LM Extras Jun 21, 2022

How Summer Law Associate Programs Can Retain a New Class of Legal Talent

Firms that successfully nurture summer associates’ growth are poised to attract the best talent for years to come.

Summer law associate programs have earned their highly competitive and prestigious reputation. Candidates work tirelessly for consideration at top firms in an aim to land long-term employment at their dream employer after graduation and launch their careers. 

Erica Cesaro
The last two years have been uprooted by the pandemic, and subsequently, many associate programs were either paused or pushed to fully virtual models, to the disadvantage of summer associates. Fortunately, a recent National Association for Legal Placement (NALP) report showed that 73% of firms were making more offers for summer 2022 law associates compared to summer 2021, with this year boasting the highest offer rates since 2007.

However, this uptick in offers comes at a time when attracting and retaining new legal talent has never been a bigger challenge for firms. The International Bar Association released a 2022 report that revealed “a significant number of [lawyers] are either leaving or considering leaving their current job in the next five years.” The findings also stated work-life balance is a concern for 60% of lawyers under the age of 40 (and 71% of those 25 and younger).

Now, as firms are in the midst of their summer law associate programs, they must adjust to a new normal. With this in mind, firms are tasked with paving a path forward that creates a pipeline of top talent for years to come, while also nurturing summer associates’ growth into successful full-time employees and ensuring their longevity.


While there has been a movement toward an in-person return for the summer, a hybrid approach for both summer associates and entry-level attorneys may be most beneficial. 

Learning opportunities are substantially diminished in a fully virtual setting, and training and onboarding can be difficult without the opportunity to observe colleagues and speak in-person. Moreover, being in the office allows aspiring lawyers to begin building a list of contacts, rub shoulders with senior colleagues and build camaraderie with their peers. Three days in the office, for example, can enable a good balance of in-person interaction while also giving associates the flexibility they desire and expect in today’s environment. 


As law associates look to navigate their careers in a hybrid world, it’s more important than ever for law firms to establish a mentorship program. Mentorship allows for intentional relationship building and career development that is critical in the early years. This can include one-on-one partner or senior counsel mentoring, as well as weekly practice group classes. 

“Those that successfully consider what’s best for their summer associates — from the right mix of in-office/remote work, to offering mentorship programs and promoting mental health — and continue to prioritize these items as associates rise up the ranks, are poised to win the race for talent for years to come.”
Additionally, identify one in-person day that core team members and more senior staff will also be in the office to ensure in-person accessibility — and encourage employee participation in in-person events and networking opportunities.


Work-life balance has long been a challenge for budding law associates due to long-hour requirements and taxing work expectations. Subsequently, the entire industry has seen a prioritization of mental health, as led by the American Bar Association’s Well-Being Pledge Campaign, which focuses on helping legal employers support healthy work environments. 

Mental health is a key consideration for law firms, as it has the power to increase retention/hiring, boost morale and prevent burnout. While salary is always a key factor, firms who master their wellness programs are poised to stand apart from the pack, particularly with younger lawyers who tend to be less motivated by money. For example, some firms have unveiled extra paid vacation hours to completely unplug from work. 

With an increased emphasis on wellness for lawyers and summer associates alike, firms have also allocated mindfulness hours that go toward billable hour requirements each week, for everything from walks to yoga. Others have instituted benefits such as Peloton subscriptions, weekly meditations, regular wellness-related trainings and wellness weeks with wellness-related activities.

Last summer, more second-year summer law associates received and accepted full-time associate offers (97% received, 89% accepted) than ever before. Similarly, the amount of first-year summer law associates who were asked to return the following summer hit new highs (93%). 

Firms are rightfully leveraging their summer associates as a training program for their workforce. Those that successfully consider what’s best for their summer associates — from the right mix of in-office/remote work to offering mentorship programs and promoting mental health — and continue to prioritize these items as associates rise up the ranks are poised to win the race for talent for years to come.

Working in the legal field can be taxing. Do you know the risk factors and signs of mental health challenges? Do you know how to address them when you see someone exhibiting these signs? 

ALA regularly offers the Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) course to provide the tools you need to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental health illness and substance use disorders. 

This course fills up quickly, so don’t delay! The fall dates are now open: October 21, October 28, November 4 and November 11. Visit alanet.org/mhfa for complete details and to register.