Monday, August 28, 2006

I watched the Emmy Awards last night, hoping that the PBS Masterpiece Theater showing of "Bleak House," my favorite television event of the year, would win the award for best movie or miniseries. It didn't. But I, along with many viewers I'm sure, was shocked by the opening sequence, which showed Conan O'Brien bouncing around in an airplane before it crashed on an island, spoofing the show "Lost," which happens to take place on the same island we send aging partners once they don't bring enough revenue into the firm. The fake plane crash followed a day's worth of news coverage about the real plane crash in Kentucky, and was clearly in poor taste. It surprised me that someone at NBC didn't notice the parallels and replace it with some stock footage of Hurricane Katrina, or something less timely. But, actually, I feel bad for NBC and the heat they've been taking today for the screwup. It reminds me of a similar incident at the firm a decade ago. It was back in 1992, and one of the new associates had just been caught leaving the office at around 4:00 for some sort of doctor's appointment. Which he hadn't gotten permission for, and his colleagues were naturally sore about the fact he'd left early and they'd been stuck in the office until midnight. So a few of them, on their own, dragged him into one of the open conference rooms and starting beating him up, in full view of anyone who walked past. Normally this would have been seen as somewhat extreme, but understandable given the circumstances, people get a little too worked up sometimes over how many hours their colleagues work, and sometimes want to take matters into their own hands. But, anyway, it was only a week or two after the Rodney King incident, and people started to draw parallels, and it was a pretty big public relations mess that we had to pay some people quite a bit of money to keep quiet about. At least I'd been stuck doing document review that entire quarter and so I was locked in a conference room and had nothing to do with any of it. Of course there was also the incident in 1994 when I was on the associate life committee and we printed up some shirts for the first-years to wear that said "It's all my fault," with a picture of an earthquake fault on it (silly pun, I know), right after the Northridge Earthquake, and then three months later we found out one of our paralegals had died in the earthquake (we just thought she was in the records room) and people felt kind of awkward wearing the shirts, but that wasn't as big an issue as the 1992 incident. So I know how Conan O'Brien must feel about it all. The show also gave me an idea for how we can speed up settlement negotiations. They locked Bob Newhart in a chamber filled with only enough air for three hours, and said if the show ran long, he would die. We should do the same thing with associates when clients are negotiating. Not that they have any control over how long negotiations go, but it starts to get boring sitting in the room after a while, and if I knew that I was going to get to watch an associate die after four hours, it would give me something to look forward to.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

I can't wait for Monday morning. It's rare I'm so excited, but I snuck into the office this evening to prepare a little surprise. Anonymous Son begged me to take him to the movies this afternoon. He's been dying to see Snakes on a Plane, and even though it's rated R, I figured he's seen worse on TV or when he's opened the door on his mother in the bathroom. The movie was as expected. He loved it and I was kind of bored, except it gave me a perfect idea. I dropped him off at home, then went on a bit of a spending spree and then down to the office. Snakes At The Firm. Planted a couple of asps in the conference rooms. We'll see if that adds some fear and excitement into people's day. I figure some junior associates or paralegals will come across them first, while they're organizing the documents for a real estate closing or a will signing, and freak out, and then I can threaten to fire them unless they get back to work and watch them struggle with the decision between whether to return to the conference room and deal with the snakes or lose their jobs. I know they'll choose the former, and then I'll gather a crowd outside the windows to look in and watch the action. It's going to be a great day. Snakes At The Firm. Why didn't I think of this sooner?

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Apologies for the week without posts. I wrote three posts while on the road for the start of recruiting season but didn't get a chance to post them. I've backfilled them in: Emory on the 14th, the University of Washington on the 15th, and Columbia on the 17th. I don't always do this much traveling, but Anonymous Wife sprained her ankle while getting a pedicure and so she's been even more demanding than usual and I figured I'd get out of town for a few days.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Visiting Columbia today. I wanted to take Anonymous Son along, but his mother was afraid he'd get shot, and so he stayed home. I told her it's no more dangerous here than it is at the department store sales she drags him to when she needs someone to help her carry her bags. People get trampled there. That didn't convince her. I'll come back with one of those trick bullet holes from a magic shop, stick it to my shoulder and wait for her reaction. It's too easy. I told her the campus is separate from the rest of the community and I wouldn't put our son in any danger but it didn't matter. She was worried I'd force him off the macrobiotic diet she's experimenting with. I wish she wouldn't experiment with our son. But it's not like I'm home enough to monitor what he eats. She has him drinking something called Kombucha, which smells like a cross between urine and paralegals. Terrible. Reminds me of work.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

