Friday, April 30, 2004

In preparation for the new summer class arriving in just a few weeks, the HR department has started to "address some concerns" about the firm. The walls on one floor are getting repainted. The center islands where the assistants sit are being "spruced up" with some plants and flowers. We're getting new numbers on the doors. There's a paralegal who was just assigned to make sure all of the books in the library are sequenced correctly on the shelves. We received a memo about office cleanliness, asking us to ensure that "plates of food are not left lying around, and beverage containers are appropriately disposed of." It sounds silly, but there are some real slobs here. One partner in particular is known for his inattention to clutter, and his office looks like a college dorm room. The floor is literally covered with papers, and he's been known to toss his used paper plates and cups under his desk, and just let them fester there until someone cleans it up. It's actually so bad that a recruit this year pointed it out to me --- I asked how his previous interviews had gone, and he mentioned he was in one office that looked like a train wreck. He said it in a joking way, nothing inappropriate, but I did mention it to the guy. He apologized and said he'd work on it, but it hasn't gotten any better. Old dogs can't learn new tricks.

Apparently, this year we're going to introduce a casual Friday policy for the summer (we're usually business casual 5 days a week, but some of our competitors have dropped the pretense of a button down shirt, so we're going to allow polos and, I'm told, even shorts. Although I doubt any summer associates are going to come in wearing shorts. Regular associates, maybe. Most partners probably don't own any shorts, so it's not really an issue). We're also going to do a Monday night happy hour -- usually we do it on Fridays, but we've found that people want to leave for the weekend, and no one shows up. So they figure if we do it on Mondays we'll get a higher turnout. I'm not sure about that, but we'll see. Some of the partners and associates have their own happy hour every night in their offices. It's a lawyer thing to do, I guess. The amount of functioning alcoholism -- not just here, but everywhere -- is really quite astonishing. There are more partners consistently drunk than consistently late, and that's saying a lot. Most disturbing is the pregnant partner who's consistently drunk.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

My assistant brought in a poem today that her youngest wrote about her job, and me. She wanted to share it. He's eight years old.

Mom goes into the office each day
She works at a desk and does not play
Her boss is a lawyer who wears a tie
He seems like he's an important guy
Sometimes Mom isn't home until late
We should eat dinner but we usually wait
She comes home and says her boss was making her work
I think her boss is a jerk
I showed the poem to one of my friends down the hall. He said if his assistant gave him a poem like that, he'd fire her. I told my assistant what he said. She said if she worked for him, the poem would be a lot worse. Apparently he loses an assistant once a year or so. He's "one of the difficult ones," my assistant says. I asked her what I was. "One of the annoying ones," she said. "But at least you're someone I could actually see myself having a conversation with outside the office." I invited her and her family over for dinner tomorrow night. She thought that sounded nice. She's only been here a few months, so I really haven't gotten to know her well yet. My old assistant quit to go to law school. I suppose that reflects well on the firm.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

I had my best round of golf in weeks today, thoroughly embarrassing one of the firm's biggest clients, trouncing him by at least a dozen strokes, more if he hadn't kept "miscounting" when he thought I wasn't looking. I'm a lawyer. I see everything. After golf, we went and got dinner at a local bistro, where he spent most of the meal bothering me about his son who just got his LSAT score. He's finishing up his junior year at a well-regarded liberal arts university and planning to apply to law school next year. The kid got a 177, which is okay but not spectacular. His GPA is solid. I told him his kid should take a couple of years off, get a real job, figure out what his passions are before he leaps into a career that may not be for him. "Hogwash," the client said. "He's not going to waste two years 'finding himself.' He's going to go to law school now so he doesn't fall behind." "Fall behind who?" I asked. "His peers. They're going to be starting their careers, and he's going to be searching for his passion? That's ridiculous. Let him get the law degree, put in some years at a firm, and then he'll figure out what he wants to do." "By that time he'll be too invested in this life to do anything else." "Exactly. This is what I want for him. It's a good life, isn't it? The amount we pay you guys, I know you're doing real well for yourself. And you play a mean game of golf." "But I'm miserable, and I never see my family." What? We'd had a few drinks. So I let my guard down. "And you think I'm happy?" he said. "I work all week too, and I never see my family either. Running a business isn't easy. You lawyers don't have a monopoly on misery. Who's happy? No one in business, no one who I used to work in consulting with, my I-bankers are on Prozac, my CFO just had a nervous breakdown, no one's happy. So let my kid be a lawyer and at least make some easy money." "Isn't it a little pathetic, though? Shouldn't we want more than the best of the worst? Shouldn't we want our kids to find something that makes them happy?" "Not happier than me. That would make me feel like a failure. And who's happy anyway? Life's not a happy place. You think starving artists are happy? Unemployed musicians? Struggling writers? At least we can afford fancy things and good meals. It's fancy things that keep me going most days anyway. My car, my house, my big-screen TV. You gonna eat those fries?"

