A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from March 11, 2019
“Making partner is like a pie-eating contest where the prize is more pie”

It’s an old joke in the legal profession that making partner is like a pie-eating contest where the prize is more pie. That is, you work insanely hard with many billable hours—and your prize is to work insanely hard for more billable hours. There’s no reward where you can take it easy.

Origin of the joke is unknown. “As Jim Coy once put it as young associate at a major national law firm: ‘Partnership at this firm is like a pie-eating contest where the prize is more pie’” was printed in OC Metro (Newport Beach, CA) on August 15, 1995. An extended discussion of the joke was on the blog The Volokh Conspiracy in January 2005, and one commenter wrote: “I first heard that bromide circa 1975 when I started working at Fried Frank. It wasn’t new then.”

“Academia is like a pie-eating contest where the reward is more pie” is a related saying.


Google Books
The Condensed World of the Reader’s Digest
By Samuel Agnew Schreiner
New York, NY: Stein and Day
1977
Pg. 51:
As one editor aptly put it, “Life at the Digest is a pie-eating contest in which the prize is more pie to eat.” (And digest, I might add.)

Google Books
A Place Called Princeton
By Samuel Agnew Schreiner
New York, NY: Arbor House
1984
Pg. 94:
Years ago a colleague of mine, Dan O’Keefe, described life at the Reader’s Digest, where we both worked, as “a pie eating contest in which the prize is more pie to eat.” The same might be said of Princeton.

15 August 1995, OC Metro (Newport Beach, CA), “Law, O.J. and you: The profession’s latest twist forms around the famous trial. For lawyers, reality is based on their personal search for excellence” by Kedric Francis, pg. 32:
As Jim Coy once put it as young associate at a major national law firm: “Partnership at this firm is like a pie-eating contest where the prize is more pie.”

Google Books
Dispute Resolution:
Negotiation, Mediation, and Other Processes

By Stephen B. Goldberg, Frank E. A. Sander and Nancy H. Rogers
Gaithersburg, MD: Aspen Law & Business
1999
Pg. 579:
As one of my law school friends put it, partnership is like a pie eating contest where the prize is more pie.

Google Groups: sci.chem
Grad School Decisions
William Penrose
7/30/99
(...)
To paraphrase what some lawyer said about law partnerships, “Academia is like a pie-eating contest in which the prize is more pie.”

The Volokh Conspiracy
Orin Kerr, January 16, 2005 at 11:28pm
The Pie-Eating Contest:
I often hear lawyers recite an observation about making partner at a large law firm that goes something like this:

Making partner is like winning a pie-eating contest in which the prize for winning is more pie.

The point is that associates have to work long and difficult hours to make partner-- and if they make it, they are rewarded with a job in which they are expected to continue to work long and difficult hours.

My question is, does anyone know who first came up with this line? I found one article crediting “a partner” for it, but I wondered if anyone knew any more details. If you think you know, please leave a comment.

dag:
The 3d ed. (2000)of the “VAULT.com Guide to the Top 50 Law Firms” (pg. 80) attributes the comment to Harvard law prof John Coates, who, according to Vault, left for Harvard only eight months after making partmer at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen, &Katz.
1.17.2005 2:27am

A Blogger:
That may be right, although the Vault piece (available here) doesn’t make clear if Coates made up the comment or was merely reciting it. The timing is unclear: the Masssacusetts Law Weekly piece linked to in the post is from 1997, the same year Coates joined Harvard, whereas the vault thing seems to be later.

Robert Schwartz (mail):
I first heard that bromide circa 1975 when I started working at Fried Frank. It wasn’t new then.
1.17.2005 11:50am

Morgan6:
I first heard this maxim from lawyer Teresa Corbin in approximately 1992 when we were both associates at Pillsbury Madison &Sutro (now Pillsbury Winthrop). Teresa now practices in Menlo Park, CA. Maybe she knows an earlier reference.
1.17.2005 9:54pm

Marco Parillo:
As told by Tracy Kidder in The Soul of a New Machine West [an engineer at Data General, RIP] called this paradox “pinball” back in 1978. In pinball, he reasoned, the prize for winning is getting to play again. I found this reminder here, but maybe engineers and lawyers share some characteristics.
1.19.2005 10:55am

Google Books
Grindhopping:
Build a Rewarding Career Without Paying Your Dues

By Laura Vanderkam
New York, NY: McGraw Hill Professional
2006
Pg. 119:
Partnership, the joke goes, is like a pie-eating contest. The prize? More pie.

Google Books
The Law School Gamble:
Things You Must Consider Before Placing Your Bet

By Matthew J. Marzetti
Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse
2009
Pg. 135:
Becoming partner is like winning that hot dog-eating contest, except the prize is more hot dogs.

Twitter
StAndrewLegalClinic
@StAndrewLegal
Couldn’t pass this up from @WSJLawBlog, “making partner is like a pie-eating contest in which the reward is more pie” http://bit.ly/7Vswv
12:31 PM - 19 Aug 2009

Twitter
주희
@juheenuna
Making a partner is like a pie-eating contest, only that the winning prize is more pies. An attorney friend told me today.
6:24 PM - 6 Nov 2009

Google Books
Deception
By Naomi Chase
New York, NY: Kensington Publishing Corp.
2012
Pg. 61:
“There’s an old saying in the legal community that practicing law is like a pie-eating contest. When you make partner, the prize is more pie.”

Twitter
David Lat
@DavidLat
@stacyqc - They say he originated the “making partner is like a pie-eating contest where the prize is more pie” quote.
5:54 PM - 24 Oct 2012

Twitter
Angela Morris
@AMorrisReports
Making partner: like a pie-eating contest where the prize is more pie? http://ow.ly/lhwT6 The Recorder #lawyeradvice
9:45 AM - 22 May 2013

Google Books
The Trouble with Lawyers
By Deborah L. Rhode
New York, NY: Oxford University Press
2015
Pg. 12:
To many attorneys, the struggle for promotion looks increasingly like a “pie-eating contest where the prize is more pie.”

Quora
Some say that being a partner at a law firm is like being awarded pies for winning a pie eating contest. What does this mean?
Ty Doyle, partner, Houston litigation boutique
Updated Apr 5, 2017
It means that as an associate, you work your ass off to (1) make your firm money and (2) prove that you deserve to join the partnership over other associates. It’s a contest, and pie-eating is a good analogy since you’re stuffing yourself with work, often far beyond what is comfortable, to try to outdo the competition.

The joke—and where this saying comes from—is that for those who win the contest and become partners, the prize is just more of the same, i.e., more work and more responsibility

Above The Law—Evolve The Law
Pie, roads and sand: Why you should attend Law Jobs for Humans
Is our Law Jobs for Humans event for you?

By DAN LEAR
Mar 7, 2019 at 10:39 AM
(...)
No more pie. Just like the old joke about how the law firm career track is like a pie eating contest, the notion that after seven to ten years of two-thousand-billable-hour-years your reward is twenty years of two-thousand-billable-hour-years seems ludicrous to you.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityGovernment/Law/Politics/Military • Monday, March 11, 2019 • Permalink