Saturday, June 25, 2005

There's a story going around about a British partner who demanded reimbursement for his dry cleaning from a secretary who spilled ketchup on him, and sent a somewhat distateful e-mail to her asking for the money, despite her dealing with the more pressing issue of her mother's funeral. This is why e-mail is so dangerous. All he wanted was his reimbursement, and it gets forwarded around to the whole world as if he's a monster. It's not like he's making her buy him a new suit, and it's not like he demanded she miss the funeral. Sure, it's distasteful, but if this is the worst treatment she's ever received, I'd say she's fairly lucky. At least she didn't have to launder the clothes herself.

It reminds me of when a summer associate was mindlessly fidgeting with the plastic cockroach I was sent by a client (the client was a leading extermination firm) and accidentally snapped the head right off of it. He was thoroughly embarrassed as it flew halfway across the room, hitting the fourth-year associate in the office with us. I laughed it off at the time, and no one ever made another mention of it. What he never figured out was that when he came back after graduation to work for the firm full-time, that incident was the reason why he ended up with the office by the bathroom. You see, sometimes we pretend something isn't an issue, but we never really forget. It all comes back around eventually.

They sent me a new cockroach, incidentally, but I kind of prefer the headless one. It's a much better conversation piece during interviews.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

I got a call at seven in the morning on my cell phone from a summer associate, frantic.

"I couldn't sleep all night and I wanted to catch you right when you got up."

"How'd you even get my number?"

"The firm directory."

"What is it you need?"

"I think I gave you the wrong advice yesterday. I've been torturing myself over it. I told you the provision cut in favor of the client, but I've been re-reading the case law over and over and I think it cuts the other way. I don't think there's a case here. I'm so sorry. I know you were counting on me, and I screwed it up. I feel terrible about this. I don't want this to be your first impression of me."

"You think I take your advice without checking with an associate first?"

"Excuse me?"

"You think I actually believe a summer associate can do anything right? The project I gave you wasn't even for a current client. We solved it months ago. It was just busy work. You needed something to do, so I dug that up from my e-mail. You think it mattered?"

"But I was in the office until 2:30 in the morning working on it."

"No one told you to stay that late."

"But I thought--"

"You're here to get a taste of life as an associate. But we're not expecting you to actually do anything. Don't worry about it. I don't care if you got the answer wrong. The important thing is you got some experience. Calm down."

"But I thought--"

"I'll see you in the office later this morning. You probably still have time for a couple of hours of sleep."

"But I thought--"


Monday, June 06, 2005

I was making the rounds this afternoon checking up on a few summer associates. There have been some rumors the past couple of days that a handful of summers have been leaving the office early and seeing afternoon movies; we let them know that we'll be doing occasional spot-checks now, to make sure that doesn't happen. After all, even if there isn't enough work for them to do, just like the full-time associates, it doesn't mean they're allowed to leave. Anyway, as I was making the rounds, I noticed one of the summers from a particularly prominent law school was fixated on his computer screen. I asked him what was so interesting. He told me they just released the list of which graduates had earned honors. I asked if I could take a quick scan to see if the names of our incoming first-years had made the list.

One of them had, and the other one hadn't. We tell them it doesn't matter how they do in law school, but we're lying. I have a speech I give on the last day of the summer about how their employment is secure, it's okay if they get D's, it's okay if they get C's, it's okay if they get arrested for second-degree assault. As long as they graduate, and as long as the bar will admit them, we're okay, and we won't ask to see their grades, and we won't concern ourselves with it. It's a crock of baloney, actually. If they don't think we have preconceived notions of who the stars are, they're fooling themselves. We know who we want to have succeed here and who we'd just as soon say goodbye to in a year and a half. We know whose names we eventually want on the letterhead (just a turn of phrase... we stopped putting partners' names on the letterhead a long time ago). And if they don't graduate with honors, then maybe we start to second-guess ourselves. Maybe we made the wrong choice. Or regular honors when we thought they'd do even better than that? Maybe they're slackers. Maybe a distinguished career in the law isn't as important to them as we thought. Maybe they're just like everyone else, and we should just burn them out as fast as we can and throw their carcass to the pile of dogs waiting out back (just a turn of phrase... we got rid of the dogs a long time ago).

If college today is what high school used to be, magna today is what regular honors once were, with grade inflation and all that. We want attorneys with latin words we can put next to their names. We want attorneys with a good pedigree that clients will pay more money to have incompetently service them. We want attorneys able to figure out how to get an A on a law school exam, because if they can't figure that out, how do they expect to be able to fool a judge into believing the law is something other than what the words on the page say it is?

So the one who got honors gets a gift basket. The other one doesn't. They'll compare notes. They'll figure it out. It'll serve its purpose. Like the office assignments do. You, next to the assistant head of M&A. You, next to the bathroom. You think it's an accident? Nothing's an accident.

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