September 6, 2023
Pacifica Summer Associates Share Their Experiences and Lessons Learned
Summer is a critical time for law students. Summer associate positions offer many aspiring lawyers their first opportunity to test their hard-won knowledge and skills, and experience the day-to-day life of practicing law. Summer associate positions can also expose students to options and opportunities that help shape their career trajectories and aspirations.
Pacifica believes strongly in offering a positive—and dare we say, fun—summer associate experience in Seattle for rising second year law (2L) students. Our program focuses in particular on inclusivity by recruiting and supporting law students from communities and backgrounds underrepresented in the legal profession and in private law firms. In addition to our direct hires, we partner with the Gregoire Fellows Program and Legal Employers Advancing Diversity (LEAD-WA). Both of these Seattle-area initiatives share a mission of creating greater inclusion and diversity in the legal profession.
“We view the Pacifica Summer Associate program as our opportunity to support and inspire the next generation of law students, and to share with them our vision of the legal profession,” said Pacifica managing partner Denise Stiffarm. “We offer our summers a well-rounded experience by exposing them to a broad range of meaningful work across our practice groups, and to a variety of external educational opportunities.”
This summer, we welcomed four students to Pacifica: Ariel Archie (Seattle University School of Law); Gregoire Fellow Jonathan Ng (University of Washington School of Law); LEAD-WA Fellow Ariana Nilchian (University of Washington School of Law); and Molly Quillin (University of Oregon School of Law).
Our summer associates worked in our office in Seattle across our practice groups, fielding assignments, assisting with critical research and writing projects, and sitting in on meetings and legal proceedings. They attended criminal and civil hearings and a jury trial. They observed sentencing and oral arguments, and had opportunities to speak with judges in chambers.
As the summer associates’ time with us neared an end, we asked them to reflect on their experiences for the benefit of other law students who may be interested in spending their summer with Pacifica Law Group. Here’s what they had to say.
Drawn to Pacifica
As the summer associates evaluated opportunities for their first summer as law students, they gravitated towards Pacifica because of its reputation, public interest focus, opportunity to practice in different areas of the law by working with Pacifica’s five practice groups, and the connection they felt with the attorneys with whom they interviewed.
During his search, Ariel said Pacifica stood out due to its varied practice, and its work for both public and private clients. At Pacifica, he saw a chance to explore different avenues of the law. “It felt like it was a really good opportunity for me to spend some time…trying to understand what do I enjoy, what don’t I enjoy, and then go from there and figure out what it is that I want to do,” Ariel said. Ariana felt similarly. “A goal for me this summer was to try different things and see if something clicked with me,” she said.
As participants in the LEAD-WA and Gregoire Fellows programs, Ariana and Jonathan interviewed with several firms and public entities. Both said they connected with Pacifica’s emphasis on public interest work and appreciated the conversations they had with Pacifica attorneys during the interview process. “It was less question and answer. They genuinely wanted to get to know me,” Ariana recalled. “I feel like I connected with the culture in that way.”
Molly said she “appreciated that everyone in my interview spoke so highly of community-centered work…. I really value that. It was exciting to me to find Pacifica.”
Learning Skills, Developing Ideas
Asked to identify a few of the key things they learned during their summer experience, Pacifica’s summer associates highlighted a mixture of practical skills and ideas about the legal profession.
“Lawyers are very multifaceted,” Jonathan pointed out. “They aren’t just people who argue in the courtroom, they are also counselors for their clients and they really try to help their clients either evaluate risk, or even just say no to clients sometimes.” In his work with the public finance team, for instance, Jonathan saw that “a lot of their job…is being very detail oriented and understanding a kind of a microcosm of the law, to the point where you’re being a good advocate for your client in a risk management and risk assessment sort of way.”
Molly said she was not only able to develop her research skills, but saw the practical application of research. “I really valued the opportunities to take a question as some part of a case or research process…and go quickly and find the answer, and gaining strategies on how to be faster at that.” She also appreciated seeing how the answer to a seemingly minute question could become a dispositive part of a case. “It’s just really interesting to see it all come together.”
