Wednesday, January 31, 2007

I read an article yesterday about a guy who's suing his law school for discriminating against slow typists. He claims that exams are skewed in favor of people who type fast. We fired someone for typing too slowly a few weeks ago. She's still in her office typing out her letter of termination. We thought it was appropriate, given the reason for her firing, for her to have to type out the letter herself. We told her the letter should consist of the entire text of the Bankruptcy Code. She might be in there a while. Like I said, she's a slow typist. Law school grades ought to reward good typing. After all, it's more important for law firm success than anything else that goes on in law school.

Okay, maybe typing isn't skill #1. Skill #1 is learning to read the professors' minds, just like they'll have to read partners' minds at the firm. Skill #2 is the busy-work that comes with journal work. Skill #3 is learning to tolerate the arbitrary relationship between effort, talent, and rewards. Grades are pretty close to random at law school, and praise at the firm is similarly pretty close to random. Skill #4 is the typing. So, still important, but not quite #1.

I don't think this kid who's suing his law school is going to have much luck finding a job. Not even so much because of the lawsuit, but because he's admitting he's a lousy typist. What else is a first year associate good for anyway?

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Wall Street Journal has a new blog about juggling home and work. That's the kind of phrase people who are committed to their careers don't use. They're not like balls in the air. There's no juggling involved. I think of it more like fishing. The job is the river. The family are the fish. You stand in the river. And sometimes you catch a fish. Sometimes you're too busy swimming to put the rod in the water. Sometimes you put the rod in, but it's two in the morning and all the fish are sleeping. Sometimes you catch a fish but he starts crying so you throw him back. Sometimes you and the fish spend a lovely day together, but after too much time with you, the fish starts to suffocate, so you have to throw him back for his own good and go back to what you were doing before, just wading in the river, without the fish. Sometimes there's an oil spill, and the fish get all messed up, and you feel bad about it, but there really isn't anything you can do. They're just the fish. What's really important is saving the river. Sometimes the river overflows and destroys the houses on the banks. That's a tragedy, but sometimes it happens. The river gets bigger. You have more water you have to manage. And sometimes, if you're not really capable enough, you drown. And the fish eat your bones. The analogy falls apart at the end, but you get my point.

One recent post on their blog discusses whether it's a benefit or a burden to have a pet. I think that's a silly question. Anonymous Wife is more work than a pet and still I keep her. At least with a pet you can leave it locked in the house all day and the worst that will happen is it'll go to the bathroom (and someone else will have to clean it up). With a wife or a kid, you leave them locked in the house all day and they get upset and you have to apologize, and it becomes a whole mess. You don't have to apologize to pets. That's what's great about them. We had a dog once and it ran away and we couldn't find it and no one came to the house from social services to say we had done something wrong, no police, no problems at all. If that happened with one of the kids, I can't imagine the mess we'd have on our hands.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Any readers in the UK can get the Anonymous Lawyer novel (paperback from Vintage Originals, a division of Random House) over at Amazon UK for just under 4 pounds (50% off list price) at this link. That's less than one billable minute. Treat yourself. And spread the word.

Friday, January 26, 2007

A reader e-mailed to ask what I thought about the summer associates being beneficiaries of the recent law firm salary bumps. Frankly, if we're going to raise anyone's salaries, it's the summer associates who should come first. Everyone else we've already reeled in. We still have to sell the firm to the summers. They're the ones who deserve the money, for spending 13 weeks doing hardly any work and getting 4 social activities a week. $3,008 a week isn't too much to pay inexperienced law students, in exchange for their souls, right? Three thousand and eight dollars a week. When I was in law school, $3,008 could have almost bought me someone to take the Bar Exam for me. Ridiculous.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

I'm sorry I was unable to post yesterday. The firm decided to shut down the Internet for a while, in order to stop associates from e-mailing their colleagues complaining that we haven't yet raised our salaries. I know the list of firms keeps growing, but we're trying to stay on the cutting edge of law firms who don't think associates need to make quite as much money as these new raises will give them. We will probably match at some point in the next week, but I've been lobbying to make everyone sweat for a few days, wonder if we'll match, resign themselves to thinking we won't, and then surprise everyone with an announcement after everyone else has already done it. This way we surprise the associates and get some more goodwill out of the whole thing. If you're just a copycat, your people expect it and no one's that excited. But if you make them worry for a little while, the psychic benefits in the end are that much sweeter.

