I got an email today from a friend. Her daughter is a 2L in a Top Ten law school. Her daughter is also being flooded with summer associate offers -- so far, she's got offers for the summer (and yes, folks, it's not even November yet) from SEVEN Major Firms, and she's got five more to interview with. These firms are all bending over backwards to get her, including allowing her to spend part of the summer in one office and part in another, and so on.
What is going on here? And what does this portend?
Well, first let's take a look at why this girl seems to have singlehandedly created an incredible seller's market for herself. In order of importance, here are the factors I think are at work.
- She's from a Top Ten school. This makes a huge difference. Law schools, like the Mafia and Hollywood, are divided into the stars, and everyone else. I would guess 80% of the people who are getting those $160K paychecks went to a top school -- they're proving grounds, really, and firms take that very seriously. At my law school, at the University of Pennsylvania, the admissions percentage was 12%.
- She's tough, and she's a machine for work. Among her extracurricular activities as a teenager was gymnastics, at a level just below what it takes to make the Olympics. This takes an unspeakable amount of work, and guts, and a level of ambition that makes a forest fire look like a birthday cake.
- She's blonde, and pretty. Sorry, but this is a blog about the real world.
I suspect, therefore, that when the partners at these firms look at her, what they see is someone who is going to work like a dog and bill a ton of hours, someone who's ambitious enough to stay with the firm for a long time, and someone who's charismatic and driven enough to eventually be a major rainmaker.
Which brings me to my second point. If these things are true, then the lockstep $160K base salary they're offering her is not enough. It's interesting to me that law firms operate like big labor unions -- they establish an industry standard compensation level, everyone hews to it, and nobody breaks ranks.
Which is kind of nuts. A major rainmaker is an incredibly valuable asset to a law firm -- worth millions. I wonder if we're going to see a situation soon where for real rock-star associates, with obvious potential to develop business like crazy, you end up with a professional sports-style free agent market. I don't know where the ceiling for someone like that is, but if right from the start, you position and groom and train them as big-time rainmakers, $160K isn't it.
Just a thought.