I've seen some posts on other weblogs about relations with opposing counsel, and how lawyers are often civil to each other even when their clients are at odds. This doesn't make sense to clients, because clients are stupid. Clients don't realize that we know when they're lying, we know when they're the bad guy, and that we're not in this to find justice, to find truth, or to make the world a better place. We're in this because we're getting paid a lot of money to come up with the best arguments, the most unfair (but still legal) contract terms, the most ridiculous interpretations of relatively clear precedent and statute that we can advance so our clients actually pay the bill. So of course we're going to be friendly. We're all on the same team.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

"[Anonymous Lawyer],

I'm a 2L at [law school] who you may remember from the interviewing process this fall. I'll be coming to work at [the name of this firm] this summer, starting in just a few weeks. I was writing to request that I be assigned to spend part of the summer working under you. I very much enjoyed meeting you this fall, and feel like I would get a lot out of working for you, given my interest in [something] and also in [something else]. I think you'll find that I'm a hard worker, and a quick learner. I'm definitely eager to get some experience this summer and be on my way to a legal career. I hope this e-mail isn't inappropriate. The career services counselor here told us that we should be proactive with our careers and seek out mentors who we identify as potentially valuable people to get to know. So I wanted to start my summer off on the right foot, and I knew if I didn't take some steps to ensure a positive summer experience, I would run the risk of getting lost in the cracks and not getting a chance to work with partners like you. I would be happy to spend some time before I arrive at the firm doing research or other projects that would get me up to speed and enable me to make the most contribution I can. If there's anything you think I should read before arriving at the firm, please let me know and I'd be delighted to write up a short memo if you'd like. Once again, I'm so excited to be working for [the name of this firm] this summer, and especially getting the chance to work with a well-regarded practitioner like you. I hope you're excited to have me.

See you soon,
[Law Student]"

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Just doing a bit of work before dinner to prepare for a client meeting tomorrow, and I noticed that a thread on the aptly-named "Greedy Associates" message board has been discussing my post from a few weeks ago about not giving an offer to a girl who omitted from her resume her membership in the Federalist Society, and whether I didn't give her an offer because she didn't tell the truth, or because she was a Federalist. I hope the person who asked the question isn't an associate here, because I'm not impressed with his or her reasoning skills. Why would I care that she's a Federalist? I care that she lied. I couldn't care less what political affiliation an associate has as long as they do the work. I mean, I probably wouldn't go out of my way to hire an avowed Communist, but within reason it doesn't much matter. That's not to say there aren't certain student organizations that raise red flags -- musical groups make me fear I will have to listen to someone humming in the hallways whenever they pass, and that really annoys me and I don't want to deal with it. Listing meaningless positions in fourteen different organizations -- "social director," "publicity manager," "membership chair" -- doesn't thrill me. And whenever someone has "mock trial" listed on their resume, I like to ask them if they enjoy being in a courtroom. Because if the answer's yes, guess what? You're not working here, because you're not going to see a courtroom for four years. But if you're on the "mock document review" team, you've got an offer on the spot.

Saturday, April 24, 2004

I'm sorry for not updating this more often this week. It's been a busy time: annual "please look for another job" season. We don't actually do layoffs here -- well, unless someone has truly done something awful, like lose an account, or cry in front of a client. Instead, we do "performance reviews," and read to the associates from a list of mysterious code words and phrases that are supposed to indicate whether they're on the partner track or should start looking for a different line of work, but are vague enough that anyone can interpret them however they want until we get really desperate to get rid of them and then we're slightly less obtuse. In fact, I'm in the office this morning to catch up on work I didn't do because I was in performance reviews with associates all day Friday, and meetings with the other partners to prepare for those reviews on Thursday. So one of my associates has been getting these vague hints for a few years now. We started out gently: "you may want to focus more on the details in some of your written work," which we thought we provide adequate notice that she was not a rising star at the firm. She didn't take the hint, or just decided to ignore it. Last year, we told her: "some people have observed that your personality may be best suited to small-firm life in a low-pressure environment where no one will care about the quality of the legal services provided." We thought this was pretty blunt. She did not take the hint. This year, it was up to me to come up with something that on the surface sounded polite, but actually meant that she should leave immediately and never come back. Fortunately, she made it easy for me by botching an assignment I gave her earlier in the week to clean the office microwave. She cleaned it with steel wool, and the next time someone used it, the metal fragments left in it caused a small fire. So she was on the hook for that. Plus, she misspelled the name of a client in a tender offer document, and that's really a rookie mistake that we just won't tolerate. "Do you remember the microwave incident," I asked her? "We think perhaps you're like that microwave, and the high-pressure work here in overheating you, plus most of the written work you hand in would be suitable as kindling in a fire, much like the one you caused," I said. "Oh, I'm so sorry about the microwave," she said. "And I'll try to improve, I really will." "I trust the janitor to do legal work more than I trust you," I said. "And I want to increase that trust in the coming year by demonstrating the true extent of my capabilities," she said. "I think another job may be the best thing for you," I said. "Oh, but I love this one," she said. "I wish you'd fall out the window," I said. "I think I need to take this call," she said. And exited. I've scheduled a "follow-up" meeting for next week. Hopefully by then I can come up with a clearer way to express myself, but I'm a lawyer, so obfuscation comes naturally.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

