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.”