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The summer class at Latham & Watkins in San Diego went to a screening of “The Price is Right” on July 27, and Amy Somerville walked away with a summer perk to make a senior partner salivate. The University of Illinois law student was picked to participate in the show, and she won a showcase that included a two-week Kenyan safari and a train ride across the Canadian Rockies, for total winnings of $43,000. But at the beginning of the year 2000, even Amy Somerville didn’t guess what the price of a summer associate would be this year. Indeed, some shortsighted law students, expecting a tight budget, took advantage of winter suit sales to build their noncasual wardrobe on the cheap. Double boo-boo. Law students remember the moment they heard the news. On May 21, for most their first day as paid lawyers, summer associates at Boston’s Bingham Dana assembled in a 25th-floor boardroom overlooking Boston Harbor. A firm official matter-of-factly announced that they would not be paid $1,900 per week, as had been promised, but $2,400. “I shook my head when I heard it,” says second-summer John Kim. “Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a few people smiling in disbelief or joy.” Adds Mike Ross, “It was kind of hard not to burst out laughing out of shock.” Bear in mind: Kim’s last job description was $400-a-week marketing assistant, and, next to others in the room, that made him a slacker king. James Lucking last lugged beer kegs at a country club for $350 a week, and Megan Tipper schlepped books at Barnes & Noble for the same measly wage. Sara Guardino, a summer clerk at Boston’s Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo, tells about setting out to fill up her car with gas. Her dad offered her his Mobil credit card, a bit like Winona Ryder’s dad in “Reality Bites.” Her mom interrupted and said, “Are you kidding? She should be giving you a Mobil card.” For Guardino and her friends — at least, for the 10 or so golden weeks drawing to a close — reality doesn’t bite. Summer is for fun, and law summer’s for fantasy, but somehow this summer was special. Summer 2000 will go down as the time when summer clerks hung from the rafters and spare cash spilled from their pockets. At New York’s Proskauer Rose, the summer class doubled from 40 last year to about 80. At Palo Alto, Calif.’s Fenwick & West, the class way more than doubled, from 29 to about 70. At places like New York’s Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy, there was one summer associate for every 4.5 attorneys. Garish is out of style in summer programming; hokey is in. Raft trips, canoe trips, Boston duck bus tours. Somerville’s San Diego Latham class went swimming with dolphins. The rage in Boston was a citywide scavenger hunt. Each team won 15 points if it guessed the correct Boston landmark based on a tough clue; 10 points if it got the answer with an easy clue; and — this being the summer program — five points if they had to be given the answer. Kudos to Washington, D.C.’s Crowell & Moring for the most un-Eighties summer program concept. It took its clerks on a “pro bono bus tour,” hitting a homeless shelter, a halfway house and a home for troubled youth. D.C.’s Howrey Simon Arnold & White just unveiled a radical new concept for next year: a four-week summer at $3,000 per week, including two weeks of “boot camp” training. Going a step further, Milbank’s chief, Mel Immergut, says that another firm is considering replacing the summer program with a $50,000 starting bonus. But don’t expect a revolution. Most clerks I sampled said that they’re afraid to take what’s behind curtain No. 1. “How would you have any idea about the environment you’ll be working in?” asks Ruby Sekhon, a Milbank summer clerk. For Sekhon and many other happy campers, the price was right this summer. “After this many weeks,” she says, “people have paid off their credit card debts. It’s a nice feeling to go back to school with less on your shoulders.” I’m betting she takes the showcase.

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