One of the most common pitfalls of working at Big Law is the temptation to become romantically involved with a colleague.
The allure flourishes early on when Big Law throws large groups of over-achieving, well-spoken, mostly good-looking law students together for several weeks of booze and bonding during the summer associate season.
Then, during the early associate years, romances are sparked by the long working hours, general cluelessness and late-night partying with newfound wealth.
Later, still other, more tawdry affairs ignite in taboo unions between junior associates and married partners.
Granted, the summer lovin' was short lived this year, and the cut-throat competition could have reduced the number of romantic entanglements usually spawned by this annual ritual.
But I am certain that someone, somewhere, leaned on the shoulder of a fellow Summer Cog to cry about the loss of the golden days of 99 percent job offers, which led to a long embrace and ended in a big smooch. "Ohh! I am so sorry. I got wrapped up in my misery and didn't mean to kiss you. But you were so understanding and sensitive. Let's do it again!"
Summer programs are like summer camp -- a perfect opportunity for a summer fling of limited duration. Accordingly, many of these summer romances don't survive past the program's six- or 12-week duration. The kids go back to their respective law schools, promising to e-mail and call. They exchange a few text messages: "Law Review Bites!," "Miss U," "Big Law Rulz!" and become Facebook friends.
But then the things they had in common -- being thrown together for consecutive days of social events and free alcohol while working at the same office of Big Law -- become overshadowed by their differences: One gets an offer of employment, the other does not.
An awkward phone call ends it all: "Hank? It's Lisa! How are you? Did you hear from Big Law yet? I got my offer today -- I am so pumped! What? Oh. I am so sorry. They missed out on a great opportunity. Sure I am going to accept -- who would decline in this market? What do you mean I am 'one of them'? Hello? Hank?"
"Summer Dreams, ripped at the seams, but oh, those summer nights ... ."
But no need to despair if your summer-associate fling ends -- once you start working at Big Law there is ample opportunity to find love among your co-workers.
These romances may begin one drunken night when you and your fellow associates are out drowning your collective depression over salary slashing in sangria at some Midtown bar. Or maybe Cupid strikes while you and a beautiful, more experienced fourth-year associate get shipped off to Canada for a month-long document review. "We were sitting in the warehouse staring at dusty boxes of documents and files for 15 consecutive, 10-hour days when all of the sudden she found the key document we needed. She is brilliant! We jumped for joy, did a fist bump, hugged and then ... well ... OK, I am blushing."
This may seem like an ideal relationship. You are busy billing hours and have no time for a social life, but you still get to see each other every day, have lunch together, take coffee breaks together and send each other witty e-mails like "Hey -- haven't seen you in a while -- how R U?"
But these co-worker relationships can get ugly, and then you are stuck running into your former lover every day in the elevator. Even if you two manage to stay together, get married and start having kids, trouble is likely to be on the horizon. Your jumbo dual-income is great to buy the big house and get started, but then the stress of having to be Big Law Cogs and wanna-be partners in the same household could get out of hand:
"I thought you were going to pick up little Justice from Montessori school today? I have that big meeting with the new client that I cannot reschedule. Can't you draft that motion from home? If not, we need to get the Nanny to pick her up."
"Well, I am glad your career is going so well, but I think this Firm has it out for me, and I cannot believe you made partner before I did! This is a joke."
"Why do you think Justice refuses to speak anything but Spanish and insists on taking the Nanny with us to Aspen? We tried so hard to get off for this family vacation, and she just doesn't seem to care. Do you think it is because we forgot about her 7th birthday?"
Sure. Some Cog love stories have happy endings. No doubt.
But one Big Law love story that always ends badly is the forbidden affair. Every Big Law office has a story to tell about the married senior partner with three kids. You know, this is the guy who failed to use the intellect and good judgment that brought him success when he decided to see if he still had "It" by hitting on the lateral associate in the practice group he leads during a late-night strategy session. This scenario has several possible bad endings:
• She declines the invitation, calls his wife and files a complaint;
• She flirts back, hoping it is harmless and may improve her work assignments. Eventually he gets fed up that his efforts are failing to lead to something more and stops giving her good assignments. She calls his wife and files a complaint;
• She is flattered that such an accomplished and mature man would be interested in her and a year-long love affair begins. They take weekend trips to hike the Appalachian Trail together. He writes her an e-mail thanking her for one of these great rendezvous using certain terms that are picked up by the Firm's e-mail censors and gets them both busted. She is mortified, quits and gets another job. He loses his role as practice group leader and must attend weekly sessions with the Firm's psychologist. His wife leaves him, takes half of his amassed fortune, the Hilton Head condo and the kids.
• She has an affair with him until one day she meets someone her own age, gets tired of being the "other woman" and breaks off the relationship. He is devastated that he has lost his soul mate, stops returning client calls, becomes gaunt with grief, drops the ball one too many times and is asked to leave the Firm. She inherits his clients and makes partner.
OK, that last one was not altogether bad for the mistress, but still. Generally these sordid affairs are just bad.
So before you decide to pursue that cute Cog in the Corporate Section, consider dating someone outside of your own Big Law office. If you really must date a fellow lawyer or Cog, go for someone at another firm. Better yet, use your job at Big Law to help you meet others to date -- like self-made millionaires or people who are way more attractive and desirable than you but love that you make a ton of cash; or those kind, self-sacrificing souls who will rear your children and iron your clothes while you work long hours at the office.
I'm just saying, there are lots of fish in the sea. No need to date within your own fish bowl.
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