We like to do something similar with the milk at the coffee stations. Keep it out until it's right on the verge of souring, so that people start to get a little bit frustrated and disappointed when they pour it into their coffee and it curdles... but then when we replace it with a fresh container, everyone is jubilant. We wouldn't get those moments of jubilation if we just kept it fresh all the time. It's all part of a firm-wide strategy to keep the associates on edge and make sure they recognize every decision we make for their benefit, instead of taking things for granted. Like toilet paper. A few years ago we hired a "toilet paper fairy." Really she's just an old woman making the minimum wage, but we liked the title. She goes around to all of the bathrooms and hands out toilet paper while people are doing what they have to do in there. If there was toilet paper there for everyone, all the time, no one would even think about it. But if there's never toilet paper, and you have to wait for the toilet paper fairy to get to you, you have no choice but to think about it, and you're grateful each and every time it happens.

Same thing with the air conditioning -- it doesn't turn on until it hits 83 degrees, but when it does start blowing, you can hear the cheers down the hall. And the parking garage. There's no attendant, and the bar only lifts every three minutes, so you usually have to wait to exit. But what a thrill, each and every time. And travel expenses. Sure, we pay them, but usually we reject them first and make people resubmit with more explanation. They get all ready to fight the system... and then it goes through, and they're grateful.

Little moments of joy, anywhere we can manufacture them. That's all we're hoping to do. And I think our associates appreciate it. At least more than at Sullivan and Cromwell, where I read today there's been more than 30% associate attrition each of the last two years. Of course, I think the industry average is 92%, so they're actually doing okay. No, wait, I read that wrong. 21%. Oh, that sounds more reasonable. We lost 420 out of 423 last year, so we were at... right about the average.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

We're feeling pressure to match the salary increases announced over the past few days at some New York-based law firms. So far, as far as I'm aware, Simpson Thacher started the ball rolling (probably after the managing partner lost a bet) and was quickly matched by Cadwalader, Cleary, Milbank, Paul Weiss, and Sullivan & Cromwell. First years are up to $160K, with more senior associates getting bumps to 170 / 185 / 210 / 230 / 250 / 265 / 280 (I think Simpson and Sullivan are even higher at the top end). It's a lot of money. That doesn't even include the bonuses, which ranged from 30K-70K in 2006 at most of these places.

The argument for matching: we want the best associates we can get, and since every firm is pretty much the same, the work is the same, and the hours are the same, if our salaries are lower, we won't get the top people.

The argument against matching: associates are all interchangeable and if we can save some money and still get decent ones, what's the difference? We're going to burn them all out in a couple of years anyway.

I don't know anyone who's happy at their firms, at least not any of these firms where first year associates are getting paid $160K. What's the price for a lifetime of unhappiness? What's the price for a year of unhappiness? Frankly, if your price is higher than $160K, first year out of law school, you're crazy. That's too much money to turn down. Even if we never let you out of here. That's why I don't like these salary increases. They take all the fun out of the torture. At $100K, you can still make the argument that it's not worth it, and I get to watch the associates wrestle with their inner voices and struggle to decide whether they should stay. At $160K no one wrestles with anything except the danish guy in the lobby. It's a no-brainer. No one in their right mind could say no to $160K plus a bonus to spend a year doing mindless work. They'd have to be crazy. And we don't want crazy associates, so it all works out. I don't know what to make of it. For that kind of money, who cares if your life has meaning or not? Who cares if you ever get to go home? You can afford to not worry about things. It's financial safety and security for a long time if you can tough it out for 5 or 6 years at the firm. And it's easy to dismiss that, but, really, how easy is it to find financial security like that?

I imagine if there's anyone out there who could have gotten a job at one of these places but passed it up to do something more "fulfilling," they're kicking themselves right now, because even principles have limits. If $160K the first year out of law school can't satisfy you, nothing's ever going to satisfy you and your problem isn't the law firm, it's that crazy voice inside of you telling you that you deserve more, that you're destined for greatness beyond that which a law firm can provide. But no one is destined for greatness. Greatness happens by accident, and the road to greatness is littered with the broken dreams of an awful lot of people who never became great. Why not just take the $160K, put it in the bank, forget the greatness and be satisfied with security? There are worse things than security. Even when greatness happens, there's a lot of heartache along the way. Who needs heartache when you can have the magic of compound interest?

