Industry News Legal Management Updates

Summer Associate Programs: A True Departure from the Traditional

Over the past few months, COVID-19 has driven a lot of change within the legal industry. Now in the beginning of summer, firms are facing a new challenge — how to host summer associate programs. The unpredictability of today’s environment has left many junior level attorneys and recent law school graduates wondering what the future looks like. Will they be left without a job, or will they be able to push forward?

Kellie DiMascio
Across the board, there has been a true departure from the traditional program for summer associates because of COVID-19. Most firms have elected to follow one of two approaches in lieu of their regular schedules. Some are canceling programs entirely, while others are choosing to move ahead with appropriate modifications. While neither model is perfect, firms are continuing to share updates and insights with those looking to take part in 2020 summer programs and have been quick to adapt as much as they can. 


Many associates and recent graduates have voiced concern over law firms who have chosen to cancel their summer programs entirely, leaving participants without the ability to professionally develop certain skills. This is causing a lot of concern with candidates calling into question what their future employment and compensation. As a result, firms are worried about canceled programs tarnishing their reputations. To combat this, firms who have canceled programs are making a variety of concessions to try to put candidates at ease. 
When it comes to compensation, law firms are not following one distinct process. Some firms have vowed to honor their full financial commitments to candidates, while others are offering stipends in place of their programs — most ranging from $5,000–$10,000. Unfortunately, a very small fraction of firms have chosen to forgo payment entirely, leaving participants without any form of compensation for the summer. 
Similar to how they are handling compensation terms, firms are also taking varied approaches to hiring in the wake of COVID-19. While the state of future employment is admittedly unknown, most firms are actually opting to offer full-time positions to “would-be” summer associates — which is good news for the lucky candidates. These “new hires” would have anticipated start dates ranging from fall 2021 to early 2022. Other firms are openly taking a wait-and-see approach, holding off on committing to full-time job offers at this time. 
Transparency in communication has had the biggest impact on firms’ reputations to date. Many law firms made the tough decision to move forward with program cancellations as early as March, giving candidates flexibility to either find another program or work out an alternative arrangement for the summer months. 
While early communication is the gold standard, other firms left potential associates in the dark, creating even more uncertainty for would-be associates during this time. By waiting until the last minute, these firms are putting summer associate applicants in a terrible situation — and not only from a logistical and financial standpoint. They are also causing associates to second-guess the opportunity costs of selecting firms’ programs and increasing their anxiety about soon heading into third-year hiring.
Skip to content


While COVID-19 has put a halt to some programs, others have continued, but with significant modifications. These changes are mostly seen in program duration and infrastructure as firms look to keep associates safe and healthy throughout the summer, while continuing to assess their skillsets and provide a fruitful learning opportunity.
Electing to reduce the length of programs is one tactic firms are using to keep associates both employed and safe. Instead of the standard 8- to 10-week program, firms who are still hosting summer sessions have shortened them to 4 to 6 weeks. Firms are either starting later or planning to end the program earlier. Some firms have even begun their programs as originally scheduled. 
While the nuances of virtual programs have yet to be parsed out, most firms do hope to integrate summer associates with their remote workforce, including them in trainings and educational events. Firms are also planning to encourage participation in presentations and meetings. Most importantly, firms are hoping to provide a full immersive experience from a cultural and networking perspective with firm lawyers and team members. These experiences will take the form of virtual coffee meetups, happy hours, office trivia and more. The preference is to incorporate summers on-site as soon as possible, but in the meantime, firms are doubling down on having new associates fully integrated into their virtual program offerings. 
When it comes to compensation, most firms that are hosting virtual engagements are still planning to pay associates their full salary, despite the program modifications. Some have even opted to offer pay advances to help associates during this uncertain time. Fortunately, most are also following standard processes for making full-time offers to summer associates, even if the virtual arrangement ends up lasting the entire summer. 
In this time of change and uncertainty, there is no telling what the new normal will look like. But one thing is for certain — law firms are doing their best to acclimate and provide the best and safest experiences for summer associates, whether that’s canceling programs or moving forward with modifications and precautions set in place. One thing that firms can agree on, is that there has been a true departure from the traditional program and that this summer could be an interesting test of what’s to come.