After an overnight flight last night (first class, of course, even though we put the associates in coach... we'd put the secretaries in with the baggage if we ever allowed them to travel anywhere). I'm up at the University of Washington in Seattle. I've never recruited here before. Never been here before at all. Second-tier city, in a third-tier state, with a fourth-tier cost of living. In fact, I got to the law school at about 11:00 this morning, browsed the list of students I was supposed to be interviewing, and decided not to even bother, gave my schedule to an associate and told him to squeeze them in with the ones he was already supposed to meet with, and I went to see the Space Needle instead. There's a fountain behind the Space Needle, a public sprinkler of sorts. For the homeless people to clean themselves and the children to frolic in the pathogens they leave behind. Fun for the whole family, I suppose. I walked to the waterfront because someone told me about a fish store where they throw the fish at the customers and I wanted to watch that. It seemed very entertaining. Throwing fish at people is a lot of fun. We had a summer event a few years ago and a mid-level associate got drunk and threw his salmon at one of the partners. And that was cooked fish. Well, lightly seared. I couldn't imagine how much fun it would be with raw fish. I couldn't find it. Instead I bought some pluots and had a nice snack. Three of the associates said they were going to the science fiction museum after the interviews were finished. Didn't surprise me. They've always seemed like they were from outer space. They said E.T. was there. Who cares. If I want to see extraterrestrials, I just have to go to the partner barbecue and meet my colleagues' wives. Frightening.

Monday, August 14, 2006

I'm doing interviews at Emory Law School today. Taking a short break between students. My 2:00 is knocking on the door but he can wait. I've already seen his resume. He can wait. There's not a chance we're giving him an offer, so why shouldn't he stand outside for ten minutes while I do something a lot more important than interviewing him. Counting the tiles on the ceiling would be a lot more important than interviewing him. I don't understand why students with lousy grades even bother. They should resign themselves to a life of poorly-paid public interest work and forget about the big firms. We don't want them. You can't walk ten feet on this campus without passing another statue of Sam Nunn. It's like he's the only famous alumnus. Maybe he is. Out the window of the interview room I can see one statue of Sam Nunn standing, one of him burying a nuclear weapon in the ground, and one of Senator Nunn on his horse, fighting in the Revolution. It's overkill. Every interview here, I ask for the candidate's favorite story about Sam Nunn, and they all have something different for me. He's a legend here. Like I'm a legend back at the firm. Everyone has a story about me. It's terrific. Too bad no one here is getting a callback.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

On the heels of the TSA announcement today, we decided to go ahead and ban all liquids and gels at the firm too. You can never be too safe. I put myself in charge of the terrorism task force and went searching through people's offices this afternoon. I'm always looking for reasons to search my associates' desks, so this was a perfect excuse. Took a couple bottles of Jack Daniels home with me after finding them in people's drawers. A few bottles of wine. Some toothpaste and shaving cream for when people are stuck in the office overnight. Tossed that stuff. They'll need to buy it again, but we can't take the risk there are explosives inside. Water bottles, sunscreen, nail polish, the potassium chloride solution we found in one associate's desk next to a suicide note, a marinated piece of salmon someone was cooking sous vide in his bookcase, for a quick dinner, a couple of Frappucinos, all thrown in the trash. We take terrorism seriously here. The only thing I let pass was Red Bull. They need that. But the chamomile tea one weak, weak, terribly weak associate was using to nurse herself through a cold? No way. Colds are for the weak. Liquids are for the weak. We need strong associates. It also gave me an excuse to finally throw out the Jello that's been in the refrigerator in the attorney lounge for about six weeks. That was really the motivation behind all of this to begin with. I'm awfully pleased the TSA gave me the chance to take care of it.

