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To the Big Law Summer Class of 2010 -- good luck.
Now that summer programs at Big Law are scaling back from their former incarnations as Club Medesque complete wastes of time and money, I can be honest with you. I have never enjoyed Big Law Summer Camp. Not even as a camper.
It is complicated to explain why. As a camper, I think my lack of enthusiasm stemmed from not understanding the rules of the game I was playing. As a Cog, my lack of enthusiasm arose from a variety of causes over the years, including my inner cheapskate writhing in pain as I witnessed thousands of dollars a day flying out the door on "salaries" for people who spent most of their time at happy hour.
In recent years, my distaste has been fueled by the awkward social situations I've been forced to endure, because -- as you no doubt know -- Big Law just ain't handing out job offers like it used to. Just because you manage to become one of four summer associates at a firm that used hire 30 is no guarantee that you'll be the one -- that's right, ONE -- summer who actually lands the offer of a permanent job. And, sadly, because I am on the inside and these summers are not, I know long before they do that they're not going to make the cut.
These end-of-summer rejection sessions remind me of awkward social scenes in the larger world. You know, like that lavish wedding you attend where guests in the champagne line are laying bets that the costly union will last less than a year, or the lunch date with your college roommate where she gushes about New Boyfriend Brad -- and you know that Brad already is cheating on her with Lisa, and you're forced to decide whether to burst her bubble now or leave her to a few more days of (unwarranted) bliss.
I am grateful I got into the machine when I did -- whew. There is no way I would have survived the Summer Scene in 2010. And since I am avoiding any awkward direct contact with summers in real life, I will do the best I can to offer some advice to them here. A few rules of the road for the Summer Class of 2010:
RULE 1: DON'T CRY
I know it is stressful to be one of the few who have nabbed a precious summer spot. I know that in recent years offer rates have plummeted. I know you are scared to even answer the trick question of "What kind of law do you want to practice?"
But whatever you do, don't cry. There is simply no crying in Big Law. If you start to feel big baby tears welling up in your chest after you overhear some partner on the elevator cursing about your salary right in front of your face because he assumes you are a secretary and not a summer associate, just suck back the water and don't make a scene.
And if, by chance, you are lucky enough to get an offer -- any offer -- do not cry about it. "But I wanted to practice tax law, and I got an offer from labor and employment. Boo hoo." No, sir. Suck it up. Don't even think about whining. The alternative might be paying back your law school loans on a barista's salary.
RULE 2: DON'T BE A JERK
Somehow, despite all of the tough realities of Big Law (layoffs, salary cuts, office closings) and the general state of affairs in the economy, I still see a high percentage of completely delusional law students who think this world owes them something.
In particular, they think their top 5 percent ranking at their Top 5 Law School means that they should be handed a Big Law job at the firm of their choice, and in the area of their choice. Not so much.
An impressive resume is still important and is still helpful in securing gainful Big Law employment. But once you have committed to Big Law for the Summer Scene, your marketability has shrunk.
"But how is that possible? A summer stint at an impressive firm should only enhance my glowing resume and open the door for other, more impressive firms to recruit me," you may think.
Actually, no. Now that you have committed to the summer firm of choice, you are effectively out of the mix for any other Big Law job. I can hear you little overanxious overachievers now: "Shut up. You are just talking trash."
Maybe. But hear me out. You may lucky enough to land a buffet of Big Law summer offers. Even so, remember that the old days, when you could accept two offers and split your summer between two firms, are over. You'll choose ONE firm, and at summer's end, you'll only be available to another firm if you reject the offer you get -- or if you don't get one at all. Saying you've rejected an offer makes other firms think you're insane, greedy or -- more likely -- lying. If you didn't get an offer, well, other Big Law firms respect their peers and have enough of their own summers to choose from already.
The point? Be grateful to be gainfully employed for the summer and at least pretend you like it. Don't be that contestant on "American Idol" who explains to Simon why he is wrong about sounding karaoke. If he says it's karaoke, it is. Smile, thank him for the feedback, and move on.
RULE 3: WORK HARD -- REALLY
When I was a summer associate, one thing I never understood was how much I was expected to work. I was asked to attend an hour-long breakfast, a two-hour lunch, and a happy hour at five. But surely they wanted me to work more than the remaining five hours in between? That question was debatable a few years ago.
Now, Big Law expects you to understand that part of the game is proving you can do it all. If regular associates bill 160 hours a month, you should, too.
No deadline is impossible if you just make the necessary sacrifices. Never assume a Firm-issued invitation to happy hour means they understand that you won't be able to finish your memo on time. "Sorry partner, I was wrapping up that memo, but then 5 o'clock came and I had to head out to happy hour for cheese straws and a Pilsner. I just finished breakfast with Bankruptcy, so now I will get back at it!" No. No. No.
You may think this means you should skip the happy hour and work. No -- it is not that easy. Big Law wants you to go to all the social events so they can assess your social skills. You also want to go to those things so that you can meet as many people as possible and hope some of them remember you. This is also work. You have to work the scene.
Bottom line, Summer Class of 2010: Work hard (socially and intellectually). Don't be a jerk. And don't make the rest of us feel more awkward by crying.
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