This Wall Street Journal column deals with the issue of associate deferrals at the prestigious law firm of Cravath, Swaine, and Moore.
The big idea here is that the firm doesn't have the work or the money lying around to pay their first-year associates the $160k that they were offered coming through the door. The idea, then, is that the firm can cut costs by offering this deal -- We'll pay you $80k just to show us the back of your head and not come back 'til next fall.
It's an interesting proposition, especially at a time when so many talented people are unemployed or, more likely, underemployed. Where the columnist was stunned was in the lack of takers.
When you peel it back a little, however, there are very good and very rational reasons for people to NOT take the deferral offer. For one, they've just gone through 7 or more years of school, and are looking forward to beginning their careers; for another, they may have significant overhead and find that they actually need the full $160k to support some aspect of their lifestyle, which may include expensive Manhattan real estate, a nice car, private school tuition for a very young one...and that's all on top of what might be six figures' worth of student loans.
Still, I had to see the article through my own lens -- what I found most interesting about the article and all the comments on wsj.com was the built-in assumptions about what it must mean for a person not to work a 9-to-5.
From the initial reference to "sleeping and loafing around Park Slope" to the comments that talk about "Well, wouldn't you get bored just sleeping on the couch and going to the gym all day?" it surprises me that people can be so myopic. I would think a properly diligent and properly motivated person could do some pretty goshdarned amazing things with that opportunity -- travel the world, read all the classics that he or she missed during undergrad, write a novel, learn a new language, do pro bono work for a legal charity, etc. To me, just thinking about the different ways you could carve out an amazing year with $80k in your pocket seems exciting.
And of course the "hits close to home" aspect to this for me is that right now I have two part-time jobs, each of which is ramping closer to full-time (even to the degree that one may have to give way for the other), in addition to exploring a range of possible grad school opportunities, which means taking an alphabet soup bowl's worth of tests, which means, which means, you get the idea -- busier than a one-legged man in a butt-kicking competition.
Yet even still, that can be incredibly difficult to explain in a concise way to someone who asks, "What is it that you do?" with all the tiptoeing politeness but true curiosity of a person who wonders why you're still unshaven in jeans and a t-shirt at an unusual hour. And that's the better side to it -- there's also the smarmy "must be nice" from someone implying a willful life of leisure, or the blunter, "So...don't you just get bored with daytime TV all day?" which I actually heard more than once over the holidays.
So, to anyone out there in legal land who has the chutzpah to take $80k just to walk away for a year and dedicate himself or herself to whatever great things are possible for someone with ample time and motivation, from the bottom of my heart, I salute you. I have full faith and confidence that you will do great things. I hope you never watch a single Jerry Springer episode, but if you do, I promise not to judge.