Quinn Emanuel chief: associates, go and work on a beach

Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan legal titan John Quinn tells The Lawyer why each associate is being handed $2,000 to spend a week working anywhere in the world. Clue: it’s not to unwind.


The Beach
Quinn Emanuel associates may want to hang out on the beach in their spare time.

Associates at litigation machine Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan got a nice surprise last Friday (31 January 2014), when CEO John Quinn sent them an all lower-case email [below] reminding them that January is miserable, so is February and March, so here’s $2,000 to work anywhere in the world for a week.

“Hard working QE [Quinn Emanuel] lawyers need a break for sure,” reads the memo. “[…] Maybe you will throw down a power strip in a beach cafe in India, maybe a hostel in a village in the mountains of Colombia. Freak street in Kathmandu? It’s up to the group.” 

Hang on. Thousands of dollars to go to a beach cafe in India for a week? Things quiet at Quinn Emanuel? It certainly sounds unusually relaxed for one of the most profitable firms in the US (and indeed, London).

“There is nothing relaxed about our firm,” insists Quinn at the mention of the word. “It’s probably the most intense working environment. They [associates] don’t come here to relax.” 

Read the small print and Quinn is bang on. A few paragraphs into the memo and excited associates – already known for being able to wear flip-flops and shorts to work – get a gentle reminder of the rules. 

“There must be 24/7 connectivity wherever you go,” Quinn writes. “We expect that you will be working, just as if you were in Manhattan, Paris or wherever, even if u are wearing a bathing suit. We need to know how to reach you at all times, instantly.”

See, nothing comes for free. It’s also notable that the memo bans no-nothing first years from taking a trip: ”first years will have to wait.  you must have worked at least 2000 hours last year.  you must be a full time associate or of counsel in good standing.”

Was there even a demand for this perk ahead of time?

“No, [it] was just my idea,” Quinn answers, giving little else away in terms of where the inspiration came. 

“I don’t know [where it came from], I just thought it up,” he adds, steering away from any suggestion that associates might have been grumbling. ”It seemed like a good idea, people work extremely hard and it’s a stressful job.” 

Simple as pie. Is there really no wider strategy here? 

“It’s not that often that associates in our London office get to work with those in our Silicon Valley for a few weeks,” Quinn offers as one example of an advantage.

Unsurprisingly, there’s been “great enthusiasm” to the scheme internally since it was announced on Friday. Does this mean it’s going to be a permanent thing?

“Who knows, maybe it will be a disaster,” muses Quinn. ”Maybe there’ll be too much screwing around.”

Better watch out for them next time you’re in that Colombian mountain village.

Full email:

Its january and its dreary in most places of the qe world, and next month it will be february, and then march, promising more of the same.   hard working qe lawyers need a break for sure.  so we are introducing a new program.   we haven’t really come up with a cool name for it yet–maybe “qe work away week”?  the idea is this:

the firm will give associates $2k to go work anywhere in the world they want to work for one week. all expenses above $2k are your responsibility.  associates will be assigned to a group of 6-10 other associates who also sign up for the program.  you can ask to go with a particular person, but there are no guarantees that they will be in your group.   part of the objective is to get to know lawyers in different offices, so associates will generally not know the other people in their group.

once you are assigned to a group, it will be up to the group to decide where you want to go work for a week and when.   u can go anywhere you want.  but we expect that you will be working together.  maybe you will throw down a power strip in a beach cafe in india.   maybe a hostel in a village in the mountains of columbia.  freak street in kathmandu?   its up to the group. 

there are rules:  there must be 24/7 connectivity wherever you go.   you must be available at all the hours you would be available if you were in your home office.   you are expected to continue working and be available just as you would if you were home.  if your work assignments are such that you really can’t do them remotely, then wait until next year.   client confidentiality must be maintained at all costs.  and we expect that you will be working, just as if you were in manhattan, paris or wherever, even if u are wearing a bathing suit.   we need to know how to reach you at all times, instantly.  partners may or may not go–it depends how cool the places are that you pick.  travel should be arranged so that you are open for work monday morning thru end of day friday.  in other words, do your traveling on weekends. 

who  is eligible:   first years will have to wait.  you must have worked at least 2000 hours last year.  you must be a full time associate or of counsel in good standing. 

if you want to participate in this latest qe adventure, please email selene dogan.