Friday, July 30, 2004

We're bringing on a new mid-level hire in my department next week. She's from industry, not a law firm. She was working for about ten years and then went to law school part-time while she was still working, and had two kids at the same time. So clearly she can multi-task. I talked to her today to get her up to speed on some matters before she starts, and she told me she cried after she accepted the job because she's worried about what it's going to do to her kids. I'm a little worried about that. Lawyers aren't supposed to cry. Crying is weakness. She also asked if she really has to use a Blackberry. I wanted to ask her if she's really serious about this whole law firm thing, but instead I bit my tongue. Maybe we'll be able to beat the doubts out of her through some hard work. We'll make a real lawyer out of her yet. I'll make her my project. She's also very pretty, but don't tell Anonymous Wife.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Since it's a slow week, I took a couple of summer associates out to lunch today. One of them was an insipid human being and kept asking ass-kissing questions about the firm, like how it got to be so prestigious and how he can end up just like me and telling me how wonderful the summer program is and how proud I should be of the rest of his summer class since everyone is so special. Insipid. I wanted him to choke on his sea bass braised in a honey-orange reduction over grilled polenta. The other summer emptied every word he'd been storing up all summer when I asked him, innocently, how his other lunches have been. He told me some gossip about a few of my associates, and what they say about me behind my back -- which is good to hear, I suppose, but probably inappropriate for the summer to be repeating. He told me which summer associates he doesn't think are serious about working at the firm. And he told me he doesn't feel like he's been taxed much this summer as far as the difficulty of his assignments -- as if that's what the summer is for! Clearly a wonderful lunch, and makes me want to go scout for new clients so that I'm never free enough to take summer associates to lunch ever again. Unsolicited advice for summer associates: chew with your mouth closed, and if I don't order dessert, yes, that may be a sign that I'm ready to get back to the office, and, no, you probably shouldn't order dessert. Follow the partner's lead. They're lucky I didn't make them pay.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

I just woke up to an e-mail from an associate who's been looking more and more pregnant recently, but was in the office as recently as yesterday. "I just gave birth to a daughter, [name], this morning at 4:13 A.M. So I will not be in the office today. I will be checking my Blackberry throughout the day, so feel free to let me know if you need anything. Thanks."

Couldn't wait until I got to the office to post that.

Monday, July 26, 2004

I'm heading out to play golf in just a few minutes. One of my bigger clients in an ongoing matter is on vacation this week and so there's a little less activity than usual. We're in between deadlines, in a way.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

The comments I deleted in the post below are just multiple copies of the same post -- I'm not censoring anyone. In fact, many of the recent comment threads have been very interesting to read, and I'm glad my thoughts have prompted others to chime in with their thoughts. Unlike at the office, I'm glad to not just have a bunch of people willing to nod their heads and agree with whatever I say, even if it's uninformed and silly. Especially with summers, but also young associates, it's almost embarassing how they treat partners -- with a reverence and fear we surely don't deserve. But if they want to eventually end up as one of us, I guess they want to be careful. But instead, they end up looking pretty pathetic at times. It would be much more helpful if they told me when I was misunderstanding something, asking too much, or being generally unexceptional. We certainly tell them when they are (well, not with summers, because we don't want to scare them away -- but with young associates I think so).

