X

Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
It isn’t easy to land a summer associate position at a prestigious law firm. But once you’re in the door, nothing may be more difficult than blowing the opportunity. Still, for the law student creative enough, motivated enough, and shameless enough, even that’s not an impossible task. Every year, a handful of summer associates at large firms ruin their virtually sure shot of permanent employment, often in dramatic and humorous fashion. A few come awfully close to crashing and burning, but are extended offers nonetheless. The stories of these rare rogues who defy authority and test the boundaries of socially acceptable behavior pass through the law school grapevine like a high-speed game of telephone. They are handed down through generations of lawyers until they take on a mythic quality. And some of them, on further inquiry, prove mostly apocryphal. No one remembers the names of the people or the precise firms involved, but every young lawyer seems to have a volume of summer associate scandals stored away for the retelling. And these stories start to flow right around this time of year in Washington, D.C. — as the weather warms up and a fresh batch of students arrive for initiation into firm life. There’s this allegedly true offering from D.C.’s Arnold & Porter: During the summer of 1994 or 1995, a summer associate who eventually graduated at the top of his class at Harvard Law School managed to mass e-mail his way out of an offer. The debacle began when the summer associate sent a message to all firm lawyers asking for a recommendation of a barber near the office and including offensive remarks about homosexuals. After being cautioned by a firm associate that such e-mails might be best sent only to friends — not the entire firm roster — the summer sent out a second e-mail to every member of the summer associate committee ridiculing the associate who had warned him. Then, on his last day with the firm, the summer associate signed off with a final all-attorney e-mail — a fictional tale involving a barber and a law firm burning down. He did not get an offer to return. At least, that’s how the story goes. Arnold & Porter managing partner James Sandman would neither confirm nor deny the account, which is based on the recollections of two firm lawyers. At Arnold & Porter, such stories have come to be known as “offer-stoppers.” The term refers to summer associate transgressions so great that any possibility of receiving an offer from the firm evaporates instantly. (ALMOST) ALL IS FORGIVEN But true offer-stoppers, says one Arnold & Porter associate, are few and far between. “You’d be amazed at the stuff you can recover from,” he says. “The point is, they wouldn’t have invited you to spend the summer if they didn’t think you were someone they wanted to have working at the firm.” That’s true today more than ever. Firms have always relied heavily on their summer associate programs to recruit future lawyers. Nowadays, with accounting firms, investment banks, and high-tech companies also looking to hire top law school graduates — the same pressures largely responsible for this year’s dramatic rise in associate salaries — hiring from the summer program is more essential than ever. Being too discriminating simply doesn’t make good business sense. “By the time you add up the cost of interviewing in the fall; flying students back and paying for hotel rooms; the lost billable hours; and what you’re going to spend in the summer, you’d be silly to only hire half the people,” says La Fonte Nesbitt, hiring partner for the D.C. office of Holland & Knight. “You’d just be wasting money.” So practically everyone gets asked back. In 1998 — the most recent year for which the National Association for Legal Placement has published data — more than 95 percent of eligible summer associates at D.C.’s 20 largest firms received offers. At eight of those firms — among them D.C.’s Arnold & Porter, Patton Boggs, and the D.C. office of New York’s Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom — offers were made to every eligible summer associate. With odds like that, it’s not entirely surprising that a few summer associates enter firm life with hefty doses of hubris. ROGUES GALLERY Still, the individual tales can be staggering. Take, for instance, the summer associate a few years back in the Atlanta office of Cleveland’s Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue who showed up to the office for only three hours a day. “He would come in at 11, be taken out to lunch, and then go home. I think it went on for about six weeks before anyone realized. He did not get an offer,” reports a member of that summer class. Or consider the summer associate a few years ago at D.C.’s Hogan & Hartson, who allegedly blew his offer after arriving late to a firm-sponsored golf outing and proceeding to charge private lessons to the firm after explicitly being told not to. And then there is the most notorious summer associate tale of recent years — a Harvard Law student clerking at New York’s Sullivan & Cromwell who was purportedly forced out midway through the summer after a series of unseemly incidents. Although the details vary, this is the story on the tip of every young lawyer’s tongue: The summer associate in question pesters the firm to send him abroad on an assignment and is ultimately flown to London for