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Shearman & Sterling’s New York bosses sure mean business when they say they’ll rebuild their West Coast offices. They’re so serious, in fact, that they’re laying enough cash for their associates to drive Range Rovers. Or Jaguars. Or even those cute little BMW 325 convertibles. The firm is paying associates willing to work from its Menlo Park, Calif., office $800 a month for a car. That means associates can lease a Beamer or Jag without putting a dent in their bank accounts. The reason for the firm’s largesse? Recruiting and retention, of course. The firm instituted the allowance earlier this month to help attract and keep attorneys in Menlo Park. Firm managers say Shearman recognizes that Silicon Valley lawyers need a car to build an effective practice — unlike New Yorkers who can hop into a cab whenever they want to meet a client. Associates in cab-friendly San Francisco get a daily allowance of $40 — which adds up to $800 a month if they drive to client meetings every work day. So according to the lease rates at luxury auto dealers, the firm’s five Menlo Park associates stand to be looking mighty fine on the road. If the firm really wants to keep associates, however, it might want to consider a housing subsidy. While $800 can get you a pretty nice car, it doesn’t buy much when it comes to finding a place to drive to after work. In a recent ad on craigslist.com, for example, $800 would get you a room in a four-bedroom, two-bath (can you say, “shared shower?”) house in Belmont, Calif., for “young professionals.” A room in a tony Palo Alto, Calif., two bedroom condo, however, fetches $1,100 per month — but only if you’re a professional aged 26 to 34 (Again, a real ad). Granted, a firm doesn’t get much cachet when its associates drive Hyundais, and clients usually don’t follow their lawyers home. It’s a good thing, though, that those Range Rovers are big enough to live in.

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