Each May, thousands of second-year law students from around the country descend on New York’s largest and most prestigious corporate firms for two-plus months of eating, drinking, Web-surfing and perhaps a little casework—a sacrifice they solemnly accept for the sum of more than $3,000 a week. This is the life of the summer associate.
It all culminates in The Offer, when the firm formally invites its summer associates back for real work the following year. Offer rates at most of the top firms hover around 100%, a statistic that leads many summer associates to wonder what, exactly, they would have to do to blow it. More than a few have attempted to find out.
Consider Aquagirl: a perky law student from the University of Virginia who, in 2005, got tipsy at a fundraiser at Chelsea Piers, took off her dress, handed it to a partner (by one account), and jumped into the Hudson. Almost before the Coast Guard had fished her out, it seemed, the story had ricocheted off law blogs around the country. (The nickname was bestowed later, by the popular blog AboveTheLaw.) Was this, finally, the Holy Grail—the act that BigLaw simply could not, would not, tolerate?
One might argue, if one were an aspiring lawyer, that Aquagirl’s act was in fact quite sane. After all, the average summer associate is wracked with anxiety, knowing that this odd simulacrum of law-firm life is really just a big buttering-up for what comes next: the 15-hour days, the Friday-afternoon BlackBerry vibrations, the canceled Hamptons weekends, the three-month document-review projects in Dallas.
The firms all know this too, of course, and so they have paved the road to the land of BigLaw with as many Nobu lunches, booze cruises and after-parties as they can afford. The result is that summer associates—who are coached relentlessly on what not to do at their firms—are given plenty of opportunities to do precisely those things. Will this year’s crop make it through with offers intact?
Oh, and Aquagirl? She’ll be starting at Arnold & Porter’s D.C. office in the fall (don’t worry—the Potomac is warm well into October).
The scavenger hunts, cocktails at the Central Park Zoo, cooking classes, wine tastings: It seems that every firm around town got the memo.
Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, known as a quirky, cool place (for a firm), recently hosted an affair on the roof of the Hotel Gansevoort, with an after-party continuing late into the night at the nearby Level V. “Eventually they tried to move us on so the cool people could get in,” confided one self-conscious attendee. (Citing firm policies against talking to the press, all the associates interviewed insisted on anonymity.)
The polished Davis Polk & Wardwellians have a swish dinner at the Rainbow Room—cutting loose is highly discouraged—and associates can even petition for reimbursement for joint manicure/pedicure bonding sessions with summer associates. “We get people who are very nice and pretty conservative,” said one associate of Davis Polk. “It’s full of people who know what’s appropriate and what’s not. I know a lot of people who wouldn’t survive here.”