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Law Students at Varnum

You may hear other firms describe themselves as “collegial” or “collaborative,” but at Varnum, we take the idea of mutual respect to a level you will not find anywhere else

If you ask our attorneys, Varnum is:

  • “All about passionate representation of our clients.”
  • “The ideal work environment. I’m challenged every day, but I always have the positive support of my colleagues.”
  • “Filled with people who are always available and willing to answer my questions.”
  • “A family of intelligent, caring professionals.”
  • “A great firm with great people.”

Read on to learn more about our Summer Associate Program and what it means to be part of the Varnum family.

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What Sets Us Apart from the Competition?

  • The firm is committed to being a leader in the area of diversity and inclusion. Visit the Diversity section of our website to learn more.
  • Our offices are located in several areas of the most exciting and noteworthy growth in the country. Our attorneys have short commutes, a variety of attractive housing options, and access to top-notch arts and entertainment scenes.
  • We understand that you can’t get full value from life without both achievement and satisfaction in all important areas, whether at work or at home. Work-life integration is valued here. No one will ask you how your family will feel about you missing major holidays.
  • We feel strongly about serving the cities where we live and work. Visit the Community Involvement section of our website to learn more.
  • Even the most junior associates are given meaningful work early in their careers. We hire our associates with the goal of one day celebrating their promotions to partnership, and we provide them with the tools and guidance to get there, including mentorship, professional development opportunities, regular performance feedback and other resources.

See Yourself Here

At Varnum, we:

  • Trust you with important tasks early in your career – and provide you with appropriate guidance and training every step of the way.
    Our comparably low billable hours requirement provides our associates the flexibility to join other attorneys in court hearings, trials, client conferences and depositions until they feel confident in doing it on their own – whether it’s arguing in front of the Sixth Circuit, experiencing a jury trial or playing an important role in complex restructuring negotiations.
  • Want you to be successful.
    Many firms hire with attrition in mind, bringing on large numbers of associates with the expectation that the majority of them will leave sooner rather than later. Competition abounds among associates for hours and opportunities at these firms, and lateral moves are routine. At Varnum, we hire associates with the goal of shepherding them through their careers to become partners here. Our hope is that they will work at Varnum until they retire.
  • Reflect your commitment to professional responsibility and community leadership.
    Over the years, the Varnum family has helped shape not only the Michigan business world and a few skylines, but also our individual communities. Our associates can earn up to 50 hours of billable credit for pro bono hours each year. We take our commitment to Michigan seriously and seek candidates who share the same dedication to their communities.

Summer Associate Program

Meaningful Work

Summer Associates typically receive assignments directly from assigning attorneys and are encouraged to seek out projects independently as well. This approach provides Summer Associates with direct interaction with attorneys while learning prioritization and time management.

We work closely with our attorneys to provide a wide range of experiential learning opportunities during the program. In the past, our Summer Associates have had the opportunity to observe trials, hearings, depositions and negotiations, as well as attending client meetings and practice team meetings.

Professional Development

To foster professional relationships and development, each Summer Associate is assigned two mentors to work with throughout the summer. Mentors act as sounding boards, workload advisors and sources of institutional knowledge.

Summer Associates receive both informal and formal feedback from assigning attorneys. We typically conduct individual mid-summer and end-of-summer evaluations in which we discuss the Summer Associates’ performance, listen to their feedback, confer about practice group interests, and develop strategies for future growth and development.

Pro Bono Focus

Summer Associates are encouraged to handle pro bono files Varnum obtains through Legal Aid of Western Michigan. During orientation, the firm’s pro bono coordinator explains pro bono processes and available resources to support Summer Associates as they meet with clients, assess situations, strategize legal options and represent their clients. The Grand Rapids Bar Association and Legal Aid of Western Michigan both have recognized Varnum’s unique program for providing equal access to justice for the elderly and underprivileged.

Social Activities

The Summer Associate Program offers a balance of social events that showcase our various locations. Our calendar typically includes some combination of the following:

  • Sporting events
  • Cooking classes
  • Visits to client sites
  • Community service opportunities
  • Cultural events, such as Picnic Pops, Ann Arbor Art Fair, Grand Rapids Festival of the Arts, Broadway musicals and concerts
  • Golf outings
  • Events at partners’ homes and cottages

These events give our Summer Associates firsthand experience with the collegial, mutually supportive atmosphere that differentiates Varnum from other firms.

