Tuesday, November 20, 2007

I've been burning to post these past couple of weeks, but the secretary who usually transcribes my words (from my state-of-the-art personal voice recording device to the computer) has been on strike, along with the rest of the support staff at the firm. It's been a frustrating situation, for sure. It's long been our practice at the firm to pay secretaries only for the time they spend performing certain tasks for us: answering the phone, making photocopies, sharpening our pencils, cutting our meat. As a matter of philosophy, we've felt it unnecessary to pay them for being idle, when they can be sitting at their desks doing other income-producing work if they like. (One secretary, for instance, earns almost $400 a year selling magazine subscriptions to recruiting candidates she pressures into buying while they wait for her boss to be ready for their interviews.) So, just like attorneys, they're required to clock every minute of their time, and we determine, at the end of every two-week period, how much time they've spent on productive work, and therefore how much they should get paid.

And now they've gotten greedy.

We've always maintained, as a matter of philosophy, that we can only pay for the kind of work that we're absolutely certain provides value, because otherwise there is room left for abuse. The secretaries are insisting that we pay them for the time they spend on the Internet. And since we're not yet able to distinguish productive Internet time from wasteful and unproductive Internet time, we've maintained that time spent on the computer counts as unproductive time and we will not pay for it. Three weeks ago, they decided they cared enough about this issue that they all banded together and struck. In response, we assigned our associates to do double duty, and have dug in our heels. We can afford a long strike more than they can, and, as a matter of philosophy, we refuse to cave in to their ridiculous demands.

After all, who hasn't passed by a secretary and seen her on MySpace? Or playing solitaire? Or online shopping? Why should we pay them for that? They can be using eBay to sell their possessions, or Craigslist to make extra money on the side for what the young people are calling "casual encounters." It's not our duty to double-pay them. Just like we can't double-bill our clients except in certain circumstances.

As more and more of them lose their homes, I feel confident they will come to their senses and return to work. In the meantime, although it's a strain on our associates, they're certainly paid well enough to handle it, and it's not like us partners aren't feeling the strain as well. Many of us have started working part of the day from home, putting our spouses to work as support staff. Of course, many of our spouses are less than entirely competent. So we're definitely feeling the brunt of this. When the Internet is proven to actually add value to the business process, perhaps we will consider paying the secretaries for their time spent using it, if we're feeling generous and can make up for it by trimming their health insurance benefits. But for now, we fight the good fight, and hope for a just and proper outcome.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Some of my associates are just arriving after last night's firm-wide Halloween party. As it got late, I told a few of them they didn't have to come in until 11 this morning. That's the 'treat'. The 'trick' is that it's going to count as a vacation day. Of course, the disappointment is that they probably won't even notice they've lost a day of vacation, since anyone who uses more than 30% of their days gets flagged in the system and is automatically assigned extra work to prevent any more abuses of our generous vacation policy.

The Halloween party is a relatively new tradition at the firm. For a number of years, we all dressed up and visited a local hospital, cheering up the patients with promises of potential malpractice suits against their doctors. But four years ago, in a bizarre coincidence, the majority of us dressed up as the Grim Reaper and the hospital had to ask us to leave. Fortunately not before we got through the pediatrics ward and the surgical recovery room.

I pulled out the Grim Reaper costume again yesterday. Not so much for the Halloween party at the firm, but because I promised my wife I'd visit her great-uncle in hospice care before heading to the office, and I thought he'd get a kick out of it.

The firm party went as well as could be expected. The annual trick-or-treating event involved the associates coming to each of the partners' offices to receive either a piece of candy (provided by our secretaries) or a bit of document review due by midnight. Some of the secretaries unfortunately ignored the directive to bring candy into work and we had to use paper clips as a proxy in place of chocolate. I forced my associates to eat the paper clips. Luckily, only three of them choked.

A few associates asked if they could leave early to go trick-or-treating with their kids. It amazes me that people still ask to leave early. Even the sign I insisted we post in the attorney lounge ("No, You May Not Leave Early, For Any Reason, Ever!") doesn't seem to deter them from marching into my office, adorable picture of a toddler wearing an Italian suit ("He's dressed up as YOU for Halloween!"), offering to work late nights and weekends (as if they won't be here anyway), begging to get off work just a few hours earlier than usual, maybe 6:30, 7:00, 7:30, anything to be able to help their kids steal food from the neighbors. "It's his first Halloween!" He won't even remember it. "My wife is eight and a half months pregnant and can't take the kids out by herself!" Maybe you should have thought of that when you got married. "She loves candy!" Well, you shouldn't be encouraging it. We did that with Anonymous Daughter and look where it got us. 12 years old, a hundred and sixty pounds, and a borderline case of juvenile diabetes. My wife has no self-control. We can't give her cupcakes whenever she asks for them. We can't dip her vegetables in sugar. No matter what these idiotic cookbooks tell us.

My wife bought that ridiculous Jessica Seinfeld cookbook about hiding vegetables in brownies, cookies, and ice cream sandwiches. I think she feels an affinity toward Jessica Seinfeld as a similarly situated accomplishment-free wife of a successful genius. Not that my wife ever cooks. But she gave the book to our housekeeper and told her to make some of the recipes. Not for the kids, but for her. My wife hates vegetables, she always has. Anonymous Son loves them. Cauliflower, brussels sprouts, lima beans, he'll eat anything. My wife eats chicken nuggets and Chef Boyardee Spaghetti-O's. So now the housekeeper has to sneak swiss chard into the chicken nuggets and endive into the Spaghetti-O's or my wife says she'll fire her. It's all because the doctor told her she wasn't getting enough Vitamin A.

Anonymous Daughter dressed up as a pumpkin for Halloween. Anonymous Son dressed up as Fred Thompson. My wife paraded them around the neighborhood for 15 minutes, they got three bags full of candy, and then gorged themselves until they both threw up. Luckily, I missed it all and didn't get home until they were fast asleep. I'll see them during the weekend sometime, ask them how it went, see how their October was, catch up over a quick breakfast before heading to the office. They're both late with their invoices for the October allowance, so at least that'll save me the 10% I penalize them for tardy filing.

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