I've settled down a bit after my emotional breakdown in Monday's post, and received a few e-mails from readers with good wishes for me and my mental health, and from readers who let me know that my fictional life was more entertaining when I didn't sound like I was inches away from the ledge of the building, staring out at my ocean view and threatening to jump into the sand from twenty stories up. So, I took a personal day yesterday and stayed home, but dragged my fictional self back to work today to meet with my favorite client, a leading pencil manufacturer who, irony of all ironies, is being sued by his employees for using lead paint in the office and allegedly causing all sorts of health damage. Which is leading him to bankruptcy. And we're trying to figure out how to set up a fund to pay all the claims. This guy is sort of quirky. He insists I take notes using one of his pencils, and never with pen. He doesn't have a computer. He writes notes. In pencil. And sends couriers over with them. His business records are all. In. Pencil. Which means that sometimes things are erased. Sometimes purposely, like his memo to us when he first learned about the lead paint. Which has magically found itself erased by someone here. Certainly not me. It's a strange way to do business. He also wears these annoying pencil-shaped ties. He gave me one as a gift once. I tried not to accept it, but he insisted, and now I feel like I have to wear it, at least occasionally, when we meet. So here we were, in matching pencil ties, in my office, writing in pencil, with the lights off. I forgot to mention. He hates light. I don't know what that has to do with pencils. In the middle of the meeting, we had to take a break, because he had to go to the bathroom. "#2," he joked. "Get it? Like the pencil? And also what I'm going to be doing in the bathroom?" Yes, I got it. And this guy runs a successful business? Well, not that successful. You know, with the bankruptcy and everything. But you know what I mean.

Monday, April 19, 2004

There are days when you wake up, and you don't know how you got here, and you look in the mirror and you don't recognize the person you've become. You think about what you actually spend your days doing and you wonder where you stepped off the path. When you decided that this was who you were going to be and this was how you were going to spend your life. This was not the plan. This was never the plan. I used to feel things. I used to care about people, and actually be able to carry on a conversation without wondering who I could bill it to. I've been thinking this morning about how many people here I actually like as people, not just respect as lawyers, and recognize their skills and talents and mental acuity -- but that I actually like -- that the "real" me -- the me I was before I got here -- would actually want to be friends with. It isn't many. There's a first-year associate who's brilliant, and does an astonishing job balancing life and work -- he comes in on Monday and has stories to tell about his weekend that don't involve work. He coaches a youth-league basketball team. He remembers people's birthdays. He says please and thank you. He has perspective. I like him. As a person. Not just as a lawyer. There's an assistant who, more than being an assistant, is a mom, and a wife, and a caring individual -- who can get the client on the phone just fine, but who will also ask you how your day is going and really mean it. The fact that I can pick these people out, and that they stand out from the rest, is more than a little bit sad. Because the industry doesn't promote this kind of person. So many of my colleagues are overbearing individuals. They're loud, they're obnoxious, they get their way, and they appear to have absolutely no emotional depth. Maybe they've just suppressed it. But I find myself oftentimes wanting to lift them up and shake them. "Stop for a second," I want to say. "Stop talking. Stop smiling. Stop acting. Surely there must be something beneath this facade. Surely you must feel things. Surely you must understand that others feel things. Surely you must have this need for emotional connection, that for whatever reason you refuse to acknowledge. Because if you don't, I don't know how you exist as a person without leaping off the roof. Are you really that shallow? Are you really that empty? Tell me how life makes you feel. Tell me if this is the person you really want to be." It's not the person I want to be. It's not the life I want to lead. I want to shake them, and see if there's a really a soul inside them. And I want them to shake me, and make sure mine is still in there somewhere, that I haven't lost it, that I'm not becoming one of them, that I haven't already become one of them, that it's not too late for me. And that there are other people here who feel the same way but are scared to say it. And that we are all good souls trapped inside lawyers' bodies, but wishing we could get out. Just knowing that -- knowing they're everywhere, even if no one admits they have real feelings inside -- would make me feel better.

Update, after spending some non-billable time looking for other lawyers who have weblogs and seeing if they seem different from the people I want to shake. He seems different. He seems different. He seems different. She seems different.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

I'm going over some papers at home, and I've discovered a pretty substantial legal mistake that one of my associates made. This is not good. He or she will have quite a bit of explaining to do come tomorrow morning.

Anonymous Child had an excellent Tae Kwon Do exhibition that I saw from beginning to end, without arriving late because of work, walking out in the middle to take any cell phone calls, or leaving early to get back to the office. The medical event I described earlier today has me thinking about my life a bit. Family is almost as important as work, and I need to make sure I treat it that way.

