Wednesday, February 28, 2007

I got home early from the office yesterday and happened to catch the last half of the new game show on Fox, "Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader?" I should watch more television, since it helps remind me why so many of my associates are idiots. If this is the standard people in the rest of the country are held to, then of course my associates are going to be idiots, because even two standard deviations above the IQ of someone who can succeed on this show is still going to be somewhere around 60. I don't know if my associates are smarter than fifth graders. Most of them certainly are not smarter than I was a fifth grader, or even as a preschooler, but that's probably not an appropriate standard to hold them to. It doesn't actually matter if they're smarter than a fifth grader, because most of the work we make them do is work a fifth grader could do pretty easily. And that's part of the problem. We've dumbed down our standards so much that expectations even at an elite law firm are frighteningly low. And so what does that say about the rest of the population, who are working at places not nearly as challenging as this? It says that they can be even dumber, perhaps unable to count to ten, or read street signs. Like the contestants on this game show, who somehow managed to dress themselves but still can't remember whether the United States is a country or a planet. Next we're just going to eliminate language altogether and have people grunt at each other to win a million dollars. Or a thousand pennies, because the contestants will be just as excited with that prize and it won't cost the network as much money. A thousand pennies! Imagine, all those pennies! And they're so shiny! Oooh, shiny pieces of metal. I mean wood. I mean paper. I mean food. Oh, I don't know, I'm too stupid to remember to breathe.

Meanwhile, I'm wading through resumes from 1Ls looking for the remaining three spots in our summer program and some of them have the nerve to send me LSAT score reports revealing they got less than 170. They should just be sterilized. Actually, all of them should be sterilized, no matter what they got on the LSAT. Anyone who takes the LSAT should be sterilized. Anyone who really thinks that being a lawyer is going to lead to happiness and fulfillment clearly has a screw loose and shouldn't be reproducing. They could put a chemical in the test booklets that would just make people's genitals shrivel up and fall off. Lawyers don't need them anyway. None of the associates have time to do anything with those parts except pleasure themselves in the law firm bathroom. (I saw you, Young Guy Badly Hiding Your Impending Baldness. I saw you.) And by the time you're a partner, whoever you're with is certainly no longer appealing. Anonymous Wife hasn't looked desirable to me ever since she spent my entire fifth-year-associate bonus on permanent eyeliner tattoos back in '93. There's nothing that's less of an aphrodisiac than someone spending money she didn't earn on permanent blue lines drawn into her eyelids. On bad days now she looks like one of those baseball players, with the eye block grease under their eyes to block reflections from the sun. This is what she spends money on when she isn't controlled. That's why I make her sign a new contingency agreement every year regarding the fate of my money for when the inevitable occurs and she cons a younger man into bed with her. I saw you, Young Guy Badly Hiding Your Impending Baldness. I saw the way she looked at you at the Christmas Party, and I saw you move that strand of hair over the top of your head and wink back at her. I have my eye on both of you. That's why you're getting transferred to Chicago. Your head's going to be cold, but you can buy a hat.

I wish we could get fifth graders in the office instead of law school graduates. Less ambition. More malleability. They'll do the work, I know they will. Damn these child labor laws. Damn these child labor laws to hell.

I wish I lived in the 1800s. No Internet to distract everyone, and everyone was a lot more lenient about the kinds of personal services you could pay children to do for you. I mean, I guess I kind of get decent service from everyone under me at the firm, but it would be so much better if they didn't think of themselves as adults.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

I've been meaning to write about Matthew Courtney, the London associate at Freshfields who died a couple of weeks ago after falling from a stairwell at the Tate Modern museum (news articles here, here, and here). I've probably received more e-mail about this story than about anything for as long as I've been blogging here.

All the stories hint at a possible suicide, caused by the stress of his job, but none of the articles make that seem certain. Apparently he'd recently complained to his firm about his workload, and people at the museum saw him go into the stairwell to take a BlackBerry call. It seems like it's completely possible the whole thing was an accident, but it's causing a series of articles in the British papers concerning the workload of young associates.

And perhaps it's about time.

I've resisted blogging about this incident for the past couple of weeks -- and to some degree resisted blogging here at all -- because it's hard to write over-the-top satire when the reality is that the work might be causing people to leap off stairwells. A number of the e-mails I received pointed to the "minute of silence" observed by the firm after Courtney's death, and how it's predictable that they couldn't spare more than a minute.

