I often discuss, both with my roommate and with my own coworkers, the differences between our firm experiences. Part of the difference is firm culture - a Southern firm will have a different feel than one based in New York or Los Angeles. However, it seems that there are at least two strategies for wooing summer associates as well. Will Vehrs asked what I thought of my firm's team building exercise from yesterday and answering him only heightened the distinction.
I am at a firm where they do spend money on social events for us, but not an inordinate amount. We have a handful of big events scheduled, most of which are firm-wide, not just for summers. Our happy hours are the monthly firm happy hours. There's no drinking at lunches or a habit of going for drinks after work. We do get one day off, if I recall correctly, for a public service project (working on a Habitat for Humanity house: I'm going, not because I particularly want to give houses to the poor but because building things is immensely satisfying and gaining some tiny knowledge of carpentry sounds appealing). When we do get a free lunch, about half the time the food is modest; we go where the associates would have gone anyway or have it catered in by the firm cafeteria. I like it. It's a realistic taste of firm life.
My roommate, however, has already had two Fridays off, most recently to go on an all expenses paid road trip to pick up a car from another state for one of the partners, although I think he is paying her and the second summer associate in his individual capacity. They took another day off to go sailing. Drinks after work is an institution and she had lunches every day her first week and some days her second at fancy restaurants. Nothing is real. She works in a fantasy summer associate paradise. I think this is dishonest. It's a bait and switch; when you get back as a first year associate none of this will remain. How can you make an informed choice without a good sense of how your work experience will be?
One can argue that perhaps spoiling the summers is necessary to draw us in and convince us to work there for a year or two, giving us time to become accustomed to the lifestyle the salaries bring and thus more likely to stay despite the long hours - any dealer can tell you the first one is free. I can't help but think how silly it all is, though; why jet us off to Mexico for retreats (as some Houston firms are rumored to do) or ply us with binges of liquor when they could be finding which of us will be hard workers? The whole thing is somewhat bewildering.