Free drinks and marginal benefits
During the past week I've been to a couple of Law Firm receptions, and I have more of them upcoming for the next month or so. For those who don't know, the firm rents out a room at a bar or restaurant for the night, announces it a couple of weeks in advance, and first year students interested in attending RSVP. Now I know why students go to these events. There are free hors d'oeuvres, drinks, and some associates and maybe a partner or two from the firm to chat with. I've been trying to come up with clever questions to ask in order to actually get some insight on the firm, but so far the best I've come up with is, "So what's your favorite project that you've worked on during your time at the firm?" Not too clever. But the thing that's bothering me (and others) is that I can't figure out why in the world the firms are doing this.
As PG says in the linked post, the firms have no need to court 1L's for the upcoming summer, since many of them already have all the 2L summer associates they want, and the ones that do want 1Ls are swamped with resumes as is. PG also suggests that they might be trying to build name recognition for future hiring periods. The problems with this idea is that students tend to choose the receptions for either the firms they're already interested in or for the one's at the best restaurants. Also, as far as I can tell, every large or mid-size firm sponsors a reception. So it's not clear what advantage these provide to one firm over any other particular firm. So my theory is that it must be a collective action problem.
I haven't researched this in the least, but I would guess that at some point in the past, a small number of firms, possibly one, started having these receptions and experienced an up tick in their recruitment. Other firms noticed their success and started emulating them. At some point when enough firms were doing this, it stopped having the effect of improving their recruitment numbers. This is an empirical claim which I have no evidence for, but the theory behind it seems correct. If it is, the reason the practice is still on going is similar toproblems with unilateral disarmament. If only one firm stops having receptions, they might suffer a downturn in their name recognition. But, if my theorizing is correct, every firm stopping the receptions simultaneously would leave them in exactly their current position, plus they could keep the cost of these receptions and their associates wouldn't have to answer the same questions over and over. On the other hand, maybe the associates enjoy the chance to get out of the office and talk to first year law students, I don't know. There are of familiar game theory issues here with trying to get everyone to agree to this and no real obvious to avoid the problem of one or more firms defecting.