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Most businesses have been talking retrenchment as the economy has slowed this spring, but at New York City’s largest law firms, summer associates can still expect to party like, well, like it was 1999. “We’re not cutting back,” said Robert Zochowski Jr. of Shearman & Sterling. As in prior summers, said Zochowski, there will be at least one firm-sponsored event a week, be it a cocktail party, night at the theater or baseball game. Other big firms throughout the city, as well as industry watchers, agree the deluxe lunches, theater trips and cocktail parties will flow as freely as ever this summer. “Nothing’s changing,” said Charles Douglas, a legal consultant with Hildebrandt International. “It’s going to continue to be a fun summer,” he added. In fact, said Douglas, the perks offered to summer associates continue to be so rich that there may be the very real danger that senior associates — especially those who worked through the last recession of 10 years ago — will bitterly resent the newer employees. “More senior associates may be saying, ‘Why are they being treated so well?’ “ THE REAL STORY The answer, said Douglas, is that law firms are loath to make cutbacks to their summer programs when they are still locked in an intense competition for new associates. “We’re obviously being careful about how much money we’re spending,” said Dana Stephenson, director of attorney recruiting at White & Case. But, she said, “in the long term, it’s money well spent.” “The summer program is really the most important pipeline we have for recruiting,” added Carole Schiffman, one of the partners at Davis Polk & Wardwell responsible for running this summer’s program. Some of the more extravagant perks around town this summer include tickets for every summer associate to “The Producers,” day-long outings at Westchester country clubs, boat cruises, and parties at the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of Art and the zoo in Central Park. One area where summer associates might notice a subtle change is in the lunch programs. When it comes to law firm perks, summer lunches are in a class by themselves, with law students long being the junior associates’ meal ticket to the best restaurants in town. However, a handful of firms have narrowed the list of approved restaurants for summer lunches, according to one executive recruiter. In another shift to the summer lunch program, some firms are pledging money to charity if associates forego occasional lunches out. For instance, at White & Case one day a week is being set aside as an “eat cheap for charity” day. If an associate takes a summer associate to lunch for less than $10 on Wednesdays, the firm will donate $40 a person to a pool of money for charity. The few firms that are tweaking their program from last year say it is not because of the economy, but in response to feedback from last summer’s associates. “There will be more emphasis on smaller, get-to-know-you events,” said White & Case’s Stephenson, adding that the change is due to a survey completed by participants in last year’s summer program. The firm will still host at least one big firmwide event a week, she noted. Proskauer Rose is another firm planning to scale back its firmwide activities in response to comments from last year’s summer associates. “Certainly the summer associates felt pressure going to events,” said Proskauer partner Michael Foreman. Last year there were between two and three firmwide activities a week for the summer associates; this year, there will typically be only one large event each week, but the events are still big-ticket items. For instance, Proskauer is one of the law firms taking summer associates to “The Producers.” The firm will also take summer associates to Madison Square Garden to sit in on the National Basketball Association draft picks. “We try to be very responsive,” said Foreman. “And when they’re telling you there’s too much social stuff, we listen.” Wendy Davis is a free-lance writer in New York.

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