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Honeysuckle. Snaking up the brick latticework in the backyard of the Harlem brownstone. A single giant elm. Clay pots filled with impatiens. Citronella and wisteria. Pink tablecloths and pillows. On the first floor, a jazz quartet, blowing Bird and the Duke. Upstairs, a mahogany living room, fifteen-foot ceilings, twelve-foot doors and windows, giant mirrors over intricate mantle work. A baby grand piano. Overstuffed sofas. The burnished staircase leads to still more floors, opening up like Russian dolls. A kitchen opening onto a balcony. The dining room, blood red, an enormous oval table, flowers, and mirrors. Votive candles burning in the fireplace, a breeze from the open doors flickering the lights like so many moths. Everywhere, doors, more rooms, an impossible third (and fourth!) floor. Welcome to White & Case’s Southern Style Jazz Party for summer associates. Our host: Dana Stephenson, director of attorney recruiting. It’s her place, this fantasy home in the heart of Harlem. A former lawyer from New Zealand, she’s been at White & Case for seven years, six of those as director of recruiting. She and her husband, an attorney turned hotelier, bought the brownstone a year and a half ago, and threw the first jazz party for summer associates earlier this month. Given its overwhelming success, an encore was practically a foregone conclusion. If White & Case’s recruits are lucky, it will become an annual event. This summer — following the biggest raise in legal business history — the pressure to recruit is ferocious. There’s also been great movement in the mid-level ranks, making it harder to retain young lawyers. These twin demons have made the job of law firm recruiters like Stephenson more demanding than ever, requiring creativity, ingenuity, and unique things like a great brownstone. “Summers aren’t stupid,” says Stephenson. “They know what’s going on. We’re trying to show them that this place isn’t a sweatshop. It’s a good lifestyle choice. When there’s work, they do it, but we want them to meet people outside the office, as well.” Summer associates, most of them second-year law students, are paid the same salary as first-year associates ($125,000 annually, or about $2400 for each week they work this summer) There are 52 at White & Case, down from 68 a year ago. By comparison, New York-based Proskauer Rose has 81, and Sullivan & Cromwell has over 100. “We didn’t want to stretch this year,” explains Stephenson. “There was a sense last summer that the class was a little too large.” Nevertheless, there are still as many events on this summer’s social calendar as last year’s, including a family day at the Central Park Zoo (followed by face painting at Tavern on the Green), a dinner dance at the Museum of Modern Art, a walking tour across the Brooklyn Bridge, a wine tasting, a gallery tour in Chelsea, sports tickets, movie passes (four a week), and many, many lunches, dinners, and cocktail parties. In a nod of recognition to the competition for law students’ hearts (and stomachs), White & Case also removed last year’s price cap of $50 per person on recruiting luncheons. Take a summer associate to eat, and the firm pays; no questions asked. Lunches require no advance approval or sign-off from management, just a credit card and a reservation. Like many of his classmates, Chris Smith, a second-year at the University of Michigan, claims his lunch schedule is booked well into next week. But with so many events and free food, the summer associates can quickly get jaded. “There’s this sense like �what’s for lunch?’” before a summer associate accepts an invitation, says Danielle Levy, a first-year associate. “After a while, it’s hard to get them excited.” From the look of the crowd in Stephenson’s house, however, no one is feeling jaded here. First, there’s the food, prepared by Alexander Smalls, of Smalls & Company, soon-to-be proprietor of Shoebox Caf� in Grand Central Station. Eight elegantly clad waiters pass mustard barbequed chicken, spicy barbequed shrimp, black-eyed pea cakes, and hush puppies (fried cornbread). There’s wine, beer, and punch at the bar. For dinner, platters of bourbon praline ham, blackened salmon, snap peas with black-eyed peas and roasted red peppers, smoked turkey rice salad, country vegetable potato salad, arugula and cabbage salad with a mustard vinaigrette, and corn bread. For dessert, chocolate brownies and assorted fruit with a chocolate orange dip. It’s the type of food that’s gobbled so quickly one almost forgets to savor it. Thank God for seconds. Then there’s the brownstone itself, as gorgeous as its owner, and just as charming. As one associate remarked, “they like to show you what you can aspire to.” Smith, who spent his first-year summer at White & Case’s office in Moscow, says the brownstone reminds him of the townhouses in St. Petersburg. “It’s the way city living is supposed to be.” The neighborhood is hot, Smith assures us. It must be; he’s heard about it all the way out in Michigan. For those accustomed to the cramped living spaces of Manhattan, the idea of an entire house is a whimsical vision. The brownstone, with its endless floors, its hidden rooms, and its well-groomed interiors is the giddy reality. But most of all, there’s a sense of ease, of settling in for the vacation before the job begins. These lawyers in training have no illusions; they know there’s a lot of hard work ahead should they return after graduation. They share offices with permanent associates, and some have already spent all night at the copiers finalizing a deal, or slaving in the library long past bedtime. That’s part of the drill: enough work to give a taste of big firm life. But the palpable feeling in the house is one of privilege and languor, young people enjoying a good time before their fingers stiffen and crack from reviewing documents. The couches are packed with summer associates balancing plates of food on their laps. A couple have paired off in a corner. The doorbell rings, and another group arrives. Handshakes, high fives and more beers for everyone. Downstairs, the jazz quartet plays, and knots of young people cluster at the tables drinking and talking animatedly. The coat rack is empty, but the floor is strewn with briefcases and satchels, the detritus of another world. Outside, torches and citronella candles burn, and several groups of law students laugh loudly and easily. The best summer associate functions, and this is definitely one of them, succeed because they encourage camaraderie and an esprit de corps before the job even begins. “It shows they want you to come back,” says Averie Lukoff, a student at Hofstra law school. “And [it makes] you want to work for them.” In that respect, Groucho Marx was wrong: we dowant to belong to a club that will have us as a member. After a summer of wining and dining, these law students feel they owe something to the firm. When they get an offer of permanent employment (and most will), they will feel guilty if they don’t accept it. It’s as hard to say no to Dana Stephenson as it is to the date that picked you up, paid for your dinner and theater tickets, and now waits for a goodnight kiss. And therein lies the point. There’s an ongoing debate at law firms about whether summer associate programs should put more emphasis on fun or on the work. This summer, fun is winning. That should come as no surprise. Fun is a better recruiting tool than work. When was the last time a law student accepted a job because the firm made him bill the equivalent of 2,000 hours over the summer? Fun breeds loyalty; work breeds resentment. Besides, law students suspect (rightly) that firms are more interchangeable than partners let on. The firm that emphasizes the uniqueness of its bankruptcy practice at the expense of cocktail hour will only convince summer associates that it’s a cheap and inhospitable place to work — especially when all their classmates are going to baseball games and the opera. Conversely, no one has rejected a job offer because he was recruited too heavily. Flattery will, in fact, get you everywhere. It’s late; the streets of Harlem glimmer. Yellow lights glow through open windows. Walking toward the subway, the sounds of jazz fade in the distance. At the corner, a barbershop is still open. The barber bustles inside, snipping, trimming, grooming. Outside, his buddies hang on the stoop. Cars flit by. Music plays. A group of girls eye the men appreciatively. My companion turns and says, “Dude, this is the life. I should go to law school.” Note to self: Buy brownstone in Harlem. Hire Dana Stephenson. Cameron Stracher is the author of “Double Billing: A Young Lawyer’s Taleof Greed, Sex, Lies, and the Pursuit of a Swivel Chair.”He writes, andpractices media law in New York City. He can be reached at [email protected].

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