Kalokagathia

BigLaw Swag and Sway

As most of my other posts reveals, I enjoy skimming nylawyer.com and tend to use these affiliate sites as my main source of news... so you are probably unsurprised that this post is inspired by an article recently published on law.com - I am so predictable. I think many large law firms are predictable as well. When I read an article entitled "Firms Predict More Work, Less Equity" I was saddened, but unsurprised. The article predicts that law firms will see even less expansion of their equity partner ranks, while at the same time more expansion in the associate ranks and a higher demand of billable hours. If you rolled your eyes or tensed up or let out a small gasp - then you probably feel the way I did when I read that. There are only 24 hours in a day and once cannot possibly bill all of them. The thing that gets me is that this actually gets to me. I am very career minded, unmarried, and you can ask any of my friends - they'll all tell you that I was born sans the mommy gene. And while that is subject to change - I think that my outlook regarding work-life balance is far less restricted than many of my friends and associates. Sure, I have ties to family and friends - but not ties like a spouse or children create - I am able to consult one person when it comes to life decisions - myself - and that seems to leave me generally less worried about balancing work and life (maybe I need to get a life?)... so when talk of billable hours has me in a huff, well, that worries me even more. Women are already few in number when it comes to partners in law firms (let alone equity partners), and this may be a combination of society (women being primary caregivers) and priorities (read Because We Can) - and I am not necessarily saying that we should lower the bar. But I am concerned about the culture of law firm spending and how that may relate to the bottom line. I don't have access to the books and I don't have any basis for my speculations other than sheer... well, speculation - but here goes. Besides salaries (which are ever increasing - and I am hesitant to poo poo them until I learn what it is like to live in New York while paying off massive loans, etc) - are law firms overspending in some areas? I think of recruiting season, and the first thing that comes to mind is sorority rush - but on a whole new level. At least there were caps on spending and bans on gifts during my campus' sorority rush - "BigLaw rush" is another story. I've never received more chocolate, pens, highlighters, frisbees, Starbucks cards, etc. being thrown around in such a frivolous (and awkward) manner in my life. Sure, these things are nice. Sure, I used a few of them (mostly I ate the chocolate) - but what is the point? Most of those firms weren't impressed with me - and I wasn't swayed by their swag. The competition between law firms is out of control. One firm raises salaries and soon everyone else jumps on the bandwagon. How many of your law firms are looking at USB keys for OCI gifts next year? I mean, that was the "big hit" this season - was it not? Though I would personally vote for the chocolate business card... but that is another story. A dinner here, a dinner there, a bigger hotel room, a flight upgrade - when does it end? I understand that I may be knocking the perks that many believe they are entitled to - particularly as summer associates - but the bottom line is this: It adds up. Every dollar counts - and I'd rather see a NALP rule severely capping spending on recruiting (including the summer program activities) which diverts that money to better use - heck, donate it to Ms. JD or another non-profit if it is so insignificant - I guarantee it will be more appreciated. If the amount you spend on us plays that large of a role in our decision to summer with you - or to accept an offer, we may not be as smart as we think.

9 Comments

bethb

As a 1L I have received countless notes from firms in my school mailbox over the past year.  I accumulated more pens than I know what to do with, and more invitations to “Meet and greet” receptions than a 1L could possibly have time for.  I have no idea which firms gave me what, or which firms had their receptions at the best locations.  My favorite, by far, was a huge bar of solid milk chocolate that greeted me one Monday morning, in a plain white wrapper, and the name of a firm written in red block letters- though for the life of me, I cannot remember the name of even that firm. I wonder if I should base my decision of firms I’m interested in purely on what gifts they can come up with.  If I could remember the name of the chocolate firm, I might start there.  Though, chocolate firm, if you’re out there: I promise I’ll remember your name next year if you give me a bar of dark chocolate rather than milk…

Kalokagathia

haha, that reminded me that there is another factor to the gift giving that I had forgotten (and do not think has any real impact regardless) but I know classmates who got hungry midway through a long day of interviewing and signed up for an open slot or two with the firms giving away the good chocolate. Now, from the law firm’s perspective one might think that this is good - right? I mean, if you had open interview times - why not interview more students and try to sell them on your firm? Who knows, you might find a good match. While this is true, I doubt it happens often - and on the student side - I hate to say it, but it became somewhat of a joke. Clearly we could have run down to the cafeteria and bought a snack - but what’s twenty minutes for free chocolate and the chance at having a funny or akward interview story to tell later on? “so why are you interested in our firm?” “well, my tummy was growling… so…” “haha, you have a sense of humor - we like that at x&x firm” “no. seriously. I don’t even know what city you are located in. I am just damn hungry”

Eralon

This is sadly true.  I can’t believe how much money is spent on recruiting. One of my friends was the only summer at a firm and they spent $10,000 recruiting him.  Just one person.  And think about the places that double or triple that… plus their hotel and flight costs and OCI and what not… I was thinking that some of that money might be better spent retaining associates.  I have heard rumors that it costs tens of thousands of dollars to replace an associate who has left (maybe hundreds of thousands).  That’s SO much training time out the door… why not do things to keep your associates happier?  Work on your flex time policy or something like that.  I’m not moved by Swag (though I am sure I’ll appreciate the free meals this summer as I have throughout callback season) and I’d be much more likely to join a firm who was interested in keeping me around and had policies that demonstrated that.

