Monday, May 16, 2005

The first round of new summer associates started work today. It's been a busy couple of weeks of last-minute planning, so I haven't had a chance to post anything. But now that they're here, I should have plenty of things that I can't resist sharing.

The two weeks before the summer program starts is always a whirlwind of activity. First, there's the matter of offices. If I had my druthers, I'd load up a conference room with a couple dozen desks and stick all of the summer associates in there for the summer. Every few hours, I'd send an associate in to explain an assignment, and, Survivor-style, the last one to complete the task would be eliminated. It would keep the summer associates on their toes and let them feel some of the pressure that the young associates do. One of the things we do very badly here is make the summer stressful enough. We take pains to avoid the stress. We make the assignments too easy, we make the deadlines too forgiving, we make the social events too much fun, and we make virtually everyone a full-time offer in the end. I've already written about why we have to do that, and why I think it's unfortunate that we do. We simultaneously have to involve the summer associates in everything we do, but we also have to shelter them enough from some parts of firm life, because while we want them to think they know what they're getting themselves into, we don't want to scare them off. Last week I did the final check on the list of partners and associates who are to be "exempt" from the summer program and not come into contact with any of the summer associates. They think it's because their work is so important we can't afford to let them take the time, but mostly it's because we're worried about them. They're either too weird, too unpleasant, or too dissatisfied to let anyone know they exist. Some of them do great legal work, absolutely. But some of them are downright scary. There's the guy in Real Estate who clips his toenails during meetings. There's the woman in Trusts & Estates who can talk about nothing but her cat. And her cat has been dead for seventeen years. There's the young associate with the mole. It's disturbing. He ought to get it removed, but how do you tell someone that? I tried during his end-of-the-summer evaluation at the end of his time as a summer associate. Told him we were revising the health plan, and making sure it included certain forms of surgery, especially to remove unsightly growths. I thought I was direct enough. Apparently I wasn't. So, we keep him hidden.

More than half of the summer associates started today. It's not quite fair to the rest, but I always think of the first wave as the ones who are more excited about the firm, more eager to get started, more useful to me when I'm looking for people desperate enough to impress that they'll happily do just about anything, including alphabetize my law books and get me a roll from the attorney lounge, but I don't like the sesame seeds, so they'll all have to be removed by hand first. Clean hands, though. Don't want any of the dirty summer associates touching my food. I can't believe how dirty some summer associates look. Mostly from the lower-tier schools. They don't know how to wash their hair. It's disgusting. Like their LSAT scores. Disgusting.

So there were a few surprises this morning when the summer associates arrived. One of the girls looked much prettier at the interview. That was a disappointment. One of the guys grew a terrible beard. And a couple of the summer associates could stand to lose a few pounds. We try not to hire fat summer associates, because if they're fat as law students, they're only going to get fatter when they're sitting at a desk all day eating vending machine food and drinking three venti frappucinos a day.

One of the summer associates had to be told what business casual attire means and what it does not mean. That happens every year. Socks are an essential part of business casual attire. And one girl, as also happens every year, has immediately been christened Thong Girl for her choice of underwear today. One of the associates running the orientation has already been admonished to stop dropping things on the ground for her to pick up. Only partners should do that.

There's an energy at the firm when the summer associates arrive. Everyone's typing just a little faster on their Blackberrys. Everyone's voice mail messages are just a little less dour. Everyone's billable hours just a little bit higher. The first-years realize they're not the new kids on the block anymore, and some of them start to step up over the summer. And some of them, alternatively, start to give up. They realize that it's already been a whole year, and where are they? If they're not one of the two or three people who are clearly seen as the superstars, they're likely to start feeling a little antsy. A little interchangeable. A little too much like anonymous cogs in a machine. For some, it lights a fire underneath them. For some, it means we'll be saying goodbye soon. Which is okay, since their salaries start to go up and they're useless anyway so we may as well take a chance with somebody new.

I had fun with the office assignments this year. From what I remember from the interviews, I've matched up the most high-strung with the more laid-back (although no law student is truly laid back, at least not any working at a law firm for the summer), the most gregarious with the most inward, and the smartest one I think we have with the one who's only here because his dad's a client. I can't wait to see what happens. No drama yet, but I'm sure it will happen soon. They don't think we notice, they don't think we care. And we shouldn't, since there are so many more important things to do. But it's unavoidable. We spend so many hours here that it's like high school. Gossip flies very freely. People have no one else in their lives so we can't help but talk about our co-workers. Anonymous Wife gets tired of hearing about these people very quickly. But then she gets to meet them at the family events and suddenly she understands.

Anonymous Daughter went on her first date this past weekend. Kid's father is a lawyer at a competitor firm. I told her to ask the kid if his dad ever talks about this one specific case we're up against them in. Didn't get much out of him. Maybe next time.

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