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The task seemed simple enough: Write a story about new lawyers and their new cars, more specifically what those cars say about the lawyers who drive them. After all, one of the first things many new lawyers do is buy a new car — in 2002, new associates with Texas’ largest 25 firms made an average of $105,365 per year right out of law school. But after placing some calls for the article, something peculiar happened: Fear filled the air. A few PR types called back to say that associates with new cars didn’t feel comfortable talking about their purchases. They repeatedly apologized and said that the firms wanted to be included in articles — just not this article. Some young lawyers called back, too. An associate at one big firm hesitantly agreed to be interviewed, then backed out, then agreed to do it, then backed out again. But a few went on the record, proud to explain what car they’d bought and why. One associate, barely out of law school, explained that it had been his dream since high school to own a Porsche. So after he took the bar exam, he finally got himself a brand-spanking new Boxster convertible. “I’ve just always thought it was cool,” he said with love in his voice. “I think the speed was what got me started,” he went on. According to Porsche’s Web site, the maximum speed of a five-gear Boxster is 253 mph. “Now that I’m older and wiser, let’s just say I’ve not tested the capability [of the Porsche]. I have a healthy respect for my own life and would like to live long enough to pay off the car.” Besides, with his undergrad and law degrees in hand, he said he thought to himself, “‘I can afford to do this. I’m single and don’t have any student debt.’” His fellow new associates joked that they thought he was crazy to come to work his first day in a Porsche, before even getting a paycheck. Another associate joked, “Well, at least they know you’re staying.” Enter The Firm. You see, Porsche Boy hadn’t checked with The Firm before spilling his guts about his Boxster to the reporter. And when his superiors found out what he’d done, they were none too thrilled. The partners weren’t pleased with the idea of one of The Firm’s young associates talking about buying a brand-new Porsche Boxster (which has a starting price tag of between $42,600 and $51,600). That sends a message (albeit an accurate one) that The Firm pays its associates — and in so doing has to charge its clients — a good chunk of change, and that’s not the message The Firm wants to send in today’s sluggish economy, the partners said. An earnest voicemail ensued. Porsche Boy: “… Were The Firm not going to kill me, I like [the idea for the article] a lot. But seriously, I think the consensus around here is it’s bad PR for The Firm and my personal consensus is it’s bad PR for me. … [I]t would be my personal preference and I would sincerely appreciate it if you didn’t mention me or The Firm. … Thank you so much. Bye.” He’d gone to the good schools, passed the bar, scored a job at a top firm — Porsche Boy deserves that dream car. So why were the partners at The Firm — a large Houston-based outfit — so concerned with the associate’s vehicle? It’s not as if the partners are all driving Ford Escorts. A lightbulb went off. That’s the story: Big-firm lawyers get paid well, well enough to purchase fine cars, and yet somehow these same attorneys think their clients are dumb enough not to know that they purchase fine cars, right? We posed that question to a successful and seasoned attorney — we’ll call him Austin. “It’s conspicuous consumption,” says the defense lawyer, who requests anonymity. Lawyers go to extreme lengths to be inconspicuous about conspicuous consumption. “I know lawyers who would never drive to the courthouse in a Mercedes,” Austin says. “That’s not the kind of thing you do. People watch — especially in a small town. Juries need to think you’re one of them because you’re going to be trying to think like them. If you go to a small town driving a Mercedes, jurors are going to see you. You might lose the case you might otherwise have won.” Austin bought a new Jaguar after the odometer on his Chrysler Cordova hit 200,000 miles — it “got to the point that it needed to go away. I just always liked the way [a Jaguar] looked. Frankly, I guess prestige is part of it,” he says. But did he drive the Jag when he picked up a client for a lunch meeting? No way. “I rented cars or borrowed cars from my kids,” he says. Driving a Jag to meet a client was “a little bit too ostentatious,” he says. “There are clients who wouldn’t think too highly of that [their lawyer driving a Jag]. They’d think, ‘I’m paying him too much money.’” Clients and jurors aren’t the only ones watching a lawyer’s wheels. “If you’re a new associate and spend $60,000 on a new car, half your salary for the year, the partners are going to think, ‘This is someone who doesn’t have [good] judgment,’” Austin says. Ironically, he adds, if an attorney wears a $2,000 suit to court, that’s OK. Revealing the cash you make through how you dress or where you live “doesn’t seem to carry the same kind of negative feelings by those who see you,” he says. “It’s more with cars than anything else.” Lisa Fipps was born in Indiana, but got to Texas as quick as she could. Like David Letterman, her alma mater is Ball State University, where she received a B.S. in journalism. She’s received 16 awards for writing in 11 years. Her pug has a better wardrobe than she does. Fipps, managing editor at Texas Lawyer , is working on several picture and middle-grade books for children.

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