BY MARTHA JEONG
I had always imagined that New York summer associates would live wonderfully fabulous and lavish lives: eating six-course dinners every other week at Bouley, driving to the Hamptons every weekend, doing sexy corporate work and flying out to meet clients around the world, rubbing elbows with celebrities over brunch in Soho, buying tickets to all of the hottest performances around town and going home each night to their beautifully manicured apartments. And why not, considering a weekly $2400 salary plus the bonus of free lunch, liquor and entertainment?
Well, nothing is quite as it seems. After having been through the 12-week experience in Manhattan myself, I must confess these delusions of grandeur were only wild concoctions in my head. Sure there were a few splurges now and then, but the opportunities for extravagance and revelry were always met by some form of reality check, whether it be a loan reminder in the mail, a phone call from my friend working in the public service field, or my own conscience that would feel slightly foolish that I would be willing to spend $15 on a one-way cab ride to the Upper West Side in the middle of the night for a slice of cake just because I felt like it.
And, to my surprise, sometimes the life of luxury was not something I desired 24-7. As a self-proclaimed foodie who finds New York to be a gustatory heaven, I thought I would never tire of long lunches on the firm’s dime. But after a while, I realized that sometimes you’re just not in the mood for another tuna tartar, rack of lamb, and a flight of crime brulee with sugar coated rose petals. Sometimes all I want is grape Fanta and a gyro from the guy who sells all sorts of fun meat in a little cart on 52nd and Lexington. And if this meal can be topped off with a $1.08 tax-included ice cream cone from McDonald’s, I’m perfectly happy. I also came to the realization that the hot shows advertised in Time Out and the New York Times weekend section can sometimes let you down. After a discouraging trial of sold out performances and countless minutes of listening to elevator music while waiting on hold for the ticket booth operator, I finally procured two tickets to a supposedly wicked modern dance show in Chelsea. After filing in with a large group of beautiful people, I sat down ready to be dazzled, entertained and blown away. I think at some point I felt all of these emotions, but not in the way I had hoped for. I won’t go into detail, but letÕs just say that in the grand finale, the whole troupe came out in nothing but flesh colored thongs and performed on long strips of plastic doused in water. And while many others stood up to give the dancers an encore, I realized that I had just paid $200 to have a whole bunch of naked people ride around on slip-n-slides and get me wet. As far as the sexy work is concerned, I have a feeling that adjective is not quite so appropriate. Actually the first few days as a summer associate, as I sat at my computer looking through Lexis with highlighters in hand and a few piles of cases and a Bluebook by my side, I had a strange feeling of deja vu. Wait a minute…wasn’t I doing this just a week ago in my dorm room? Other than the fact I now had a view of the Chrysler building from my desk, Lexis was now banking on my inefficiency, and I was getting paid, work as a summer associate was eerily familiar.
I began working on a white-collar crime case, which again came as a suprise compared to my expectations. I had some reserved skepticism about how I personally would feel doing this kind of defense work and I also thought that all clients would be the kind of slick, fast-talking, millionaire types to whom I would feel very little empathy. During my initial research for the case, I proceeded with the mindset that work was work and I would have to keep my reservations to myself because they would serve no useful purpose there. Our client was an elderly man who had made a few bad decisions and whose biggest fault lied not in his actions, but rather in his lack of them at a time of financial difficulty for his company. He also suffered from the advanced stages of Parkinson’s disease. When I met with him and another attorney, he had trouble speaking, standing, walking, and remembering. Clearly, this was a man for whom a long incarceration sentence would bring about his death. I helped write a sentencing submission to the judge asking for a downward departure given our client’s illness and old age. I am happy to report that I was part of a team that helped reduce our client’s several year prison sentence to one that only included 6 months of incarceration followed by a period of home confinement.
The conclusion of this story is not that I will be running off to do white collar work, only eating food that comes out of moving carts, and never again watching another modern dance show, but that perhaps nothing is quite as it seems (especially in New York!) and all kinds of expectations whether they be illusions of grandeur, inclinations toward luxury, or reservations of skepticism are open to be foiled at any time.
Martha Jeong is a 2L who thanks the Record for giving her the opportunity to feel like Carrie Bradshaw minus the $400 Manolo Blahniks while writing this article.