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It’s July, and once again, the midpoint of the legal profession’s version of Rush. Law students who weeks ago arrived at powerhouse Atlanta firms, their stomachs tight with tension, now are accustomed to waistbands tight from a seemingly endless round of free lunches. Like fraternity and sorority rushees, summer associates have been wined, dined, and paid well for billing an hour or two between Braves games and beach weekends. But in essence, these lazy, hazy days of summer are a three-month-long job interview. “I’d say there were equal amounts tension and enjoyment,” says Edwin Williamson, Atlanta hiring partner at Hunton & Williams. “You feel the need to be ‘up’ all the time. � You have to be tireless during the summer because there are a lot of demands.” Law firm summers are times of intense mutual scrutiny. Summer gives partners and associates a chance to dissect the next generation’s potential for producing quality work in volume, bringing in business and making reasonably entertaining chit-chat during a long business trip in economy class seats. To showcase these qualities, firms uncork an ocean of social events. TESTING PERSONALITY FIT Last week, Morris, Manning & Martin took its summer class to play Whirly Ball in Roswell, Georgia. Angelo Spinola, a first-year associate who liked his summer experience so much he now helps plan events for new recruits, describes the game as a mix of jai-alai, lacrosse, hockey and basketball-played from bumper cars. “We’re bringing in people who are incredible; they are the top of the top,” he says. “They can do the legal work. But at the same time you want to make sure there’s a personality fit.” One of Smith, Gambrell & Russell’s summer events tests teamwork. Hiring Chairman Bruce W. Moorhead says a city-wide scavenger hunt that sends rushees to Atlanta landmarks such as the Varsity, Krispy Kreme and Centennial Park, is a summer favorite. King & Spalding’s summer fetes have included a Hawaiian luau complete with a whole roasted pig (but no grass skirts). Rushees also went to Sandestin, Fla., for a weekend of beach volleyball, sunning, biking and golf. Then there are dinners at partners’ homes and lunches on the town. Georgia State University School of Law third-year Lisa Kabula’s only complaint about her summer, split between Hunton & Williams and King & Spalding, is that she’s gained 10 pounds. Kabula struggles to remember the long line of restaurants where she’s lunched — Veni Vidi Vici, The Ritz, Nava, Azio’s. “There’s just too many to name,” she says. “It’s like Pavlov’s dog. It’s noon-where’s lunch?” Though summer associates take some ribbing for how little they work — most firms don’t even track billables — they are well-paid for their efforts. King & Spalding is paying rising third-years $1,750 a week. Other Atlanta firms pay almost as much: Morris, Manning & Martin, $1,635; Smith, Gambrell & Russell, $1,600; Holland & Knight, $1,500; and Hunton & Williams, $1,500. Paying attention to the reality that lies beneath a firm’s summer joie de vivre is essential for the savvy summer associate. Erin L. Connolly, a rising third-year at Vanderbilt University, says she looks at how much time older associates get to spend with their families, and has asked some of them about juggling work and family life. Kabula, on the other hand, says she is “looking for prestige.” As a former paralegal with Law Center for the Homeless, she’s also looking for a strong pro bono program, like Hunton & Williams’ Southside Legal Clinic. And she’s looking for camaraderie because, she says, “basically, I’ll be spending more time with these people than with my spouse.” SELLERS MARKET? Competition, according to all the hiring partners and summer associates interviewed, is virtually nonexistent in this booming economy that keeps firms hungry for fresh talent. Smith, Gambrell’s Moorhead says his firm hasn’t had a problem finding qualified summer associates because other markets — particularly those in the Midwest, except Chicago — aren’t paying as much as Atlanta. But his firm and others need more lawyers, which means it’s still more or less a seller’s market. Moorhead says this is Smith, Gambrell’s largest summer crop ever — 30 students. King & Spalding’s Jon R. “Jay” Harris Jr., chairman of the firm’s hiring committee, says that even with a summer class of 83 — about 70 percent larger than last year’s class — the firm has a place for everyone who meets expectations. Says Connolly, who split her summer between Holland & Knight and Alston & Bird, “I have not felt tension at either of these places because they’ve told us, ‘You’re here because we want you.’ It’s really kind of a ‘yours to lose’ situation.” At summer’s end, an offer of permanent employment is the goal. But even in flush times, there are a few things summer associates should avoid. “Don’t show up at 12 and leave at two,” says Holland & Knight’s recruiting partner, Daryl G. Clarida. “Don’t drink your lunch.” And especially, don’t throw the firm’s largesse back in its face. Clarida tells the story of one law student’s pre-summer gaffe. The student, from an out-of-state school, came to Atlanta on a fly-back interview. He went to dinner with some Holland & Knight lawyers who dropped him off at his hotel about 9 p.m. When he didn’t show up for his interview the next morning, the recruiting coordinator called him. The student said he’d gone back out to drink with college friends and overslept. He’d breakfast, shower, pack — and get to the firm when he could. “My initial reaction was, ‘Don’t even bother to show. And by the way, you can pick up your ticket,” Clarida says. “It was amazing � just the attitude of ‘I’ll get there when I can.’ “ CAN’T LAST FOREVER All good things — including summer — must come to an end. The Greek system may have abolished hazing, but it’s no secret that law firms still have peevish partners, brutal billables and associates who haven’t seen the sun in weeks. “I think they understand that life as an associate is different from life as a summer associate,” says Hunton & Williams’ Williamson. “We don’t go out of our way to tell that to them. I think they know.” Kabula says she knows. She didn’t prowl the floors at Hunton & Williams or King & Spalding to see how many lawyers were working late because she knows long hours are a given. “At any big firm, you’re fooling yourself if you think that doesn’t happen,” she says. “If I have to stay late then that’s what I’ll do if that’s what it takes to make partner.” As the old joke goes, a man dies and is told he may choose where to spend eternity. He gets a tour of Heaven and Hell. In Hell, he sees sinners gambling, playing golf, enjoying gourmet meals and drinks. In Heaven, saints are glumly strumming harps. He chooses Hell. But when he goes back to stay, he finds sinners boiling in oil, being beaten by demons and pushing huge boulders uphill, Sisyphus-style. “What happened?” he cries. “This isn’t what I saw before.” “Oh,” he’s told, “that was our summer program.”

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