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Pass the salmon, and the foccaccia, and the olive tapenade, and the microbrewed beer. It�s summer associate time, and the living is breezy. Lunches at W, dinners at 8, weekends at home. What could be better than pulling down two grand a week while putting up the kind of billables to send a big firm into Chapter 11? But all things must end. The partner taking you to the stadium today will be taking you to the woodshed tomorrow. To choose your persecutors wisely, you’ll need some honest self-evaluation and the skills of a British secret agent.

Ask yourself a question: What are you doing here? Did you pick the firm on the strength of its name and gleaming office space? A smart move if you’re building a resume. Given your chance of making partner, or even staying more than three years, you’d be foolish not to plan ahead. The streets are paved with the carcasses of Sullivan & Cromwell alumni. But you can’t eat a resume (as much as you might like to); you can’t even sleep on it. The differences between firms are less important than where you went to law school, for example, your grades, and whether you have any real legal experience. A permanent offer during the summer won’t get you another job in the fall, though the failure to get an offer may brand you as unemployable. This may be your one chance to see your future employer in action; don’t waste it on your ego.

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