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The party’s over. This summer, with the nation’s economy on the wane, summer associates — once most likely to be found on the social circuit — were expected to work hard; log lots of billable hours; and, often, head back to school not knowing if an offer of employment would follow. Did they mind? Would they have traded that work ethic for another social event? Not on your life. What a difference a year makes. Last year we observed a nationwide phenomenon of blissfully happy — and secure — summer associates who had never known a bad economy in their young adult lives. Since then the stock market has gone for a stomach-turning ride; “dot-com” has become a word people utter with a snort of derision; angel investors have found themselves caught in the purgatory of bankruptcy courts; and on Sept. 11, we watched the World Trade Center crumble before our eyes. Four errant, fiery airplanes put an end once and for all to the late-20th-century sense of limitless possibilities. This year’s summer associates enjoyed the final summer of American innocence. Still, an undercurrent of tension came through loud and clear in this year’s Summer Associates Survey. In the back of everyone’s mind was the nagging premonition that the party was over — even for those students who, in previous years, worried more about how many offers they’d get than if they’d get offers at all. But, looking through the data, we can also find the seeds of how law students will survive — and even thrive — in what may well be hard times ahead. The summers of 2001 sensed instinctively — as next year’s crop of summers must understand viscerally — that the tight market competition for labor is over: Law firms, not law students, are now in the driver’s seat. LESS KVETCHING, LESS BOOZING We asked the summers of 2001 what surprised them most about working in a law firm. Their answer: “The fear that associates and summer associates feel about their job security or lack thereof.” Fear is not a word that summers have uttered for quite awhile. Accompanying this was a seriousness of purpose, which came through in subtle ways. Last year, an extraordinary sense of entitlement pervaded summers’ and midlevels’ comments, with law students and young lawyers alike complaining about everything from not getting enough money to not being allowed to split their time between firms. This year, there was not only less griping overall, but the serious complaining (what little of it there was) did not stem from ego gratification but rather a return to basics: the desire to make a good impression and get an offer. Time and again, summers stressed that they wanted earlier, more frequent, and more detailed feedback on their assignments. Projects that were real (read: hard work as opposed to “make-work”) were welcomed rather than bitched about. “We were given substantive work,” wrote a relieved summer from Boston’s Goodwin Procter. One of the most interesting developments this year was the way in which summers reacted to the outings that have long been such a key part of the summer associate experience. Summers across the country said they were disgusted with what one described as “an expectation to get drunk and act like an idiot.” While firms continued to spend a fortune on yacht cruises, weekend retreats, spa days, theater tickets and jet-skiing, some summers wagged their fingers at such spendthrift ways. “The amount of money that firms spend on us is unbelievable; it can’t last for long,” one summer predicted. Indeed, some of the warmest and most genuine praise for a summer event was reserved for a Jenner & Block field trip to a Cook County, Ill., jail. At the jail, one respondent explained, summers “had the opportunity to ask detainees questions, and after the tour, we had a panel discussion.” As another put it, “It was more of an educational than a social outing.” The event resonated with summers as proof of the firm’s commitment to pro bono. One Jenner & Block summer wrote, “Social outings are not important. Social interaction is.” It seems with all the economic detritus flying around the country, law students are looking for meaning in the practice of law again. NO FREE LUNCH Many summers this year commented (generally with pleased surprise) on the insistence that they earn their keep, explaining, “I didn’t know there was such a strong emphasis on work” and “I was shocked at the ‘dive in and swim’ approach to working in a firm. I was given an assignment on the first day and pointed toward the library,” and “[so] much real work (as opposed to make-work) was expected of the summer associates.” Taking a closer look at this equation, we see young people earning on the order of $2,500 a week who were actually expected to produce something of value and whose futures were not really guaranteed. Ah, yes; there is nothing like a stock-market dive to make a generation grow up. In the heady economic bliss of the late 1990s, summers had to do something pretty atrocious to end up without an offer in August. But this summer, summers felt they were actually in competition