Summer Associates Feel the Heat

The theme song of the 2008 Big Law Summer Program (and all those glittering summers that preceded it) as “Celebration.” As in, “Celebrate good times … Come on!”

For decades, that party went on. And on. And on.

But in case you hadn’t noticed that the tune in your head’s been sounding a little different recently, let me be the first to tell you: That “Celebration” record has been jerked off the turntable/deleted from the iPod/dumped from the jukebox playlist and replaced by the Summer of 2009 anthem: “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.”

Working as a Cog at Big Law after your colleagues were canned and while profits plummet is sad enough, but working through the pain and awkwardness that is Big Law Summer Camp 2009 is sure to become an instant war story: “… and then the summer associate started crying in my arms … but he wasn’t even drunk. He just realized he had no prospects of being hired.”

This anthem-change from Kool and the Gang to Green Day reflects a seismic shift in Big Law Summer Camp from an environment of excess, lavishness and frivolity to one of anxiety, penny-pinching and angst. Offices formerly occupied by recently laid-off, eager, young associates trying to pay off law school debt and make it in the Big Time have been swiftly bleached, vacuumed, dusted and re-painted to remove the taint of shattered dreams—just in time for summer associates to roll in and start testing out their new Big Law e-mail addresses.

Those of us who are anxiously hoping not to be next on the casualty list are forced to act as if everything is fine when we do not know if we will still have a job in 2010—much less whether there will be room on the payroll for these eager law students. So much for “Two! Four! Six! Eight! Summer Camp is really great!”

The few kids who participated in 2008 Big Law Summer of Fun and are now back again for 2009 Summer of Seriousness will notice a few obvious changes:

2008 retreat

Three-day beach retreat complete with spa day, golf tourney, all-you-can-eat shrimp and crab buffet, poolside pina coladas, parasailing and logo-embroidered Big Law golf shirt!

2009 retreat

Friday afternoon “retreat” to the firm’s largest top floor conference room where the furniture has been removed to make way for the “Mexican Madness” party complete with buckets of Tecate in a can, tacos, chips and a piñata full of foil-wrapped chocolates. Take out your frustration on the economy by whacking the multicolored papier-mâché donkey until the mini-Snickers bars rain upon you. Paartaay!

2008 lunch

Big Law associates fighting to take summer associates to fully expensed two-hour, four-course lunches at the latest, hippest eateries. “Molten chocolate cake anyone?”

2009 lunch

Big Law associates working feverishly through lunch while refusing to give summers any projects because the associates need the hours more. “Hey Summer, sorry I had to cancel lunch, but I have to finish up the document review I was going to give you. There is an excellent sub shop in the lobby—here’s five bucks—knock yourself out!”

2008 Tuesday afternoon

Big Law halls full of laughter as summers head out early for an afternoon golf outing. “Jimmy, you are so crazy. I can’t believe you started drinking at noon!”

2009 Tuesday afternoon

Big Law halls full of whispers and keyboard pecking as summers form alliances and strategize about ways to get one of the two spots for which the 50 of them are vying: “If we get the Duke Dork to believe that the firm is looking for real estate lawyers because they accidentally fired them all, he won’t try to nab that one spot in litigation. … If we get Harvard Hottie really drunk one night, she might miss a deadline on the corporate project and get cut!”

Most common phrases uttered during the summer program of 2008:

• “toe up” (slang for “tore up” on too much alcohol);

• “keg stand” (upside down drinking of beer from iced keg through plastic pump);

• “skip day” (firm-sanctioned field trip to the local microbrewery); and

• “mild distraction” (the two legal projects the summers were required to complete).

Most common words/phrases you’re likely to hear during the summer program of 2009:

• “layoffs” (as in, were there enough to make room for us?);

• “chapped lips” (a condition resulting from kissing up to too many partners and associates in an effort to secure a favorable position among the many nameless masses in the summer program for the few potential job offers);

• “whiplash” (the feeling a repeat summer associate experiences after the transition between Summer of 2008 and Summer of 2009); and

• “elephant in the room” (the awkwardness that results from Big Law attorneys avoiding any contact with the summers for fear of being asked about the financial health of the firm, the job prospects of the summer class or why they love their Big Law jobs).

Seriously, just one year ago the entire purpose of the Summer Program was to make all summer campers fall in love with the firm by spoiling them rotten. In order to make sure their recruiting stats stayed strong, Big Law gave offers to 99 percent of the summer associates who came through the “program.” To not get an offer after 10 weeks of gourmet lunches, concerts and a few legal writing projects meant that either you got so drunk on the cash and cordials that you hit on the managing partner’s wife at the “Endless Summer” black tie gala or you dove into an unsanitary waterway from the balcony of a cocktail party.

This summer, my guess is 99 percent of participants will not get an offer, or at least, not an offer that means much more than the paper upon which it is written. The tables have turned, and I fear I will have to endure several weeks of witnessing the depressing scene of watching ambitious, talented young law students compete against one another for jobs that may or may not exist—including my own.

“Celebrate good times … Come on!”

Source – Daily Review

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