Friday, July 23, 2004

I asked one of my colleagues if he wanted to play golf after work this evening, and he said he couldn't. He has to "babysit," he said. "Someone else's kids?" "No, my own. My wife's going out. It stinks." People here -- and I don't excuse my own behavior here -- aren't really parents, regardless of whether they have kids. At our partner lunches people talk about how it's awful that summer camp doesn't cover the entire summer, or how they don't know how to avoid giving the nanny a holiday bonus, or how they don't know why their kids hate them. They hate us because we're never home. They hate us because we're pulling out our Blackberries all weekend while we pretend (and they can tell when we're pretending) to enjoy being around them. They hate us because work is #1, and they're #2 -- or #3, or #4. It's sad. Because it's not like years from now we're going to regret not checking the Blackberry more often. It's sad because time passes really quickly and it starts to feel like "too late" very quickly. That's what keeps people here. By the time, maybe eight months into your first year, maybe a year a half -- but not much longer than that in most cases -- by the time you realize what this job is doing to you it feels like you're stuck. "It's too late." And so you hope it gets better. And you hope, and you hope, and you work, and you work -- and then it's no better, and even more so, "it's too late." And then you may as well stick around and try and make partner, and then if you're lucky enough and skilled enough and effective enough at what you do, and the right people know it, you make partner, and you think it's all going to change. And a lot does change. But the hours are still long, and there's still a hierarchy so you're never really at the top of the totem pole, and the money jumps but the pressure doesn't really slow down, and the people you compare yourself to change, and you aren't really relaxed about it... and it really is "too late" now, because this has gone from a job to a career, and you're stuck. And you never see your kids. And they hate you. And then you don't even want to go home, and so you stay at the office, and the spiral continues...

I just got into the office this morning, after not nearly enough sleep last night.  We did a pub crawl for the summers, and I tagged along for a while.  It's getting close to the end of the summer, so the events get ratcheted up a bit in terms of expense.  The final sales pitch, to make sure we get a good conversion rate on the offers we hand out.  Plus a couple of summers are ending today to go back and work a few weeks for the firms they worked for after 1L year to make sure they get offers.  We did a $100/per person dinner and then were scheduled to hit about 4 bars, on the firm's tab, for an hour each.  I left after the second stop, but still didn't get home until after 1 A.M.  I found myself in a conversation with a couple of summer associates who insisted that the salaries we pay to first- and second-year lawyers aren't nearly high enough to support a reasonable lifestyle, especially with housing prices so high, and paying off law school debt, and the cost of a luxury car these days -- they asked me what percent of cars in the parking lot I'd guess cost under $30,000.  I said I wouldn't know. They apparently went out and counted one day.  10%, at least in the lawyer spaces.  They didn't look at the support staff area.  So they need to buy a nice car, rent a nice apartment or put a down payment on a nice house, food's expensive, vacation, taxes... it adds up.  It used to be that the salary was the one thing no one would complain about.  I guess we're finally reaching that point though.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

I don't say this lightly, but I don't believe there is any way for a good person to work at a place like this without destroying whatever makes him or her good.  I see interesting, kind, creative people come in and quickly turn cold.  At first, it was the speed that shocked me.  This takes over their lives, and suddenly what made them human vanishes.  Their souls get swallowed.  Before they can do anything about it.  And they resign themselves to their fates.  As corporate drones, completing repetitive, mind-numbing tasks for outrageous salaries and little else.  Tell me I'm wrong.  Tell me it's all just my imagination running wild.  Tell me it's this four-hour meeting I just escaped from, that took us through dinner, and whatever semblance of an evening I thought I would have, and that's it not the reality.  This wasn't supposed to be the life I ended up with.

As luck would have it, it's a slow day in the office today.  So, more questions.  I received two questions via e-mail, and there are some more in the comments I will attempt to answer.

Q (via e-mail). I will be a 1L at a highly ranked second tier school (ranked in USNews between 50-60) this fall.  If I happen to do well enough to transfer to a school ranked 15-25 would you recommend it?  Of course there's a 90% chance that I won't have to worry about doing well enough to transfer.
A. Isn't this what career services offices are for?  Your school's recruitment statistics can answer this better than I can.  Depends on what school you're in, what school you would transfer to, what city you want to work in, and how the two choices do in that city.  My hunch is that it's not much of an advantage to transfer from Mississippi State to Fordham if you want to work in Jackson.  Please no e-mails about whether Mississippi State actually has a law school.  It's just an example.  I don't even know if Mississippi has electricity yet.

