluations built in to your experience. In this instance, take to heart the comments that are shared and be an active participant in the evaluation. Ask for suggestions on areas where you can improve, and express interest in continuing to develop specific skills. If your employer doesn’t offer formal assessments and/or individual lawyers aren’t inclined to provide informal feedback, request meetings for this purpose before you leave.

Give thanks. Hopefully you enjoy your summer experience and will be excited to say thanks. Even if you didn’t, you need to be gracious in your exit.

Your sentiments of gratitude should be expressed face to face (and I’m not referring to face time calling through a mobile device, which a student tried last summer). I actually mean in person. Visit the lawyers for whom you completed work. Shake their hands and let them know how much you appreciate the opportunity and what you’ve learned. Let the employer’s culture and your individual relationships with the lawyers direct whether you ask to meet in their offices or offer to take them to coffee or lunch (your treat, of course).

In addition to an in-person conversation, send a written thank you to arrive after your exit. I’m a proponent of handwritten thank-you letters in almost every circumstance, but you should again let the environment and individual relationships dictate whether you handwrite a note, type a business letter, or e-mail a thank you.

If you plan to stay with the employer into the academic term, let the natural conclusion of your full-time summer employment serve as a moment for you to express gratitude for the experiences you’ve had to date and to share your enthusiasm for the chance to continue with the employer.

Don’t forget the support staff! Legal assistants, office staff, and paralegals will likely help to make you look good over the summer. Acknowledge their contributions to your successes.

Take care of logistics. Add to your “to-do list” the small things that can inconvenience an employer if you forget them. Remember to turn in ID cards, parking cards, and keys. Submit final billing statements. Toss your leftover food from the shared fridge. Return any documents and research to client files. Clean and organize e-mail and voice message accounts, especially if you received any personal messages into a work-established account. And organize your work space. The only things you want to leave behind are quality projects and good impressions.

Consider carefully what your actions say about you as you wrap up your summer internship or job. Final impressions have permanency and can determine whether your summer is deemed a smashing success. Take time prior to concluding your summer position to plan an exit from center stage to the cheers of the crowd.

Student Lawyer Student Lawyer magazine provides guidance on educational, career, and related issues for ABA Law Student Division members and other subscribers. It is published four times a year by the Law Student Division of the American Bar Association. Student Lawyer is available online to members of the ABA Law Student Division and to print subscribers.

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