Monday, January 22, 2007

A historic day at the firm today. The partnership held elections this afternoon for a handful of leadership positions that recently opened up with some departures and deaths. For the first time in the firm's history, a woman was elected to a leadership position. I'm very pleased that we've finally taken this long-overdue step. Women have worked hard to establish their equality here, and largely foregone the opportunity to have spouses and children just to show everyone how dedicated to the firm they can be. And now, finally, after more than four years of having female partners, a woman has been named Head of Female Issues at the firm. I think I heard a cheer reverberating through the halls just a few seconds after the e-mail was sent out announcing the election results. (It might have just been because they were refilling the vending machine at the same time, I'm not sure... we'd been out of Salt & Vinegar chips for about a week and people were starting to get desperate.) It was a hard-fought contest between the woman who won and three very well-qualified men, with a combined 9 wives and 7 daughters, so they definitely have experience dealing with women. And I'm sure they would have done an excellent job in the role but that isn't the point. I know this is a controversial position, but I think we should be choosing women for leadership roles when they are 25% more qualified than the men, or more. I'm fighting a battle to get that language added to the firm's constitution, but right now all it says it that women are not prohibited from having leadership positions and that a woman's vote at the partnership meeting counts for 2/5ths of a man's vote, with a similar calculation used to determine partnership profits. I've argued we should bump that up to 65%, on the grounds that the women are a lot more masculine nowadays than they used to be, but I was voted down. Because I exhibit some feminine qualities (I've only been married once, my office is relatively clean), my votes only count 87.5%, so sometimes it's hard for me to carry a resolution through. But I will continue to try.

We almost had two women elected to leadership positions, but the woman running for Chair of the Coffee Committee lost by a hundred and three votes. Okay, it wasn't close, but at least she had the courage to run. We should have more plucky women like her at the firm. She's a sparkplug. I see great things in her future. Maybe even her own office someday, and a secretary. I'm working on getting her a desk chair next time someone quits. I keep promising it, but new men keep getting hired, so they get first priority.

Friday, January 19, 2007

I caught a review today of a new book by Dinesh D'Souza called "The Enemy At Home." In it, he blames the cultural left for September 11th, saying that liberals and their depraved viewpoints and forms of entertainment enraged Osama Bin Laden and gave him no choice but to attack. Obviously I think D'Souza is thoroughly mistaken. The real cause of September 11th was lazy associates, public interest attorneys, and law students from second-tier schools. I haven't yet figured out the details of my argument, but give me the weekend and I'll come up with something. Obviously they're the cause of every other problem in society, so why should 9/11 be any different? They're the cause of global warming (hardworking associates don't have any time to pollute), rampant disease (hardworking associates don't interact with anyone, so they can't spread illnesses), poverty (hardworking associates have all the money they need, building up lots of interest since they have no time to spend it), divorce (hardworking associates don't have time to date and get married in the first place), overpopulation (hardworking associates die young), the social security crisis (hardworking associates die young), the Medicare shortfall (hardworking associates have private insurance, and die young), food shortages (hardworking associates don't have time to eat, and die young), and more. So why shouldn't they be the cause of terrorism as well. I'll figure out the link. It'll just take a few days.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

One of my associates marched into my office today to tell me his wife is pregnant, he wants to be present at the baby's birth, and he wants the two of us to work together to figure out a way to make that happen. The birth is in July. He doesn't have a date yet, but he's working on it. He said he'll work weekends all June, he'll set up a chain of command of associates underneath him to cover for him while he's gone, and he'll make sure to keep his laptop with him so he can stay in touch at the hospital. He's already checked the wireless connectivity at the hospital and put in a request for his wife to have a room on the hall where the signal is strongest, even though the obstetrician who works that hallway is somewhat less adept. He's working on some exercises with his wife so that she'll be able to hold the baby in a little longer in case he's slow getting out of the office when the day comes. And he's promised to name the baby after the firm. So I'm hopeful we'll be able to work something out and let him be there, at least for part of the birth, if not the entire thing. Kudos to this associate for being proactive about his life instead of doing nothing and then whining afterwards. That's what too many associates do in these situations. Births, funerals, accidents, etc. They don't plan ahead, they aren't willing to make any sacrifices, and then they end up blaming the firm when they can't leave when they want to. It's not always our fault. Sometimes you just need to work things out in advance, and manage your schedule better, and you can make it all happen. You can have it all. A child, and a career. Of course, if he comes to me in three years and says he wants to go through this again for child #2, it might be a different story. We're flexible to some extent, but we can't start going overboard.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