Kalokagathia

my point exactly! we’re not saying that recruiting is a bad thing - it has just gotten out of control and the competition is circular - it is a first-mover problem that is unlikely to go away without a group initiative or third party (nalp) intervention. Even if the recruiting and summer program budget is only a fraction of the available funds in the budgeting process - it adds up. I would rather see the budget shifted to reward those who have put in their time. I went to law school to begin a career. I had hoped (and still do hope) that I will make partner at a firm someday. While the diminishing opportunities to do so at the equity level will harm us all, the gap will widen the greatest for women and minorities as they are already under-represented. Whether I can convince people to be concerned about the gap, or not, I hope that at least we can all agree that raising the bar for advancement in this career is not a positive step for any of us. At least as long as we remain human and handicapped by our inability to add days to the week or hours to our days… or years to our lives.

Manamana

I heartily agree with the sentiment that recruitment is good, and the insane speed-dating/greek rush/swag show that on-campus interviews have become is not up my ally.  When deciding what firm I was selecting, the more ostentatious the recruiting, the less inclined I was to have a favorable impression.  I ended up at a firm that did nothing fabulous so far as throwing their money around, and I know I chose them because of the things that mattered in the end (including, but not limited to, quality work, a positive firm culture, office size, and national presence).  (At least that was my criteria; I expect that it depends on the individual.)  I felt like I was going to an adult workplace, rather than an office where I felt guilty before I’d even gotten an offer because of the insane amount of money they spent taking me out to a huge lunch in midtown. My only caveat is that the firms giving out small coffee giftcards were awesome, since I really needed the caffeine.

dsucher

<i>Besides salaries (which are ever increasing - and I am hesitant to poo poo them until I learn what it is like to live in New York while paying off massive loans, etc) - are law firms overspending in some areas?</i> I am currently living in New York while paying off my massive law school student loans. I’m not employed by BigLaw - I never applied. (When I was in law school, unnerved by watching my peers compete for BigLaw positions, my favorite professor comforted me by pointing out that the only thing I had in common with them is that we happened to be in law school at the same time.) My point being, even in New York, you can survive under the weight of those staggering loans without selling your soul for a BigLaw salary. Sure, I’d like to make more money. I could use a second computer, more books, more time at the glassblowing studio. I never expect to own a house, or even a condo. I’m not going to get rich being happy. But I am getting by comfortably, to the extent that I never have to worry about whether I will be able to pay the bills, even if I go out to eat more than I think I should that month.

KHernan881

I too was a little caught off guard with all the swag that came my way during interview season.  The one I felt the most guilty about was a bottle of champagne that must have already been mailed when I called to turn down the offer. The champagne arrived the next day and I felt terrible. The strange thing is that firms still seem to have money to waste on summers that have already accepted offers.  The nature of the give-aways changes however, to more advertising in nature.  OCI brought me practical things like USB keys, pens, cookies, etc.  During the summer they gave us shirts, luggage tags, a fleece jacket and the like.  Now that I’ve accepted the return offer they still send things periodically like a laptop bag I just got in the mail unexpectedly last week.  I feel like now I am expected to advertise for the firm, more than consume the gifts.

Kalokagathia

dsucher - that is wonderful to hear! I always try to remind myself that if anyone can afford to live in NYC it must be a lawyer, right? Plenty of people without such salaries are able to do so - granted I can’t speak to the specifics of their situation of course - but they aren’t all living in cardboard boxes. I think I tend to be over concerned about these things because I have never had massive debt of any sort - and debt of any kind frightens me (along with the fact that my only compass for cost of living are website calculators which can only estimate reality). I am learning that it isn’t the horror I make it out to be, at least I don’t think it is - and I have never been the type of person that needs grand luxury - so I am really glad you are living proof that one can live comfortably without worry because one of my biggest fears is a life consumed by thoughts about money.

Boss

I feel like I’ve been swamped with articles lately about how new associates are so concerned about quality of life that they’re fleeing Big Law in droves and that it’s only a matter of time before Big Law responds and either lowers billable hour requirements, sponsors telecommuting, etc….not for them to turn around and increase billable hours.  Sheesh.  You can tell men are running the show.  Although I am eagerly awaiting my first OCI now that I know there’s chocolate involved!

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