More than 20 major California law firms, along with 90 others throughout the country, are cautiously participating in a pilot program by Harvard University law students to divert extravagant "perks" to the homeless.
Conceived by a student group called Code Critical, the ambitious program could raise $50,000 in 1989, its experimental start-up year, and more than $200,000 annually when additional law schools and law firms are enlisted for 1990.
So far, the participating California firms include nine in San Francisco and Palo Alto (four others have agreed to donate money), eight in Los Angeles and one, Rutan & Tucker, in Costa Mesa.
Under the plan, tagged "the Firm Commitment," about 600 Harvard law students courted by the firms as summer associates will choose cheaper accommodations than the firms traditionally provide for interview trips.
The difference in the cost can be donated by the law firm to a homeless shelter selected by the Code Critical organization in the firm's city.
A Boston travel agency, Filene's Travel Service, also has agreed to donate half of its commission on hotels, air fares and other travel arrangements.
"It provides a way for law students, who are not yet earning a living, to do something for a cause which is in dire need of money," said Brian Melendez, a second-year law student and president of Harvard's Law School Council.
Stanford University business students, who also are courted for lucrative summer internships, are considering expanding the law school program to business schools.
Local law firms applaud the students' idea but remain cautious about just how workable it will be and how much money it will actually provide for the homeless.
"It's an administrative nightmare," said Carolyn B. Taff, recruiting administrator for Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker, a 280-lawyer firm in Los Angeles.
Taff said working with the designated Boston travel agency proved so difficult that her firm considered simply making a monetary donation, rather than participating in the program.
Some firms, including San Francisco's second-largest, the 434-lawyer Morrison & Foerster, have done just that.
Ultimately, only one Harvard student courted by her firm volunteered to take the cheaper trip, said Taff's assistant, Sheri Israel. The firm expects to hire about 60 interns next summer.
Taff estimated that a firm saves $20 to $30 for each student choosing cheaper accommodations for a typical two-night interview trip.
Jeffrey Reid Hudson of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in Los Angeles said his firm could not use the Boston travel agency because of a contract arrangement with another agency here. Instead, the firm offers participating students cheaper restaurants, donating the difference to the homeless. He was unable to estimate the possible savings.
Words of Support
Gibson, Dunn--which is Los Angeles' and California's largest firm with 680 lawyers--hires about 90 to 110 summer associates each year throughout the country, Hudson said. Those include five to 10 from Harvard.
"We thought this was something worthwhile that we should support," Hudson said. But he joined others in questioning the Harvard students' selection of alternate hotels.
Both Paul, Hastings and Gibson, Dunn have traditionally housed candidates at the Sheraton Grande and Biltmore hotels. Choosing from substitute hotels proposed by the Harvard students, both firms chose the nearby Bonaventure, which charges only a few dollars less.
Taff said firms select hotels because of negotiated prices and packages, safety, service and proximity to their offices. She said the Bonaventure, located next door to Arco-Bank of America Towers, where her firm is headquartered, was the only acceptable alternative.
"The other hotels they suggested were not in safe areas at all, and safety is our first priority," Taff said. "And the other hotels were so inconveniently located that anything we saved on the hotel bills would be used up in cab fares."
Selection of Agency
Taff also questioned the Harvard students' selection of the Los Angeles shelter designated to receive local firms' donations--Valley Shelter in North Hollywood.
Hudson said his firm was told that it could choose where to donate and selected People Assisting the Homeless in West Los Angeles.
"I would like the money to go to shelters that would be more reflective of the area where we are--downtown," Taff said. "It is a broad new program. Obviously, they need to refine it."
The designated shelter for San Diego is Southeast Emergency Quarters and for San Francisco, the Episcopal Sanctuary.