A Day in the Life of a Varnum Summer Associate

Written by Ethan Beswick, Summer Associate Class of 2018.

No two days are ever the same as a Varnum Summer Associate.

Some days involve getting to the office “early” around 8 a.m. to get a head start on the day, while others involve leaving early to attend a special Summer Associate event, or networking reception in the community. Other days involve working on multiple projects to ensure each is advancing towards its own finish line, while still others are spent out of the office getting to know the people that comprise Varnum on a more personal level.

Project opportunities come in a variety of shapes and sizes, some of which require a few hours of research before an answer can be given, and others that stretch out over the course of the summer. Immigration research may take up a portion of your morning, followed by the drafting of a client alert regarding recent tax reforms. The afternoon may then consist of a client meeting, followed by continued work on that motion for summary disposition you have been entrusted to draft. Each project is unique, each timeline is different, and each presents a new opportunity to grow as a young legal professional.

Whether it be formal mentorship meetings with your Partner and Associate mentors, or informal lunches with attorneys at the firm, you will realize rather quickly that Varnum is a special place. Each day is its own adventure.

However, while no two days will ever be the same, we can promise you the following:

  • You will not go unfed.
  • You will have the opportunity to meet incredibly helpful people who genuinely want to see you succeed.
  • You will be treated with dignity and respect by each and every individual you encounter at the firm.
  • When the summer concludes, you will not want to leave.

Compensation and Benefits

In addition to being a leader in our market for Associate compensation, we offer tremendous potential to earn significant bonuses in recognition of their performance, rewarding the skills they will need to become partners at the firm. Our enhanced lockstep system allows us to award bonuses to our top-performing Associates in the range of 30 – 40 percent of their base compensation. We are proud of our ability to acknowledge their contributions in this way.

In order to be eligible, Associates must meet our relatively reasonable total hours requirement of 2,000 hours, including at least 1,700 billable hours. The remaining 300 hours can include time spent on business development, training and/or marketing. Greater flexibility means that our Associates can work on the projects that mean the most to them, and they also receive credit for activities that enhance their professional lives.

We offer a comprehensive and competitive benefits package to our Associates. Highlights include medical, dental and vision insurance coverage, as well as a relocation expense allowance, paid parental leave, a 401(k) plan, disability insurance, life insurance, paid parking, estate planning services and continuing education, among others. We also offer a “Dress for Your Day” policy that allows our Associates to dress more casually on days when their schedules permit it.

In addition to the above, we are pleased to provide a vacation reimbursement incentive of up to $1,000 per fiscal year. This program was suggested to management by our Associates as a unique way to recognize and reward them for their efforts. Associates also receive a gift from Varnum each year on the anniversary of their first day with the firm.


How do I apply for Varnum's Summer Associate Program?

Our open application period each year is July 1 - July 31 for the following summer.

Do you accept 1L applicants?

We typically hire 1L summer associates through a diversity clerkship program. However, we are always happy to connect with 1Ls who are interested in practicing law in Michigan.

I was unable to secure a summer associate position at Varnum as a 1L. Should I bother reapplying as a 2L?

Yes! Varnum welcomes applications from students who initially reached out to us as a 1L.

I'm a 3L. Do I have a chance of securing a position with Varnum as an entry-level attorney?

Yes. The number of anticipated position openings varies each year, but applications are always welcome.

What is the interview process like?

Candidates typically meet with 10 - 12 Varnum attorneys.

Are split summers allowed?

Split summers are considered on a case-by-case basis. We generally discourage splitting the summer because it compromises the quality of your summer associate experience.

Does Varnum offer summer associate opportunities at offices outside of Grand Rapids?

Yes! In addition to Grand Rapids, we typically host summer associates in our Southeast Michigan offices. Exact locations vary from year to year.

What training opportunities are available to summer associates?

The Summer Associate Program provides extensive development opportunities, including:

  • A comprehensive orientation
  • Mentoring relationships
  • Access to all associate development and firmwide training sessions offered during the summer
  • Weekly professional development sessions, including:
    • Specialized training sessions designed and delivered by our practice teams
    • 60 minutes with firm management - ask any question you want!
    • The inside scoop on passing the bar exam

Our program is successful because of the dedication of attorneys and staff members from across the firm who work together to meet the individual needs of our summer associates. We work hard to give our summer classes the best opportunities to learn about Varnum and to refine their legal skills.

If you have any questions about our program or the firm in general, please do not hesitate to reach out to Lindsae Badgerow, our director of recruiting.

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