At the end of the summer, Willkie Farr & Gallagher told offerees that they would be able to start at the firm on time, in the fall of 2010. It turns out that Willkie’s promise wasn’t something intelligent law students should have relied on. Here’s the email that went out to the summer class, yesterday:
Hope everyone is enjoying this summer-like weather. We are looking forward to your return and wanted to provide you with details about arrival date, salary advance and other important matters.
Orientation Date: The orientation date for the new associate class is Wednesday, January 5th.
Salary Advance: The Firm offers a salary advance for all incoming associates. You have the option of receiving up to $20,000 (payable in any month from June to October) as an advance on your first year salary. The amount advanced will be deducted from your salary over a period of one year. If you are interested in taking an advance, please complete the attached form and return it to me.
What a breezy, matter-of-fact email communicating that you don’t intend to keep your promises. But associates headed to Willkie weren’t bothered by the tone. The substance, now that pissed them off…
To be clear, tipsters feel that this is really late in the game for Willkie to renege on their promises:
After getting our offers we had all been told verbally (and repeatedly) that we’d be starting Fall 2010. Even as recently as Jan/Feb this occurred. Seems really late to be telling us we’re deferred 4 months, with no stipend and just a $20k salary advance.
See, this is why we try to avoid round-ups on firms that have “officially” announced on time start dates. You can’t trust that you have a job waiting for you in the fall of 2010 until you are actually sitting at a desk in the fall of 2010.
But incoming associates aren’t just pissed about the lies or the timing of the announcement. They’re also pissed about the money (or lack thereof):
$20K salary advance (that we get to repay from our first year salary)…. people are PISSED that Willkie waited this long to tell us and PISSED that there is no stipend!!! They didn’t mention anything about health insurance either…. A year long deferral would almost be better – at least we might be able to get a job somewhere, but what are we supposed to do for six months???
We’ve already reported that Skadden is giving a $20K salary advance instead of a deferral stipend. So it’s not that surprising for Willkie to do no better than Skadden’s offer.
But make no mistake, $20K is exceedingly cheap. I know, I know, I can already hear people say “I’d take $20K to do nothing for six months right now.” Actually, no, you wouldn’t. Let me break it down.
* You’re done with school by June, so you’ve gotta stretch $20K over six months. That’s like earning $40K a year.
* There are lots of New Yorkers that live on $40K a year. Many of them are unhappy. Most of them don’t have the earning potential to make $160K/year but for an employer jerking them around.
* And the New Yorkers living on that money aren’t trying to move all their possessions into the city of New York for the first time. Moving expenses, first and last month’s rent, maybe a bed or at least a couch. These are upfront expenses for the vast majority of incoming associates, and those expenses will take a significant chunk of money out of that $20K advance.
* And many of them will be compelled to move to NYC because they’ve been kicked out of their dorm and have to sit for the New York Bar.
* Ah yes, the New York Bar, that huge time suck that pretty much kills anybody’s ability to earn money in June and July. Sure, you could work while you’re studying (many people do). Have fun being one of the kids in your class doing shifts at Barnes & Noble after Bar/Bri. I’m sure Skadden or Willkie will understand if you come up just a little bit short.
* Most New Yorkers living on $40K/year don’t need a wardrobe full of suits and business casual attire in order to show up to work. Most students don’t own a closet full of suits and dress shirts. Most associates show up to work in business causal attire and have more than one suit when needed. At some point, before the checks start coming in 2011, these kids will need to make a trip to Filene’s Basement at least.
* After the bar — while your friends that went to reliable firms are taking trips around the world to reset from the test — what the hell are you supposed to do with your time? Who is going to hire you from the middle of August until Christmas? Most law students I know don’t have seasonal labor skills.
Now, there is no obligation for Willkie or any other private business to care about any of that. They don’t and they shouldn’t. But there’s no need to suggest that a $20,000 advance is something to be happy about. Most of these kids will have to lean on their parents — and you know, some people take these jobs so they can reverse the spigot and help their parents out. Not everybody comes from a family were parental charity is an option. For many kids, the only way to deal with this situation will involve taking out another loan.
At least Willkie won’t be charging the incoming associates interest on their salary advance. Thank God for small favors.