with each other. At many firms, in fact, summers spent the summer worrying about whether the whole summer class would be hired. At Chicago’s McDermott, Will & Emery, one summer nervously lamented that the firm should “only hire the number of summer associates [it feels] confident” about making offers to. At Palo Alto, Calif.’s Gray Cary Ware & Freidenrich, summers wanted the firm to be “clear and upfront about whether or not they have the capabilities of hiring the entire summer class.” Some firms made it perfectly clear from the outset that not all the summers would get offers. Phoenix’s Lewis and Roca issued an initial briefing to the effect that not all summers would get jobs with the firm, and this, reported one summer, created a “competitive nature” among the summers. At Milwaukee’s Michael Best & Friedrich, one summer wrote, “While I understand that [the firm] can’t tell us mid-summer if we’ll get an offer, I don’t like how some attorneys always remind us that we aren’t guaranteed an offer — it makes it very stressful.” A number of firms kept summers waiting until as late as October for offers, plainly jarring lots of nerves. JOB JITTERS Despite this concern about their future employment prospects, this year’s summers were still a generally secure group. But there were some undeniable blips on the radar screen: signs of a faltering economy bubbling up to the surface. While in most firms, at least 80 percent of the summers insisted they were completely confident about their futures, in nearly 18 percent of firms, things were quite different. In those firms, a quarter or more of the firm’s summer associates were worried about their prospects for future employment; at some firms, this percentage was as high as 40 percent. Nationally, although the majority of summers still felt “very secure” about future job prospects, the percentage that said they felt insecure has doubled in just a year. Much of this insecurity can be found in firms that formed the epicenter of the dot-com craze, firms that just a year ago were swaggering denizens of the tech sector, scrambling to grab the hottest dot-coms and not only handle their IPOs, but invest in them, too. For example, at the twin tech titans of San Francisco — Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe and Morrison & Foerster — more than a quarter of summers did not see smooth sailing ahead. Insecurity differed regionally. In Palo Alto, nearly one-half were insecure about the future. In San Francisco, anxiety ran high among approximately a third of summers. In New York, about a quarter had the jitters. Summers were more confident about the future in cities that were not high-flying tech centers, such as Richmond, Va.; Washington, D.C.; and St. Louis — although one still saw about 20 percent of summers in those cities who were insecure about the future. That’s notable in comparison to last year’s national statistics, in which only 8.7 percent of summers across the nation felt insecure about future job prospects. DOT-COM COLLAPSE? WHAT DOT-COM COLLAPSE? While the changes wrought by the economic downturn may have made summers less certain about where they’d work, they had little significant impact on their thinking about what sort of work they’d do. For example, between 1999 and 2000, there was a clear increase in the percentage of summers who were swept up in the Internet craze and planned to specialize in intellectual property law. This year, that percentage held steady with no significant movement downward, despite the collapse in the nation’s tech sector. The continued interest in IP may be due in part to denial about the economy (a luxury next year’s summers won’t have). It’s likely, however, that it reflects a deepening of the importance of the IP field and a faith that however the economy fares, we live in a world that is ever more dependent on information and services. Last year, only 2.3 percent of summers planned to specialize in bankruptcy law. This year, the percentage nearly doubled, although it was still a specialty choice for less than 5 percent of all summers. Bankrupcty is an area that litigators often get sucked into in the vortex of a bad economy, so those who chose litigation (and there was a 7 percent increase in that group) may well find themselves in bankruptcy court, too. There was also a shift of 7 percent fewer summers planning to do corporate work. Even though they may have been asked to work more, in general, the quality of life for summers changed very little from last year. Outings were still abundant and varied, and partners and associates continued, for the most part, to treat summers with respect and a measure of kindness not typically doled out in hectic law firms. In the survey, summers were asked to rate their firms on a scale of 1 to 5 for how satisfied associates seemed. The average national score was 4.1 — decent, but hardly a ringing endorsement of associate big-firm life. Nonetheless, most said that should their firm tender an offer, they’d take it — without looking back. Related charts

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