One of the biggest takeaways for Ariana was how workplace culture can influence the work of attorneys. She saw “how important it is at Pacifica not only to be good coworkers, but how much it helps in your work to connect with each other,” she said. She also learned that “the more I do within the legal field, the less sure I am what I want to do,” and that that’s okay. Through conversations with Pacifica attorneys, she felt encouraged to keep her options open and try new things. “A lot of them are not doing what they originally expected they would be doing,” she said.
Ariel said he now understands “that there is no one right way to be an attorney.” It was suggested to him previously that there is some correlation between personality type and success in the legal profession. Seeing the variation in personalities at Pacifica helped him realize that is not the case. “You can show up as your authentic self and still be a zealous advocate for your clients and do the things your clients need you to do,” he said.
The Experience of Day-to-Day Life
Another goal of Pacifica’s summer program is to provide law students with as much exposure as possible to the day-to-day life of attorneys. We want them to understand the breadth and scope of the work we do, and we enjoy giving many students their first impressions of life at a law firm. So what stood out to our summer associates?
“Everybody is reading all the time,” Molly observed. During her 1L studies, she would at times wonder about the practical application of all the reading she did, while at the same time noticing her own “stamina increase in terms of how much I can read in a day.” Seeing the amount of reading attorneys do, and how that reading translates into legal writing, has helped connect “school to real life,” she noted. “I personally love reading, so it’s been really fun for me to see that that that’s such a big part of the job.”
Both Ariel and Jonathan both noticed the agility required of attorneys, who at any given moment are asked to shift their focus between clients and matters. “It’s been impressive to see” how attorneys can switch their attention between different, frequently complex matters, Ariel related. “It wasn’t something I thought about before.” Jonathan remembers observing one attorney step in to help out a colleague on a case, quickly getting up to speed and arguing a motion on behalf of a client. “I think it’s amazing that attorneys here have this great capacity to wear many hats,” Jonathan said. “That’s been an eye-opening experience and something I didn’t fully comprehend.”
Ariana noticed how open Pacifica attorneys were not only to feedback and help from one another, but also from the Summer Associates. “They’re all very smart and accomplished, but they also appreciate our input as summers, and they want to hear from us and they’re very welcoming,” she said. She also observed that openness throughout the firm, noting that interactions between partners and associates, for instance, did not seem hierarchical. “Everyone feels like they are on the same playing field,” she explained.
No Really, It’s Fun
As part of inspiring our Summer Associates in their journeys as law students, it is also important to us that they have fun, because we do. Lawyering is frequently challenging, but we enjoy facing those challenges and working with each other to deliver for our clients. As Jonathan noted: “Everyone [at Pacifica] seems like they’re having fun at work, which is always a good feeling to have.”
Ariana said she enjoyed being able to “to try something within each practice group,” and also sitting in on practice group meetings and other day-to-day discussions. For instance, she attended a litigation moot session in which an attorney practiced an argument for a motion for summary judgment, which she found similar to a law school moot court. “I thought that was really cool that they still do that, and it was fun and interesting for me to experience,” she said.
Jonathan and Ariel both said they were uplifted by the chance test the knowledge they gained in law school. “When you’re done with your first year you’re like, ‘Ok, I did all these things, what do I actually know?’” Ariel explained. Knowing how, for instance, to find answers to questions attorneys asked, helped validate his studies. “I can see where law school has paid off,” he says. Jonathan said he feels like he’s “learning how to swim” and “realizing how much I’ve learned after only one year of law school.”
Working under the supervision of Pacifica attorneys was also fun, Molly said, because they took the time to explain the work. “When somebody gives me an assignment, they’ve really walked through it with me and helped me if I had questions,” she explained. “That makes it a lot more fun than sitting in a room freaking out about what you don’t understand.” “Everyone here has been so kind and friendly and willing to give us work and help us learn,” Ariel added.
The summers also appreciated getting to know one another, problem solve together, and discuss what they are learning in their different law school programs. “Just comparing our experiences and talking about things we have in common with each other—it’s been really fun,” Molly said.
The application window for the 2024 Pacifica Law Group Summer Associate program will open in early December, 2023. Follow Pacifica on LinkedIn to stay up to date on our Summer Associate program opportunities.