Q (via e-mail). What have you used, if anything, from your experience in law school?  Classes, socially, ability to work with minimal amount of sleep?
A. Are you kidding me?  If you're getting a "minimal amount of sleep" in law school, you're not going to survive six months at a firm.  Law school is a joke.  Anything you learn in class you're going to forget after the bar exam, and I don't know what you're getting at with "socially" except that you learn that law students / lawyers are not the warmest people in the universe. 

Q. What is the purpose of the endless conference call? Are such things necessary, helpful? Only the number of participants needed to get the job done or are there a lot of you out there flipping pages and manning web sites?
A. The purpose is billable hours.  While I'm unsure if anyone else spent the call answering questions from readers of his anonymous weblog, I'm pretty sure there were people whose minds were elsewhere.  Or whose bodies were elsewhere.  There's a reason the phones have a Handsfree Mute button.

Q. Would you go go law school and take a job with your firm if you had it to do over?
A. Knowing what I knew then, I made the best choice I could make.  Knowing what I know now, I'd probably spend more time practicing the guitar.  I only know the fictional life I have lived.  At $600/hour, I don't have time to ponder "what might have been."

Q. After making partner what does a lawyer have to work towards? Are bonuses the only motivation? Or is there a hierarchy governing the partners as well?
A. Of course there's a hierarchy.  Everyone wants to be head of the firm.  There's junior partners, senior partners, etc.  I read an article about a baseball team that assigns its ushers numbers for their hats based on seniority.  They're happy when their number goes down (even though it usually means someone died).  I'm happy when my number goes down.  Besides that, $$$$ is a pretty good motivator at this point.  Houses are expensive.

Q. Have you ever considered starting your own firm? What were your thoughts on it?
A. Too much grunt work.  Do I really want to handle all the infrastructure of finding office space, making a web page, hustling for new clients?  For all the negatives of firm life, they do make it very easy to just come in, do work, and leave, without lots of hassle.  If I don't know the answer to something, there are people here who do.  There's a safety net.  There's a word processing department.  There's a custodial staff.  It makes it easier.

Q. What are the chances for a UCLA/USC student with a 3.4 GPA?
A. Chances for what?  Graduating?  Pretty good.

Q. Why don't you decide on a nominal level of 'comfort' and retire?
A. What's so comfortable about retirement?  What am I going to do all day?

Q. 1) What law school did you (or your web persona) go to? 2) How many law schools do you consider "good" schools? U.S. News top 3? Top 5? Top 15? 3) What happened with your summer-associate crush?
A. 1) Sorry, not telling.  2) Probably about a dozen.  You can name them as well as I can.  3) I got to know her a little better.  She's kind of a bitch.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Okay, my endless conference call has begun.  The lawyer leading the call is walking everyone through his markup of a 200-page document.  Which he sent to us earlier.  So it's on my desk.  Yet he's going to mention every comma he has a problem with, and why.  So this will be tedious.  Hence, your questions.  Do keep in mind this is for entertainment purposes only.  This is not advice.
Q. What is the GPA range needed to be seriously considered by a big firm? 
A. This answer isn't going to satisfy you.  Depends on your school.  Better school = more tolerant of a lower GPA.  Lesser school = you'd better be kicking ass.  Best case scenario = great school, great grades.  I know this isn't helping anyone, but it's the best I can do given the lack of details in the question.
Q. How many work hours does a new associate work to meet their billable hours? It seems that so much of what first years do is non-productive. How does that work?
A. If you're not billing enough hours, either (a) you're not trying hard enough to find work, (b) no one wants to work with you, or (c) it's a fluke, and we're aware, and no one's going to hold it against you.  If you're having legitimate trouble, so is everyone else.  If they aren't and you are, it's something you're doing wrong.  If you tell me about too many movies you've gone to see, I'm going to find you and give you more work.  Same thing if you tell me about the books you've been reading, the time you've been spending at the gym, or the long weekend you're planning.  Sorry.
Q. When's the last time you and anonymous wife expressed your love physically?
A. She's under my desk right now.  Oh, wait, that's not her.
Q. My sister is getting remarried.... My supervising partner has an oral argument[] for an important appellate case scheduled on the same day.... [W]hat excuse can I use to duck both the wedding and the hearing to go golfing?
A. Don't be stupid.  If your sister's already on her second wedding, there'll be more.
Q. [H]ow often is it that you come across a student who has a unique undergraduate degree ... (eg: physics, maths, engineering)? Do you find additional value in these types of applicants?
A. I come across them a lot.  Just not in my firm.  It's all in how you tell the story.  If you can convince me that your background will make you a better lawyer, then it's a plus.  If I think you're just making up a story, it's not a plus.  It's all in how you spin it.
Q. Do you hire students from top schools with average grades that didn't join journals?
A. Why didn't you join a journal?  Read your question.  Would you hire you?  No one at a top school who isn't basically failing would ever describe his grades as "average."
Q. Do you have to play golf to make it in this crazy world? If so, do you have to play it well? If so, how?
A. People like to win.  As long as you're not an embarrassment, you'll be fine.  Take a couple of lessons.  Buy some shiny clubs.  This should not be a concern.
Q. What was your law school experience like?
A. Better than my law firm experience.  Sorry to break it to you, but it's all downhill after graduation day.

