As a member of Thorp Reed & Armstrong's recruitment committee, I have answered many questions about the firm. Depending on context, both the best and worst question I have been asked, however, is the titular question.
On the one hand, perhaps it is a pragmatic and quasi-satirical inquiry into the quality and essence of a firm that one cannot find on Google. Presumably, as a young attorney, one will be getting to work early and leaving late, and, thus, will likely ravage his or her firm's supply of single-serving coffee pods. Also, if a firm is miserly on something as essential and cheap as coffee, then one must ask whether that mentality has infected other areas of the firm.
On the other hand, however, it is a pedantic and trivial thing to ask. In other words, if it is that important, buy your own damn coffee.
The question elucidates a deeper problem, though. The calculus that goes into selecting where you will spend the majority of your waking hours for the foreseeable future should hinge on more germane information. Salary and prestige are, of course, important pieces of information that should weigh into this calculus, but the analysis should not stop there.
Investment in Associates
A young attorney can gather information about a firm's investment in its associates both empirically and circumstantially. Empirically, as a young attorney, it is not unreasonable to ask questions about a firm's marketing department and budget. In fact, if asked appropriately and earnestly, these questions demonstrate that you have already considered the business and marketing aspects of the practice of law. For instance, does the firm have dedicated marketing professionals? If so, do associates have access to those marketing professionals? Do associates have access to a business development and/or marketing budget? If the answer to any of these three questions is no, mentally congratulate the firm on its honesty and call the first strike.
In the same way you had to sell yourself to a law firm to get an offer, once you have your offer in hand, a law firm will do its utmost to represent itself in a positive light. As a result, the answer to the above three questions will almost always be yes, and, thus, always trust, but verify. Spend some time looking through the online profiles of the firm's associates. Firms that invest in their associates encourage their associates to maximize their public profile through, among other things, speaking engagements, writing assignments and civic activities and organizations. Therefore, firms that invest in their associates are proud to advertise that their associates are involved in these activities, and do so through the firm's website.
A firm's retention of its associates is another metric to assess investment in associates. Associates departing the firm at a high rate, though, is not always an alarming characteristic. For instance, at firms where associates have significant client contact, it is not uncommon for clients to poach associates. The result usually strengthens the business referral source at the client, and the associate leaves with fond memories of the firm. Associates departing the firm for other firms, however, is usually a sign that the firm is not an associate-friendly place. A simple Internet search of the firm is almost always illuminating.
Practice Group Composition
Though you may have relished meeting seven different people during your interview, the composition of your practice group will make or break your firm experience. Unless your new firm has a well-defined plan of educating associates by practice group rotation, your offer letter should indicate the practice group into which you have been offered employment. If it does not, call the recruiting coordinator or your contact at the firm and find out immediately. The composition and profile of your practice group can be an excellent predictor of your experience.
First, have you met and do you get along with the partners, associates and other staff within your practice group? Are your soon-to-be colleagues intelligent, fair and competent? Are your fellow associates of similar educational background and sophistication? Though you may have friends and mentors in other areas of the firm, your practice group is going to be the set of personalities with whom you interact daily. Therefore, you must do your best to ascertain whether or not you can work with the individuals and personalities in the practice group. Trust me when I say that personality conflicts only grow deeper with time. I strongly recommend making a trip to the firm and scheduling a series of appointments with your practice group members prior to accepting your offer.
Second, what is the interaction between the practice group and the firm? Is the firm invested in and supportive of the practice group? Is the practice group leader on ?the firm's management committee? The firm's website will reveal a lot about the interaction between the practice group ?and the firm. In most circumstances, if ?the firm has recognized and supported ?the practice group, the group, its ?members and its events/publications will ?be featured prominently on the firm's website.