Biglaw, Law Schools, Summer Associates

The Real World: Corporate Law Edition

I have been writing for Above the Law since March of 2008. This Monday, though, will be my last day as a daily contributor. I am heading over to Forbes to write about privacy, law, social media, and technology (aka The Not-So Private Parts). For those who will miss my daily presence on ATL, please feel free to check me out there, or to friend me on Facebook, or to follow me on Twitter. I’ll also be writing a weekly column for Above the Law.

Lat, Elie, and I are going to be getting drinks after work at The Ninth Ward to help numb the separation pain. Please feel free to join us if you’re in New York. Though only if you’re not a weirdo. (You know who you are; but to clarify, weirdos are not those who would show up, but are among those who voted this up.) We’ll be there from six to eight p.m.

As many of you know, unlike my co-editors, I’m not a lawyer. I’m just a little journalist. I appreciate that, despite this moral and educational failing on my part, all of you lawyers and law students have put up with my writing about your profession. Professors Lat and Mystal have offered excellent legal lessons, as have the real law professors I have had the pleasure of interviewing. Plus, I date spend an inordinate amount of time hanging out with lawyers outside of work, and so have a solid appreciation for the terror of living under the reign of the billable hour.

I also did some hourly billing myself way back when; my first job out of college in 2003 was as a paralegal in the D.C. office of Covington & Burling, an experience that convinced me not to apply to law school (despite having rocked the LSAT). During my first summer in D.C., I lived in a five-bedroom apartment in Van Ness with four summer associates — from Harvard, Columbia, Yale, and Georgetown. We were five corporate law strangers picked to live in a house (vacated by the Georgetown law student’s roommates for the summer). That was where I picked up some useful stereotypes about students from these elite law schools. I came away from the summer with a strong dislike for HLS kids…

The fellow Duke grads with whom I planned to live in D.C. would not arrive for their jobs until August, so I had to find temporary summer housing given that my Covington gig started in May. It can be very difficult to find summer housing in the District, due to D.C.’s being flooded with summer interns each year. I sent out dozens of increasingly desperate inquiries to Craiglist housing ads, and often heard nothing back.

The corporate law world was new to me, and I did not yet understand “Vault rankings.” But when I told my friends’ parents about my job with Covington, they were often impressed. “That’s a very prestigious firm,” they would universally respond. At the time, that only meant to me that I would need to upgrade my professional work attire, which was limited to clothes from the Express at that point. But I decided to start including the Cov in my housing inquiries, and to my great relief, it worked. A Georgetown law student got back to me, with an available bedroom in a five-bedroom apartment at the Brandywine. It is shocking to me now that she did not make me sign a contract — I just sent her a check.

My four roommates all had Biglaw gigs for the summer. The bunch included a Georgetown 2L who lived there year round, who essentially had a live-in boyfriend; a female Harvard 1L with whom I shared a bathroom; a male Yale 2L who was at Covington as well; and a male Columbia 2L. I did not have an appropriate sense of corporate law hierarchy at the time, and so did not likely appreciate the disappointment they must have felt to discover a paralegal would be living among them. It must be like going to Exeter-Andover and being assigned an icky roommate on scholarship.

So this is what I learned. Georgetown was very nice and a bit of a homebody. I had the sense that she was intimidated by her fellow roommates, even though she was on her home turf. Though I was not fully aware of the U.S. News rankings, I understood that the Bulldog was submissive to these Yale, Harvard, and Columbia masters.

Yale was a serious, intellectual, and gentle fellow. He lived a healthy life — his free time was spent running, reading, and talking on the phone to his wife. He was happy to be making Biglaw money for the summer, but knew that he was not interested in returning to the firm — he had plans to do public interest or policy work. The summer associate gig was just a way to help offset loans. I understood from him that Elis had more serious ambitions than the corporate law hamster wheel, though they were happy to run it for a few turns for the $$$.

Columbia was an eager fellow. He was the only single roommate and was the biggest partier of the group. He very much wanted an offer from his firm, though he had disdain for the slow pace of life in D.C. He was smart and engaging, though slightly socially awkward in that lawyerly way. I had the impression that he would have hit on my nubile paralegal friends if given the opportunity. I gathered that Columbia kids were extremely focused, if overly eager, and that their worlds were limited to “New York and everywhere else.”

Then there was Harvard. Harvard told me how it was hard for most 1Ls to get summer associates positions, but that firms have a special love for people from HLS. She was the most antisocial of the bunch. When home, she stayed in her room, only emerging to tell the rest of us to turn the volume down on the TV. (To be fair, she had the worst room in the apartment, created with fake walls off of the living room, so could hear the television best.) Though on opposite sides of the apartment, we shared a bathroom. She was messy. But she did not clean. An agreement was made that we would take turns buying toilet paper for the bathroom. I bought the first round. When we ran out again, she left a post-it note and a $5 bill and asked me to pick up more.

I did not like that. Thus, I decided that the Crimson crew was an irritable, entitled bunch.

(Working with HLS grad Elie Mystal for the last two years has changed that impression, of course. Slightly.)

I’ve learned much more about these schools and their grads since the summer of 2003. But whenever I have written about any of these schools, I have thought back on this true story of five strangers picked to live in a house and what happened when people stopped being polite and started being real… and stopped picking up the TP. I may have some prejudices. Sorry, HLS ladies.

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