Monday, June 25, 2007

I received an e-mail asking me to comment on age discrimination in law firm hiring:

"A few weeks ago, there was a terrible article in the National Law Journal about how 'older' or second-career lawyers most often end up as solos, prompted by some NALP statistics about the paucity of grads 36 and older in BigLaw. The article went on to say ... that nontrads don’t want to work hard and that they don’t like taking orders from people younger than them, so they don’t seek jobs in BigLaw. ... Right. I quit a job I was excellent at, went into debt, spent three years in law school, because I don’t want to work hard. Huh?"

My comment? Your e-mail proves the point. You were reading the National Law Journal. And then you took the time to e-mail me. That's time you could have been billing clients. That's time you could have been working hard and making partners money. But you weren't. You were slacking off, just like everyone your age does, with their "children" and their "elderly parents" and their "doctor appointments." Young associates don't read the National Law Journal. They use it to wipe themselves after they go to the bathroom in their office trash cans because they don't want to take time out from billing clients to go to the bathroom. Young associates don't think about whining to someone like me because they're too busy knocking on my door and asking me how they can make my life easier and my clients happier and my contractor richer.

It's not my fault, or the fault of any of my colleagues, that you decided to go to law school. It's not our fault you got into debt. It's not our fault you want a job you can't get. Baseball players can't get jobs after age 40 either. It's the same thing here. Your skills may or may not deteriorate (I can argue both sides of that), but your stamina certainly does. Your energy does. Your drive does. If you're just starting out at age 40, you know you're never going to get to the top, so why even try. You're complacent. Not because you're choosing to be, but because you're too old and experienced in life not to be. Young people don't have perspective. They don't understand that the kinds of things we demand from them are pointless and not worth getting all worked up about. They don't get that we're not going to fire them. They don't get that most of the pressure they feel to stay here all night is pressure they're putting on themselves and that the consequences for living a normal life are all in their head. But older associates know it's all a bit of a game. Older associates know I don't really have the power to behead an associate in the guillotine I stole from the Studio 60 soundstage when we took the summer associates on a tour. But the kids don't. They think it's going to really happen. They think we're really going to kill them if they don't finish the document review by 6AM tomorrow morning. And that's why we like them.

Maybe you're willing to work hard. But you're probably not willing to be humiliated, and honestly it's a lot less fun to humiliate a 40-year-old, with 2 kids and 3 ex-wives and a mortgage and a limp than it is to humiliate a 25-year-old without any responsibilities except to the firm. You want to blame someone for this? Blame your law school for accepting you. No one forced you into this game. No one pretended you would be employable. And don't think law is the only industry where this is an issue. Ask a 40-year-old TV writer. If you can find one. Or a 40-year-old exotic dancer. Don't see too many of those either, at least not at the summer associate strip club events. Maybe we just pick our venue carefully, but I've got to believe there's some pretty big age discrimination going on there too.

And it makes sense for largely the same reasons. No wants to see a 40-year-old doing document review, or taking off their clothes. It's just the way the world works.

Friday, June 15, 2007

I'm feeling a little guilty today. Not too guilty, but a little bit. It's not really my fault, but an associate died in a train mishap this afternoon. She was trying to make it back to the office with a box of documents we sent her across town to pick up, and she drove through the railroad crossing right as the bar was coming down, and got plowed down by a train. The other part of the tragedy is that one of our partners was on that train, heading down for a court date in another city, and ended up delayed for an hour while they dealt with the deceased associate and her car. So both clients are upset, and I'm feeling the brunt of it.

The reason I'm feeling guilty at all is that I was the one who told the associate to hurry back to the office. I may have yelled. I didn't tell her to get hit by a train. I may have told her to exceed the speed limit. I may have told her, when she called from a red light, that this was more important than traffic signals and that the firm would reimburse her if she got a ticket. I did not mention railroad crossings specifically, but I did tell her that if she got stuck at a drawbridge, she should just swim the documents across if it would save her time. But I didn't mention railroad crossings specifically, so I'm not feeling specifically accountable.

But, frankly, even if I had mentioned railroad crossings specifically (and, like I said, I'm almost entirely positive that I didn't, or if I did then I was probably kidding and she should have known that), it's her fault for needing to rush at all. We sent her to the document warehouse last Thursday with plenty of time. No one told her she needed to sleep a full night's sleep every other night. That was a decision she made on her own, and it cost her valuable time. Time she could have spent waiting for the train to cross, if she hadn't wasted that time earlier. Time she would have had to wait for the train to cross, if she hadn't attended to other, more "important" needs. She knew there would be a time crunch at the end. She chose to use her time in a way that ended up proving unwise.

And we're paying her husband for the hours she spent in the document warehouse, even though she never had a chance to enter them into the billing system, so how guilty can we really feel?

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

I'm very excited for this afternoon. We've set up our first-ever summer associate "afternoon movie break" to go see "Knocked Up." In my e-mail to the summers, I set it up as a cautionary tale of what can happen if any of them have sex. A career is too important to risk. They should neither want to be the girl who has to take a week off for maternity leave in order to give birth and interview nannies, or the guy who's going to have to start feeling pressure to leave the office before it gets too late in order to have a quick glimpse of his newborn on the way to sleep. It ruins the forward momentum. It makes them soft. And any chance we get to impart that message in a humorous way makes it more likely it'll stick. Hence, the movie trip.

So we've rented out a theater, and I had the recruiters track down an artisanal popcorn supplier from the midwest. He grows his own corn, shucks it himself, and then flavors it using only the highest-quality butter and cheddar cheese from his own dairy farm. We've flown him in, along with one of his cows, and we'll set them up in the back of the theater to provide the refreshments. I can't stand ordinary movie popcorn. It always tastes a little stale to me. I didn't want to risk it. I want this to be an event they'll remember when they're deciding whether or not to take their offers.

We also paid one of the co-stars of the movie (contractually I'm not allowed to say which one) to come and sign autographs, and do a question-and-answer session after the film. And we'll be giving out the actual placenta used in the movie to one of the lucky summer associates (it's going to whichever summer billed the most hours last week). So it's a whole big movie extravaganza. Much more memorable than merely buying tickets and having the summers sit with all the riffraff and watch the movie like a homeless person, 2:00 in the afternoon on a Tuesday, in a theater filled with unemployed drunks. We've hired a security detail to make sure no unemployed drunks get into our screening.

I'm excited to see the film. I haven't seen a movie since Bridge to Terabithia with Anonymous Son. Same reason why I showed it to the summer associates a couple of weeks ago when they started. Isn't just a movie for lawyers. I wanted to show him that even if your real life is boring, and your best friend dies, you can make up a fantasy world and live there instead.

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