Your law firm’s summer associate program is at the heart of your recruiting efforts. You strive to give your summer associates ample opportunities to grow in their understanding of the legal profession. Just as importantly, you give them a taste of your firm’s culture. You show them why your firm should be the first step in their emerging legal careers.

No doubt, your summer associate program consists of a robust mix of carefully curated professional development and relationship-building activities. From seminars and mentoring sessions to dinner parties and theater outings, your entire itinerary has one thing in common. It all depends on in-person, face-to-face interactions.

Enter the coronavirus pandemic. As social distancing and remote working become the new norm, law firms across the country are deciding what to do about their summer associate programs. Your firm, like many others, may be planning to take your summer associate program online.

If that’s the case, it’s crucial that you figure out how to build culture remotely. How can you establish the right connections with this year’s class of summer associates in a remote context? Here’s how to do it right.

Your Law Firm’s Culture is Critical to Your Recruiting Efforts

Recruitment is paramount in safeguarding your law firm’s future success. And when it comes to landing the nation’s top talent, competition is fiercer than ever. Your firm needs to compete with the biggest and best law firms in the country. But that’s not all. You must also contend with other industries, including technology companies, startups, and major corporations.

Today’s law students (and young associates) are driven by a different set of priorities than that of their parents’ generation. Millennials entering the legal profession care a great deal about diversity, work-life balance, professional development opportunities, commitment to pro-bono work, and workplace culture.

And when it comes to workplace culture, they are comparing your firm with startups and tech companies. These are industries that frequently boast flexible work arrangements, unlimited paid time off, workplace happy hours, community volunteering opportunities, and other meaningful or fun perks.

Your summer associate program is your biggest and best opportunity to display your firm’s culture and create the right impression among recruits. And the stakes are higher than you might think. Just consider the prevalence of online review platforms like Vault. It’s safe to say that the success of this summer’s program could have an outsized impact on your reputation for years to come.

How to Build Culture in Your Law Firm’s Remote Summer Associate Program

The entire world is currently struggling to figure out how to create and nurture meaningful connections via remote digital technologies like Zoom and FaceTime. Your summer associate program is no different. But you won’t get there by playing defense. Simply setting up an unlimited Zoom account won’t cut it. You must think creatively about how to leverage the full set of digital tools at your disposal to produce an engaging, memorable, and culturally rich experience for your 2020 class of summer associates. Use the following tips to get started in the right direction.

To begin, create a list of all the cultural and recreational activities you typically include as part of your summer associate program. Next, think creatively about how you can translate those activities into a remote digital format. Your goal is to do so without losing all of the qualities that made your in-person events so successful.

If you normally:

  • Take your summer associates out for a night on the theater, consider booking entertainers for an exclusive, remote performance. This could take the form of a musical performance, monologue, or comedy routine. The more well known the performer, the better. However, with so many artists, actors, authors, and musicians currently out of work, there should be options to suit every budget.
  • Host a roundtable discussion or seminar, consider bringing in a notable thinker, such as an author or public figure, for a speaking engagement or TED Talk-style presentation. Speaking engagements could be law-related or simply address current events and other issues of importance and interest. Another option? Showcase your internal talent by interviewing a partner about a well-known matter. Make it more relatable by including a junior associate, too.  Ask them to discuss their role in and overall impressions of the matter.
  • Throw a party, consider taking your celebration online. A typical, in-person party can be free-flowing. But for this event, you’ll want to plan an engaging activity or two to keep your associates engaged. For example, you could host a trivia contest, challenge your recruits to a cocktail-mixing contest, or hire a dance instructor to teach your associates some fresh moves.
  • Participate in sporting events, consider hiring an instructor to teach remote fitness classes. Yoga, dance aerobics, or a bootcamp are all good options.
  • Treat your associates to a dinner party, consider hiring a chef to teach a remote cooking class. Alternately, arrange for each associate to order takeout or delivery (ideally from the same restaurant, if circumstances allow). Then, enjoy a meal together. If your associate class is large, set up breakout sessions that mimic the experience of eating at a table of four to six. Rotate groupings over the course of the evening so that everyone gets a chance to mix and mingle.
  • Provide opportunities for your recruits to socialize on their own, consider meeting them where they already hang out online by leveraging social platforms to create opportunities for engagement. If your firm uses Slack, encourage your associates to create their own channels to communicate together throughout the day and build camaraderie. Or, you could challenge your recruits to participate in a TikTok dance-off or a digital scavenger hunt.
  • Participate in a group volunteer activity, find a way to engage all of your associates in a group volunteering or fundraising activity to support pandemic relief efforts. Or encourage your recruits to (safely) get involved on a local level. Let them contribute in their own ways and share their experiences online using a special hashtag.

With a little creativity and a willingness to experiment, you can put together an innovative remote summer associate program that will cast a rosy light on your law firm to uplift your recruiting efforts.

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