To the author of the comment I just deleted: Is that the best you can do?  Even if I am one of the seventeen people you named, seventeen's a lot of people.

Monday, July 19, 2004

I've got an endless conference call on the calendar tomorrow, so I figure I'll put out a call for questions and I'll try to answer as many as I can during the call.  Post them in the comments or e-mail them, I don't care which.  Please don't spoil this by being like the guy who keeps e-mailing me asking why I don't shoot myself.

I just found out a summer associate has been sneaking food from internal meetings back to her secretary.  This is either a very elaborate way to curry favor, or just an exceptionally considerate act that I would put beyond the comprehension of most lawyers.  In either case, the other secretaries are about to mutiny, so it needs to stop.  We've asked the summer program coordinator to send out an e-mail informing the summers that the food at these events is for their benefit only, and all excess food belongs in the trash, not in the hands of other members of the firm.  This is the same problem we had last year when a summer associate gave a cookie to a homeless person on the way out of one of the stops on our Progressive Dinner.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Instead of taking a junior associate with me to a client meeting today, I took a summer associate -- and I paid the price.  First, I had to deal with driving there.  Usually the junior associate will drive, so I can do work in the passenger seat.  Then, I had to lay out the money for lunch and get the receipt to get reimbursed.  Again, usually I have the junior associate take care of that.  Then, I had to actually take notes and pay attention -- since I forgot to explain to the summer exactly what we were doing and what this case was about, so he couldn't actually be expected to know what to take notes on.  My fault, sort of, but still -- usually the associate just takes care of all this stuff for me.  It's a real pain when I have to lay out money for things and collect receipts, or drive anywhere work-related, or remember whether or not you have to tip the guy in the parking booth.  It was pretty ridiculous.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Someone brave enough to e-mail me asked what happens to the summers who don't take their offers. Frankly, I don't care what happens to them. They're ungrateful for everything we do for them all summer. The least they can do is pretend this is what they want to do and come work for us for a year or two. We need a bit of their time just to make back all the money we throw at them all summer. The truth is that I see our old summers who didn't take their offers all the time -- behind the counter at McDonalds, picking up trash on the street, living in the park, begging for change on the bus (not that I ever take the bus, but I've been told).

There are two kinds of people who don't take the offers: (1) People who worked somewhere else and realize they can't hack it here so they'd better go there. Usually in some second-rate city like Boston or Chicago. (2) People who think they have it all figured out, and that they're going to find some imaginary job where they can have it all -- money, a life, friends... it doesn't work that way. Most people would kill for a job that paid them this much, gave them the occupational prestige this job has, and was, besides the hours, really pretty straightforward work. No heavy lifting, doesn't have to be much travel, you get a secretary, you get vacation days you can occasionally take. But they think there's something better out there. Some perfect world where people are happy, rich, and at peace with themselves and the choices they've made. Well, no one's at peace. No one really, truly likes what they do -- I mean to the point where they would do it for no money. If they say so, they're lying. Maybe movie actors and sports stars. But if you're at a law firm you're clearly not pretty enough to be a movie actor or uneducated enough to be a sports star. So this is as good as it gets.

