AIT Focuses on Practical Skills for Career Success

The law school launched a new, innovative program this summer aimed at giving JD students practical skills development for career success. 

Professor Jo Ellen Lewis
Professor Jo Ellen Lewis

The new Associate in Training Program provides JD students with an opportunity to improve their knowledge about a variety of legal settings, while developing a career plan and professional skills to help launch their successful career in law. The six-week program is a direct response to what’s happening currently in the legal profession nationwide, says Janet Bolin, associate dean of admissions and student services.

“Firms need young associates who are able to hit the ground running,” says Bolin, who designed the summer program along with Tomea Mayer Mersmann, JD ’91, associate dean of strategic initiatives and lecturer in law. The AIT Program is also a response to the fewer number of summer associate opportunities at firms due to the current economy. Designed to simulate as closely as possible a summer law work experience, the AIT Program presents an understanding of how a firm or other legal practice setting operates, including law firm economics, practice areas, client development, and professionalism.

“The AIT Program is one area in which our students are able to polish their skills, including understanding law as a business,” Bolin says. “They also receive advice on situational conflicts, such as missing a deadline or misinterpreting what a partner wanted them to do, and then handling the situation professionally. The program is an opportunity to play these things out in a safe environment where neither a paycheck nor job security is at issue.”

Many of the skills the AIT Program addresses aren’t found in textbooks, so people are invaluable resources. The program matches students with mentors, either locally or nationally. If a student wants to work in Washington, D.C., for instance, they are matched with a law school alumnus in that geographic area, who will communicate over the phone and/or by e-mail, as well as offer feedback to a videotape of the student doing mock trials and presentations.

Additionally, advanced skills development is offered through mini courses and other programming. The faculty who taught in the program this summer were:

  • Philip Berwick, associate dean of information resources and senior lecturer in law, Advanced Research; 
  • Bill Dorothy, professor of practice, Litigation Skills;
  • Michael Downey, adjunct professor and St. Louis attorney, Internal Law Practices;
  • Robert Kuehn, professor of law and co-director of the Interdisciplinary Environmental Clinic, Ethics;
  • C.J. Larkin, senior lecturer in law and administrative director of the Dispute Resolution Program, Alternate Dispute Resolution;
  • Jo Ellen Lewis, professor of practice and director of the Legal Practice Program, Advanced Legal Writing;
  • Joan Newman, JD ’73, St. Louis area law and business consultant, Social Etiquette; and 
  • Kyle Williams, JD ’01, and New York attorney, Accounting and Business for Lawyers.
Attorney Kyle Williams
Kyle Williams answering questions
from law students."

Williams, an attorney at Goldman, Sachs and a member of the law school’s National Council, says he enjoyed sharing his area of practice with the rising second and third-year law students. “For all of my career, I’ve served as a capital markets lawyer for many of the investment banks in New York City,” Williams notes. “My perspective on finance is at one level very macro―the role of financial institutions in allocating capital and fueling efficient markets―and on another level, very micro―how businesses think of capital structure, capital-raising activities, and the legal risks associated with their options. 

“I was pleased to discover that the students had equal enthusiasm for both levels, and a healthy appetite to delve into some of the issues associated with financial statement analysis and financial due diligence,” he observes. “The questions from the students reflected their interest in legal policy, as well as the legal analysis behind issues―a trait most common to Washington University law students.”

Benjamin Winoker, who will be a third-year law student, says the program complemented his experience after his first year of law school when he was a summer associate at a large firm. “The AIT Program allowed me to contextualize what I experienced the previous summer and has provided me with the ammunition necessary to make myself more competitive in the job market in the coming year,” he says. “The practical focus on the realities of law firms and the legal market, in general, gave me insight into how to improve my profile as a prospective associate, and the exposure to different practicing lawyers served as a great platform for my personal marketing efforts.”