Saturday, March 26, 2005

Anonymous Wife has a delicious home-cooked meal planned for Easter tomorrow. Of course, she isn't the one doing the cooking. It's amazing what you can get for a hundred and eighty dollars per person. They even bring a picnic table. So the lawn furniture that I spent three thousand dollars on can remain in the garage, never touched. And Anonymous Wife can just sit there painting her toenails, and we still get to eat. My parents are here for the weekend, which explains why I'm in the office on Saturday afternoon. Dad is wandering the halls, looking for dust that the cleaning staff missed. He loves when he visits and I let him come to work with me. He misses this. I mean, it was never this intense for him, but he misses the atmosphere. He misses having a secretary. He misses having a set of people hanging on his every word. He misses having a reason to wake up in the morning, somewhere to go, someone to talk to. So I bring him here, let him run free, flip through stacks of paper, help me out on a case I don't really need his help on, make him feel marginally useful. I think he appreciates it.

I'll bring him back again on Monday or Tuesday, when there are more people in the office, and let him tell some stories about what it was like back in the day. "Before computers, we had to type out every contract by hand...." Right, dad, it was you, at the typewriter, not some woman making four dollars a week and having to cope with your partner's unwanted advances at the Christmas party. Dad was a good guy. His partner was a creep. Dad tolerated him for way too long, never quite getting up the courage to confront him about anything. His partner ruined the practice for the two of them. They haven't spoken in years. But I'll indulge Dad's stories, and his revisionist history. He doesn't understand the lifestyle today, the added pressure, the around-the-clock nature of the business. He's still stuck in the 1960s.

He was a better father than I am. Mom says he was always at work, but that's not how I remember it. I remember him being there, more often than not. I don't remember work getting in the way when I had a birthday party, or a baseball game, or graduation. I don't even know if I really knew what Dad did until I got to high school. It wasn't something that interfered with life. Meanwhile, Anonymous Son knows the names of my top ten clients and how many hours I've billed each of them in the past fiscal year. Anonymous Daughter knows how many times they've been cited for violations under OSHA and how much they've had to pay in fines. It's not as easy as it was before e-mail, before globalization, before this became more than just a job. There's a pressure that wasn't there for Dad, without a seven-figure mortgage, $25,000 private school tuition, $180/person Easter lunches in the backyard....

So while Dad's roaming the hallway, and Mom's with the kids in the shopping mall, buying them who-knows-what and letting them get body parts pierced that I can't even imagine, I'm getting a few hours of catch-up work done so I don't have it on my mind all weekend. I'm realizing I know Conference Room 24B better than I know my living room. I know where the cell phone reception is strongest, I know which chairs wobble, I know which cabinet the extra legal pads are in. I know which window to look out to see the people having more fun than I am, living lives with perhaps a bit less purpose, but more happiness. Sometimes I wish I didn't have quite so much ambition, and was okay settling for a meaningless existence of tennis matches and long drives along the coast. That everything didn't have to have some grander purpose, some goal in mind. It goes by so quickly, what does it matter anyway? No one's going to remember what I accomplish whether I'm chairman of the firm or I sell pottery on the beach. But I'm not like that. Dad wasn't like that, despite the lower pressure at a place like this back then. He wanted to make a mark, somehow. I don't think he realized until too late that what he spent his life doing largely just didn't matter. I mean, it mattered to us -- we got to live in a nice house, in the right neighborhood, go to the right schools... but it didn't matter to the world whether the insurance company won its case or not, whether the settlement was good, whether the contracts were airtight. It was just a means to an end. And this is the end. An old man wandering the halls hoping for someone to tell him he matters.

I like the conference room. There's a peacefulness to it, when it's Saturday afternoon and the file folders aren't covering the desks, and there aren't four paralegals in here stamping every sheet with the "sign here" stickers. Or a client pacing the room, wondering why we have to reprint sheet 74, and why we can't get this done any faster. Maybe I need a conference room at home. For the kids to do their homework, for Anonymous Wife to hide the shoes I told her not to buy but she bought anyway, for Dad to act out his own Chairman of the Firm fantasies whenever he comes to visit.