I think I need to apologize for yesterday's post. I get a little caught up in the law firm world every once in a while and lose touch with reality. I don't really think I'd really be able to get elected president, even if I believe I would be awfully good at it. In fact, that's one of the frustrations of this job: the scope is limited. Outside the revolving doors in the lobby, I'm just another guy with a nice car. Corporate lawyers don't make the headlines. Through any view that looks beyond this firm, I don't matter much at all. I'd like to think I provide good service to my clients, but I'm not naive enough to believe there aren't a hundred people just like me who could provide the same. And I'd like to think that my work as hiring partner has somehow led to this firm having better people than our competitors, but even on that measure my impact is limited. We're all dealing with the same pool of applicants, and we're all offering pretty much the same experience. It's less a matter of deciding who to give offers to as closing the deal. And closing the deal depends on a lot more factors than just a hiring partner and what we say. It depends on a firm's location, reputation, clients, the individual attorneys the students met with on their visit, the practice areas the students are pretending to be most interested in.... I wish I was in a position where I could find those needles in a haystack, but that's simply not the applicant pool I'm dealing with. There are no needles in a haystack at Harvard, Yale, and Stanford. They're all getting offers from tons of firms and it's just a matter of weeding out the bottom tier. Anyone can tell when a kid is a little retarded. Anyone can tell when a kid isn't smart enough to do the work. (I call them kids even though some of them are thirty years old. That's stupid, but they're all kids to me, or at least that's how we treat them.) So my added value is harder to measure. It's in the way I treat my associates, to get as many billable hours out of them as I can. It's in the way I treat my clients, to get more and more of their business. And it's in my ability to convey a positive message about the firm to whoever I meet. Obviously I don't do that very effectively in my writing here, but this isn't the face I present to the public. And maybe the ability to present different faces to different audiences is something that would serve me well if I ever did decide to run for higher office. But for now I'm here, and no one knows about me except for the attorneys who work under me and the recruits I interview each fall.

I read somewhere today that Barack Obama is a smoker. It surprised me. If we weren't hemorrhaging associates as it is, I'd fire anyone I caught smoking. Addictions are a sign of weakness, and smoking's a disgusting one anyway. And especially if we're looking for someone to make important decisions with life-changing consequences, if someone can't even do that for his own self, I don't know how he could do it for the whole country. I may expose my associates to all sorts of negative health outcomes by overworking them and causing them untold amounts of stress, but even I draw the line somewhere. I'd fire the overeaters and the oversleepers too if it were up to me. Self-discipline. Self-control. Self-deprivation. These are healthy characteristics, in a lawyer and in a person. I want to work with people whose only excesses are the job. And at least a father's addiction to work doesn't put his children's health in danger.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

As the 2008 Presidential candidates begin to declare themselves, I've started thinking about whether I might want to enter the race. After all, I'm a high-powered attorney at a top firm, with 18 years of experience managing people, solving problems, helping to grow a business, dealing with client issues both domestically and overseas... I'm well-liked, charismatic, wealthy... I don't know if it would be such a terrible idea. But then I start to think about my wife, and how I'm not sure she would really shine on a national stage. And about my kids and whether I really want to open them up to that kind of scrutiny. And I usually end up coming down on the negative side, and deciding that the time just isn't right. Maybe when I have a different wife, and when my kids are older, it'll be a different story. But for now I'm forced to decline the calls to make myself a candidate. It's a shame, because I know I could do good for this country, get people back in shape, get rid of some of the laziness that pervades the culture. Scale back on some of the holidays. I haven't really thought through my positions on a lot of the major issues, but I have time. That's not what really counts anyway.

