Tuesday, August 10, 2004

I took one of the few summers I can tolerate out to lunch today. Somehow we ended up talking about the excessive drinking at the summer associate events. The practice the past few years has been to have an "afterparty" after most events, where the firm will open a tab at a bar or club somewhere near wherever the event was. In the past, the tab closed at midnight and was exclusively for beer and wine. Somehow, in the last few years, it has escalated to the point where the tabs are being kept open until the wee hours of the morning, long past the point when the partners have gone home to sleep and most of the associates have headed home or back to the office, and there's people buying bottles and bottles of expensive liquors and the tabs are really quite outrageous. I've tried to curb this trend, but I can't act unilaterally and there are people who feel vehemently that to keep pace with other firms we need to indulge the summers in this way, and that if this is what gets them back to the firm.... I don't buy this line of reasoning. And it worries me that we create a picture of the law firm as a place for alcoholics, and that we've set up a culture where drinking is not just tolerated but encouraged -- and a situation where summer associates are getting very drunk on the firm's tab -- on a worknight -- and showing up the next day in no shape to do any work, not that we give them any work. But I've seen summer associates vomiting in the bathrooms the morning after events, and not just a few times. It's a pretty regular occurence. The summer at lunch was telling me he thinks there's a reputation on campus of our firm as a place that's especially indulgent in this respect, and I don't like that. I worry not so much that we have this reputation, but that it will scare off students who aren't attracted to this element of the legal culture -- and I'd be lying if I didn't admit that lots of lawyers end up as functioning (or non-functioning) alcoholics, and that is a broader problem than just in the summer class, or even just among the associates, or just at our firm -- and those might be students we'd rather not be scaring off, since they might actually be able to do some work before lunchtime. But I feel like the tide is moving in the other direction and it's just going to get worse, like it has already -- although I suppose it can't get much worse unless we're buying cocaine for the summer associates to snort in the conference rooms, or distributing amphetamines on orientation day -- and I'm powerless to stop it. I don't know. Are there any summer associates out there reading? Or even associates at other firms witnessing their summer programs in action? Is this an issue? Is it bad for the law firm to cultivate a culture of extreme intoxication, or is it what people expect these days?

They say once you pass the bar, you never pass a bar...

I think the problem stems from the unrealistic career expectations placed on lawyers at Biglaw firms. That isn’t to say that other occupations don’t have the same or worse stress levels, but let’s be honest, a law firm is a much better environment for a functional alcoholic than say, an emergency room. It starts in law school; I don’t think I’ve ever attended a school function where alcohol was not served. When you take that permissive attitude and multiply it by Biglaw Money and raise it to the factor of Biglaw stress, I’m actually surprised there *aren’t* more associates snorting coke in the conference room.
Maybe the situation is a bit different here in Australia, but as a law student I certainly wouldn't be impressed by a law firm with that sort of reputation - it might attract some clerks who want to be indulged and party hard, but are they really the ones who are going to become star players anyway?
Yawn, is it me or is this guy getting really boring, guess I need to surf to new sites.
From the moment I began law school, I've felt that there's an attitude like you can't have fun without booze. That's made me more of a drunk than I would be otherwise. By providing it at such a consistent level, you're definitely encouraging a more indulgence than would otherwise happen.
I think that there's a feeling among some law students that the drinking culture is the culture at the best firms. Therefore, the logic goes, any firm that has no drinking culture isn't a best firm. The "big summer associate drinking parties" have become a hallmark of big firm summers. The stories are legendary.

I'm a graduate of a top law school, with top grades, etc., but that's something that turned me off about big firms. And if I heard about a firm with a particularly drinking-based culture, I wouldn't apply. Drinking as a cultural hallmark is very fratboyish, and tends to suggest other fratboy aspects, which I don't find attractive... and which I certainly would not find attractive if I were a female. Since women are now roughly 50% of the top law grads, any big firm with that kind of reputation is losing a lot of good candidates...
As an outsider, I would say that is pretty pathetic. It doesn't bode well for attorneys in general let alone that office (or other offices who participate in the same).

What happened to professionalism?

By the way, did you watch "In the Jury Room" last night. It's on again tonight. It should be facinating...watching the minds of others.

I didn't know that for a capital murder case, the jury members chosen have to believe in the capital punishment. That doesn't seem fair to me - but anyone who knows the law knows it isn't a fair system!
The better the school the uglier the women. I'm sure some of those elite ladies prefer a drunken fratboy culture as a chance to finally get some action.
I was never a big drinker. It was only when I went to a luncheon for scholarship recipients at my upcoming law school that I really noticed this big trend toward drinking. After the luncheon, we all went to some local bar. I think I drank more in that one day than I did over the previous two years.

What's odd is that I didn't intend to drink that much, but you sort of feel left out if you don't so you do it anyway to establish camaraderie and to develop these bonds with each other. In the end, I would rather stay away from these people and the firms they will want to work for. If that means no biglaw for me, I'm perfectly fine with that.
A few law firms have reputations for encouraging drinking and other fratboyish activities: Quinn, Latham, OMM to a certain extent. At most others, the summer associates know better than to get drunk in front of attorneys at the firm. At the elite law school I attended, most of the students were guarded about their sordid pasts and rarely got drunk in front of the law students for fear that it would detract from their reputations as professionals. Some law schools, like LMU and USC, whose students did not achieve as much as students from Stanford and Boalt, have more students who constantly drink. Remember, you are the person hiring the summers who get drunk. Other firms aren't hiring the lushes, and are perhaps hiring individuals who know how to conduct themselves as professionals around their colleagues. Don't get me wrong, get crazy at your buddy's bachelor party, but don't get slammed with a third year attorney because it is likely he will hold it against you in the future. If you know your superior well enough, perhaps allow yourself to get a little buzzed. But there is no excuse for getting to the point at which you have much less self control. It shows a lack of discipline.
My first stop out of law school was in a drinking firm. The kitchen was well-stocked with beer and booze and we all went to lunch and drank at least once a week. The firm is also famous for it big Christmas party, where every lawyer is invited to share in the free flow of alcohol. Frankly, it made for a strange working atmosphere. I was never sure what mood an attorney may be in because it was so heavily determined by the level of intoxication. A good deal of money was spent on alcohol and elaborate lunches. I couldn't help but think I'd rather take some of that money home in my paycheck for new curtains or a new couch. And, finally, had the attorneys not read the cases about vicarious liability for employees' actions? I was glad to leave that firm and I wouldn't go back to that sort of culture.
Stephen Dedalus would have made an excellent defense attorney.
Waddling Thunder was recently complaining about the drinking culture at BigLaw. But, quite frankly, he seems like an uptight prick and I wouldn't want to work w/ him.