a deposition. When he arrives at the airport, he is dismayed to find that he has been booked in coach. He upgrades his ticket to first class at the firm’s expense without permission. On the trip, he buys a pair of $200 sunglasses, which he charges to the client. On a separate occasion, the same summer associate crassly propositions a partner’s wife. He is subsequently fired by the firm. According to Sullivan & Cromwell hiring partner Francis Aquila, the story bears only limited similarity to actual events during a summer two or three years ago. “We had a summer associate who had some personality issues,” says Aquila. “He withdrew from the program for his own purposes before the end of the summer, and I think to some extent stories built up to explain the circumstances of his leaving.” Aquila, who has overseen Sullivan & Cromwell’s summer associate program for eight years, says the individual in question did travel to London on firm business, but did not demand a first-class ticket: “He actually flew on an airline that did not even have first class.” And while in London, the summer associate purchased an expensive pair of sunglasses from “funds that were his own,” Aquila says. And the alleged incident with the partner’s wife? “The alleged partner’s wife is actually my wife. I am the alleged partner. And he made no inappropriate comments,” Aquila says. “Basically, I think the reason that the story spun out of control was that he was not particularly liked by members of his class.” But while major etiquette breaches — such as hitting the firm up for a $3,000 airline ticket — can cause problems, run-of-the-mill improprieties are not likely to exclude a summer associate from permanent employment. At most firms, routine summer associate shenanigans, such as extreme intoxication at firm functions, are overlooked, and even more serious indiscretions will be forgiven. One recent Hogan & Hartson summer associate is remembered for always ordering two entrees at expensive firm lunches and taking one home for dinner. She received an offer. A summer associate at New York’s Shearman & Sterling achieved notoriety after vomiting on a partner at a firm function. He too allegedly received an offer. And a local lawyer laughingly recalls that his brother, while a summer associate in Boston, would frequently fall asleep at meetings with partners after spending late nights out on the town. When confronted, he told the firm recruiting director that he suffered from narcolepsy. It is pretty amazing what summer clerks can get away with, say many people who have come through some of the city’s more raucous summer programs. “Basically, just don’t set the firm on fire. That’s the only thing I advise people not to do,” says one fourth-year associate at a large D.C.-based firm. But partners deny that making their firm’s cut is quite so easy. What it comes down to, they say, is the quality of a candidate’s work, not necessarily her or his social graces. “We put summer associates in the shoes of practicing attorneys and give them real work,” says Dennis Race, firmwide hiring partner for Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld. “Our advice to them is to take everything seriously and not make any assumptions.” “It’s not simply a show-up-and-you-get-an-offer thing,” asserts Crowell & Moring partner Paul Kalish, who heads the D.C.-based firm’s summer associate program. GREAT EXPECTATIONS? Historically, the performance demands placed on summer associates have been fairly lax. But this year, some law students worry that dramatic salary increases for full-time and summer associates will bring an end to the good life of long lunches and low expectations. The fear is that firms may not be prepared to make offers to all their summer associates now that the going rate for starting lawyers has soared upwards of $125,000. Anna Holmquist Davis, director of J.D. career services at Georgetown University Law Center, says she has seen increased anxiety in law students embarking on summer programs. “There is a concern of �How is my work going to be worth $2,400 a week?’ and �What level of performance do I have to meet?’ ” Davis says. Covington & Burling partner Mark Plotkin, who heads the firm’s summer associate program, says he has also sensed that law students are expecting more than another “high-paid party.” “Typically, in the months before the summer program, we get a lot of questions about what the social calendar looks like,” Plotkin says. “This year, all the inquiries we’ve gotten have been along more serious lines. I think the impact of the salary increases is sobering. They seem to feel a weight of responsibility.”

This content has been archived. It is available through our partners, LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law.

To view this content, please continue to their sites.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Not a Bloomberg Law Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law are third party online distributors of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law customers are able to access and use ALM's content, including content from the National Law Journal, The American Lawyer, Legaltech News, The New York Law Journal, and Corporate Counsel, as well as other sources of legal information.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]

 
 

ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.