A reader sent me an e-mail asking if I ever Google candidates, and whether it ever influences my decisions. The fact that I have a weblog probably makes me one of the more tech-savvy partners here. So I do Google candidates, on occasion, if I'm curious about something on a resume, or if I'm just killing 2 or 3 minutes before the interview. I had a candidate in this past recruiting cycle who had in his "interests" section that he's an "amateur sculptor." That isn't an interest we see very often, so I was curious what else I'd find out about him if I Googled him, and if I'd learn that perhaps he has lots of interests outside the office that would make him an especially interesting person, who may not want to waste the most productive years of his life at a law firm like ours. So I Googled him and discovered he'd won a series of contests for his sculpting, and had a website all about it, and had been written up in some articles, and looked pretty professional and focused, as if that was his real passion, and law might just be a risk-averse way to hedge his bets. Not a recipe for career success, at least not in my opinion. So in the interview, I asked him about the sculpting, and he said it's really just a hobby, and not a big deal, and tried to play it down. Which made me wonder why he'd bothered to put it on the resume, but also made me think he was lying. It turned he was actually too talented for us to pass up, but it was definitely a red flag in my mind.

A girl that I Googled this past fall turned up that she was an officer in the Federalist Society chapter at her school. Which is something she left off her resume. I asked her about it in the interview, just to see what her reaction would be, and she got very flustered and told me she thought it was a violation of her privacy to Google her. I didn't think Federalists believed in privacy rights. She didn't get an offer. Although had she just said something about not including it on her resume because she didn't think it was important then I think that would have had no consequence one way or the other.

A rare Sunday in the office, surely just for a couple of hours -- I'm heading back home in time for a "tae kwon do exhibition" that one of my Anonymous Children is in this afternoon (although knowing your legal rights and responsibilities is a much better form of self-defense than martial arts, if you ask me -- which of course no one did) -- after an incident late Friday that I think it's better for me not to write about on here. Suffice it to say that a senior partner had a medical event, and people have been more worried about him than about getting their work done, which is understandable. Except to clients, because they never understand anything. The only thing they understand is the bill, and they understand that too well. "Services will be approximately ten percent," we warn them, and then they complain about whether photocopying is thirty-five cents a page or forty-five cents a page, and whether we're charging back Lexis and Westlaw at 100% of our cost, or 110% of our cost. Things like that. It gets old after a short time. They want the best, they need to pay for the best. It's that simple. We provide services at a level they can't get at too many other places. Yet they quibble when an associate bills 26 hours one day. Get over it.

Friday, April 16, 2004

Why can't we figure out how to keep the Internet up??? I got into work about a half hour ago -- I'm trying to get out early today -- I'm thinking noon -- and play a round of golf, since I didn't get to on Wednesday and it's pretty much the only thing that keeps me from hurling myself out the window at the end of the week... and I get in and the Internet's down. Just came back up. This happens every so often. Usually right in the middle of a critical e-mail to a client or a Word doc I haven't saved in a while. It'll go down for two, three hours -- no warning, no apologies, eventually some random note on the refrigerator saying there were some "unavoidable technical issues this morning." Yeah, they'd be avoidable if we had competent tech support people. I don't know where the Internet comes from, how any of this works, but I don't understand why it keeps going down. I'm sure we pay them enough that this shouldn't be happening. And like you learn as a lawyer, money is the answer to everything. I'm gonna grab a cup of coffee, sit down with this stack of construction contracts that have been living on my desk for a week, and do some early morning reading. Then a quick call to the client to let him know I'm up to speed, give him some strategy, and off to the golf course. I caught the end of The Apprentice last night, where Donald Trump offered the guy who won a choice of whether to help him build a building in Chicago or build what looks like an amazing new golf course here in LA. And he chose Chicago. Why anyone would choose Chicago over LA is preposterous. And I can't wait for the new golf course. I wish Donald Trump would come by and say "you're fired" to our tech support staff. And a whole bunch of other people while he's at it.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

I walked over to my associate's office -- the one doing the unpleasant task described below -- to see how things were going, and to tell her she'd done enough and can move on to other work and we'll do the rest some other time. I had a change of heart. I realized I didn't need to take my own frustrations out on her. But I got there, knocked on the door, and when I walked in I noticed she had perhaps three or four instant messenger windows open on her screen. She wasn't doing work, she was talking to her friends. Who were probably down the hall and also not doing any work, since it's not like anyone here has time to have any friends outside the office. She wants to spend all day instant messaging, that's fine -- but I decided not to let her off the hook so quickly. So I asked some vague questions about her progress, told her how important this assignment is, and just sort of wandered out the door and back to my desk. I did tell her she looked very pretty today, though. Which she does. She's a very pretty associate.

