I’m told that this is not standard fare for all law schools; but for decently respectable ones, you will find that around Christmas time the large firms in the area send out a general invitation to all first year law students to attend a special holiday party effectively thrown in their honor. Out of my class, there were only about a dozen of us there, which struck me as odd more people didn’t show up. Being the connoisseur of free food that I was, I of course made time. If the invitation is extended to you, I highly recommend going. In part, go for the food… free food always tastes the best, plus the firms usually like to put out a big spread. Secondly, you want to go to see the culture, it is a weird mix of every stereotype you ever heard about lawyers. I went to 3 holiday parties… this was them.
Party 1 & 2 – The first two were on the same night, in the same building, separated by 10 floors. So long as you had a name tag from one of those two firms, no one cared if you hopped from party to party. Which was good, because as near as I could tell one of the firms had selectively invited only the top echelon of the class, and I had certainly not been invited to that one. So I arrive at the party, it was in one of the firm’s huge conference rooms with all the furniture removed. In one corner there was a violin and cello duo playing (swanky!), and at the other end was the food. I wandered over to the food to find that it consisted of lots of beer and wine, and very little else. There were some ritz crackers and white cheese too, but it seemed a bit like an afterthought. Add to this that every law student there had to drive down to the firm to go to this party because of its location and you’ll see why this was just not horribly thought through. So I armed myself with a glass of wine and decided to mingle. That’s what everyone kept telling us to do… network.
There were groups of law students and groups of attorneys, and they weren’t mixing. So mostly the conversation was what law school are you from, how is it there? Eventually, one of the partners made some whispered chastisement to the other attorneys and as one, they quickly broke up and went to go talk to the law students. This is where the Stepford wives portion of the night started. The first attorney came over and started talking and when asked something about the firm went into what at first seemed a sincere statement about how much he liked it there, how everyone got to go home at a reasonable time because family life was very important to the firm, how it was a relatively laid back work environment etc etc. He eventually wandered off to another group of law students and was replaced by a husband and wife pair, who in short order turned the conversation to how much they liked the firm, how they got to leave at a decent hour because family life was very important to the firm… These two were replaced by a third attorney, who started the conversation with how much he liked the firm… well… you can see where this is going. It was noted in one of these conversations by an astute law student (not me thank god) that there certainly were a fair number of attorneys still walking the firm’s hallways at 8 in the evening considering the firm let people leave at a decent hour for family and all. It was so obvious that a memo of talking points had been passed around it was a joke by the end of the night. When a new law student walked over to your group you introduced yourself and said how much you liked the firm, and how you bet that it provided decent working hours for family life, and was probably a laid back environment.
So the conversation was a bust. But what about the networking? While talking to a small knot of 3 attorneys and a few students, at one point I happened to turn to wave to someone I knew. When I turned back, everyone had disappeared leaving one rather old man. He introduced himself as the senior managing partner at the firm, hoped I was enjoying the party and stayed to talk for probably exactly 30 seconds. He then walked over to the next group of people. If you have ever watched shark week on the discovery channel you will understand how he moved through the crowd. People parted in front of him leaving a constantly empty envelope of personal space near him. Whenever he entered a mixed group of attorneys and law students, every one of the firm’s attorneys disappeared so fast I almost think I heard a BAMF in the vacuum they left. After about 15 minutes making his way from one side of the room to the other, he left and was not seen again.
Other than the brief appearance of the senior partner, there was also the massively drunk partner who decided the open bar was the perfect moment to demonstrate everything those myriad required substance abuse programs in law school tell you are true. The legal profession has a significantly higher than average drinking problem. It started with just him getting very loud while talking, then he started swearing and saying a few other interesting things. The problem was that he was apparently a full partner, and once the senior partner left, no one could reign him in. So the extent of damage control was several attorneys tried to always ensnare him in conversation and steer him away form the law students. From what little he blearily told me, the law firm was not the best place to work. It was this opportune moment a friend of mine said “hey I hear the food upstairs is better, lets go there.” And off we went. As we left the receptionist gave us free umbrellas as a parting gift.
We took the elevator to the second firm, and sadly the food was mostly gone. I picked up another glass and wine and one of the attorneys mingling walked over and started talking to us about how much he liked the firm, and how the hours there were really quite good…..