Top firms change up outings to avoid boozy disasters
Booze is out and ax-throwing is in.
At the country’s most prestigious law firms, the wining, dining and over-the-top wooing of summer associates this year includes a lot less alcohol and a lot more cocktail-free team-building events — like cooking classes, escape rooms and virtual reality gaming.
The toned-down, more G-rated experience is brought to you by the #MeToo movement. This year’s crop of summer associates — more than a thousand of the nation’s brightest legal minds getting paid as much as $15,000 a month — are the first since the hyper-vigilant and stepped-up awareness of workplace sexual harassment metastasized itself in the public consciousness last fall.
For the law firms, removing alcohol-focused outings is smart business as it lowers the odds that something will go wrong, experts said.
“In light of the #MeToo movement, an open bar at a summer associate event is potentially a tinderbox of liability,” Patrick Krill, a legal industry behavioral-health consultant, told law.com.
At Milbank, Tweed, that meant hosting an evening out recently at a Brooklyn ax-throwing bar instead of, say, a cocktail party at a swanky watering hole.
For many senior lawyers across the country, the turn of events could be enough to make their heads explode. That the world of corporate law has come to this: an evening of twenty-somethings throwing axes in a bar being considered less risky than gathering the troops for a few gin and tonics on a rooftop and watching the sun set.
“At every social event, we were getting hammered,” one 64-year-old lawyer who has been a partner in New York and Los Angeles firms told The Post when asked if he had any memories of his months as a summer associate. “No question about it, a large amount of funds were used to wine and dine prospective associates.”
Not surprisingly, those booze-fueled events in years past helped create some unusual incidents — like the legendary 2005 case of Aquagirl.
Aquagirl, so named by AbovetheLaw.com, was a summer associate at Cleary Gottlieb who, during a cocktail party at Pier 60 at Chelsea Piers, perhaps after a bit too much to drink, decided to strip down to her underwear and jump into the Hudson River.
No one remembers whether it was an NYPD or Coast Guard boat that fished her out, but she was uninjured, except perhaps for her chances of getting an offer from the top-notch firm.
Among the top firms, competition to recruit the best and the brightest from the best law schools has always been fierce — and hiring managers traditionally charmed them with the promise of over-the-top fun.
At Willkie, Farr, that meant weekend getaways to the Hamptons, according to reports. Cravath, Swaine rented the Central Park Zoo for cocktails — while others have taken their summer associate class on all-expense-paid trips to Iceland and New Orleans.
For the law students, snagging a summer associate position was often a ticket to a successful upper-middle-class life. If hired, these legal eagles will make $1 million over the next five years or so.
So you can see how the need of the firm to impress and the pressure on the summer associate to get along can be intense.
Most times, things run smoothly at events with alcohol — but when they go off the rails, it can be in a big way.
In 2012, at one New York firm’s wine-tasting event for its summer associates at Landmarc at the Time Warner Center, the detective boyfriend of the managing partner pulled a gun on one summer hire after learning the tipsy youngster had touched the lawyer “inappropriately,” according to a report on AbovetheLaw.com.
Nobody was hurt, but the incident demonstrates what can happen when too much alcohol and summer associates mix.
Not everyone is unhappy with the new wholesome bent. One woman who was a summer associate last year thinks the tamer events were better.
The program she was in did team-building exercises that included booze — like a karaoke night, where “everyone got drunk” — as well as alcohol-free events like a three-hour-long corporate maze and a rock-climbing event in a gym.
The events without booze felt safer, she said. “Corporate has a responsibility to set a high example.”
Also happy about the new breed of corporate events is Kick Axe Throwing, an ax-throwing bar in Brooklyn. Business is booming, according to Chief Executive Ginger Flesher-Sonnier.
Fully 30 percent of the bar’s business comes from corporate events, she said.
One NY law firm is returning for a second event this fall.
It will feature an open bar — but will take place in October when the boys and girls of summer are safely back at school.
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