I def would not interview at a firm that was known as being full of teotollers. I would think they're a bunch of uptight pricks and maybe hardcore religious, both of which turn me off. Running an unlimited tab seems to be a bit ridiculous from a cost point of view though.

As a law school spouse, the drinking culture at the law school consistently shocks me. I'm nowhere close to being a teetotaler, but binge drinking like a bunch of Freshman greek-types makes me wonder at the maturity level of these people. Drinking also leads to "hooking up" with each other until the whole law school culture is one big orgy. While I realize that the vast majority of law students are 22 and fresh out of college, I should hope that they've grown beyond getting shit-faced at this point. Among my husband's friends, getting smashed and still making it to class is a badge of honor. Frankly, were I a hiring partner, those summers who over-indulge on a regular basis would be invited to a-come-to-Jesus-meeting (southern for ass-kicking,nothing to do w/ Jerry Falwell) where they are told that their behavior embarrasses the firm. If it continued, then that summer would not receive an offer. Whether a baby-lawyer or partner, you are a professional and should conduct yourself with restraint. It might not hurt to grow up a little either. Does AL's "firm" really want to be part of the "frat-boy culture?" Someone needs to up the ante and insist on standards.
But then, as my husband says -- I'm too idealistic and most of the world is really operating at an adolescent level -- just look at GW.
These people are no fun at all. A drinking culture is fine as long as it doesn't actually interfere with work. There's nothing wrong with a work hard play hard culture. You make people do 200-250+ billable hours or even 300-400 billable hours let them party get drunk and make fools of themselves. For actual associates who have no lives outside of the office, are you expecting them not to cut loose at these type of functions? These functions are their social life b/c work means they don't have time for actual separate lives where they can be idiots on their own time.
Wow. You elitists are so quick to condemn the greek system wholly because people are afraid of what they can't be a part of. Uptight doesnt even begin to describe how narrow minded and flatulant you conservatives are. Being greek gave me an opportunity to make hundreds of more friends. Yes, we partied, but we also studied. There is more to life than getting hired on to the most prestigious firm. If you smartypants greek haters cant figure this point on out on your own, then maybe your not as smart as that gpa states.
Waddling Thunder is an uptight prick in real life too.

The problem I have with drinking events is that they're boring and unimaginative. My firm last summer did cool events and I really appreciated that.

Fire/give a cold offer to the 2 worst offenders. Or just call one of the hungover throwing up summers into your office and warn him that he needs to shape up. That'll turn things around.
To the Australian poster - Who are you kidding about the situation being different in Australia? I've spent a good bit of time in Australia and with Australians and they are the biggest group of drunkards around. They're famous for it.
It never ceases to amaze me how concerned the rest of the world is with other people's sobriety. Of course, this is only the case in the United States. Everyone else just accepts that humans use substances to liven things up a bit, alcohol in Europe, opium in asia, etc. An unlimited tab may be a bit much for the firm to provide, but the fact of the matter is that lawyers are under a lot of pressure from the time they start law school, and alcohol is the only drug that is legally attainable. So, for god's sake, get over yourselves, and quit worrying about other people's drinking. I don't know how we got from the 50's and 60's when people drank fairly constantly to today. It is a very strange paradix, morals and personal choices are far more lax, but drinking is considered a far worse activity. (though really, throwing up in the bathroom is a bit much)
For those looking to join in the 'comraderie' w/o drinking too much, try this tip that has served me well: order a diet coke or a sprite & specify to the bar tender that you'd prefer it in a liquor glass. Bar tenders will do this, especially if they see you out with a big group of professionals. I'm definitely a lightweight and as a summer associate prefer not to loosen my filter around partners & senior associates. This has served well - no one knows the difference, and I get to keep my dignity.
At my (top ten) law school there was a whore/bride distinction: you might go to The Party Firm for half a summer, or even for the first couple years of pay, but you wouldn't stay there "for real." The thinking was that a law firm actively encouraging summers (and associates) to be drunk all the time must be hiding some unusually atrocious work/hours/personnel. Otherwise, the thinking went, why would a firm tolerate employees without the sense to stay semi-sober during business events?

In any case, I agree with the poster above who said “you’re the one hiring the drunks.” My own firm’s bar tab usually lasts only a few hours, and as a result it doesn’t employ many people who get trashed on a regular basis. Its summer events lean toward big meals, luxury getaways, sports, etc.
To Anonymous at 4:27 AM - very few Aussies drink during the day (even at business lunches) and most don't drink during the working week at all. As a nation, we can certainly party hard, but we also work hard and this idea that we're constantly drunk has always amused me. I'd be guessing that you've mostly spent time with (a) students, or (b) Aussies on holidays, if that's the impression you got from spending "a good bit of time in Australia and with Australians".

- Amused.

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