BY NATE ELA
The New Yorker magazine devoted all of the ad space in its August 22 issue to just one sponsor: Target. Each and every sellable column inch featured a stylish depiction of a New York City scene inked by a big-name illustrator who incorporated in some imaginative way the discount retailer’s trademark bull’s-eye. The New York Times deemed this unprecedented advertising event important enough to merit an article, which reported that Target had shelled out over a million dollars for the chance to polish its brand image in this way.
Why did Target do it? What was its intended message? Presumably not that it is an omnipresent purveyor of low-priced crap — most New Yorker readers already knew that — but rather that it is a purveyor of sophisticated low-priced crap. Crap that is fashionable enough to jibe with the average New Yorker reader’s upper-middle-class lifestyle. Crap with which a New Yorker reader shouldn’t be ashamed to associate herself.
In this issue, the annual “Career Guide,” the Record devotes its advertising space almost exclusively to a single sponsor: the Big Firm. It’s pretty hard to rid oneself of the impression that this column and all the other “what I did this summer” stories are little more than filler between Big Firm ads. With the revenues from this issue, the Record can afford to publish for the rest of the year — and maybe buy some tasty snacks for our meetings.
Although these ads will keep the Record afloat, I urge you not to buy what they’re selling. Just like the Target brand slathered all over the New Yorker, the Big Firm brand advertised here is omnipresent, appears at first glance to be a good deal, and is something that most Record readers are already familiar with. We’ve all heard stories of students before us who bought the big firm brand, and who are now dissatisfied customers. Nevertheless, if this year is anything like past years the vast majority of 2Ls and 3Ls will buy in, knowingly and willingly, to a very raw deal. And that’s a shame.
As we know, the Big Firm is selling a generic job that promises long hours, a salary of $125,000 or more, and high social status. Buying its product usually comes along with a lifestyle package: nice suits, expensive dinners, a fancy car, and a condo in a yuppie section of a major American city. In addition, there will be a bit of money — but not too much — to give to some charity from time to time.
Both Target and Big Firm ads create an illusion of choice. In the New Yorker, the Target ads came in many styles, suggesting the store’s products provide choice enough to satisfy the unique desires of any reader/consumer. Yet no matter your personal preference, you end up at the same conclusion: shop at Target. For its part, the Big Firm offers a variety of product lines, each of which has a name that ostensibly stands for a different “culture.” Covington? The choice for intellectuals. Skadden? The progressive choice. Cravath? The choice for folks who like white shoes. In reality, each product line leads to the same result: long hours spent researching ways to entrench the power of your clients, society’s richest and least deserving people. And maybe, if you aren’t too tired, a few hours of pro bono work on the side.
Face it: we have about as much of a chance of being fashionable or sophisticated by surrounding ourselves with Target’s mass-produced crap as we do of being happy or fulfilled by working for the Big Firm. We know this. And as we read the ads in The New Yorker and in the Record, we probably feel a sneaking suspicion that our consumption choice would indirectly (Target) or directly (Big Firm) support the perpetuation of sweatshop-like working conditions. This suspicion may arise as we flip the label and notice where that impossibly cheap t-shirt was made. Or it may be confirmed as we spend our fourth-straight Saturday drafting a numbingly dull memo that will serve only to make rich clients richer.
As students at the Harvard Law School, we have incredible choices. For better or for worse, the HLS brand — our brand — tends to dazzle people, including potential employers. Our brand puts us in a position of privilege, a position where we have more of an opportunity than most people in this country to find and pursue jobs that we believe in. And unlike nearly all other law students, we can afford to take such jobs and have part or all of our loans forgiven. Indeed, we have nothing to lose. And yet we have everything to lose, especially when we opt to use our privileged positions merely to buy into a system that will bribe us to waste our lives toiling for clients we donÕt admire and causes we donÕt believe in.
So don’t buy it. The Big Firm doesn’t deserve our business. Don’t buy into its famous One-Time-Only Twelve-Week Trial Offer, or the perverse idea that $30,000 in exchange for wasting a summer is somehow a good deal. It’s not. It’s a bill of goods, for a product that you’ll come to regret buying even sooner than that $99.99 Popeil Automatic Pasta Maker from Target.
Nate Ela is a 2L.