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Along with the study of Law: The Summer Experience

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All my calculations about small firms versus big firms went out the window when I showed up at the firm to begin work in May. On my first day on the job, I was greeted with the words, "Congratulations! The Wall Street firm of Beekman & Bogue has merged with the big Boston firm of Gaston Snow, and you, sir, are the very first new employee of the new mega firm Gaston Snow, Beekman & Bogue!"

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That merger would eventually matter to me. During my first week on the job that summer, however, nothing could have been less important. I was far too concerned with sheer survival to worry about a gang of attorneys up in Bean town.

At the start, I was my own worst enemy. I was so psyched out that I could barely function. Here I was, making more money in a day than I had ever made in a week before. This was the first job I ever had where they made me wear a suit. There were all these lawyers and secretaries who seemed to expect me to know what I was doing. I was on Wall Street, and I was scared out of my gourd.

I started work on a Monday. The day before, a friend had said, don't worry. They're going to show you your office, give you some pencils and paper, and take you out to a big lunch.

I hadn't seen too many briefs before, and none in real life. I wasn't really sure how a brief of this type was supposed to look, but I was so eager to make a good impression that I didn't even consider admitting my ignorance and seeking advice. Instead, I kept going to the library and getting books that looked like they might be helpful, and then going to the lunchroom for more coffee. Eventually, the partner who had given me the assignment came in looked at what I had done, explained what he had wanted, took my version with him, and left. I was free to go home.

On the second day, a partner stopped by my office and invited me to lunch. "Finally,'' I thought. When firms had taken me out to nice lunches during the interviewing process, it had helped me feel more at home. I needed that kind of reassurance now. I looked forward to a good meal and a pleasant chat about myself and the firm.

As we walked out the door, I wondered where he would take me for lunch. They were laughing at me in Hell when he stopped at a Sabrett's hot dog pushcart down Wall Street, across from the Jesus Corner, where the preachers stood and lectured the brokers and bankers as they passed by. He ordered one, to go, with mustard and sauerkraut. Stunned, I did the same.

I'm no snob. I eat Sabrett's all the time. My ego just needed a bit of attention. And this partner was about to see that I got it. As we sat on the park bench, he started talking about how, most years; he was a member of the firm's hiring committee. "I wasn't on it this year, though," he said, staring directly into my eyes. "If I had been, some things would have been different."

Then we started to talk about me. He seemed amazed that I was from Columbia. "Did you really have the kind of LSAT score it takes to get in there?" he asked, with great doubt in his voice. He, himself, had gone to NYU.

By the time Wednesday arrived, I had begun to lose it. I was sure I belonged someplace else. Fortunately, during the previous summer, I had been taking classes in the business school, and had met a fellow who later walked out of a great investment banking job on his third day, complaining that nobody would talk to him. He was a really decent guy, and I now understood how he must have felt. But I remembered how everyone else had considered him a nut for that, and I was determined not to repeat his mistake.

It did get better. Friday came, and then the weekend. On Monday, the other "summer associate," as they called us, showed up. Her name was Ruth. We would be sharing an office for the summer. I teased her about being a princess, but I was glad she was there.

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This was too bad, because she grew to hate me. Oh, we got along famously, right up through the end of the summer. But then they gave me a job offer and rejected her. She had left some work undone, and maybe had spent too much time on the phone with her friends. Probably just as important, I had arrived in our office first, and therefore had chosen the desk that was harder to see from the hallway. This meant that she was on permanent display for anyone passing by, whereas it was much harder to tell when I was goofing off.

Each big law firm works hard to persuade summer associates that life at the firm is quite pleasant. They take them out to four-star restaurants, to the ballet and the theater, and to Mets and Yankees games. Some even go so far as to rent motel rooms off in the countryside somewhere and take everyone away for a weekend, as in, Oh, Yum, I get to spend a whole weekend of my summer vacation with these people from the office." Instead of that, my firm was kind enough to fly Ruth and me to Boston for the mega firm's annual picnic.

The picnic was fun. They had a foot race, in which I ran, along with hot dogs and burgers and beer. Ruth and I had agreed to fly back to New York that evening, declining the firm's offer to arrange overnight lodging in Boston for us. So I found her, late in the afternoon, and asked when she thought we should head for the airport.

She was standing next to an associate from the Boston office. He looked pretty nerdy to me, but she seemed quite interested in him. She and I spoke for a couple minutes, and then she said, "You know, I think I'm going to stay in Boston tonight after all."

To make things as pleasant as possible, the firm made sure that we didn't experience the boredom and pressure that afflict real life attorneys. And they steered us away from the true bastards in the office, so that those people wouldn't color our impressions of the firm. In one lawyer's words,

A summer clerk would do well to ask himself why that senior partner, says hello to him but not to the full-time associates. Does the partner remember the associates' names? As a summer clerk you will rarely if ever be told of your shortcomings. Unless you screw up something serious such as misspelling a partner's name in a memorandum you will be told only that you did a fine job, made a lot of friends, and everyone is eager to have you back.

The law firms want to persuade young new attorneys to join the firm, and they succeed. After law students complete their summer clerkships, they typically affirm, overwhelmingly, that "The work that I received was interesting and challenging" and that "The work assignments I undertook and the results of my work product were adequately discussed with me."

Clinching It:

Autumn eventually rolled around, and then it was my turn to decide whether I'd had a decent summer experience.

I mean, I had. There was no question about it. I had made money, learned a lot, and liked the people with whom I had worked. I felt particularly close to one associate who had agonized over finding a hair style that would look "corporate" in the office by day but "punk" at CBGB's by night. She was able to pick me out among the thousands of people at the New York City Halloween parade that year, despite the fact that I'd dyed my hair and painted my face. She was friendly, smart, and sensitive, and had been a real comrade-in-arms.

Others at the firm had been more restrained, but almost all had seemed genuinely decent. By contrast, I saw that some of my friends back at law school doubted that they would even be able to stand working with the attorneys they had met at their summer jobs.
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