Monday, June 06, 2005

I was making the rounds this afternoon checking up on a few summer associates. There have been some rumors the past couple of days that a handful of summers have been leaving the office early and seeing afternoon movies; we let them know that we'll be doing occasional spot-checks now, to make sure that doesn't happen. After all, even if there isn't enough work for them to do, just like the full-time associates, it doesn't mean they're allowed to leave. Anyway, as I was making the rounds, I noticed one of the summers from a particularly prominent law school was fixated on his computer screen. I asked him what was so interesting. He told me they just released the list of which graduates had earned honors. I asked if I could take a quick scan to see if the names of our incoming first-years had made the list.

One of them had, and the other one hadn't. We tell them it doesn't matter how they do in law school, but we're lying. I have a speech I give on the last day of the summer about how their employment is secure, it's okay if they get D's, it's okay if they get C's, it's okay if they get arrested for second-degree assault. As long as they graduate, and as long as the bar will admit them, we're okay, and we won't ask to see their grades, and we won't concern ourselves with it. It's a crock of baloney, actually. If they don't think we have preconceived notions of who the stars are, they're fooling themselves. We know who we want to have succeed here and who we'd just as soon say goodbye to in a year and a half. We know whose names we eventually want on the letterhead (just a turn of phrase... we stopped putting partners' names on the letterhead a long time ago). And if they don't graduate with honors, then maybe we start to second-guess ourselves. Maybe we made the wrong choice. Or regular honors when we thought they'd do even better than that? Maybe they're slackers. Maybe a distinguished career in the law isn't as important to them as we thought. Maybe they're just like everyone else, and we should just burn them out as fast as we can and throw their carcass to the pile of dogs waiting out back (just a turn of phrase... we got rid of the dogs a long time ago).

If college today is what high school used to be, magna today is what regular honors once were, with grade inflation and all that. We want attorneys with latin words we can put next to their names. We want attorneys with a good pedigree that clients will pay more money to have incompetently service them. We want attorneys able to figure out how to get an A on a law school exam, because if they can't figure that out, how do they expect to be able to fool a judge into believing the law is something other than what the words on the page say it is?

So the one who got honors gets a gift basket. The other one doesn't. They'll compare notes. They'll figure it out. It'll serve its purpose. Like the office assignments do. You, next to the assistant head of M&A. You, next to the bathroom. You think it's an accident? Nothing's an accident.

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