Monday, January 15, 2007

I'm a little late with this, but I've been asked by some readers what I think about the ongoing feud between Donald Trump and Rosie O'Donnell. Personally, I'm happy about it. I think the more incidences of public name-calling we have in this country, the better. I'm consistently frustrated by the social norms that prohibit me from going public with a lot of my grievances. I wish it would be okay for me to name names on this blog, and tell you that Janet from Trusts and Estates (not her actual department) looks like she was the victim of some botched plastic surgery, or that Jeffrey G. from Bankruptcy (not the actual initial of his last name) doesn't wash his hands after he uses the bathroom. But it's considered impolite, at least right now, in 2007. But if Rosie and Donald continue to fight in public, and others follow, eventually the social norms may change, and that would be a wonderful thing. Too much of our yelling happens in private, where others are unable to appreciate it. Too many of my thoughts about my colleagues can't be said out loud, and so they lose the power they would otherwise have to modify behavior and influence people for the better. If I could feel comfortable announcing each day, in front of the entire firm, a list of the ten worst associates and why they're so terrible, I think we'd see some changes. We'd see people trying harder to do better. Public shaming is a powerful tool that society simply doesn't let us take fullest advantage of. Sure, we try, but it's hard to buck the norms and open yourself up to criticism. It's hard not to feel bad after you've sent out a memo to everyone naming the five associates whose children you think ought to be taken away because they're too much of a distraction to the work getting done. It's hard not to feel bad after you've posted a note on your office door listing the names of all of the lawyers who've taken advantage of the employee assistance program over the past twelve months to address their alcohol dependencies. But Rosie and Donald are making it easier, little by little. Every time he calls her a failure or she calls him a lowlife. Every time he calls her fat and she insults his hair. We're getting closer to a world where that kind of behavior is acceptable, and I can't wait. We have associates who remind me of Rosie, and of Donald, and one who reminds me of them both. It's not pretty.

Friday, January 12, 2007

An associate ran into my office this morning with urgent news: Justin Timberlake and Cameron Diaz broke up. Personally, I've never liked either one. Justin's voice is way too nasal, and Cameron's acting is wooden. On the other hand... wait, what am I talking about? I barely even know who these two people are and certainly don't have opinions about them. Who cares? And why is this all my associates have been talking about all day? Actually, I think it means we're doing something right here at the firm. Because if my associates had the time to have real lives of their own, they wouldn't have the need to obsess over two celebrities they're only going to meet if we get to defend Justin in the inevitable paternity suits he'll end up facing if he continues to be in the public eye. So I'm glad my associates are obsessed with these two clowns. It means we're doing something right.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Late night in the office. I just woke up a candidate on the East Coast who we decided to make an offer to. He interviewed off-cycle, because of some personal issue that kept him from taking a job right out of law school. He talked about it a bunch during the interviews, but I can't remember if it was an illness, a family thing, something job-related, something with his Visa, I tuned him out for most of the interview so I'm really not sure. But his resume is spotless and we've had some associates leave in the past few weeks (end of year attrition is always a problem... we should take back their bonuses if they leave within a full year of getting the checks) and so there's extra work to go around and we could use another pair of never-sleeping eyes. I suppose I could have waited until the morning to let him know he has the job, but it's only 2 in the morning back East and he's going to have to be awake at this hour anyway once he's working here so why not get him started now. He was excited to get the offer although he sounded a little tired on the phone. I don't know how he could sleep, to be honest. When I was waiting to hear from the firm about my offer, almost twenty years ago, I couldn't sleep for weeks. It was good practice.

It's always enjoyable to have new blood in the middle of the cycle. New faces, new victims, new people trying to impress me. By now, four months in for most of these first-years, they've given up trying to impress me. They're used to me, they're used to the job, they get a little complacent and realize that we're probably not going to fire them and that we need them as much as they need us, if not more. But with new blood it's not like that. They still expect something more than we deliver. They still expect this will be life-changing in more ways than health-related. They still expect the work will be interesting. It's extraordinarily rewarding to watch them mature from eager, idealistic first-years to tired, jaded, depressed second-years, to wealthy, unfulfilled, soulless partners like me. The cycle starts again every fall. Except for these bonus off-cycle hires. I can't wait. I think I'll take him out to lunch on his first day but have him called back to the office during the appetizer.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

An associate came by my office about an hour ago and said he watched the President's speech tonight on streaming video over the Internet and it struck a chord in him. He thinks he's wasting his life at the firm, and needs more meaning in his day-to-day existence. He wants to go to Iraq. At the very least, he thinks it'll extend his lifespan a little, since law firm associates tend to drop dead after a couple of years of hundred-hour work weeks. He said he's tired of sitting at his desk and he wants to do something more active, something outdoors. And he wants to work directly with people instead of having everything mediated by layers of partners and associates above him blocking him from ever even seeing the client, or seeing the effect his work has on the outside world. He wants to see results first-hand, instead of reading about them in the annual report. And he wants to go somewhere where his BlackBerry won't work.

