When the realities of COVID-19 set in around mid-March, Mona Patel, Manager of Entry Level Recruiting, and her team in Lowenstein’s Human Resources (HR) department knew they had to dramatically reshape the traditional summer program that the firm offers to qualified first- and second-year law students.
Gary M. Wingens, the firm’s Chairman and Managing Partner, wanted the 2020 program to be safe, substantive, and content-driven. “Summer associate programs are critical for the future lawyers they train, and we have never cancelled a season,” he says. “Our priorities this year were to make sure the program was safe for all involved and to provide the same meaningful work assignments and critical networking experience we have always given to aspiring attorneys.”
Luckily, resilience and innovation are core values at Lowenstein, and all the organizers of the summer program, from senior leadership to HR to the core recruiting partners, Sam E. Khan of the Mergers & Acquisitions group and Meagan R. Signoriello of the Mortgage & Structured Finance group, quickly pivoted and developed a collaborative remote program using top-notch technology.
“We wanted to honor the commitments we had made to the law students who chose to undertake their career training with us,” says Kerry A. Lunz, the firm’s Director of Legal Talent Acquisition. Not only did Lowenstein maintain its summer program–unlike a number of prominent law firms across the country that were forced to cancel similar programs–the firm offered cash advances to students in need when the start date was delayed by a few weeks due to the pandemic.
The transition from an in-person program to a virtual one was surprisingly easy because, years earlier, Lowenstein created a database and infrastructure for summer assignments that smoothly translated to a remote model. This year, when the 31 summers came aboard remotely from across the country, assignments from their mentors were ready and waiting to be picked up on the program’s first day. The law students still shadowed attorneys–albeit remotely–on client calls and events, from webinars to VentureCrush programs. Technology provided innovative ways to even improve processes: online reminders, for example, were automatically sent to mentors and buddies to check in on their summers–something that will become a permanent fixture of the program.
Most in-person gatherings, normally a staple of law firm summer programs, were converted to virtual events. The students enjoyed a cooking class, movie nights, and socially distanced picnics for anyone who was comfortable attending. Patel says, “Our attorneys did a great job in engaging the summers in a virtual capacity so no one felt left out.”
As Lowenstein’s unprecedented 2020 summer associate program winds to a close, the law students have been enthusiastic about their experiences, with many noting the support they felt from their mentors and buddies. Yelky Perez, who expects to graduate from Rutgers Law School in Newark in 2021, says her associate “buddy” taught her “what feels like a semester’s worth of information on company stock structures and options, board of directors’ rights and responsibilities, and how venture capital works, plus how something can go from good to great.”
Ricardo Gray in New York notes, “The managing partner took the time to get to know me, and that is something that I won’t soon forget!” In fact, as noted by Khoa Tran, a UCLA Law student who served as a law clerk this summer in Lowenstein’s Palo Alto office, Wingens took the time to meet every one of the summer associates individually for virtual coffee.
Any concerns about creating substantive work for the summers was clearly unwarranted. Perez, who participated in Lowenstein’s 2019 program, enjoyed participating in a call with a prospective startup tech client. That call led to an engagement and the opportunity for her to draft corporate formation documents that aligned with the founder’s original vision. Logan Vickery found securities litigation to be both a pleasure and a challenge, while Gray plans to pursue M&A work based on his assignments in that area. Tran enjoyed helping early-stage companies manage risks and sustain growth in this uncertain time, in addition to seeing “how a junior associate can help partners provide better services to clients by anticipating their needs and concerns.”
Many noted the firm’s commitment to racial minorities and women. This year’s Seizing Every Opportunity (SEO) intern, Sadiki Wiltshire, is a 2017 Princeton graduate who is starting at Stanford Law School in the fall. He praises Lowenstein’s actionable commitment to inclusion, equity, and mentorship and notes that the firm’s lawyers welcomed him with numerous meaningful mentorship opportunities. Sadiki credits Ed Zimmerman, partner and Chair of Lowenstein’s The Tech Group and founder of VentureCrush, with opening his eyes to the many career possibilities available to someone with a J.D.
The firm’s commitment to pro bono appealed to the law students, as well. Perez was thrilled that the grassroots initiative she started during her first summer at Lowenstein, Beyond the Books, is now an IRS-recognized nonprofit providing first-generation law students with need-based scholarships for their law school textbooks. Logan is especially proud of his pro bono work on behalf of the organization Immigration Equality, for which he advocated on behalf of Tanzanian LGBTQ individuals fleeing persecution and seeking asylum in the United States. He says, “I feel very blessed to be in a position to use my skills and privileges to advocate for those who have been stripped of the most basic of human rights and who face danger for simply being who they are.”
Lowenstein’s core values of resiliency and innovation all came into play in overcoming the challenges of the 2020 summer associate program and ensuring its success. Thanks to the perseverance of the firm’s lawyers, administration, and the students themselves, the firm was able to maintain its outreach, honor its commitments, and continually improve its client service.