There are days when I'm very generous to the associates who work under me. I try to give them as much freedom as possible with regard to their schedules, I try to make sure they understand the context of their assignments so dry tasks don't seem quite so bad, I leave the truly heinous jobs for the paralegals, I praise them for a job well done.... And then there are days when I'm a jackass. Today is one of those days. I'm not in a very good mood -- I didn't get a chance to play golf yesterday, I got an angry e-mail from a client, and my wife thinks I should mow the lawn myself while I think we should just hire someone to do it for us even if it costs more than it should -- so I got into the office about a half-hour ago, and decided I'm going to make someone's day miserable, just for fun. I decided today would be a good day to have an associate "update our relationship information" at some of my more important clients. Which means calling into them and making sure all of the same people still work there, and seeing if there are any problems brewing that they just hadn't gotten a chance to come to us with. Trolling for business, basically -- but also updating records and making sure everything's fine. Because there's a chance they'll really have a legal question, I can't have a paralegal do it. So I've got a sixth-year associate who -- once she gets into the office -- will spend about 12 hours today on the phone. I mean, it's something that has to be done every so often. I'm not sure there's any reason why it has to be done today. Or by this particular associate. But oh well, too bad for her.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Two of the support staff got let go today under some odd and troubling circumstances. The story we're hearing is that apparently they overheard some tax associates discussing a certain client, for whom we've been employing some creative tax strategies to help them save money. (I'm not a tax lawyer, so I really don't know the specifics.) These two people on the support staff -- or so the story goes -- were somehow aware that the IRS pays a reward when people turn in tax offenders. And so they reported the client to the IRS. And he got audited, and has to pay some penalties. And the client blames us, because it turned out the IRS didn't like whatever creative strategies we had advised them to apply. And the tax partner in charge of the case somehow figured out that these support staffers were the ones who told the IRS. And he demanded they be let go for breaching confidentiality, or something along those lines. I'm not sure I understand the complete story, but I do know that I'm going to be awfully quiet about the cash I pay the cleaning woman each week, and my "home office." My assistant insists that if we treated the support staff better, they wouldn't be motivated to go turn our clients in to the government to get a tax reward. But my assistant also got the Code of Federal Regulations mixed up with the Bankruptcy Code, so what does she know?

On recruiting trips I sometimes take part in panel discussions at law schools, where students can ask questions about the hiring process. The most common question I'm asked is what my "favorite interview question" is. I usually make something up that's pretty generic, like "why this firm in particular?" or "why should we hire you and not the guy we just saw who has better grades, more extracurriculars, and a nicer smile?" I don't want to give away any hints at these things. It's all for promotion; I'm not going to provide any rewards for coming.

The real answer is that I like to ask them to tell me the names of the people they've interviewed with. It's shocking to see how few of the students I interview can even give me one person's name. Almost unheard of to get the complete set correct. But it's important. It's important to pay attention to detail. It's important to know what's going on around you. That question can make or break someone in my mind. If you can just rattle them off, I'm impressed. If you get flustered, and start grasping for straws -- or, even worse, make some dismissive comment about the question being a joke, which happens a lot more than it should -- I don't like you, and I don't want you working here. I want associates who have their eyes open all the time for pieces of the puzzle. I don't want people who walk through life with a blindfold on.

I had one candidate completely self-destruct on this question, when he answered, to my open-mouthed shock: "Well, there was this really Jewish woman. And this Asian guy with a really Asian name I can't remember. And then some normal dude." I actually ended the interview right there. I told him I had a lot of work to do, thanked him for coming in, and had my assistant lead him out. I happened to run into him that summer at an event that our firm had on the same night as another firm nearby. And at first I could not believe they had hired him. And then I thought about it, and realized it actually made pretty good sense.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Don't believe anyone who tells you being an attorney isn't a 24-hour-a-day job. My wife and I just got home from dinner at a client's house. This doesn't usually happen, but he's one of my biggest clients, and we play golf sometimes, and he thinks we're friends (and all the better for business if I play along), so he invited my wife and I over to his house. His wife has these yapping dogs she treats like they're her children and gives them specially-made food, and they wear monogrammed sweaters, and have their own room -- and it's really quite disturbing. She cooked a terrible, terrible meal -- which her husband loved, but my wife and I spent the whole time moving around our plates trying to be polite. His wife is an utter nutcase, she's constantly calling the firm "just to talk," and we have to indulge her and it's really quite awful. Her husband is a reasonably bright guy, and I don't know what he sees in this woman. My wife tells me I owe her some jewelry for sitting through dinner tonight, and this interminable conversation about the dogs, and whether it's okay for dogs to wear white after Labor Day, and whether we think there'd be a market for coats made from dog fur, if it was done in a humane way. Crazy.