Obviously if this becomes a trend, we'll see a New York Times piece on the subject, or maybe the Washington Post. Life in Iraq better than life as a law firm associate. Look, it's all overdramatized. Obviously life on the ground in Iraq is not better than life at the firm, even if you get to see the true results of your work, even if you're on duty for fewer hours a week, even if you sometimes get a vacation. It's just that people today are soft. They expect everything out of work, and work can't provide it. That's why it's work. My grandparents worked so they wouldn't starve. But kids today have a safety net. They have parents with the means to make sure they have a place to live and food to eat. Even if they're supporting themselves, they have the knowledge in the back of their minds that they're safe, that they'll be okay, that they're not a month away from being homeless. And it makes them lazy and entitled. It makes them think they deserve more than just a job, and that work needs to be fun and satisfying and fulfilling. Why? That's a luxury that very few people have. Very few jobs are enjoyable. No one's selling the law firm job as enjoyable. It's lucrative and secure and isn't that enough?

Iraq is neither lucrative nor secure, although I suppose maybe it is secure, since it doesn't look like we're leaving anytime soon. Although most of our engagements run longer than even the war is going to. Why drop a paying client, even when there's no more work to be done? There's always more work to be done. We're establishing democracy at one of the largest banks in the country. It's a hard job but someone's got to do it.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

I took a few minutes out of my afternoon to check on the Baseball Hall of Fame election results. I can't quibble with the two selections the voters made (Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn... with Cal Ripken and his consecutive-games-played streak being something associates should try and emulate to when deciding whether they should come into work on a given day, no matter how sick they feel or what the doctor tells them to do) but I'm disappointed that Mark McGwire received such little support (23% of the votes, with 75% necessary for election). McGwire's statistics qualify him pretty undeniably. The problem is that, despite a lack of solid proof, apparently a lot of voters are presuming those numbers were achieved with the use of performance-enhancing drugs, and denying McGwire entry to the Hall of Fame because of it. This is ridiculous.

Even assuming McGwire took steroids, no one ever caught him, and shouldn't that be the standard? He was just doing what he felt he needed to do to help his teams win, and if everyone was willing to look the other way while he was playing, they certainly shouldn't hold it against him now. It's the same way we look at our associates. Whatever they need to do to get the work done, whether it's illegal drugs or outsourcing some of their assignments to legal staffing firms in sweatshops overseas, it doesn't matter as long as the work gets done. It's our own Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy. You get the work done and we're happy, whether you've put your long-term health at risk or not. All of that is up to you, it's entirely your call, we're not going to hook you up to an IV filled with amphetamines unless you give us your consent, and we're not going to force you to use the employee discount that we negotiated with the drug pushers down the street. Anything you want to do to help the firm is entirely up to you, and while we're certainly appreciative of the efforts, and will of course look favorably upon those associates who go above and beyond the call of duty to give their all to the firm, we're not going to fire you (immediately) if you don't drink a gallon of Red Bull for breakfast.

It should be the same way with McGwire. He did what he had to do, and if his teams were willing to accept the results at the time, why should he be held responsible now? We don't prosecute our former associates for crimes they committed while they worked here, unless we have to. Baseball shouldn't either. I think it's a travesty that McGwire won't be at Cooperstown this August, all hopped up on pills and ready to give his induction speech. Maybe next year, if we're lucky. And if he's not dead by then from the after-effects of all that junk. Personally, I've never touched any of it. Back in my day, we didn't need pills and creams and artificial stimulants to get through the day. The hours requirements were lower and the demands were less. I'm just glad I don't have to be an associate now, because it's much tougher. Lucky for me, I'm not forced to think about it too much, and I can just pretend the associates today have it easy, make unreasonable demands on them, and get angry when they can't meet those demands. It's easy to bury your head in the sand. And relieves you of the burden of caring about other people's well-being. That's their parents' job, not mine.

