June 26, 2005

Focus on Fun

Every day, I try to remind myself that my life isn't going to be this good again for a while, if ever. In all honesty, the summer associate gig is ridiculous.

Money? They pay us a lawyer's salary. We aren't lawyers. We aren't licensed to act as lawyers and as far as I can tell, we've done nothing else to deserve a lawyer's salary. From here, it looks like the young lawyer's salary is where it is because it's the amount necessary to convince a young attorney to do hard work and accept the decrease in quality of life related to the various evils of firms, which can include the pressure to bill, grumpy clients, lack of a social life and negative interactions with coworkers. But, during my summer associate gigs this year, both firms have explicitly asked me not to work too hard and insulated me from all of the other evils.

Events? Both firms I've been at this summer have a virtual "summers never pay for their lunch" policy. So each afternoon, as part of this job, I spend an hour to two hours of socializing with my future coworkers. Additionally, every week, there's getting to know the summers events, where the firm picks up the tab on entertainment, food, and often, alcohol (which often leads to great stories). So, I've spent quite a few hours this summer collecting a salary for the work of socializing with attorneys, but I'm not too interested in being a great story and I like to drive within the legal drinking limits, so I'm rarely the source of much entertainment. And yes, the sponsored fun isn't as great as hanging out with my own friends, but, it's free, and at least a quarter of the time during 9-5, which means that even if I would prefer hanging out with my own peeps, the majority of 'em wouldn't be available anyways.

Billing? "Oh, don't worry about it. You're a summer associate. Just do good work, finish the projects you accept, and only do as much as you can fit in between the social events, the training sessions, and the lunches." At both of my summer firms, the summers are encouraged to do between 20 and 30 hours of billable work per week. That translates into roughly 1,000 to 1,500 billable hours per year, assuming none of it is written off. As far as I know, there isn't a law firm in the country that would let you bill those hours for the standard 1st year associate salary. And yet, for 15 weeks this summer, I am encouraged to do just that.

Stress? Other than the knowledge that 1) every associate sees me as a ticket to a free multi-course meal and 2) I've got to fit into a wedding dress sometime this year, I can honestly say that nothing about the job stresses me out. Okay, there's a slight stress related to whether I'll get an offer, but everyone continuously reassures us that it's a good year for the firm, and they need all of the summers to come back. So, we're told, as long as we don't puke at a partner's house, or sexually harass a fellow employee, we're probably in the clear. Redardless of whether it's true, I believe they do want to hire us. I just can't fathom why they'd go to all the trouble of spoiling us rotten for a summer if they didn't really want to lure us back.

Gifts? As if the list above weren't enough. Both firms hand out logoed schwag to the summers on a regular basis. It started with "thanks for accepting our offer, we're excited to have you" gifts in the fall, then Winer Holiday gifts, followed by "sorry you have to take spring finals" gifts, and finally "welcome to the firm" gifts. I've heard people complain about how lame the gifts their firms give are, but that just seems rude to me. All of the gifts have clearly been thoughtful. Yes, I may already own some of the items in un-logoed form, but for the few that I didn't, I was happy to not have to buy my own.

Obviously, on a regular basis my logical voice kicks in with some observation about how this is too good to be true. The cynical/pragmatic voice then quickly shouts back that the firms see it as an investment. It's not as if the summer associate gluttony and sloth is unique to my firms. So, says the cynical/pragmatic voice, I can either question the wisdom of the entire system or just enjoy it.

When it means I'll be happier, I try to listen to my cynical/pragmatic voice over the incessantly questioning logical one. So, I'm going to enjoy it this summer precisely because I know it won't last. Next summer, I'll be studying for the bar. For several summers after that, if all goes well, I'll be excited for my one free lunch when I have time to take a summer associate out on the firm. In the crystal ball, I can't see the next time in my future when I'm going to have every weekend and evening free for 15 consecutive weeks. That's fine with me, because much like law school, a privilege for which I was willing to pay money, I'm willing to sacrifice a good portion of my evenings and weekends for my career, where at least they'll pay me.

The difficult thing is to avoid taking the royal treatment for granted and being disappointed when it disappears. Instead, I'd like suck the nectar from each free minute this summer and fully appreciate its rare beauty so that when it's gone, I'm not bitter, I'm thankful. So far, I've crammed our free weekends full of parties, visits with friends, travel, and camping. In the evenings, in addition to nights out, I've renewed my commitment to cooking, with a focus on trying the more complicated recipes that I've been putting off because there's never going to be a better time.

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