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In the current economic doldrums, this year’s summer associate e-mail embarrassment becomes more than just a cautionary tale for budding lawyers — it is a clear sign of the changed job market dynamic. Of course, there is the usual moral of the story: it is unwise to bellyache about one’s job or crow about one’s sexual exploits over the office computer network. But beyond this, the matter of Jonas L. Blank, author of this season’s regrettable e-mail, is an indication to many that the acceptable tone of summer associate life at large Manhattan firms is now decidedly less party-hearty. On the quiet afternoon of June 2, some 20 partners at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom doubtless raised their collective eyebrows upon reading the pungent contents of a personal missive meant for a pal of Blank’s, but inadvertently copied to his bosses. “I’m busy doing jack shit,” wrote Blank, an intern in Skadden’s corporate department earning about $2,500 weekly. “Went to a nice 2hr sushi lunch today at Sushi Zen. Nice place. Spent the rest of the day typing e-mails and bullshitting with people. “Unfortunately, I actually have some work to do,” continued Blank, a student at Harvard Law School class of 2004. “I’m on some corp finance deal, under the global head of corp finance, which means I should really peruse these materials and not be a f–kup.” Among the unintended readers was Skadden hiring partner Howard Ellin, who declined to dismiss Blank forthwith. Instead, Ellin said of Blank, “He’s working hard, and we’ve moved on.” Moving on came a few hours after Blank’s initial e-mail candor, when he was in some manner inspired to issue an apology [see sidebar]. A hiring partner at a rival law firm, who asked to remain anonymous, compared the confession to enforced self-criticism during the ascetic regime of the late Mao Tse-tung. “It was a sort of Chinese water torture, where you had to go in front of a lot of people and talk about how you’re a backsliding capitalist running dog,” said the partner. “This isn’t just about punishing [Blank]. It’s what the French call a coup de semonce, a shot across the bow to the spoiled kids out there. “The palatial summer program period has ended,” he added. “For uppity crazy kids who think they’re absolutely God’s gift to whatever institution [expresses interest in them], the courtship is now going to be much more restrained.” Indeed, Ellin said, “Everything is different. We are no longer in the age of irrational exuberance.” 10-WEEK JOB INTERVIEW For some time now, Jacquelyn J. Burt has been counseling as much to her students at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law about to enter summer internships. “If the worst thing that someone can say was that you were too polite and too professional — well, that’s not a bad thing,” said Burt, assistant dean of Cardozo’s Center for Professional Development. “Remember, you are a job-seeker, and being a summer associate is like being in a 10-week job interview. “You’re looking for a high-paying position in one of the most sophisticated work environments in the world,” she said. “You certainly need to show you can play politely in the sandbox. I mean, some of this is basic kindergarten stuff.” Patrick T. Quinn, a corporate and securities partner at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, suggested there is a certain na�vet� among summer associates. “For a lot of these people, this is their first office environment career job,” said Quinn, a member of his firm’s hiring committee. “You hear these stories about summers doing inappropriate things. Some have a little difficulty with expectations, things as simple as office demeanor.” Notwithstanding Blank’s flippancy, Quinn agreed with others that the behavior of this year’s crop of summer associates is notably more sedate than in years past. “The general tone of the summers is a more serious approach to seeking out very substantive assignments,” said Quinn. Ann Marie Sabeth, a nationally known etiquette consultant to law firms and other corporations, wondered of Blank, “If he wasn’t busy, why wasn’t he more proactive? This young man is lucky to have a job.” As for summer associates elsewhere, said Sabeth, “They need a little fear of God.” But it is not as if errant e-mails were something new under the sun. Most young lawyers know the legend of the English “yum-yum girl,” as British tabloids tagged Claire Swire three years ago, when she and Bradley Chait, her attorney boyfriend at the London firm Norton Rose, exchanged a series of ostensibly private communiqu�s on the topic of fellatio. Norton Rose, which specializes in representing communications firms, was not amused when millions of young lawyers around the world became privy to the Swire-Chait posts. This came about because Chait apparently could not resist sharing with a chum Swire’s saucy endorsement of his gonads. Chait remained with the firm, although he was disciplined. But what of Blank? Will Skadden tender an offer at summer’s end? “I don’t really think it’s appropriate to discuss employment-related decisions,” said Ellin. To prepare for the annual influx of interns, Ellin and his counterparts at other big firms spend a fair deal of time planning work assignments and orientation programs that generally take two full days to stage. “We begin with what we call our ‘Ethics and Risk Management’ session,” said Jeffrey J. Delaney, a corporate partner at Pillsbury Winthrop, where formal orientation is similar to that of other firms. “This is done by senior lawyers, covering all sorts of topics — confidentiality, conflict of interest, illegal conduct, personal integrity. We want [summers] to understand that with being a lawyer comes a lot of responsibility. “In past years, I used to see some [summers] falling asleep,” said Delaney, who is active in mentoring Pillsbury’s interns. “But these days, there’s pretty keen interest.” A senior associate at a mid-level Manhattan firm said of the summer experience, “It’s a honeymoon. The least you can do is not say stupid things. It’s called judgment.” The associate, who requested anonymity, said she was not surprised by a possible new summer e-mail legend. “Yes, that sort of thing goes on,” she said, adding of Blank, “No, he won’t get an offer. But Mr. Harvard will be OK.” The hiring partner who asked not to be named agreed. “I don’t think he’s done much [damage] to the firm. He’s not betrayed any confidences,” he said. “In about two weeks, a lot of people will forget his name.” Blank could not be reached for comment by either phone or e-mail.

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