Amid an improved economy and an apparent upturn in lateral hiring, some law firms are trying to shield their associates from the wiles of recruiters offering richer rewards.
Some firms are limiting the contact information about associates provided on their Web sites. Others have deleted biographical and practice area details as well. Still others are said to be scaling back information in law firm directories.
--The National Law Journal, 3/9/05
In an effort to keep competing law firms from poaching their prized associates, some large firms have been trying to shield their associates from the wiles of recruiters offering richer rewards. At first, these efforts were limited to removing biographical information about the associates from law-firm websites. In this way, the law firms thought, coveted information about their associates such as their areas of practice, their e-mail addresses, and their hair colors would remain hidden from the conniving legal recruiters who wanted to steal the associates away from them.
It wasn't long, however, before the legal recruiters simply changed their tactics. In a move that shocked the large law firms, the resourceful legal recruiters bypassed the Internet altogether and began calling associates on the telephone.
Although blindsided by this unexpected change in tactics, the law firms were quick to respond. First, the law firms banned breakfast. Then they quit serving lunch. For what reason? The thinking went like this: If legal recruiters couldn't be prevented from calling the associates on the telephone, at least the law firms could make sure that the associates were too weak to answer the phone.
The hidden costs of this approach were unexpectedly high. Staff members such as file clerks and floating secretaries were required to don Latex gloves and prop up the hungry young associates at their desks until 4 p.m., which was when most legal recruiters usually called it a day and returned home to watch TV. In the evenings, the associates were fed Snickers bars and required to work late into the night, still under strict orders, as always, to bill 2,400 hours each year.
For a while, this approach worked. Advantage, law firms. But soon the forced starvation of the young associates took its toll. Many young associates began to die from exhaustion. While the law firms attempted to keep them alive by announcing that dead associates would no longer be considered for partnership, many associates died anyway, no longer caring about the consequences. Other associates, stemming off death by thinking about the promise of the mansions and yachts that might someday be theirs, began answering their telephones even in their exhausted states, often too weak to remember the details of their resumes.
Advantage, legal recruiters. Once again, however, the law firms sprang into action. In a draconian move that shocked established notions of sportsmanship and fair play, the law firms began confiscating the telephones that their associates were using to engage in the forbidden communications with the legal recruiters. Land-line phones were seized and dumped in landfills. Cellphones were collected by the mailroom staff and beaten to an electronic pulp with heavy metal hammers.
When the associates complained that the lack of a phone meant they would no longer be able to communicate with their clients, the law firms said that it didn’t matter.
"You’re just associates,” the associates were told. “You should have shut your fucking mouths years ago.”
Advantage, law firms. But once again, the legal recruiters refused to call it quits. Risking life, limb, and their eye-popping commission fees, some legal recruiters began scaling the walls of the skyscrapers housing the young associates by using custom-designed sticky-boot contraptions that allowed them to climb to the skyscrapers' upper floors. Once there, they passed notes to the young associates through the buildings' tiny ventilation holes.
"I can promise you better things," read one such note. "Have you ever considered working in-house at State Farm?"
Advantage, legal recruiters. But the response of the nation’s large law firms was swift and thorough. In cities on both coasts, the law firms began constructing huge walled enclosures around their towering skyscrapers. These enclosures were virtually impregnable to anyone not carrying a sharp dagger, a two-way radio, and the most advanced rappelling gear. Having up until this time enjoyed a fairly sedentary lifestyle, most legal recruiters were simply not fit enough to meet this latest challenge.
Only one threat to the law firms remained. It was the “Blackberry,” which could be used to infiltrate the fortress-like defenses of the law firms by means of an easy-to-use but hard-to-understand “wireless connection.” To solve this last remaining problem, the law firms lined up their associates in the firms' super conference rooms, told them to close their eyes, then cut off both their thumbs. (Blackberrys, of course, are nearly impossible to use without one's thumbs.)
For some time, this seemed to do the trick. Most of the wily legal recruiters, now isolated from the young associates, were no longer able to carry out their dishonest and deceptive scheme of sweet-talking the associates into thinking that things would be sunnier and happier somewhere else.
But still the young associates found methods of talking to the legal recruiters, hoping despite all evidence to the contrary for a better life somewhere else. In some cases, the associates sent messages through the mailroom staff, who began working as spies for the legal recruiters. In other cases, the young associates simply met the legal recruiters for coffee after work. But no matter how the forbidden communication took place, the response was the same: the law firms, one and all, decided they simply weren't going to take it any more.
And this was how the pogrom started. As a way of insuring the young associates could no longer "jump ship" to work for competing firms, the law firms did the unthinkable. Around the country, young associates were bound and gagged, driven to secret locations, beaten to a pulp and left for dead. While some of the young associates responded that such a fate was, in fact, an improvement over the life they’d left behind, none of them stuck to this story once they received notice from the law firms that even in death, they would still be required to bill at least 2,400 hours a year.
Not surprisingly, some young associates simply refused. In droves, they began seeking employment as fry cooks, high-school janitors, and taxi drivers. When the legal recruiters called, they finally began to say "No thanks."
Advantage, law firms.