Trying to keep book news to a minimum over here, but I did want to flag this interview I did with the New York Inquirer, in case anyone wants to read some background about the book and blog.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Joe Lieberman inspires me. He inspires me to change the way we run elections for the associate life committee at the firm. The way we've always done it is pretty simple. We ask for volunteers, and then we do a simple ballot, everyone votes for the associates who they want to be on the committee, and then the partners pick the ones we want to win and tell everyone they're the ones who got the most votes. It works out pretty well. But watching Joe Lieberman's speech tonight, after losing the Democratic primary, announcing he'll run as an independent, the frustration and anger in his voice, makes me want to change our system. I want to have primaries in our election. I want to have campaigning. I want negative ads on the Intranet, personal attacks, awful rumors spreading in the halls. I want people to get upset when they lose, threaten to run as an independent, I want passion. There's something inspiring about Lamont and Lieberman and all the press coverage they've been getting. It's like it matters. It's like people really care about what happens. We need that at the firm. We need people to care who's in charge of deciding whether to have heavy cream, half-and-half or both at the coffee stations on each floor. We need people to care about whether we should rehire the shoe shine guy or have a chair massage guy instead. No one cares about anything here. Some mudslinging would be fun.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

I'm starting to put together the agenda for the new associate orientation next month, and I'm not entirely sure what to do. Last year we showed the Passion of the Christ DVD, just to remind associates that things could be a lot worse for them than they are at the firm, and that they should all count their blessings, even if we make them work a hundred hours a week. But with the recent Mel Gibson nonsense, I'm not sure if I should leave the movie in the schedule, or swap it out for The Woodsman, Kevin Bacon's film about a pedophile. Makes a similar point. Yes, you work hard at the firm, and, no, you won't have time for your family, but at least, for the most part, no one at the firm wants to do anything bad to children (besides letting companies fire their parents, take away their health insurance, poison the water they drink, and give them asbestos-related illnesses... but those are all indirect, so we ignore them). So count your blessings.

It's all the same point, we just want to plant the idea in the associates' minds that they have it pretty good, all things considered. The other movie I was considering is The Sixth Sense. But then I realized if you walk around the halls carefully enough, you will in fact eventually see dead people. So the point doesn't really hold.

But back to Mel Gibson. Yes, what he said was reprehensible, of course. Not every Jewish person is evil, just the ones who work at this firm or any firm, and that applies to just about everyone here, not just the Jewish people, and it has nothing to do with their religion. But people say a lot of terrible things all the time and we don't hold it against them. There are some horribly sexist, racist, morally reprehensible lawyers here, and as long as they keep bringing in clients who pay us lots of money, it doesn't matter what they say, sober or drunk. We have clients who say awful things about all kinds of people. Whatever, we're not the upstanding citizen police, we're not going to judge our clients even if they abuse their elderly parents and steal change from the cups that the blind homeless people are holding out for donations on the street. It's not our job.

Mel Gibson is an idiot. But if he came here looking for a defense attorney, I'd be first in line to volunteer all of our Jewish associates to spend their Saturdays in the office working on his case. That's just the way it works.

I'm going to stick with Passion of the Christ next month for the incoming associates. But I'm going to balance it by also making everyone read Elie Wiesel's "Night." I think the experience of being an associate here holds up well next to Wiesel's story, I really do. They could do a lot worse than being here for a few years. A lot worse.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

I'm not looking forward to tomorrow's firm hike. This is the first year we're doing this, and it wasn't my idea. Some hotshot young partner knows someone who owns a corporate retreat cabin up in South Dakota, and he brought the idea up at a meeting and everyone thought it was terrific. We're taking the summer associates and a handful of partners up there to hike in the mountains and do team-building events for two days. There's already a pool going around on the partner e-mail list about who's going to make it to the top of the mountain first and who's going to fall off and die. The senior partners, for the most part, begged out of the activity and forced the junior partners to go instead. There's a junior partner with asthma who doesn't think he's really up to it but someone had to represent Trusts and Estates and the senior guy didn't want to go, so Wheezy's going to have to do it. Whichever department representative finishes last has to pay a thousand bucks to the winner, just to make things interesting. As far as the summer associates go, as long as most of them don't get hurt we're in good shape. I've already decided which one is going to get to carry my pack up the mountain. I know they all want to. Imagine the goodwill that comes from carrying a partner's pack all day. Well, they'll imagine the goodwill. I'll forget all about it.

I hope this doesn't end the way the trip to the shooting range did.

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