Virtual Reality: The 2020 Summer Associate Experience at Lewis Kappes
Molly Connor is a rising 3L at the IU McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis, Indiana. Molly served as a 2020 Summer Associate at Lewis Kappes in their Indianapolis office. Molly shares her experiences in the following article.
After accepting a summer associate position with Lewis Kappes in August of 2019, I spent the next several months anxiously anticipating the summer to follow. While this would be my first experience at a law firm, I was thrilled for the opportunity to expand my legal research and writing skills while having the ability to network with some of the brightest and most accomplished legal minds in the state. From my conversations with various attorneys, I knew that relationship-building would be an important aspect of the summer clerkship. While it was important for the firm to get to know my abillities, it was equally important for me to get to know the Lewis Kappes team on a personal level.
Little did we know in mid-2019 that the coronavirus pandemic would reshape the way that the legal community operates, including summer associate programs at law firms. Many in the legal community agreed that the practice of law would never go back to the way it was. This shift made visualization of the summer before me hazy, and I had no idea what to expect when I learned that the firm had transitioned to a mostly remote work arrangement for the summer. Given this “new normal,” I wondered, how could I get to know the firm under these circumstances? How could I ensure that the firm got to know me? Clearly, a major downside of remote work would be the lack of organic networking that was traditionally a hallmark of summer programs across the nation.
Lewis Kappes’ leadership team facilitated a virtual environment that emphasized hands-on learning – even from afar. Throughout the summer associate program, I was able to attend virtual depositions, travel to socially-distanced hearings, attend online networking lunches, and work on more than forty research and legal writing projects that spanned practice areas from environmental law to estate planning to employment. I researched Indiana COVID-19 renter’s protections, I prepared exhibits for school employment hearings, and I drafted letters in English and Spanish to the firm’s immigration clients. The firm’s clerkship directors and associates did pulse-checks daily to make sure we weren’t spinning our wheels on projects. Every Monday, the clerks received a note from a director that outlined their legal background and their tips on what would make a successful summer associate. It struck me that I didn’t have to be face-to-face with my directors and firm leadership to learn and grow. Strong leadership, talented attorneys, and a firm that puts its people first transcends physical distancing measures. I didn’t need to be sitting in-person with my co-workers to gain an understanding of the culture and fit of the firm.
While virtual networking did take some getting used to (broadband connectivity issues and all), this crash course in remote networking allowed me a chance to get ahead of the virtual curve. The way I saw it, the pandemic incentivized changes that were inevitably coming - the ability to network effectively from a distance is be a skill that will only become more valuable as the legal community eventually transitions to a post COVID-19 world.
Two weeks after my summer associateship has come to a close, I can confidently say that this summer has been one to remember – for more reasons than one. And while my clerkship with Lewis Kappes didn’t look anything like what I had imagined, the firm’s flexibility and willingness to invest in my success left me feeling like I hadn’t missed a thing, and in fact, I left my nine weeks at LK more prepared for what the legal community of the future will look like in this uncertain new “virtual reality.” While I didn’t get as much “face time” with members of the firm, I felt that I was still able to get a taste of what makes Lewis Kappes special. I realized that a firm’s ability to adapt with compassion when “business as usual” no longer exists is a strong indicator of the quality of the firm itself.
Every time someone asked me how my summer was faring, I responded that above all else, I felt “lucky to be here.” As law firms across the nation weather the COVID-19 storm, tough decisions have to be made about what the “firm of the future” will look like. I’m thankful to Lewis Kappes for giving me a chance to learn, grow, and jump on the wave of what now will be called our new “virtual reality.”
Disclaimer: This article is made available for educational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice.