On Monday, we offered you a blind item about a major law firm giving “fake work” to its summer associates. Some commenters thought we were criticizing the practice, but if you go back and read our original post, you won’t find any criticism. To the contrary, we enumerated the advantages of this policy (which found defenders in the comments as well).
We now bring you an update, based on a number of interesting emails we received. Here’s one:
My former firm, Day Berry & Howard [now Day Pitney], did this with first years back in the 80s. Several of us found out we were researching the exact same issue having to do with business trusts. I proposed we do a joint memo and that’s what we did. I don’t think they did that again.
And here’s a second:
Fake-work has been happening for years. I have given it to summers at the two firms I’ve been at and have practiced this art since 2005…. [T]his practice will greatly increase this year.
It is very easy, especially in areas like tax, where you can give a summer associate a discrete set of facts year after year (sans client names) and see if the summer can get to the answer you already know is right (or find some of the authorities that are directly on point). I actually think it is a GREAT way to test a summer’s research and writing ability without having to take as fact the lame “I couldn’t find very much on point” excuse. Of course, it is essential that the summer not know you gave him/her fake work until he/she does a spotty job and then you hand them the memo you (or a former summer associate) wrote so that they can see that they should have put a bit more effort in getting the project right before handing it in. In prior years, it was fun to see the sense of dread come across an SA’s face if they did, in fact, half-ass it and you caught them in the act (since the SA would likely get an offer anyway). This summer, pulling something like this would probably bring the SA to tears or worse.
I gave three separate fake work projects to summers back when I was at Locke Lord. The partners absolutely knew I was doing it and liked the comparison potential that the practice fostered. The practice was not widespread when I was doing it.
Additional discussion, plus the name of the firm that was the subject of the original blind item, after the jump.
We asked this distributor of fake work assignments: what about the Westlaw or Lexis charges? His response:
On the Westlaw/Lexis front, my firm actually lets you hit some time to an assigned nonbillable number…. However, you’ve actually hit on another practice that is rampant during summer clerkships — SA’s use of their Westlaw/Lexis law school accounts during their summer clerkships.
I told SAs that (1) the client does not want to pay exorbitant Westlaw/Lexis costs; (2) there is a nonbillable number, but that it needs to be used sparingly and with discretion; and (3) that the firm had unlimited LoisLaw and RIA checkpoint access. Then I would leave the SAs to their own devices, knowing that the pressure to steal Westlaw/Lexis time using their law school accounts would likely be too great to resist. I would obviously NEVER encourage this practice, but based on the resultant memos that were produced, I KNOW it was happening.
Truth is, I know that Westlaw/Lexis know it is happening and don’t police it in their effort to create addicts to their services, not only in law school, but during summer clerkships, when the pressure to produce good legal research is higher than ever.
Finally, going back to the original blind item, which firm were we talking about? Answer: Latham & Watkins.
But, as often happens in this game of telephone, important parts of the story were lost in translation. Fake work is being doled out, but the summers know that it’s fake. From a Latham source:
LW has actually been (surprisingly) open about the fake work/ general lameness of their summer program this year. There is definitely full-out fake work going on, but it’s totally in the open and is part of a formal “writing program” that everyone’s aware of — basically, partners come up with two openly fake writing assignments for the summers (some are corporate, some are lit, depending on the partner), which the summers complete and will be judged on in considering whether to give them offers, etc. They’ve even been given training sessions on how to handle the assignments, write “like a lawyer,” etc.
There’s basically no client billable work for the summers this year, but the firm has been open about it with the summers, and everyone’s aware that most of their work is either fake or make-work “approved office projects,” e.g. writing book chapters for partners, researching arcane issues that no one cares about.
Some advice to Latham summers: take those “writing program” assignments very, very seriously. The work may be fake — but if you don’t get an offer, the unemployment waiting for you after graduation will be all too real.
Earlier: A Summer Associate Program Blind Item