The True Grit of a Summer Associate


By: Natalie Loeb, Gordon Loeb & David B. Sarnoff, Esq.


Every year, high performing law students compete for coveted Summer Associate positions at high caliber Am Law 100 firms in major cities around the country. Since the Great Recession of 2009, many major law firms have scaled back their summer associate programs.  In some cases, firms have eliminated the programs entirely and are focusing on lateral recruiting.  Law students that are fortunate enough to be selected for one of these prized summer associate positions have the advantage of being exposed to an elite level of talent in the legal industry. They work and learn alongside legal leaders in litigation, M&A and securities, capital markets, real estate, finance, technology and intellectual property.  However, earning a summer associate position does not guarantee a full time associate a position upon graduation from law school. 

 Now, more than ever, client demands and economic disruptions have impacted the legal industry. Law firms are focusing on becoming more efficient, increasing revenue, controlling costs and hiring highly skilled, resilient attorneys who demonstrate true grit and perseverance.  Law firms that are ahead of the curve are training attorneys, managers and staff to manage their time more effectively and work collaboratively in high functioning and productive environments.  Law firms want summer associates who adapt and perform at a high level, with selective supervision.  Meaning, when a summer associate is given an assignment by a partner or senior associate, the summer associate is expected to be understanding of the task, assert confidence, and take every measure to submit high quality work. 

 In an industry that is driven by the billable hour, partners and associates are extremely mindful of their time. They demand highly thought out and pre-edited drafts of briefs, memorandums, and agreements.  If a senior lawyer receives an inferior draft of a document, it will keep them from spending time on their higher-level tasks.

 To create a more effective and efficient environment, summer associates should collaborate with other summer associates or junior attorneys to review and revise documents before submitting it for review by a senior attorney.  Summer associates need to learn how to perform in a stressful and pressured environment, as high-profile law firms in large metropolises are seeking high potential associates to fill their staffing needs.

 By demonstrating true grit and resilience, a summer associate will distinguish him or herself above the rest.  A summer associate must have the ability to translate criticism into productive conversations, to work long hours, and to maintain a positive outlook, as these are the key traits of an associate that demonstrates grit.

 A summer associate possessing grit and resilience, will reflect on negative feedback and assess where improvements need to be made. They will consult with other summer associates and attorneys to discuss how to raise the quality of their work.  When a senior attorney does not see a steady progression in productivity and talent, they will often avoid that summer associate, and refrain from assigning new tasks.  Senior attorneys will seek out an associate that has demonstrated grit and resilience, rather than one that lacks those skills.

 Law firms that have long established summer associate programs will typically match a summer associate with a mid-level or senior associate, as well as a partner for mentorship and support.  Many firms provide training by utilizing external executive coaches and workshop facilitators to develop and build upon desired skill sets.  Summer associates should take advantage of these programs, as they can be vital in developing their career.

 For some, “grit” has a harsh or negative connotation.  However, “grit” can also include the practice of soft skills such as self-awareness, empathy, curiosity, and humility.  Soft skills, combined with grit and resilience, position a summer associate to work more effectively, both independently, and within a collaborative team.  A summer associate who knows how to channel their soft skills can identify conflict and move to resolve it.  If a summer associate lacks soft skills, chances are they will exhibit arrogance, selfishness, jealousy and will be poor listeners who resist collaboration. They will also not last through the summer. 

 True grit, resilience and soft skills are as distinguishing of characteristics as being in the top 10% of your class and on law review.  Being smart is not enough to excel as an associate and rise to leadership in the modern Big Law environment.  Augmenting intellectual IQ with emotional IQ helps a summer associate stand out, exhibit an agile mindset, and position themselves to be successful high performers.  These skills become more important as law firms utilize artificial intelligence and smart machines to increase their position in the industry.  As technology advances, fewer attorneys are needed to resolve problems and provide solutions.  The attorneys that will be most in demand are those that not only excelled academically, but those who also personify true grit and resilience.  

Information About the Authors:

 Natalie Loeb is the Founder and CEO of Loeb Leadership Development Group and an Executive Coach.  She can be contacted at and 866-987- 4111.

 Gordon Loeb is the President of Loeb Leadership Development Group and an Executive Coach. He can be contacted at and 866-987- 4111.

 David B. Sarnoff, Esq., is the Director of Strategic Partnerships and an Executive Leadership Coach of Loeb Leadership.  He can be contacted at, 866-987- 4111.