Law School Discussion

Life as an Associate

Life as an Associate
« on: August 17, 2008, 09:43:18 PM »
http://www.city-journal.org/html/7_1_a2.html

Excerpts below:

The terrible truth dawned on me as I sat on the flowered patio of a midtown restaurant. I was smiling at the summer associate, and he was smiling at me. There were three other associates and three other summer people, all tucking into northern Italian delicacies under a sultry sky. I was smiling at this fellow—whom I liked a lot—and lying to him. I was telling him how much "fun" it was to work at the firm. How the "collegial atmosphere" made all the difference. How ours was not a "sweatshop" like other firms I could mention. As the cliches tumbled out of my mouth and he drank them in like a traveler in the desert, I realized that I had become a Company Man.

...
And to make the life bearable, you found yourself spending a lot of money. After a particularly long and dreary project, or a humiliating interaction with someone of higher rank, I would often slip out to buy myself a little present, perhaps another Ferragamo tie. It's a way of reminding yourself that despite your misery you are a highly paid professional: you may feel like a serf, but you can afford to spend $80 on a beautiful strip of silk. This becomes a way of life. Some people eat chocolate to make themselves feel better; lawyers buy stuff. As they claw their way up the ladder, they buy more and more. Before they know it, they cannot imagine living without an enormous salary.

...

I had struck a Faustian bargain, and I was stuck with it. Without considering its implications, I had sold the firm an option on my time. All my time. I could be called at 3am on Saturday and ordered to go to the office for some proofreading. A friend of mine was forced to miss his sister's wedding. Fathers who were up for partnership worked so hard they never saw the children whose private educations they were paying for. I remember seeing sixth-year associates humbly swallow insults like "shithead" and "jerkoff." We may have been professionals to the outside world. But we cringed and scraped like Dickensian factory hands. We had paid $100,000 in school fees to become members of a white-collar proletariat, loathing our paperwork mill but desperate to continue working in it.

...

Our firm had what it called an "open-door policy." "It's so anybody can ask anyone else a question at any time," my smooth "partner-advisor" explained with a mirthless smile. It did not mean we were part of one big, happy, cooperative family. It meant you had to have your office door open all the time so they could make sure you weren't reading the paper or making personal phone calls. Or worse, talking to headhunters in a desperate attempt to get out.

...

In the firm we were similarly expected to take part in, or at least watch, summer intra-firm softball. Softball was played with summer associates. Like the long, expensive lunches, the outings to country clubs, and the theater trips, softball games were part of a recruiting process that involved the construction of a Potemkin law firm between the beginning of June and the end of August. They were therefore an orgy of fake bonhomie, forced sportsmanship, and hail-fellow-well-met post-game beer drinking. Also an opportunity for some of the partners to "get to know" the more attractive female summer associates. The pretty ones inevitably received offers at the end of the summer, and often their affairs with their married sponsors lasted for several years.

...

The partners were obsessed by team sports in inverse proportion to their athletic abilities. Any associate who had played in college or professional sports—and the recruiters had a weakness for such men—was fawned over endlessly. The young female associates who rose the quickest were those who could reel off baseball stats and name all the Heisman Trophy winners of the past 20 years. And, of course, sports metaphors sprinkled every conversation. The firm preferred "team players," but everyone had to be a "potential quarterback."

...

Lying was a way of life—a necessity and therefore a virtue. When a partner came into my office and told me that he had a "very interesting assignment" for me, I knew for certain that it would involve mindless, repetitious, stunningly dull work. Of course, none of what I did as an associate would be regarded by anyone on the outside as "interesting." I mean, it was better than staring at the wall of a cell or watching ants walk across the ceiling. But if it was officially designated as "interesting," then it would turn out to be crushingly boring. And it was my duty to pretend that I was excited at the prospect of another assignment. Once engrossed in, say, counting the pages of a document that was incompatible with our computer system, I would have to show enthusiasm for the task. And when it was finally done, having taken over my nights and weekends, I would have to show profound gratitude.

Our corporate culture required the show of enthusiasm in all circumstances. A partner would come into your office and ask if you had any plans for the weekend. The correct answer was "no." And you would then be given an assignment to fill your empty Saturday and Sunday. The first time I was asked the question, I mumbled something about having hoped to go to Vermont. The young partner, who was nicknamed "Dave the Barracuda," looked at me with a combination of incredulity and sympathy, as if I had just confessed to a subnormal IQ. "It's a rhetorical question," he explained with an exasperated sigh, before proceeding to assign me 20 hours of research.

Every week we had to fill out a form saying how many hours we had billed the week before and for which client. If you put down a number that suggested you had enjoyed an easy week, the assignments partner would soon wander through your open door and ask if you were busy. It was another rhetorical question: it meant that you were about to become extremely busy. It also meant that there was an incentive not to work too fast. The idea was to charge as many billable hours to clients as would seem reasonable sometime in the future. If you worked too fast, the firm would not be getting its money's worth, and you would be rewarded immediately with another assignment. So our progress was sedate even when we were billing over 100 hours a week.

...

When an investment bank fires people for economic reasons, it says so. Those who are sacked quickly get jobs on the Street if there are any around. Law firms, however, are terrified to admit that they might have financial problems. Clients might leave them. Law students might shun them. So they put it about that the people they fire are just no damn good. They become unemployable.



...


offer

Re: Life as an Associate
« Reply #1 on: August 17, 2008, 10:57:36 PM »
Great find!