I tell you, that vacation really renewed my spirits. My mood before getting away for a while was down -- I was getting skeptical about this life. But not this week. This week I'm back where I need to be. Ready to help some rich people.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

One of the commenters on the most recent post wrote: "what if you just want the summer job to WORK (earn as much of your pay as you are capable of) and LEARN about the firm and the practice of law, and are not there to be wowed and dazzled and entertained? Why is this so much like mandatory kiddy camp instead of a workplace with training where you can get familiar with the work and they can evaluate your strengths, abilities & the quality of your work?"

I think the answer is pretty straightforward: You're a liar. That's something we hear in interviews all the time. Students saying they don't care about the events and all they want to do is work and learn about the firm. And then they get here and they start whining about expensive lunches and their friends at other firms getting to spend $20 more on lunch than we allow. On the first day they all want to do work, everyone's excited, it's new, it's different, let's impress the partners. By halfway through getting any of the summers to do any work is like pulling teeth. You're all the same. You're here to take advantage of us. We give you one nice lunch, you want two. You get mad when we say work takes precedence over lunch and you try to get out of meetings early. You get upset when we ask you to stay late. We give you an inch -- and you want the whole rope. And that's the problem. We do give you an inch -- we take the first step down the slippery slope -- by making the summer fun, by having events, by keeping you interested. But you all take, take, take. You're not here to learn and work, you're here to take whatever you can get from us. And that doesn't make you a terrible person, it just makes you a typical person. Because we indulge it. Because you know you're getting an offer. Because you know it won't matter in the end. And if we changed it, no one would come here. We'd lose out to the other firms whose programs would be more like summer camp, and would let you work less. Who wants to work more? Not me. Not you. Not anyone sane. We let you go home at 5, you're all going to leave at 5. Or 4. Or noon. And good for you. But don't lie to me and say that's not what you want. Wait till you get here. It's what you want. It's what everyone wants. Stupid law students who never had a real job before in their lives. Stupid us for letting them get away with anything. Stupid clients who pay us. Stupid paralegals... for being paralegals... what a stupid job they have. Worthless.

Monday, July 12, 2004

I got back from the vacation late Saturday night, and got about six hours of sleep before I had to wake up and head out to the annual Summer Associate Sunday Brunch that one of my colleagues hosts each year at his place out in Rancho Palos Verdes. It's a bit of a trek, but it's a beautiful place, a gorgeous view of the water. They made a day of it for the summer associates -- brunch, some tennis and volleyball out in back of the house, and one of those Magic Castle bouncy things they rented from a local party supplies company. He catered in a beautiful spread -- smoked fish, caviar, gourmet omelet stations including lobster and shrimp, an open bar, a chocolate fountain, some berries that his staff picked off the bushes around the property that morning.

We gave out jerseys for the volleyball games, which the summers were excited about. We had a partners team and three or four summer associate teams -- they put us away pretty quickly, though. I wasn't terrible but this guy in Litigation really took us down. He kept missing his serves, or getting in everyone else's way when we were trying to reach for the ball. He's a crappy litigator too, if you ask me.

We also hired a pro volleyball player -- I can't remember his name -- to come out and give a few lessons and participate in the games. The winning team -- we did a round robin tournament -- got medals we'd had engraved beforehand, and then we had a big volleyball-shaped cake with chocolate truffles and a raspberry mousse inside. It was a good cake. The whole day was a lot of fun for the summers, and for the partners who showed up. This guy's house is magnificent though -- I'd been out there a few times before, but he gave a tour to the partners who hadn't -- the 65" TV, the movie theater with real theater seats in the basement, the indoor ice rink for his kids, the shelter out back for the dogs. He didn't let the summers inside, obviously, but they could peek in through the windows and see. At least until the staff caught them looking.

