Tuesday, August 28, 2007

I was in the restroom today and I saw an associate in the stall next to me wiggle his fingers under the partition between stalls. I ignored it, like I do whenever associates do anything besides work. He did it again. I thought maybe he was holding his hand out for an assignment, thinking perhaps I'd brought one with me to the bathroom. It turns out I had. I took the papers from my pocket and put them in his wiggling fingers. Then his foot crept under the stall and rubbed against mine. He wanted more. So I reached into my other pocket and pulled out a credit agreement. I scrawled at the top, "Proofread this," and slipped it under the partition. He took it. Forty minutes later, the completed assignment and proofread credit agreement arrived on my desk. Well done. Associates bold enough to ask for assignments in the bathroom are acceptable in my book.

But not everyone sees it that way. See, this associate was already working for another partner. And it's not entirely within the normal protocol for an associate committed to one partner to be looking to engage with other partners, especially in the bathroom. And especially from a completely different practice group. There are rumors he's done this before. There are a number of different bathrooms in the office designated as "work bathrooms," where there are outlets in each stall for laptop computers, fully functioning wireless, a printer, and a secretary on duty at all times. While these bathrooms function as normal bathrooms throughout the day, everyone is aware that work does go on there, especially in the corner stall. So an especially eager associate can cruise these bathrooms throughout the day and, if he's lucky, find an extra assignment or two. These may not be the best assignments the firm has to offer, but they allow some exposure to new partners and perhaps enable connections that will help the associates down the line. Most associates don't talk about their secret bathroom rendezvous. Somehow the bathroom assignments are considered dirty, illegitimate, cheating. And some associates, over time, get a reputation.

What ends up complicating matters is that most associates don't like it when one of their own is begging too hard for these bathroom opportunities. They don't like to see someone stand out, meet new partners, and put themselves in a position to move ahead. So once an associate gets a reputation for cruising the bathrooms, he puts himself at risk for vigilante justice. Associates who aren't into the bathroom scene corner their colleagues, rough them up a little bit, steal their copies of the tax code. It can be an ugly scene. But it's not my job to police the associates. In a way, I like to see associates take matters into their own hands. And I like that it means that associates who want the bathroom assignments know they're taking a risk, but they do it anyway. Their impulse to do as much work as they can, their impulse to impress as many partners as possible, their raw biological impulses are so strong that they're willing to put their bodies (and tax codes) at risk for it. That's the kind of dedication I like to see. The kind of commitment that makes me proud to work at a place like this, and proud to see an associate's fingers wiggling under the bathroom partition and give him exactly what he deserves. To put that thick, hot-off-the-printer lease agreement right in his hands. Makes me proud to be a lawyer.

Monday, August 20, 2007

An associate invited me to his wedding this past weekend. I assume he was hoping that actually being at the wedding would make me more willing to give him a half-day off for his honeymoon, but no such luck. I made up for it by giving him a fairly substantial gift certificate to the firm cafeteria as a wedding present. I don't think I've seen his wife come by the office too often to join him for a quick dinner down there, so hopefully this will give them the opportunity to get a little more time together. I felt uncomfortable the whole time I was there. It bothers me that this associate has friends, and family that's still speaking to him. It means we're not working him hard enough. I fear I've failed him. I'll have to work harder at getting him some time-consuming assignments this next quarter. Part of me felt like I didn't need to give him a gift at all. After all, the cost of the firm health insurance his wife will now qualify for dwarfs the gift I gave him. Isn't health insurance the best present anyone can receive anyway?

I looked at his wedding website before I went to the affair, so I could remember his name and what he looked like. I laughed when I scrolled through his wedding registry. When does he think he'll have time to use a serving plate or a toothbrush holder? He should be brushing his teeth at work. If he only brushes his teeth when he's at home, they'll all fall out. No one at the firm is home often enough to restrict his dental care to the bathroom in his house. And when will he ever be home for a dinner party where he'll need service for 8? I was tempted to give him 7 of those 8 plates, 7 forks, 7 knives, to symbolize those dinner parties he's sure to have where everyone shows up but him, still stuck at the office working. That's the life he has to look forward to. Dinner parties he doesn't get to attend.

In between salad and the main course I e-mailed him an assignment from my BlackBerry, hoping he'd ignore it, hoping he'd give me reason to put him on probation, deny him his bonus. But sure enough, I saw him sneak out for a few minutes during the first dance, and fifteen minutes later I had an e-mail back from him. I looked out at him, cutting the wedding cake, and gave him a wink. Job well done. Maybe he's a keeper. Or at least until he has kids.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

I've been asked by multiple readers to post about the Michael Vick dogfighting situation. And I've been reluctant to do so thus far because Vick is actually one of my clients. I've strayed from my usual practice and taken his case pro bono because I want to make a difference in the world, and stand up for people like Vick, people who hold other people (and animals) accountable for their actions and discipline them appropriately when they don't meet the standard. We've become too weak in this country, too tolerant of laziness, of people (and animals) who don't work hard, who don't have the will to compete, who don't constantly try to better themselves. Vick merely held the dogs accountable for their performances. I aspire to do the same with associates, but "political correctness" gets in the way. Those dogs signed up for the fights, they signed consent forms, they knew the risks. Or at least that's my argument. We have paw prints.

Vick has been a victim of the same kinds of reactions we received when our underground associate-fighting ring was exposed by a rejected summer associate. It used to be the highlight of my Thursday nights. Take two young associates, put them in a ring, give them each a stainless steel letter opener, and let them battle for who would get to work all weekend for the meanest partner at the firm. (Obviously that was the prize for the winner, not the loser. Face time is important, above just about anything else.) And, yes, sometimes we got carried away. Perhaps leaving the loser in the middle of the woods to fend for himself, with only a copy of the bankruptcy code to protect him, was a bit of an overreaction. But we did count those hours as billable, so I think it all ended up fair for all sides.

See, I do a lot of pro bono work. It's not just Vick. That basketball referee who was betting on the games he officiated, he's a client too. I don't see the conflict of interest. We advise clients all the time on all sorts of matters that ultimately affect how much we get paid. We tell clients not to settle, regardless of whether it's in their interest to do so, if we know we'll receive more money merely by dragging the case out for fifteen more years until they finally do end up settling, for half the money they could have gotten before, and with legal costs that eat up most of the settlement anyway.

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