Summer Associate Program at Kaufman & Canoles, P.C.

BennyBy Benny Zhang, Class of 2020

One of the perennial questions law students confront during their brief tenure in law school is how to make use of our degrees. Does one seek to be a corporate lawyer, or rather a public defender or prosecutor? This is often amplified for first-year law students with the Office of Career Services’ proactive and mandatory career sessions early on in our first semester. While some of us begin law school knowing with upmost certainty our specific career path, most of us strive to explore many options in hopes of finding an answer. Working as a summer associate is just one of these opportunities for students to find their path. This past summer, I worked as a 1L summer associate with Kaufman & Canoles, P.C in its Williamsburg branch.

What is a Summer Associate?

Summer associate programs offer a survey into legal practice at a particular firm. Typically offered to 1Ls and 2Ls, summer associates are paid positions that expose you to a firm’s workplace culture and it’s legal practice. The pay varies among firms, but is similar to market rate for an associate’s salary. More significantly, it is an opportunity for both you the student and the firm to assess a good fit. According to my branch’s managing partner, “[I]t is typical for a firm to take upwards of two or three years to train newly hire associates.” Following this logic, summer associates who are offered a position have already begun their training with the law firm.

The Kaufman & Canoles, P.C. summer associate program typically lasts for eight weeks in one of several branches; though I worked solely in the Williamsburg branch, my classmate worked in both the Norfolk and Newport News offices. I also benefited from two assigned mentors,  Dustin DeVore, a hard-charging former Marine, and Erin Deal Johnson, a perennial workhorse. At Kaufman & Canoles, these mentors are most usually a partner and an associate.

Equally important to the experience is the exposure to the idea of work-life balance; I quickly learned that the KaufCan life is not a typical 9-5 job. On any given Sunday afternoon, a panicked corporate client may send an email and expect an immediate answer. One of my mentors regularly worked until 9:00 PM most weeknights. Virginia state Senator Thomas Norment is still active in his legal practice at Kaufman & Canoles, and I often joined him working on the weekends. Despite the time and energy we devote to our elected duties on the weekdays, the legal work must still be accomplished.

Benny and Mayor of Hopewell, Jackie ShornakMy Experience

A majority of my summer associate work was in corporate law. I focused on researching legal questions involving credit unions, limited liability companies, and S Corporations. I assisted the litigation team with research on complex litigation matters, which can be broken down to contract interpretation at its most basic essence. It is not uncommon for your research memorandum to be forwarded along to firm partners. Contributing to the firm’s work, even in a small sense, is enormously gratifying, but can certainly be nerve-wracking the first time! I also dabbled in estate planning; one of the partners even assigned me to write my own last will!  I was required to file my time and billing sheets every day, and to submit a work-list of all legal matters I was undertaking weekly.

Most firms, like Kaufman & Canoles, have a recruiting committee consisting of attorneys from each branch. Our recruiting coordinator organized a variety of activities designed to bring the firm’s attorneys together with all the summer associates. Whether it be happy hours with partners or a lunch lecture on the firm’s history, these programs allowed me to meet attorneys, staff, and other summer associates assigned to other Kaufman & Canoles branches.

Moving Forward

My summer associate experience has no doubt left me with more questions on which to reflect. However, the experience has also granted me a greater sense of direction for my two remaining years in law school. First, it has reaffirmed my priority on improving my legal writing. Second, I have a clearer idea of which law classes in which to enroll to achieve my goals. I continue to contemplate how best to strike a balance between my public life as an elected official and as a practicing lawyer.

I highly recommend applying to a summer associates program if you believe law practice is in your future, or are even remotely interested in the prospect. Law firms, like Kaufman & Canoles, are ingrained with values similar to William & Mary Law School’s “citizen lawyer” concept. The workplace culture fervently encourages active community engagement. It is not surprising that all attorneys in the firm are involved in some sort of community association or with public life . Because the firm’s values align with my education at William & Mary Law School, I have found my summer associate experience to be especially challenging, but entirely fulfilling and rewarding.

Benming “Benny” Zhang is a 2L from Williamsburg, VA. He is a member of the William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal, Christian Legal Society, and Federalist Society. He also serves as an elected official of the Williamsburg City Council.