Or maybe I just need a $180/person lunch, complete with its own picnic table. Can't possibly be worth it, but can't possibly be worse than having to do it myself, I suppose.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

We're debating whether we should raise our summer associate lunch limit to $65/person. One of our competitors just did, according to one of the associates here who seems to have friends at every firm in the city. It's useful to have one associate who still has friends. She gets us the gossip from all of our peer firms without us having to resort to Internet message boards and paying paralegals to get temp jobs there and report back. We use her more than we should. This is the only reason why she's on the Associate Life Committee. She has connections. She's friendly. Everyone tells her everything. When another firm puts video screens in their elevators, we know about it in two business days, guaranteed. It's a tremendous help. The lunch limit is a source of debate among everyone here. Associates are torn.

On the one hand, they get to take advantage of the lunches all summer, because the only way a summer associate gets his lunch paid for is to find an associate willing to take him out. So associates love the summer because they get free meals at the best restaurants in town.

The downside is that associates feel slighted when we are too nice to the summers. It reminds them what their lives are like now, and reminds them what lunches are like the rest of the year, when there are no $65 meals that take three hours and let them hang out with their colleagues realizing they have nothing to talk about besides work. It's dangerous to let associates spend too much time with each other socially. They start to think too hard. Better to keep them distracted and overwhelmed.

The other part of the summer lunch calculation is that even though we can always raise prices to cover the cost, people think it's money out of their pockets, and that's never the image we want to convey. That's why we stopped with the shoe shine man. People thought it was a waste. They didn't realize we paid him three dollars an hour and so all we needed to do was fax some unnecessary documents to a few clients every couple of weeks and with the markup on professional services, we made it all back and then some. But someone complained, so we got rid of the shoe shine man and replaced him with a container of polish in the attorney lounge and a lint brush next to the defibrillator at the front desk. The defibrillator comes in handy every so often. The lint brush never does. Attorneys don't care about lint.

I love seeing the reaction the summers have when we tell them they get to go out to eat at the best restaurants in town for free. You can tell who the sophisticated ones are. They hardly move a muscle. The ones who get all excited are in way over their heads. They're not ready for this life. They should go do public interest. They don't deserve the finer things. They won't appreciate the nice cars and expensive suits that come at a place like this. They eat at Applebees and ride the bus. I can't believe there are still buses in this country. You would think we would have gotten beyond that by now.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Anonymous Wife has finally given me permission to write this again. We had a deal. As long as she didn't drink, I wouldn't post to the weblog. She thought the weblog was stealing my attention away from her. I thought her drinking was getting a little excessive. I came home last night at about midnight and found her grinding chocolate truffles into the kitchen floor with her Manolo Blahnik shoes. There are enough functioning alcoholics at work; I don't need one at home too. So I'm back to regular posting. It's the only way I can vent some of my frustrations anyway.

A prospective summer associate called today to renege on his acceptance. He claimed he'd decided the law firm life wasn't for him. This happens every couple of years. Someone reneges at the last minute. More often than not, it's because they accepted more than one offer and thought we wouldn't find out. Lucky for us, there's some collusion in the market, and we were able in fairly short order to figure out where else he'd accepted an offer, and where he was rejecting us for. Lucky for him, that firm liked him enough that they're going to pretend they don't know he took our offer too. Occasionally we're able to screw someone this way; more often, like most minor ethical transgressions, it gets swept under the rug.

I got an e-mail from the recruiting department asking for my input as far as sending out gifts to the summer associates wishing them luck on their final exams. In the past, we've sent an assortment of gourmet brownies. The price of the package went up by 15% this year, so we're looking elsewhere. The associate on the recruiting committee who also got the e-mail wrote back suggesting a pair of handcuffs. The joke wasn't appreciated. There are times to kid around and there are times to be serious. Talking about what gift baskets to send to summer associates is a time to be serious.

We fired a paralegal today. She was playing solitaire on the computer every time I walked past. I was tired of it. They're all interchangeable anyway. The only good paralegals find themselves overextended and leave after two weeks anyway. There's no way for a good paralegal to survive here. We surround them like vultures and suck every ounce of productivity out of them; we demand they stay later and later; we get more and more demanding; until finally they give up. And we're left with Stumpy, the paralegal with the really short legs who doesn't understand that when we ask him to staple documents we don't mean on all four corners. It's impossible.

I'm leaving early to play golf with a client this afternoon. It's a nice day for it. Hopefully by the time I get home, Anonymous Wife will have sobered up.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?