Jerry Taylor was all nerves before he started his summer internship at the law firm of Garvey Schubert Barer. He worried about the workload, whether he would impress his superiors, whether the other attorneys would be tough on him.

As a 23-year-old student with two more years of law school ahead of him, he was under a lot of pressure.

But Taylor's anxiety melted away when he arrived at the law firm and was ushered into his private office with sweeping views of Puget Sound and a nameplate on the door. The lunches, parties and recreation trips that followed helped, too.

“I love this company,” says Taylor, a Seattle University student.

Welcome to the high-pressure yet perk-filled world of summer law internships, where firms compete to lure “summer associates,” who can walk away with $100,000-a-year job offers more than a year before they graduate.

Every summer, law-school students from around the country file into the hushed, high-rise interiors of law firms for what seasoned attorneys refer to as a “12-week job interview.”

The programs allow students to spend the summer writing memos, doing legal research, conferring with clients and soaking up everything they can from veteran attorneys.

Interns also devote a chunk of their time lunching at top eateries, trekking to company retreats and tipping back gratis martinis.

Contrary to the intern stereotype, summer law associates are not treated as lowly hangers-on, sent to pick up partners' dry cleaning or lattes.

Firms compete for top students after meeting them on annual recruiting trips at law schools around the country.

“It's a very exciting time for the firm when the summer associates show up. These are the best from America's law schools,” says Craig Miller, partner and chair of the hiring committee for Davis Wright Tremaine, which is bankrolling 12 summer associates this year.

Firms want law students to get real-life experience, but they don't require frequent all-nighters and weekends at the office, say summer-program organizers.

“We want them to strike a balance. We don't want them to just grind away,” says Bob Howie, hiring chair at Riddell Williams, which has three summer associates.

Still, some interns say they have found themselves basking in the computer glow at 3 a.m., perfecting the memo an attorney is expecting the next morning or working on the pro-bono case for which they have begun to feel a passion.

“You're paid what you're paid for a reason,” says summer associate John Peterson, a University of Washington student who has worked this summer with corporations, nonprofits and a Central American youth seeking asylum. “It's a client business, and however you have to meet those needs, you do it.”

That's not to say it's all work and no play.

This summer, student associates have traveled with their firms for long weekends, attended barbecues and cocktail parties at partners' manses, enjoyed concerts, golfed, roasted marshmallows over campfires at co-workers' summer cabins, watched baseball games, hiked and picnicked on weekend trips and watched horses race.

Of course, law firms pick up the tab for all these perks, as well as frequent lunches, dinners and cocktails and in-office events like deck parties and hors d'oeuvres in the library.

Attorneys say these impressive social calendars are not pure hedonism.

Because most summer associates are serious candidates for permanent positions, “It's really important that people fit into the personality of the firm,” says Donna Cochener, associate co-chair of the summer associates with Ridell Williams. Social events allow students to get to know the other attorneys, she says.

The perks also serve to attract talented students in a competitive hiring environment, adds Matt Pile, Cochener's co-chair. At most firms, second-year law-school students – who are vetted at multiple interviews before landing a summer internship – are almost guaranteed a permanent job as long as they perform well and “fit in.”

“These are highly sought-after individuals, and we actually want to be a part of their futures,” Pile says.

“It really does involve a kind of moxie that other, more technical professions perhaps don't,” says Miller, Davis Wright Tremaine partner.

“You're paid to play the game with poise and not melt in the face of things you're not particularly comfortable with. You can work outside your zone of comfort, in a zone of challenge. We try to see that in people.”

© 2006, The Seattle Times.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.