I just received the following e-mail from someone in human resources:

We are very concerned about the recent increase in the use of office supplies. This note is a reminder that paper clips are for office-related use only, and not for personal use. We do not want to have to lock up the office supplies, but we will be forced to take some sort of security measures if they continue to disappear at an alarming rate. Please do not take office pens, pencils, or notepads home with you. They are for office work only. Also, please help us by returning all paper clips, binder clips, and plastic folders after their normal work-use has been completed. DO NOT throw away paper clips. This has become a pervasive problem at the office. Our maintenance staff has been asked to keep track of the most egregious offenders and report back to us. YOU DO NOT WANT TO BE ON THEIR LIST. Please stay on top of these issues -- they are crucial to firm success.
At the rates we bill clients, I could spend an hour pouring paper clips out the window and we'd still make a profit. This is why the human resources department should be dramatically downsized and their only salary should be a stipend to be used in the cafeteria. Finding good clients and keeping them happy is crucial to firm success. Recycling paper clips is not. This rivals the "shoe memo" from last fall as the most useless e-mail yet from these idiots. The "shoe memo" was all about how too many female employees were wearing open-toed shoes that were a potential hazard due to all of the walls and doors in the building that their feet could hit and we could be open to liability. At least it keeps the day interesting.

Monday, April 12, 2004

While I wait for my associates to finish the mindless tasks I assign them, I occasionally check my weblog counter statistics at the office. It seems that a message board of some sort has written about my most recent post. They have one thread I noticed about interview suits and law firm clothing. I know it may be different in New York, but around here it's pretty hard to dress inappropriately. Assistants and paralegals do it occasionally -- tank tops, leather pants -- and that applies to men and women both -- but I very, very rarely notice what anyone is wearing. Once when I was an associate a partner asked me if I'd been here all night, since he'd noticed I was wearing the same clothes. Ever since then, I've made it a habit to keep an extra shirt and pants in the office just in case -- but I'm pretty sure someone could wear the same thing for a week, and as long as it was clean, I'd guess very few people would notice. I suppose that especially garish ties stick in my head, particularly one awful tie a partner here has with pictures of naked babies on it. He wore it to court once. He's not my favorite partner.

Sunday, April 11, 2004

I gave up religion when I became a corporate lawyer, but Jesus rising from the dead reminds me of an interview story where a student I'd already written off somehow turned the interview around and miraculously got an offer. In celebration of Easter, the story:

The gutsiest hire I ever made. The girl was from a top school, and had sailed through fine in the on-campus interview, and we gave her the callback. I was her first interview of the day, and she comes in -- and almost immediately her cell phone rings. She takes the phone out of her pocket and looks at who's calling. "I need to take this call," she says. I look at her funny. She ignores me, and answers her phone. I can only assume it was her boyfriend on the other end:

"The test came back positive. I'm pregnant," she said. I heard nothing on the other end. "Yes, I'm absolutely certain." I heard screaming coming through the phone. "It's your fault too, jackass." More screaming. "I can't talk now. I'm in the middle of an interview." More screaming. "Go to hell." Calmly she folds up her phone and puts it back in her pocket. "I'm sorry about that," she says.

I had no idea what to say. So I just conducted the interview like nothing happened, knowing there was absolutely no way she was getting an offer, but not knowing what else to do at that point. And, frankly, she blew me away. She knew exactly why she wanted to work here, she had taken all the right classes, had all the right experience, great grades, articulate, funny... and by the end of the interview, she was actually winning me over, although I couldn't believe it.

Finally, as the time was almost up, she looked me straight in the eye and said, "I want to apologize for what happened before. Obviously I have a personal issue I'm dealing with, and it's all just happened, and I know that taking the call, and my language on the call, was completely inappropriate. And I'm sure I've completely blown my chances here, but I do want you to know that's not like me, and I know that if you gave me the chance I'd absolutely demonstrate why I belong here, and you wouldn't regret it." And she said it with such conviction, and her interview had gone so well... that I said nothing to anyone else. And the other interview reports were glowing. And so, despite what happened, I gave her an offer.

She's been here ever since, and is one of my best associates.

So I set up this Yahoo e-mail address (see the sidebar), but no one sends me any e-mail. Entertain me. Tell me your war stories. They'll stay as anonymous as I am.

Saturday, April 10, 2004

Doing a little bit of work from home before the kids get up. There's a partner at the firm who's a huge Dodgers fan and has season tickets, terrific seats. He's out of town this weekend, so I've got his seats for tonight's game. But if I'm going to get there, I need to get this work done. There was an associate who'd asked for the tickets a few weeks ago, when the partner realized he'd be away, but these are the perks of partnership. Not really. He was cool with taking tomorrow's tickets, so I got tonight's. I don't know if I'd really pull a power play on an associate over baseball tickets. Maybe if it was the World Series. But I generally like to save my abuses of privilege for work-related matters.

Friday, April 09, 2004

I took my kids to school today. I figured that after yesterday's filing debacle I could be a little leisurely getting into the office today. It's Friday anyway. On Friday all of the associates assume that because it's the end of the week they don't have to do any work. They keep forgetting that since they're in here on the weekend half the time anyway, it's not really the end of the week and they're just creating more work for themselves. There is no end of the week when you're a lawyer. There's barely an end of the day.

