SUMMER ASSOCIATES TAKE NOTE: INADVERTENT REVELATIONS

Today’s pop-quiz:

Question #1: What do the following statements have in common?

Indiscretion happens with alcohol, but people understand that. You usually have to knock a partner out cold for it to be a career-ending event.”

AND

Two years ago, we had lunch with an interviewee who insisted on ordering top-shelf liquor. It was bad judgment.”

Answer: Both remarks came from hiring partners at different Am Law 100 firms as they recently offered tips to students and summer associates hoping to land full-time job offers.

Here’s the odd part: the interviewer posed only general questions — whether there were any “golden rules for summer associates” and whether any candidates “bombed” because of a faux pas. But the first and only responses related to alcohol etiquette.

That’s revealing and a bit strange. Alcohol abuse is a widespread challenge for the profession. So how do we square either partner’s remark with that growing epidemic? The first treats it as a joke; the second, well…

Let’s pause for a moment on the second. This partner’s condemnation of an interviewee who ordered “top-shelf liquor” at a recruiting lunch made me wonder: What did he order for himself — and, even more tellingly, what does he usually drink? According to the 2010 Am Law 100 listing, his firm’s average equity partner profits totaled $1.27 million last year. I’ll bet the student’s lunch companion didn’t consume much Ripple.

Question #2: What do the following two statements about  summer associates have in common?

“I’m not sure that a very significant number of associates even want to be partners.”

AND

“By going to a smaller number [of summer associates] this year, we had the luxury of getting people who are really enthusiastic about being [at our firm].”

Answer: The comments came from the same person during the same interview. He’s a hiring partner at another Am Law 100 firm. After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1995, he took an increasingly common path to biglaw partnership: a judicial clerkship followed by several years as an assistant U. S. Attorney. He didn’t join the firm for which he now serves as gatekeeper until 2004. So after lateraling into his position of power six years ago, he’s already so familiar with the firm’s culture that he now decides who among new graduates gets a job there. That alone is interesting, isn’t it?

Even more fascinating, he’s evidently recruiting split-personality associates — those who “are really enthusiastic about being at the firm,” but don’t want to be partners.”

Huh? When does the enthusiasm wear off? Do they have wealth-related allergies? (His firm’s 2010 Am Law listing reports average proftis per equity partner exceeding $2 million.)

I know what you’re thinking about such contradictory characterizations of those receiving offers: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance)

Question #3: Were these partners coerced into their bizarre comments? If so, we all know how unreliable that information can be.

Answer: Regrettably, no. The remarks came in voluntary interviews that each gave in May and June to the The Careerist, an American Lawyer blog. I suspect that all three regarded the media attention as personal and professional promotional opportunities.

Bonus Question: Is all of biglaw this bizarre?

Answer: No. Here’s a counterpoint: “[Recruits] should ask searching questions. How practice has changed over the years and how you deal with the changing demands. And how hard it is to reconcile your life at work with the rest of your life…I don’t believe lawyers should bow to icons. I want them to look me in the eye and ask tough questions.”

Now that’s more like it.

So here’s a suggestion to all of you summer associates out there who thought getting a job offer was the tough part: Pay close attention to the senior attorneys who will become your mentors if you sign on. Listen to them more carefully than some listen to themselves.

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