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While Long Island, N.Y.’s larger firms consistently tout a lighter workload and meaningful lawyering as their advantages to new associates, many Long Island law students proclaim that ascending the heights after graduation means heading west. Undeterred by horror stories of brutal hours and low-to-nil job satisfaction, most of Long Island’s highest ranked law students are still lured to Manhattan, tempted by huge salaries and high-profile clients. “If I stay out here, they don’t really have the resources or expertise that the city firms do,” said second-year law student Amy Bedell of Hempstead, N.Y.’s Hofstra University, who recently accepted a summer associate position with 400-attorney Weil, Gotshal & Manges in Manhattan. “If I want to learn how to be a great lawyer, that’s the best place to be.” Bedell’s opinion prevails among top students, despite tales of grueling hours and menial work, said Caroline Levy, senior assistant dean with the Hofstra University School of Law Career Services office. “Students are as eager as ever to go into New York City,” said Levy, adding that the percentage of students interviewing with top city firms has remained constant. She noted, however, that a “solid percentage” of top students each year chooses Long Island firms. Although a number of students have expressed concerns to Levy about quality of life issues related to billable hour pressure and grunt work, “it hasn’t really deterred them from seeking work in the city,” she said. Even so, retention and job satisfaction remain major issues for big firms hungry for associates. So major, in fact, that the Association of the Bar of the City of New York released a report last month urging firms to open lines of communication with their associates in areas ranging from billable hour requirements and partnership chances to mentoring, training and evaluations. ATTRITION HIGHEST HERE The report comes at a time when the average attrition rate nationally is 23.8 percent, with New York firms leading the pack, according to a survey of the National Law Journal‘s 250. Realizing that an associate’s enthusiasm for big-firm practice may wane as the reality of countless dinners in the office sets in, Weil Gotshal and other large firms are working to stem the attrition tide to keep bright beginners like Bedell from fleeing. “The biggest reason (for attrition) is the climate that’s created,” said Brad Scott, director of associate relations at Weil Gotshal. “And the climate is driven by how our senior associates and partners manage their practices.” The firm’s associate retention program, initiated last year, trains partners how to mentor associates using buzz words such as “unlocking potential” and “performance gaps.” “I know it might sound trite,” Scott said, “but it works.” NOT ME Although Long Island law students may recognize the job satisfaction problems of working for the big firms in the city, many have an “it-won’t-happen-to-me” attitude. “I don’t think I’ll be working extreme hours,” said student Robert Gingher of Huntington, N.Y.’s Touro Law School, who will join 162 lawyers at Pennie & Edmonds in Manhattan next year. Gingher, who spent months at sea as a lieutenant on a trident ballistic submarine while in the Navy, predicts that an associate’s life will be a “cakewalk” by comparison. “I could see coming in one day on a weekend. That’s not a big deal,” said Gingher, who will commute by train to Manhattan from West Islip, N.Y. “I just want to go in and learn.” Some maintain that the discipline required to land a slot in the top tier of their classes has prepared them for the long hours demanded by their new employers. “I’m used to a lot of hard work,” said Hofstra second-year law student Sharon Mauer, who accepted a position with Proskauer Rose in Manhattan last week. “I’m hoping that what’s meant by ‘sweatshop’ is just people who don’t want to work very hard.” She added, “As long as I have some time for my family, I don’t see it being a problem working hard.” Cushioning the brunt of all that hard work are the mounds of cash these soon-to-be lawyers stand to make. Some 15 firms have announced year-end, first-year associate bonuses equaling as much as $40,000, on top of the $125,000 annual salaries they already are pulling in. When compared to starting salaries for Long Island firms that peak at $70,000 annually, working those late nights and weekends may become much more tolerable. “They pay you because you work those hours,” Mauer said. “It’s also a big incentive to work harder. I wish they paid me more.” Gingher, who is buying a home on Long Island, remains practical about the what he will earn. “I’ve got bills to pay, I’ve got little kids to take care of, I’ve got loans to pay off,” he said. Q AND A PROCESS For some high achievers, Long Island firms were not even a part of the interviewing process. Gingher, for example, only interviewed with firms that signed up through the patent law program at Loyola University where he spent a summer preparing for the patent bar exam, which he passed. Mauer interviewed with Rivkin Radler & Kremer, but declined an offer because it was “no comparison.” The Uniondale, N.Y.-based firm, ranked 59th among New York’s largest law firms, pays starting salaries of about $63,000 with bonuses as high as $15,000. Even though Long Island firms may fail to snag the top performers initially, associates are returning to Long Island after a few years, said Rivkin Radler’s Arthur “Jerry” Kremer, co-managing partner of the firm. “They come back at less money for two reasons,” Kremer said. “Quality of life and a more social environment.” He added that two associates in the last six months — one from Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom and another from Kaye, Scholer, Fierman, Hays & Handler — have joined his 112-lawyer firm. In addition to the culture shock of leaving the classroom, moving to Manhattan for some of these students whose roots are on Long Island will provide its own challenges. “I was thinking about maybe moving to Brooklyn,” said Bedell, who has lived in the small Suffolk village of Bellport, N.Y., most of her life. “That may be less of a shock.” But Mauer, a Roslyn, N.Y., resident, is ready for full-throttle city life. “Living in Manhattan is always nice for a young person,” she said, adding that the difficult part will be finding an apartment.

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