Law students expect to learn many things about their prospective employers in a summer clerkship--quality of work, personality of the people, time commitment expectations, and financial rewards. Students should also attempt to assess the ethical and moral fiber of the firm's lawyers. Of course, a student's exposure to such information will be limited, but nevertheless, students should look for: How lawyers in the firm react in a time of crisis? How does the firm handle conflicts of interest? How the firm addresses personal problems of individual lawyers or staff? How do the lawyers react to adverse jury verdicts or judgments?
Law firms develop a culture that informs the individual lawyer's approach to decisions. Part of the decisionmaking process involves the ethical fiber of the lawyers. Associates whose personal approach to lawyering differs significantly from the firm's approach often experience significant dissatisfaction. If the lawyers are always pushing the rules to the edge, you may feel very uncomfortable with the pressure to follow this lead. On the other hand, if your personal approach is more aggressive than the other lawyers in the firm, the lawyers may be asking you to leave because they do not share your ethical fiber. Many lawyers downplay the role that ethics play in day-to-day lawyering. But, many of my former students have changed employers because of an incompatibility with the firm's ethical fiber.