Being a Summer Associate during COVID-19
By: Kristina Stanković-Kania
“Don’t expect it to be anything like Suits”. These are words of wisdom often given to incoming summer associates, and advice that I internalized before starting my internship. The TV show’s glamourous representation of corporate law—cases with dramatic twists and turns, and suave characters that you either love or detest—were not part of my expectations. But, I also did not imagine completing my internship in sweatpants, at my kitchen table, during a global pandemic.
COVID-19 hit right after I secured my position, so any disappointment about working remotely was quickly replaced with gratitude for having this opportunity. I knew that I would make the most of my summer at HBA, and now that my internship is ending, I am far from disappointed. What I might have lost through the lack of in-person interaction was compensated for by outstanding mentorship and exposure to meaningful work I enjoyed.
To get myself motivated, I started my days with a simulated commute to work— I would go for a 20-minute walk around the neighborhood, listening to a podcast, or calling a family member before settling into my desk. This practice helped me get into the right headspace before staring my tasks.
Contrary to my expectations, quarantine did not prevent me from doing important work. Attorneys that I worked with helped me have a meaningful summer-associate experience that integrated me into the firm. I assisted both with transactional matters and litigation cases and got to contribute in a valuable way. I loved the variety of the program—from legal research to employment law, all the way to elements of bankruptcy. My supervisors taught me how to draft an effective oral report, a form that seems to be replacing formal legal memos. Attending client calls with big players in the fashion industry awoke my inner fan girl and getting to present my work in front of partners increased my confidence.
Working from home, I established meaningful relationships with my supervisors that went beyond basic small talk. In-person contact is important, but because we often take it for granted, many opportunities go wasted. Chit-chat at the watercooler or small talk in the elevator can be good icebreakers, but often-times we don’t use these opportunities fully. COVID-19 helped me be more intentional with my professional interactions. I setup calls with mentors to talk about their experiences and my interests and was met with a lot of support and encouragement. These interactions helped me re-affirm my desire to pursue a career in M&A, and choose law school classes wisely.
Another aspect that made for a memorable summer was seeing senior attorneys as more approachable. When you see someone in their living room, meet their kids over Zoom, or hear their dog barking, they seem much less intimidating. They become more relatable to junior staff. This “humanizing” aspect of work-from-home helped me seek guidance with ease and see myself as part of the team.
While I have witnessed some domestic-life mishaps that made my colleagues more relatable, I have also seen professionalism that I hope to achieve in my own practice. The partners I worked for offered not only legal advice, but also helped their clients navigate this uncertainty in more holistic ways. I have seen the counseling aspect of the law and how empathy makes a difference in the quality of service provided.
Although I have done most of my work in sweatpants, I always wore a clean shirt and made sure that I looked professional. Yes, my house was messy, but what was in my Zoom background was always immaculate. And of course, I triple checked every e-mail for typos. As my career and my private life became one, I learned that I should always maintain my professional persona and hold myself to high standards of professionalism. Even in sweatpants, you are still someone’s counselor and your service should be stellar, no matter where you are.
Kristina Stanković-Kania is a summer associate at HBA for the summer of 2020 who currently attends NYU School of Law.