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For eight years before joining a law firm I was a student living on loans, ramen noodles, and the promise of a high-paying job in the future. It was the only “adult” life I had ever known, and it was comfortable — because I had little money, I had few choices for how to spend it, so I spent my time seeing matinee movies and trying to get a picture on my non-cable-ready television. That all changed when I joined a law firm. Unlike most other professions, which start out at a modest salary and increase from there, being a lawyer at a large corporate law firm means starting out with a six-figure salary. And although it is not an unpleasant change to suddenly make six figures, it is a shock nonetheless. More importantly, although they may not feel that way on those 18-hour days, new associates are pretty lucky. Some people work four jobs for one-quarter of the pay new associates receive on their first day. So how do you join a large law firm without losing perspective? Outside of the office, people seek perspective in their free time. But let’s face it — “free time” as you once knew it no longer exists when you join a large law firm. The difference between a partner who unapologetically makes you work on New Year’s Eve and a partner who remorsefully makes you work on New Year’s Eve is significant, but either way, you’re working on New Year’s Eve. So if keeping perspective matters to you, you should consider how you can give back to society from inside the office walls. One way to give back, of course, is through pro bono work. Many large law firms pride themselves on their dedication to pro bono work. You probably know all about your firm’s pro bono work already — it might have been a reason you chose to work there. NOT SO GREEDY As a law firm associate, however, you are valuable to society not just for your brain but also for your brawn — the brawn of your checkbook. Unfortunately, charitable giving, unlike pro bono, is not part of the law firm associate culture. When it comes to money, law firm associates are notoriously perceived as completely bottom-line-driven. Just check out the Greedy Associates Web site, where law firm associates gather to discuss and, more often, complain about their salaries. Most associates probably do not post, or even agree with, statements made on the Greedy Associates site. But because the greedy ones are the only ones talking, there’s no one else to listen to. Associates at Arnold & Porter, my law firm, recently started a new dialogue by creating the Give a Little 2006 Campaign. The campaign began in March in response to the unexpected across-the-board associate-salary increase. The associates who founded the campaign saw the salary increase as an opportunity to tap into a largely untapped charitable market. The campaign accepts charitable donations from associates and directs the donations to one of four organizations: CARE, the American Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, and the Clinton Foundation HIV/AIDS Initiative. You can find out more information at the campaign’s Web site. The campaign is unique because it not only solicits donations from associates but also depends on associates to run it. There are no staff members; there are no volunteers outside of law firms. Most other charity drives are directed by a nonprofit or charitable organization that “hits up” associates for donations (the one notable exception is the D.C.-based group Gifts for the Homeless, which depends on law firm associates and partners to both organize and donate). These groups want us for our money, and understandably so. But there is only so far that outside organizations can tap into the associate market, and they only have so many resources to devote. Law firm associates, on the other hand, have access and resources that nonprofits and charitable organizations do not. For example, law firm associates have access to their firm’s distribution lists and internal mail system. And many law firms are willing to donate some resources to support charitable causes. Even if they do not donate money to the campaign, they may donate firm resources, such as graphic-design capabilities and public relations contacts. In addition, my firm allows associates to attribute time spent working on campaign matters to an administrative billing number so they can account for their time. This way the campaign becomes a part of their day, not just something else they have to do with their free time. So far, the campaign has met with moderate success. The campaign has collected about $30,000, with more than two dozen associates helping to organize events. Several firms, including Covington & Burling and Williams & Connolly, have devoted resources. We have held fund-raisers in Los Angeles, New York, and Washington, D.C. We hope that a new class of associates will come in and infuse the campaign with fresh spirit. One great way to get involved is by joining us for our 5K run on November 12. As law firm associates, we have the world at our fingertips, and it is up to us to choose how we take advantage of it. Through the campaign, you can join other associates who have chosen to make charitable giving as much a part of their job description as are research and billing. Charity may begin at home, but it should not end when you get to the office. From the first day you walk into that office, have a game plan for how you will keep perspective on your life. It’s easier to keep perspective if you never lose it.
Joshua Kaplan is an associate in the Washington, D.C., office of Arnold & Porter.

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