Law in Contemporary Society

Two weeks after a callback interview with a New York firm, the hiring partner called to tell me they could not extend me an offer for the summer. Everyone had liked me, he explained, it was just a numbers game because space for first year students was limited. The explanation seemed reasonable and I understood that most firms didn’t do much 1L hiring. But I was also fairly certain he was feeding me bullshit a lie.

I didn't put much stock in the actual words he spoke; I doubt they were conveying what he actually meant. I was listening beyond the facial value of the words, and what I heard was a man who had sat around thinking about the message he needed to send, calculating what someone in my position would want to hear. I noticed that he was too comfortable in his delivery, speaking with an easy rhythm telling me he'd given this speech before. He was also confident in his delivery. He must’ve thought it was working.

The partner needed to deny me for this job but keep me interested should his needs change for next year. To accomplish his goal (and not mine), he rehashed a story where it wasn’t my fault nor was it the firm’s fault that I wasn’t being hired. Numbers were to blame, which was convenient for him because it shifted blame to an intangible object. He acted as though his firm was the hero, trying everything they could to bring me aboard. There was just “nothing he could do”. The message fit well with what I had heard during the round of interviewing. One partner had told me that getting a job first year depended on luck, and I shouldn’t worry if it doesn’t work out this year. Another had told me that his firm was one of the few that took a real interest in 1L hiring. Again, they were telling me it wasn’t anyone’s fault if I wasn’t hired, and that their firm was doing everything it could to help me out. It was the classic it's not you, it's me. Except I was pretty sure that I wasn't getting this job because of some flaw they found in me.

Ordinarily I’d take this message at face value. I’d feel good about myself since it wasn’t my fault, and I’d trust that he wouldn’t lie to me because that’s not the right thing to do. I admit that I can be too na´ve and too trusting. But having talked to a few friends who have worked for such firms, I’ve decided to approach firms with skepticism. I didn’t believe this story, and I was curious to find out what was really going on, so I turned to the Facebook and found that the firm’s 2008 summer associate class had a group of 28 students. All of these students were in their second year. I checked back periodically because I remained curious, and as of writing this the group has grown to 31 members. Still only second year students.

Of course, it’s entirely possible that the 1Ls they’ve hired haven’t joined the Facebook group. I went to the NALP’s directory to compare my unscientific data with their more accurate numbers, and found they had hired 27 summer associates last year. It’s unlikely they’ve significantly increased their class from 2007 to 2008, especially since the economy has worsened. I would expect to find few summer associates beyond the 31 listed on the Facebook, if there are any at all.

My skepticism was supported by further research into the firm. I found that the firm had laid off 10% of its partners within the past two years. They had done so because their $1 million profit per partner was inadequate compared with other firms, and they had slipped in the AmLaw? rankings. My guess is that a firm laying off partners is not looking to hire first year students; for a firm looking to boost profits per partner in the short-term, hiring 1st year students is not a good investment. Looking at the limited evidence available to me, I’m led to believe they had little if any interest in hiring 1Ls. Most likely the firm’s 1L interviews were designed to get its name out to students to boost its 2L hiring. The data from last year’s EIP shows that under 25% of their call-back invitations were accepted, a decent number but still lower than many other firms in New York.

The hiring partner concluded his speech by assuring me that as it stands they do like me, and he doesn’t see anything changing between now and August when they begin hiring for the 2009 summer. In the same sentence in which he guaranteed me a job, he reserved an out for himself. A guarantee without a guarantee; again, he was keeping me interested so that they could decide later whether or not they wanted me. I thanked him for the consideration and told him I looked forward to joining them soon. If the partner was listening closely, he knew I was lying. Admittedly, I can’t prove what the firm was doing, and I may be misinterpreting their honest recruitment. But the fact is there’s a lot of smoke, and I don't intend to spend several years of my career investigating whether there's actually fire. The receptions, the lavish offices, the fancy clothes… they all sent a powerful message to me as a young, insecure law student. But reflecting on the experience I can't help but think the positive treatment was just covering up a negative experience.

I think my first idea was really about understanding what firm's are up to more accurately by seeing past the impessive facade firms put up. So, that's what I'm trying to get at here. I think the paper could use some more work but I left the country a few days after finals and I've had limited internet time to fix it.



Webs Webs

r10 - 22 Jan 2009 - 01:18:14 - IanSullivan
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