Friday, July 09, 2004

Many miles away, I still get the firm gossip. One of the other hiring partners sent me an e-mail saying that at last night's summer associate event he figured out that one of the junior associates is perhaps engaged in some extra-curricular activities with a summer. The catch: one of them's married. And it's not the junior associate. He's not sure if he should say anything -- at least on the order of: "We notice. Be more discreet." I haven't written him back yet; I'm really not sure whether it's our place to do much at all, especially since there's no hard evidence, just this guy's hunch. And they're all adults and are responsible for their own moral failings. As far as we can tell, it hasn't affected the junior associate's work product -- and there's not much work product produced by the summers, so nothing really to affect there. My solution would just be to not give the summer an offer. But that solution will be vetoed.

That brings up an interesting discussion, perhaps: offers. The default, of course, like it is at all of our competitor firms, is that all of the summers get offers. This is a frustrating policy. Oftentimes, despite how much we liked someone during the interview process, they arrive for the summer and we discover either (a) they're incompetent, (b) they're incredibly lazy, or (c) they're terrible people and no one wants to work with them. Perhaps surprisingly, people fall into category (c) much more often than they do (a) or (b). I don't think it's unique to law students, but a lot of people we hire (and it's not unique to our firm) turn out to be jerks. It becomes pretty obvious after any amount of interaction with them. But they do their work. And sometimes jerks make good lawyers. If we could get rid of them after the summer, this would probably be a nicer place. But it would also be a smaller place. So we can't get rid of jerks. Categories (a) and (b) are harder to rationalize as far as giving offers. With (b) we hope it's just the summer. With (a) we hope they fall down a manhole and die. Or fail the bar exam. Which happens. And is a big relief when it does, because it's our only real justification for firing someone, ever.

If it were up to me, we'd give about half our class offers and let the rest go live under a bench in the park. But it's not. And I know that if we did that, no one would come to our summer program. Because all of our competitors would still give everyone an offer, and for risk-averse law students, why come here and take the risk you'll fall short? Of course, if you're confident, you would want to come here, because you'd know you wouldn't have to work with the jerks and the idiots. But it isn't feasible with the way this stuff works. Unfortunately. So instead we have lots of jerks, lots of lazy people, and lots of incompetents. But at least we don't have any fat people.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

I sent a quick e-mail to a summer associate yesterday asking for some research on an issue I'm doing a little bit of work on during my vacation downtime. I get an e-mail back a little bit later with some language he said he found that's right on point. So I e-mail him back to send me a copy of the case. I pull it up on my laptop. He fudged the quote. He cut and pasted from the case, but he changed a whole bunch of words, and basically the entire implication, to make it fit the issue better that I'd asked about. I sent him a note back asking why it didn't match, and he writes back, "Oh, I figured you just needed a sense of what it said, so I paraphrased." I don't know if I'm furious or just confused. I wrote him back and told him not to do that anymore, and just to pull actual language from cases, and then I wrote him back five minutes later and said I changed my mind and I'll get someone else to do the research. This is why law students are useless.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

I just finished having a terribly depressing conversation with Anonymous Son. He asked his mom and I about what it was like when he was born. She described the trip to the hospital, and the first time she saw his face. And I told him how much I wanted to be there, but I was a young associate then, and needed to be at a client site, closing a deal. I can't believe how important an issue it seemed back then -- "I can't let the client down; I can't make the partners think that work is not number one; I can't show any weakness; I must prove I'll give 100% to the firm." I remember trying to figure a way out, knowing she'd be going into labor any day but knowing the firm was counting on me. But I remember not trying as hard as I should have. Knowing I should have wanted to be at the hospital, but not feeling as conflicted as I absolutely ought have. I took it at face value that this is what lawyers do, this is what we have to do to succeed, these are the sacrifices we have to make. And maybe they are. Maybe if I had told the partner I was working for that I couldn't be there, that my family was more important, maybe I wouldn't be where I am today. Although where am I today? I don't know. Vacations bring out the feelings that don't have time to come out when you work 14-hour days. They're fun that way.