When I was an associate I would take advantage by being a real machine on Fridays, helping partners save their weekends. I don't think they realized exactly what I was doing, but they would start to associate me being on their case with them getting weekends at home, and that worked out nicely. It's a strange thing at these firms -- we have these over-the-top summer programs in part so people can get to know their fellow associates, make friends, and feel that emotional pull to come back to the firm with their offers, but then once they're associates, we make them stab each other in the back to get on the "right" cases and basically compete to see who can most impress partners like me. I have three actual friends left from my summer class, two who became partners, and one who figured out early on that the law wasn't for him and now he runs a literary magazine based in the mountains of Utah, where he goes skiing three times a week and has like ten kids and knows all their names or something absurd like that. Everyone else either did something ruthless to me or I did something cutthroat to them, and whatever thread of friendship we had just sort of faded away and turned into indifference. In any case, I don't have any associates today as willing to sacrifice their Friday happiness so I get my weekends. It's a shame, really. If I found one reliable associate willing to go the extra mile, I'd be their biggest advocate at the firm. You want an office on the ocean side instead of the trash compactor side? I can do it. I have power.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

"I didn't know we had to renew the filing every five years." This is what a sixth-year associate came in this morning and told me about a financing statement that just expired on some property one of my clients has a lien on. Or had a lien on. Usually it's no big deal, this stuff lapses and you don't even realize it, and people make the payments and it's fine, no problems. Only this time our client's dealing with a company that looking like it's going to be going through bankruptcy, and even though we just re-filed today, if they file within the next 90 days our client goes from a secured creditor to an unsecured, and my associate's screwup is going to cost our client about $60,000. So we're trying to figure something out. A sixth-year associate should know better. At least even though $60,000 is a lot of money, it's not really a lot of money for a company their size. It's a buffet breakfast with an omelet station, maybe two. Or it's a sixth-year associate's bonus she won't be getting. Or three or four hours of billable time for me or one of my colleagues. $20,000 an hour, yeah, that's about right. Oh well, stuff happens. Lesson learned for the associate, who's probably still curled up in a ball in the corner of her office after this afternoon's conference call where she explained her mistake to the client. She thinks partners are tough. Well, we'd be a lot worse if it was actually our money at stake in some of these deals. This guy tore into her. It was really sort of amusing. Made me remember the days back when I was a young associate and firms weren't yet advertising themselves as humane, civil places where partners don't scream and spit and make you bleed. Letter openers can do quite a bit of damage. I still have a scar near my elbow from the time I forgot to disguise the company name in the tender offer document I was putting together. That didn't happen a second time.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

It's 10:15, and I'm in the office. I thought these days ended when I signed the partnership agreement. Of course, I never read the partnership agreement. They only gave us the last page to sign, and the rest of it... who knows what it says. But it's not like anyone's not going to sign. In any event, if you've been reading for a little while, you know that Wednesday is usually the day I take off early and play a round of golf. Which I almost did today. But after a beautiful shot on hole 13, right on the fairway (my Callaway clubs were the best $3000 I ever spent), my cell phone rang. I should have just let it go to voice mail, but I picked up. It was my favorite client, letting me know he'd just heard back about a deal he's trying to push through, and wanting to know if I could review some documents for him by the morning. "Of course, that's what I'm here for," I said. It's easy to forget sometimes that this is a service industry. So I called the office and got an associate on it. This one specific guy, who does fine work but I just don't like him personally. So whenever I get work like this I want to delegate, he's the first one I think of. Anything to make his life less pleasant. So I figured I could finish my round, swing by the office on my way home to check on stuff, and be home in time to watch TV on the couch while my wife does the laundry. I got back to the office around 6:30, and realized this was a bigger project than I thought. So I had to put in a few hours. I'm on my way out now; the only good thing to come out of this is that my associate will probably be here all night. "I had dinner plans with some friends," he said. Who's he kidding? He's a fourth-year. He's surely lost all his friends by now.

My assistant brought her 7-year-old son to work with her today. Apparently his school has some sort of teacher development day and she had nowhere to leave him. Which is perfectly fine with me. Heck, much of the work my assistant does can be done by a 7-year-old anyway, so really it's just like an extra pair of hands. (I don't at all mean to imply my assistant only has the capabilities of a seven-year-old -- that's not true at all, she's quite excellent actually; just that most of the tasks I need her to do -- answering the phone, making copies, picking up my dry cleaning -- those are things most intelligent 7-year-olds can probably handle.) In any event, I figured I'd try and make the day fun for him. I've got a document review to hand out to an associate that's pretty easy -- I just need all of the e-mails pulled from a box of assorted papers. So I gave it to the kid. He finds it thrilling, his mom appreciates it, and, frankly, he'll probably do a better job than most of the associates will, since they'll spend the morning cursing me under their breath, wearing their headphones, and getting distracted from the task by the latest Linkin Park CD (yes, I listen to the radio occasionally). It makes me think: maybe we should hire some 7-year-olds to replace some of our associates. They certainly work cheaper, they'll find the work more challenging and rewarding, and, best of all, they'd rather have a Kids Meal from McDonalds than a fancy lunch at Wolfgang Puck's latest restaurant -- and so they'll save the summer program a heck of a lot of money. It's this kind of thinking outside the box that's important for my job. As long as this kid doesn't vomit on the documents. I hate when kids vomit. Vomiting should just be for nervous associates asked to do their first deposition or called into the office for a good old tongue-lashing. I haven't made anyone vomit in a while. Maybe it's time to do some performance reviews.