Monday, January 08, 2007

My colleagues in New York have been e-mailing all day telling us about a rotten smell permeating the city today. I assumed it was the stench of non-profit work, but they're saying it smells more like a gas leak. Subway lines were halted, and a few buildings closed, but work at the firm's New York office was unimpeded, despite the odor apparently causing a handful of paralegals to faint. Well, the odor or twenty-four straight hours of work. Doesn't really matter. The firm's blaming the odor. We had some odor problems here last week, but it was just a new secretary who we've since terminated. She didn't read the personal hygiene memo very carefully. "Shower daily, even if you have to do it in the office." We've had associates who forget to bring backup business suits and end up having to wear the same thing for days at a time if they're stuck here working on something that consumes them for a while. We hired an outside concierge firm to serve as "personal shoppers" and pick up new clothes for associates in a pinch, at just a 33% markup over cost. It's not a bad deal. It's how I buy all my holiday gifts.

The one benefit of the New York odor issue was that it kept anyone from leaving the office for a while. No trips to Starbucks, no smoke breaks, no walks around the block just to escape the overwhelming stress of the office. That's one thing the warmer-than-usual weather out there has been screwing around with. Usually the New York office bills some extra hours in the winter because no one wants to step outside into the cold. But when it's 70 degrees in January, people want to be outside. At least they have BlackBerries so the partners can coerce them back in. I e-mailed the people who make the BlackBerry to suggest a new feature for the next version: a buzzer that emits a small electric shock, so that whenever someone gets a new message, they really feel it in their veins and we can condition them to stay in the office instead of trying to work remotely. Keep 'em at their desks, that's the goal.

As if there weren't enough reasons to be out here instead of in Manhattan, this odor should get us a few more applications for transfer. The transfer program is terrific. People are so grateful for a change of scenery that they're willing to do pretty much whatever we say. Not that they aren't anyway. Really it's just a cornucopia of riches. Everyone's been beaten down so much that they listen to whatever we say. Too bad they're all incompetent.

Friday, January 05, 2007

There's a rat in the office. Well, there's two. There's the ingrate female associate down the hall who keeps filing sexual harassment complaints when the older tax partners innocently look down her blouse and show her their genitals. But there's also an actual rat running through the halls, gray and furry like my secretary. I hate when we see pests in the office (again, more pests than usual, since there are tons of pests in the office every day, asking for their salary checks on time and clearer instructions on their assignments and bathroom breaks). We called the exterminator, but his schedule was booked until this evening, so we're still waiting. I've stationed an associate outside my office to catch the rat if he tries to come in. The associate's getting bored, but like I told him, it's better than document review and if he doesn't do it he's getting sent to the Bangkok office. So he's diligently doing his job. We had a rat in the house once. I think it was there looking to mate with its close relative, my wife. It showed up right when her parents did one Christmas, which I don't think was a mere coincidence.

I'm picking up Anonymous Son from school today and we're going to drive up the coast, play some catch on the beach, grab some dinner, and have some father-son bonding time. My daughter's resigned to the fact that he's my favorite, which shows some smarts on her part, because he is. She can play Home Shopping Network with her mother, or whatever it is my wife does to amuse herself all day.

So I'm heading out of the office in just a bit, but the associate guarding me from the rat is sticking around for a while. I think the rat might be able to squeeze under the closed door, so I need him stationed there all weekend until I get back. I've given him a plate of cheese he can share with the rat in case he gets hungry.

Have a good weekend, and on Monday I'll share some details about the case I'm currently working on.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

I overheard someone in the office talking about Harriet Miers resigning from her job as White House Counsel. What a quitter. She's like the associates here who leave after six years just because they want to start families or finally have time to go to the bathroom. You'll have time to go to the bathroom after you retire. For now, be a man and hold it in. They make products that can help you deal with it. We don't need people wasting valuable time on the toilet when they don't have to. Medical science. It's helped the firm a lot. Calorie restrictive diets not only help people live longer but also minimize meal breaks. Caffeine helps reduce the need for sleep. Imodium can prevent the necessity of trips to the bathroom. People who insist on breaks are weak and deserve the same fate as Ms. Miers. They should be nominated to the Supreme Court and forced to withdraw in disgrace. The quotes I've seen about Ms. Miers's service have been pathetic. Six years, it's a hard job, stop whining. Six years is nothing. I haven't even seen my brother in six years. And lots of jobs are hard. If Harriet Miers ever sent me a resume, I would shred it, then make an associate gather all the shreddings and tape them back together, then shred it again, and then have another associate gather those shreddings and tape them back together, and then have a third associate shred the first two associates and hide their bodies. That's what I think of Harriet Miers. I sent my resume in to the White House Recruitment Office in case they're still considering replacements.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

