Monday, May 23, 2005

I learned this morning that on Friday after work, a dozen of our summer associates decided among themselves to go out for drinks, and ended up staying out until three in the morning, finally ending up at a strip club. Normally this isn't something that ends up on my radar screen. These are all adults, and, at least while they're summers, we don't particularly care what they do on their time off. But the reason I've learned about this, and why it's now on my plate to deal with, is because this morning they submitted the receipts to the recruiting coordinator and asked if the firm would reimburse them, as an "informal summer associate gathering." The pitch one of them made to the recruiter was that the firm pays for all sorts of trips to bars throughout the summer program, and lots of other events, all designed for the summers to get to know each other and get to know the firm. And since this activity was entirely summer associates, they feel like it's the same kind of event the firm usually pays for, and don't think it's an inappropriate request. This is a problem.

What's compounding the issue is that the recruiter tells me that last year, there was an instance where a full-time associate took a handful of summers to this same strip club, submitted the receipt as a generic summer associate entertainment expense, no one bothered to check what the expense was for, and he got reimbursed. So the recruiter thinks we should reimburse the summer associates, because simply drawing the line at "was there an associate there?" especially so early in the summer, when we do want the summers to bond as a group, doesn't make any sense.

My inclination, on the other hand, is to fire everyone who went. Not because they went, but because by asking for reimbursement they've brought the firm into it, and I think that sense of entitlement is appalling. That kind of entitlement is for partners, not summer associates. It's true that we pay for a lot of drinking over the summer, and it's true that we pay for a lot of meals and other events, and it's true that we paid the drunk driving fine and legal fees for someone who was pulled over by the police on the way back from a summer associate event last year. But those were firm-sanctioned events that we planned, not just something that a group of summer associates decided on their own to do. When we pay, we want control of the event. We want the ultimate authority. This was something they chose to do, on their own, without the firm. So why should we pay for it?

Of course we're not actually going to fire the summer associates involved. That would be a public relations disaster, in part because if we did it would get out that we reiumbursed the strip club trip last summer, but also because, as I've written about before, we can't fire any summer associates or none will want to work here next summer. In the end, it looks like we're going to reimburse the summers, but give them a stern warning that next time we will not be so generous. It's important that they realize there's a limit to the excesses we're comfortable with. The sixty-dollar lunches are okay; an eighty-dollar lunch would not be okay, except on Fridays.

Monday, May 16, 2005

The first round of new summer associates started work today. It's been a busy couple of weeks of last-minute planning, so I haven't had a chance to post anything. But now that they're here, I should have plenty of things that I can't resist sharing.

The two weeks before the summer program starts is always a whirlwind of activity. First, there's the matter of offices. If I had my druthers, I'd load up a conference room with a couple dozen desks and stick all of the summer associates in there for the summer. Every few hours, I'd send an associate in to explain an assignment, and, Survivor-style, the last one to complete the task would be eliminated. It would keep the summer associates on their toes and let them feel some of the pressure that the young associates do. One of the things we do very badly here is make the summer stressful enough. We take pains to avoid the stress. We make the assignments too easy, we make the deadlines too forgiving, we make the social events too much fun, and we make virtually everyone a full-time offer in the end. I've already written about why we have to do that, and why I think it's unfortunate that we do. We simultaneously have to involve the summer associates in everything we do, but we also have to shelter them enough from some parts of firm life, because while we want them to think they know what they're getting themselves into, we don't want to scare them off. Last week I did the final check on the list of partners and associates who are to be "exempt" from the summer program and not come into contact with any of the summer associates. They think it's because their work is so important we can't afford to let them take the time, but mostly it's because we're worried about them. They're either too weird, too unpleasant, or too dissatisfied to let anyone know they exist. Some of them do great legal work, absolutely. But some of them are downright scary. There's the guy in Real Estate who clips his toenails during meetings. There's the woman in Trusts & Estates who can talk about nothing but her cat. And her cat has been dead for seventeen years. There's the young associate with the mole. It's disturbing. He ought to get it removed, but how do you tell someone that? I tried during his end-of-the-summer evaluation at the end of his time as a summer associate. Told him we were revising the health plan, and making sure it included certain forms of surgery, especially to remove unsightly growths. I thought I was direct enough. Apparently I wasn't. So, we keep him hidden.

More than half of the summer associates started today. It's not quite fair to the rest, but I always think of the first wave as the ones who are more excited about the firm, more eager to get started, more useful to me when I'm looking for people desperate enough to impress that they'll happily do just about anything, including alphabetize my law books and get me a roll from the attorney lounge, but I don't like the sesame seeds, so they'll all have to be removed by hand first. Clean hands, though. Don't want any of the dirty summer associates touching my food. I can't believe how dirty some summer associates look. Mostly from the lower-tier schools. They don't know how to wash their hair. It's disgusting. Like their LSAT scores. Disgusting.

So there were a few surprises this morning when the summer associates arrived. One of the girls looked much prettier at the interview. That was a disappointment. One of the guys grew a terrible beard. And a couple of the summer associates could stand to lose a few pounds. We try not to hire fat summer associates, because if they're fat as law students, they're only going to get fatter when they're sitting at a desk all day eating vending machine food and drinking three venti frappucinos a day.

One of the summer associates had to be told what business casual attire means and what it does not mean. That happens every year. Socks are an essential part of business casual attire. And one girl, as also happens every year, has immediately been christened Thong Girl for her choice of underwear today. One of the associates running the orientation has already been admonished to stop dropping things on the ground for her to pick up. Only partners should do that.

There's an energy at the firm when the summer associates arrive. Everyone's typing just a little faster on their Blackberrys. Everyone's voice mail messages are just a little less dour. Everyone's billable hours just a little bit higher. The first-years realize they're not the new kids on the block anymore, and some of them start to step up over the summer. And some of them, alternatively, start to give up. They realize that it's already been a whole year, and where are they? If they're not one of the two or three people who are clearly seen as the superstars, they're likely to start feeling a little antsy. A little interchangeable. A little too much like anonymous cogs in a machine. For some, it lights a fire underneath them. For some, it means we'll be saying goodbye soon. Which is okay, since their salaries start to go up and they're useless anyway so we may as well take a chance with somebody new.

I had fun with the office assignments this year. From what I remember from the interviews, I've matched up the most high-strung with the more laid-back (although no law student is truly laid back, at least not any working at a law firm for the summer), the most gregarious with the most inward, and the smartest one I think we have with the one who's only here because his dad's a client. I can't wait to see what happens. No drama yet, but I'm sure it will happen soon. They don't think we notice, they don't think we care. And we shouldn't, since there are so many more important things to do. But it's unavoidable. We spend so many hours here that it's like high school. Gossip flies very freely. People have no one else in their lives so we can't help but talk about our co-workers. Anonymous Wife gets tired of hearing about these people very quickly. But then she gets to meet them at the family events and suddenly she understands.

Anonymous Daughter went on her first date this past weekend. Kid's father is a lawyer at a competitor firm. I told her to ask the kid if his dad ever talks about this one specific case we're up against them in. Didn't get much out of him. Maybe next time.

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