The practice of law certainly isn't alone as far as jobs that eat up more hours of the day than desirable, and cause undue amounts of stress, but there seems to be something about the law firm culture -- the billing of hours, the nature of the work, the lack of connection to the client and the overall picture of the case -- that makes a blog like this resonate with people more than if I was writing about the long hours put in by neurosurgeons. Perhaps that's not really the case.

Regardless, if Courtney's death can spark a real discussion of working conditions at firms -- based in reality, and not just the satire written here -- at least it will have done some good.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

I was attacked by an associate again, hence the delay in posting. I wrote a series of posts on pad and paper while I was recuperating, and I will have my secretary backfill those in later this week. So there will be new content for five or six of the past ten days to catch up on, don't worry. This associate (we'll call him Chadwick, though that's not his real name) was upset about a recent assignment that would take him out of the country over the week he had requested off for his wedding in addition to the birth of his child. He had put in the request six months ago, when he simultaneously proposed to his girlfriend and learned that a different woman was pregnant with his child. He asked us to keep his situation private, since his girlfriend was unaware of the pregnancy, and the pregnant woman was unaware of the girlfriend. Unfortunately, due to a clerical error, the information about the reason for his week off ended up printed in the firm's newsletter.

It's not as strange as that sounds. We have a policy of listing in the newsletter each month every day that an associate was absent from work and the stated (or unstated) reason. We find that it discourages frivolous vacation-taking. Last month, for example, there were three associates who took time off. So in the newsletter, we listed [name redacted], one day off due to giving birth; [name redacted], one day off due to brother's funeral; [name redacted], one day off due to hysterectomy. And this month, Chadwick was listed in the newsletter: "one week scheduled off due to wedding to one woman and birth of child by another." The newsletters are sent to the home addresses, and Chadwick's fiancee read the newsletter one night when Chadwick was at the office, was understandably surprised, and came to the office to confront him. When she did, he stormed into my office, upset the information had been revealed. I was pleased to see him, because I had been looking for him earlier in the day to tell him that in fact he would be unable to take that week off, because we needed to send him to Peru for some document discovery. That's when he grabbed my letter opener off my desk and stabbed it into my arm.

Obviously the brutal attack did not go unpunished. Chadwick is awaiting a court date, and I'll have the only person at the firm who's ever actually tried a case in court handling the whole affair for me. I expect some punitive damages, of course, although the unfortunate part of the story is that because Chadwick was editor-in-chief of his law school's Law Review, and clerked for a prominent circuit court judge, he will have no difficulty finding employment at a competitor firm despite the criminal record. The good news (for Chadwick) is that the baby turned out just fine, and his fiancee is still going through with the wedding, despite the infidelity and the criminal charges, undoubtedly because Chadwick stands to earn a fair bit of money at whichever competitor firm does decide to hire him after this whole ordeal.

I thought this would make for a happy Valentine's Day story to warm everyone's heart. Have a terrific Valentine's Day, and try to be responsible and cancel your restaurant reservations as soon as you realize you're going to have to work through the night instead of waiting until it's too late for the restaurant to fill the table with someone off the waiting list. All the best for the holiday.

Friday, February 02, 2007

The big talk in the office today is about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change releasing its report that there's over 90% certainty that global warming is being caused by humans. To which I say: so what? They still don't know for sure what the temperature rise is going to lead to, how the weather patterns will be affected, and whether it's really anything we have to worry about. And we can't make decisions based on uncertainty and fear. For example: we're 90% certain that there's some sort of chemical in our office that's causing our employees to fall ill. Over the past few years, there's practically been an epidemic of allergies and flus and fourteen cases of cholera. But we don't know for sure. So it would be silly to do much about it. We did redo the ventilation system in all the partners' offices, and that's led to the epidemic being mostly limited to associates ever since, but that could just be a coincidence, and it would be silly to spend the money renovating associate offices until we're sure. Surer than 90%, at least. Besides, there's so much associate turnover that much of the benefit of the renovation would accrue to people who wouldn't even be at the firm much longer. So we'd be wasting our money, and could better spend it on free cake. I don't know why everyone's getting so worked up about global warming anyway. I don't know why anyone would ever need to go outdoors.

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