I got an e-mail this afternoon from an associate who I'd put to work over the holiday with an assignment, asking if I wanted to meet to discuss now that we're all back in the office. Honestly, until she sent the e-mail, I'd forgotten all about the thing I told her to do. I'm still not entirely sure what she's working on. In a moment of frustration about something unrelated at home (Anonymous Wife wants a new bathroom... she's decided the toilet is too high off the ground and the shower knobs aren't delicate enough to get the temperature exactly where she likes it... but that's a post for another day), I called into my office the first associate I could think of and just started rattling off demands and claiming it all needed to be done over the holidays.

Basically I picked a deal off my list of open matters and told her I thought there might be a problem with some clause in the contract and she should do some research and make sure we were in the clear, but I didn't write down anything about what I told her, which clause it was, what I told her the problem was, and where I told her to look. You do this long enough and you internalize a set of generic assignment commands that can apply to pretty much anything and make the associates think you need something real when actually you're just inventing it on the spot. That's part of the magic more generally when you're a lawyer. We have this vocabulary of legal terminology and specific words that only we understand and can use to shut down and intimidate the common man. Clients can't fight you if they don't know what you're talking about. And associates assume we're all infallible gods, so when we tell them something and they aren't following, the great thing is that they assume it's their fault and beat themselves up until they think they can make sense of it. They're afraid to challenge us, afraid to ask for clarification, afraid to seem dumb.

So this associate spent much of the holiday week here, working on something I'll have to cross off the bill anyway because it's unnecessary busy work, and when we meet tomorrow I'll pretend what she did was fine and ask some probing questions and file it away with all the other stuff I've gotten from associates that I didn't really need, and she'll feel okay about it and I'll feel okay about it and the world will go on.

Of course, when she asked if an informal memo would be fine, I couldn't resist throwing an additional wrinkle into the whole thing. "I'd rather see it in PowerPoint, thanks." So she'll probably be up all night doing whatever it is you do with PowerPoint. I'm fortunate enough that by the time we started concentrating too heavily on slides I was senior enough that there were people to do it all for me. I love the animations. I need to get my son to teach me how to work it.

The toilet's too high? Is she shrinking? If anything, she's growing. I got her a necklace for Christmas and she says it's too tight. I don't know what's happening to make her neck grow. Maybe it's the Botox. She's seeing an astrologist tomorrow to see if she can figure it out.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

People have been straggling back in here all day, after as many as three full days away from the office for some of them. Ridiculous, obviously. Christmas right on top of New Years means it ends up being a couple of weeks when hardly any work gets done and everyone is unfortunately cheerful. The big news here is the cell phone video of the weekend's hanging that's being passed around the firm and shared over e-mail. We tried to keep the hanging a secret, because we didn't want word to get out that we're executing our lowest-performing associate of the year, but someone snuck in and taped it and now it's a real mess. I was on the Rope Subcommittee and ended up giving an associate about 40 hours of work researching how much slack we had to leave in the rope and how far we needed to let the associate drop such that he wouldn't slowly strangle to death but also wouldn't get decapitated. We did the decapitation thing last year but it ends up being a real mess, even more than you'd imagine. We've all seen medical textbooks but until you have to clean up after a decapitation (and of course I didn't -- but my secretary told me all about it) you don't know what it's really like inside a person's neck.

The other news, of course, is President Ford's death at the age of 93. Another data point that being President isn't nearly as taxing as a job like this, where no one really tends to live past 70 or 72. I was in junior high and high school when Ford was in office, and I remember agreeing very much with his pardon of Nixon at the time. Nixon's "crimes" just didn't seem so terrible. We've done worse. In fact, I'm doing worse right now. I can't really share any more details about it.

All kidding aside, I do want to wish you all a happy new year, filled with inattentive clients and easily-misled judges. In celebration of a brand new year, I'm planning to return to a 5-posts-per-week schedule. Your long blog-reading nightmare is finally over. I hope to make amends for the relative neglect over here for the past few months. So tell your friends, colleagues, and clients: new posts every day. Now get back to work: the billable counter's back at zero and you have a lot of ground to make up from yesterday.

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