Monday, July 05, 2004

Apparently everyone else goes on vacation this weekend too. Crowds in the airport, traffic ever since we landed. And a lot more e-mails from the office than I really feel like answering. Including this e-mail to the summer associates that I was CC'd on:

"Monday is a firm holiday, but do not feel discouraged from coming to the office if there are any projects you are working on where you feel you need to spend time here on Monday. There will more than likely be lots of associates around, in and out throughout the day. So you should feel welcomed to come in and work if you need to. If you do not, have a fantastic long weekend, or let me know if you'd like some more assignments if you're not being kept busy enough."

What exactly is the message we're trying to send with that e-mail?

Friday, July 02, 2004

I probably shouldn't be writing this. I know this is only one side of the story. A legitimate case can be made that all of this is wrong, or at least misleading (like Michael Moore's Farenheit 9/11?) and maybe I'll make that case later, but for now you get the cynic's side, or at least a stylized version of it. And maybe this is all in my head after years of doing this, and this is a gross distortion of reality. Because I don't think we actually try to trick people into coming here. We're not evil people. Most of us want to do good, we really do. But sometimes, when I sit down and think about it, it feels like we don't necessarily do all of our candidates a service. Aspiring law students: here's how it goes. We spend a lot of money to come to your schools and make it seem like the only jobs you can have are jobs with firms like ours. That's the first trick. We get you to completely ignore the rest of the universe of opportunities for people with law degrees. Public interest jobs, small firms, solo practice, jobs at companies, jobs in government or politics, jobs in the media, jobs overseas, jobs you create and mold yourselves based on your own interests and passions and gifts. Non-law jobs where the law degree can be useful. None of that. It's us or food stamps. That's how we want you to feel, because us versus anything besides food stamps, and we probably lose. But that's not enough. Because some of you will find those other jobs, or be turned off enough by a place like ours that you'll seek them out. For you, we need the second trick. Money. Sure, you can do that other job and earn $40,000 a year. Or you can come here and earn $125,000 (plus bonus) your first year out of law school. And we'll bump that up just enough every year after that to keep you here. But we're not worried about that yet. First we're just worried about getting you here. And that's a lot of money. A lot of money to pass up. Because no one's making you stay. But some of you are strong. You can pass up the money. You can ignore us. You can turn the other way. But we have a third trick. The summer program. You see, we recognize that there are some people who say they don't want to do this for a living, and they mean it, and we're not going to change their minds with some glossy brochures (although our glossy brochures are very nice -- we have some excellent marketing people). But for just a summer, how can you say no? We'll pay you an obscene amount of money, and we'll spend even more on making your summer FUN and EXCITING and TASTY. We just want to get you in the door. Because at least then we have a chance. To start you on that slide of compromises until you take the offer and join us, for more. So, okay, we've got you for the summer. You might think the fourth trick is to cover up the real deal, to hide the associates from you, and make you think it's always going to be FUN and EXCITING and TASTY. But we realize people can see through that. People will find the associates, and the associates will reveal that it's not always like the summer, and that they bill a lot of hours, and that they sometimes wonder if they've made the right choices. We can't hide that. Instead, we acknowledge it. And we pretend it's not a problem. Because for you, our summer class, life is different. It's FUN and EXCITING and TASTY. Not too much work, not too many hours, free meals, fun events, and a lot of new friends. Nice people, too. A lot of them. Because the fourth trick really is just a variation on the first trick. There are no other legitimate options. Look at all of your new friends. They're all going to work here after graduation -- shouldn't you? It can't be the wrong choice if all of your friends are going to do it. It can't be so bad if we make your summer so much fun. Yeah, you realize the associates don't have a life quite as good as the summers do -- but how bad can it be? They're still here, right? (Because the bonuses come in the winter, and so the 30% annual turnover doesn't happen while you're here; you don't see it). And the partners are friendly. And obviously you're going to take the offer, right? How can you say no and go back to school with all of that uncertainty? Everyone else is saying yes. Do you really think you're better than everyone else? But just in case, there's the fifth trick. Time. There's a reason we want you a year in advance -- one less year to find something you'd rather do. From September of 2L year, we've got you. Interviews right away, before anyone else will even consider hiring you for the summer, so we're not competing with anyone but our peers. And then right at the end of the summer, we'll give you an offer, but we'll make you decide before you can legitimately have a chance to find something else. You can't pass up all that security. You'll feel silly if you end up with something worse. Or nothing at all. Even though that won't happen. But you're law students. You're averse to risk. And it can't be that bad, can it? Even though you hear the stories. Even though you've been there all summer. It can't be as bad as they say. And then you get here. As an associate. And it's not that much fun. You hardly see your friends, because every time you make plans with them, you have to cancel. Not much time to pursue your outside interests, if you had any before, so they fade away too. Lots of money, no time to spend it -- so you buy a house, a car, some more possessions that require the big paychecks to keep coming. And no time to look for a new job either. So you can start to feel stuck. You're a lawyer now. You've defaulted into the decision. You've slid down the slippery slope of compromise. Oh, but it was so easy. So much money. And everyone else was doing it. And you didn't think about whether this was really what you wanted. Or maybe you did. And maybe you're happy here. Maybe this really was the right choice. For some people, it undeniably is. But not for everyone. And I think for the people for whom it's not the right choice, we sometimes trick them into thinking it might be. FUN and EXCITING and TASTY. Who could blame you? We're smart. We know what we're doing. Want to help recruit? Free trip, free meals. Convince some more people to come on board. You did it -- and you're still alive. Won't it make you feel better about your decision if you convince other people to make it too? Come on. Join up. It's great. FUN and EXCITING and TASTY. And for some people, it is. Some people love the work. Or at least don't dislike it more than they would dislike the work somewhere else. Sometimes it's worth it. The benefits -- the money -- are worth the hours and the feeling that maybe this is just a job, and not a calling. For generations, people had "just a job." They worked because they had to, and it didn't matter if the work was rewarding. But there are so many choices today. And so many jobs that can be rewarding. And especially for the very smart, very capable people we hire. If this isn't it, for them, I don't know that we're completely fair in making it so tempting for them to stay. I know everyone has free will. But we make it hard to say no. And maybe if you can't say no, you deserve what you get. Again, this is only one side of the story. There are people who love it here.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