I will say that despite the grim outlook of life as an associate, I am unable to turn down the offer for monetary reasons.  I know that money isn't everything, and who knows how long I'll remain a lawyer, but right now, the money is the hook.

http://www.city-journal.org/html/7_1_a2.html

Excerpts below:

The terrible truth dawned on me as I sat on the flowered patio of a midtown restaurant. I was smiling at the summer associate, and he was smiling at me. There were three other associates and three other summer people, all tucking into northern Italian delicacies under a sultry sky. I was smiling at this fellow—whom I liked a lot—and lying to him. I was telling him how much "fun" it was to work at the firm. How the "collegial atmosphere" made all the difference. How ours was not a "sweatshop" like other firms I could mention. As the cliches tumbled out of my mouth and he drank them in like a traveler in the desert, I realized that I had become a Company Man.

...
And to make the life bearable, you found yourself spending a lot of money. After a particularly long and dreary project, or a humiliating interaction with someone of higher rank, I would often slip out to buy myself a little present, perhaps another Ferragamo tie. It's a way of reminding yourself that despite your misery you are a highly paid professional: you may feel like a serf, but you can afford to spend $80 on a beautiful strip of silk. This becomes a way of life. Some people eat chocolate to make themselves feel better; lawyers buy stuff. As they claw their way up the ladder, they buy more and more. Before they know it, they cannot imagine living without an enormous salary.

...

I had struck a Faustian bargain, and I was stuck with it. Without considering its implications, I had sold the firm an option on my time. All my time. I could be called at 3am on Saturday and ordered to go to the office for some proofreading. A friend of mine was forced to miss his sister's wedding. Fathers who were up for partnership worked so hard they never saw the children whose private educations they were paying for. I remember seeing sixth-year associates humbly swallow insults like "shithead" and "jerkoff." We may have been professionals to the outside world. But we cringed and scraped like Dickensian factory hands. We had paid $100,000 in school fees to become members of a white-collar proletariat, loathing our paperwork mill but desperate to continue working in it.

...

Our firm had what it called an "open-door policy." "It's so anybody can ask anyone else a question at any time," my smooth "partner-advisor" explained with a mirthless smile. It did not mean we were part of one big, happy, cooperative family. It meant you had to have your office door open all the time so they could make sure you weren't reading the paper or making personal phone calls. Or worse, talking to headhunters in a desperate attempt to get out.

...

In the firm we were similarly expected to take part in, or at least watch, summer intra-firm softball. Softball was played with summer associates. Like the long, expensive lunches, the outings to country clubs, and the theater trips, softball games were part of a recruiting process that involved the construction of a Potemkin law firm between the beginning of June and the end of August. They were therefore an orgy of fake bonhomie, forced sportsmanship, and hail-fellow-well-met post-game beer drinking. Also an opportunity for some of the partners to "get to know" the more attractive female summer associates. The pretty ones inevitably received offers at the end of the summer, and often their affairs with their married sponsors lasted for several years.

...

The partners were obsessed by team sports in inverse proportion to their athletic abilities. Any associate who had played in college or professional sports—and the recruiters had a weakness for such men—was fawned over endlessly. The young female associates who rose the quickest were those who could reel off baseball stats and name all the Heisman Trophy winners of the past 20 years. And, of course, sports metaphors sprinkled every conversation. The firm preferred "team players," but everyone had to be a "potential quarterback."

...

Lying was a way of life—a necessity and therefore a virtue. When a partner came into my office and told me that he had a "very interesting assignment" for me, I knew for certain that it would involve mindless, repetitious, stunningly dull work. Of course, none of what I did as an associate would be regarded by anyone on the outside as "interesting." I mean, it was better than staring at the wall of a cell or watching ants walk across the ceiling. But if it was officially designated as "interesting," then it would turn out to be crushingly boring. And it was my duty to pretend that I was excited at the prospect of another assignment. Once engrossed in, say, counting the pages of a document that was incompatible with our computer system, I would have to show enthusiasm for the task. And when it was finally done, having taken over my nights and weekends, I would have to show profound gratitude.

Our corporate culture required the show of enthusiasm in all circumstances. A partner would come into your office and ask if you had any plans for the weekend. The correct answer was "no." And you would then be given an assignment to fill your empty Saturday and Sunday. The first time I was asked the question, I mumbled something about having hoped to go to Vermont. The young partner, who was nicknamed "Dave the Barracuda," looked at me with a combination of incredulity and sympathy, as if I had just confessed to a subnormal IQ. "It's a rhetorical question," he explained with an exasperated sigh, before proceeding to assign me 20 hours of research.

Every week we had to fill out a form saying how many hours we had billed the week before and for which client. If you put down a number that suggested you had enjoyed an easy week, the assignments partner would soon wander through your open door and ask if you were busy. It was another rhetorical question: it meant that you were about to become extremely busy. It also meant that there was an incentive not to work too fast. The idea was to charge as many billable hours to clients as would seem reasonable sometime in the future. If you worked too fast, the firm would not be getting its money's worth, and you would be rewarded immediately with another assignment. So our progress was sedate even when we were billing over 100 hours a week.

...

When an investment bank fires people for economic reasons, it says so. Those who are sacked quickly get jobs on the Street if there are any around. Law firms, however, are terrified to admit that they might have financial problems. Clients might leave them. Law students might shun them. So they put it about that the people they fire are just no damn good. They become unemployable.



...



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Re: Life as an Associate
« Reply #2 on: August 17, 2008, 11:24:29 PM »
very jaded guy. Well, luckily,  his experience does not represent everyone's experience.