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“A lawyer with his briefcase can steal more than 100 men with guns.” — Don Corleone in Mario Puzo’s “The Godfather” Every attorney knows the value of a good bag. From fancy leather attach�s to padded laptop carry-ons, sleek business luggage is de rigueur among legal practitioners. No surprise then, that many of the big law firms take it upon themselves to start their new hires and summer associates off with complimentary, firm-branded bags. Like kitchen appliances ritualistically proffered to newlyweds, the subsidized bags are intended to give young attorneys an essential tool as they embark on long and fruitful careers. And despite the sundry cost-cutting efforts law firms have undertaken to weather the sluggish economy, many firms are vowing to stand by their bags. In fact, Palo Alto, Calif.-based Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati’s free briefcase recently drew praise from an unlikely quarter. The denizens of the Greedy Associates online message board — a group best known for its acerbic screeds about layoffs, salaries and other professional iniquities — gave props to the firm’s canvas briefcase. Writing a bit like a mail-order catalog entry, one poster with the odd handle of BagAfficio gushed: “Good shoulder strap, plenty of pockets, very sturdy construction. Tastefully small lettering on the outside. “I am long past my days there, but I still carry the bag around and I’ve never seen another free legal briefcase (from firms, Westlaw etc.) come close.” Another former Wilsonite claimed online to be so enamored with the bag that he or she went so far as to black out the (tastefully small) lettering on the front flap in order to continue using it at a new firm. According to Wilson Sonsini spokeswoman Andrea Vernetti, the firm gives away several hundred of the bags each year to new hires and summer associates. But a subsequent investigation by The Recorder revealed that there are many other high-quality containers coming out of San Francisco Bay Area law firms. Beginning last year, Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker began giving out not just one, but two firm bags. Every incoming summer associate receives a gym bag that features a special compartment to segregate sweaty workout clothes from other contents. Meanwhile, summer associates who accept the firm’s offers also receive a sharp-looking laptop bag. And in 2000, knowledgeable bag-watchers will recall, Fenwick & West raised the bar when it gave its summer associates the one-strap “slingpacks,” much in vogue at the time and popularized by The Gap. The packs boasted special cell phone holders and stylish rubber Fenwick logos on the exterior. Fenwick had exceptional recruiting needs that year, explains Karen Amatangelo-Block, attorney recruiting manager. “But we were also working in conjunction with our marketing department. We had gotten a new logo that year and wanted to get it out there.” The free advertising, especially when summer associates return to campus in the fall, is one key advantage of bag programs for law firms. According to students at University of California, Hastings College of the Law, the free bags given out by Westlaw and Lexis currently rule the roost, commanding the biggest slices of market share and mind share. “Everybody here has something from Lexis,” said one first-year student. But as nifty as the free firm bags may be, their cachet on campus is hardly assured. One third-year student at Hastings claimed that the complimentary firm bags simply weren’t up to the rigors of student life. “They’re good for papers, maybe a laptop, but they fall apart with all our books,” the student contended. In fact, she explained, she was forced to retire her summer firm’s backpack after one of the shoulder straps ripped clean off one morning. One fervid and particularly class-conscious Hastings student bristled at the unnecessary baggage that comes with the bags. “They re-emphasize the disparity between the haves and the have-nots. They’re not welcome here.” In between frequent sips of an extra-large cup of coffee, this same third-year — who said he planned to become a general litigation solo — explained in some detail his distaste for firm bags. “There’s enough competition between law students as it is, why do we need these bags?” he asked, showing signs of increasing agitation. “If you ask me, they can take their bags and stick them up their ass.”

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