I got rid of the comments on the previous post because some people started using language we don't even allow in the privacy of our own conference calls. Let's keep it civil.

But just to address the concerns that I've outsourced the posting to a summer associate: I'm sorry if the past few days have disappointed. It's been a rough week. Anonymous Wife suggested we see a marriage counselor. Anonymous Big Client decided to switch firms. Anonymous Dog keeps vomiting on the couch. Some weeks just aren't as filled with spectacular demonstrations of how frustrating this profession can be. I'm sure the hypocrisy will resume soon enough. In the meantime, it's not like I'm billing you for this. (I am, however, billing Anonymous Big Client for it, especially now that he's decided to take hs business elsewhere.)

Truth is, perhaps I've been a little timid ever since I overheard a paralegal talking about Internet sites he reads and had a quick panic that if he found this, he'd figure me out pretty quickly. As much as I complain, I don't really want to be discovered, since I have a hunch Anonymous Chairman of the Firm wouldn't be a huge fan of what I'm writing here. But I've decided I'll pull no punches and let fate take its course. I head out on vacation tomorrow. Of course I'll have my laptop; of course I'll be checking e-mail; I imagine that even from a distance I'll have some stories to share. Hopefully they won't all be about Anonymous Dog and the calls we get from Anonymous Parents-in-Law about why we didn't warn them he's been vomiting all over the couch when we asked them to watch him for the week.

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