Yesterday, some summer associates watched kitten videos on YouTube.

It’s the middle of June, the sun is shining, and Biglaw summer associate programs are in full swing. An old joke: Satan offers incredible wealth to a man in exchange for his soul. The man replies, “B-b-b-but, won’t I have to go to Hell?” Satan says, “Oh, don’t believe what you’ve heard, Hell isn’t that bad. Here, take a look.” And it’s all cocktail receptions and long lazy lunches at fancy restaurants. So he sells his soul. Later, when he dies, he goes to Hell, and sure enough, it’s all flames, pitchforks and eternal agony. The man protests to Satan, who replies – “Oh, that was our summer program.”

The joke smells a bit like 2006 or so, when Biglaw summer programs were at their largest and most extravagant, and most firms barely pretended any substantive work was part of the equation. Yet even though summer associate classes have been significantly downsized post-recession and the perks aren’t as lavish, the summer associate experience certainly retains much of that Bizarro world detachment from the actual realities of practice.

Summer programs have traditionally served as bait-and-switch recruitment tools used to woo rising 3Ls with wine tastings, sporting events, theater outings and boat rides. Since the recession, many firms have begun to emphasize “real work” as central to their summer associate programs (e.g., here and here). But these claims need to be taken with an ocean of salt. As the Dothraki say, “it is known” that newbie lawyers just aren’t ready to do any real work.

In any event, let’s take a look at the top-rated Biglaw summer associate programs, according to the ATL Insider Survey.

Below are the highest-rated summer associate programs, according to the ATL Insider Survey. The numerical scores are the averages of all the “quality of life” questions by students who summered in 2012, on a scale of 1-10 (10 is best). The letter grades are the former summers’ ratings for the individual categories. There were many notable differences between the summer associate rating and the associate/partner ratings (e.g., summer associates at Greenberg Traurig gave the firm an overall rating of 8.97, whereas the full-timers gave it 7.86).

1. Cooley: 9.85

Representative quote: “Cooley culture is California culture. Everyone here is relaxed, social, and does not take themselves very seriously.”

Compensation: A+
Hours: A+
Morale: A+
Training: A
Culture: A+

2. Davis Polk: 9.65

“The firm is busy and summer associates take work off the hands of first-year associates. Missing summer events for work is not uncommon, but it’s a worthwhile result of being an integral part of a deal team.”

Compensation: A
Hours: A
Morale: A+
Training: A
Culture: A+

3. Skadden: 9.20

“The firm’s reputation as a sweatshop is greatly exaggerated. That said, a specific associate’s quality of life differs dramatically from group to group and even by which partner you happen to be working with. I think if you are fortunate enough to find the right fit (group/partner) then you’ll really enjoy your time at Skadden.”

Compensation: A
Hours: B-
Morale: A-
Training: A+
Culture: A

4. Jones Day: 9.05

“People were great. Culture was relational and easy-going. Partners insisted you call them by their first name. Feedback and mentorship outstanding.”

Compensation: A-
Hours: B-
Morale: A-
Training: A
Culture: A

5. Kirkland & Ellis: 8.97

“Great firm. Very healthy, excellent clients and interesting work. Wouldn’t want to be anywhere else …
The summer program is excellent. The stress is low and the offer rate is high.”

Compensation: A+
Hours: B-
Morale: B-
Training: A
Culture: B+

5. Greenberg Traurig: 8.97

“Firm is large and diverse, and an attorney’s experience varies greatly depending on the office in which he or she is located. The people you see every day make or break the experience; the remote offices have little impact. Also, because of the size of the firm, metrics matter a lot in judging the performance of employees.”

Compensation: A-
Hours: C-
Morale: A
Training: A-
Culture: A

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