Monday, April 05, 2004

An associate just knocked on my door to tell me he rented the movie "Office Space" over the weekend and thought it was a realistic depiction of what life must be like "at a place where the work isn't as challenging or interesting as it is here." Come on, let's get serious.

I saw "Office Space" a few years ago. All I remember is that the Jennifer Aniston character worked in a TGIFriday's-like restaurant and had to wear 15 pieces of "flair" on her uniform -- buttons and other accessories that could get customers interested in talking to her and spending more money on fattening fried foods and overpriced watered-down drinks. I mention the 15 pieces of flair every year when I do interviewer training here for the associates who'll be interviewing law students. I tell them that here, they each get one piece of "flair." They can -- and should -- put one thing in their office that indicates some sort of outside interest. Partly to show the students that outside interests are tolerated and even encouraged here, and partly to give us a check on which students have nothing else to talk about. If a student does four interviews and I find out he mentioned the "flair" in each office, this is not a student passionate enough about the work we do. Setting traps for law students is just one of the reasons I love my job.

Every year I distribute a list of appropriate and inappropriate items of "flair" for the associates to place in their offices. Condoms -- or any birth control devices at all -- are inappropriate. Books are always an excellent choice. One of my favorite associates has a Sandy Koufax biography in his office that he's never read. He told me the response he gave once when someone asked about it. I thought it was great: "Oh, that book? Someone got it for me as a present. I haven't had time to read it yet. But I figured I'd keep in the office, because odds are the only chance I'll have to read it is if there's a blackout. And if there's a blackout, odds are I'll be in the office when it happens."

An firm-wide e-mail this morning tells me we're celebrating someone's birthday in the conference room this afternoon. I've never heard of her. I don't know if she's an attorney, a recruiter, an assistant, or the woman at the security desk downstairs. I don't know if she's been here a day or a decade. This is one of the troubling things about working at a big firm. You come to work, you interact with your own practice group, your own team, and there are hundreds of people, some of them just down the hall, who you wouldn't recognize in a police lineup. (I'm pondering all the reasons why attorneys might be in a police lineup. Maybe not being recognized by my colleagues is a good thing.) I hadn't ever given this much thought until I was on the phone this past fall with a law student who turned us down for another firm. I asked him why (always a mistake), and he said it was in part because no one seemed to know each other. People would be escorting him to the next interview, and wouldn't know how the office numbers work, or which direction the doors pulled, and he'd get to the next office, and the attorney who brought him would have to introduce herself to the attorney he was meeting with next, because they'd never met. He said one of the attorneys, while walking down the hall, commented on how it would be much more helpful if they'd put numbers on the doors. There are numbers on the doors. They're light and kind of blend into the doorframe. So they're easy to miss. But someone who's been here for five years shouldn't miss them, he thought. I suppose I agree, although it's a pretty silly reason to choose one firm over another because the lawyers who happened to be free at the time he came in for an interview happened not to know each other. But when he told me that, I was kind of glad. I don't want someone working here who's going to base his choice on something like that.

Saturday, April 03, 2004

You miss a day and a half, and your reward is that you get to come in on Saturday morning. I've got an e-mail from a young associate in my inbox. She wants to know how she can get involved in the recruiting process. This happens every so often. There are two explanations. (1) She's drowning in paperwork, and can't imagine her life ever getting any worse. So she figures that at least she get on my e-mail list and occasionally get a free lunch, or a recruiting trip -- anything to get out of the office and escape the paperwork. Or (2) She's trying to suck up, and some idiot told her that if you show an interest in recruiting, when your time comes for partnership consideration, that's a plus. I don't know where anyone would have gotten that idea. Maybe from their "life coach," or "career advisor," or the other pseudo-therapists that it's becoming all-too-trendy to throw disposable income at so that you have someone to "talk to" for an hour a week who isn't in a position to either fire you or divorce you. Pathetic. They should be talking to their clients instead. At least that way it's billable.

Friday, April 02, 2004

Someone must have hacked into my computer while I was home sick with anthrax poisoning the last day and a half. That's what happens when you're a bigshot lawyer like me -- everyone's after you. I defend a couple of manufacturers of biological weapons... we lose... and look what happens. Most people take a week off for a cold; I get anthrax poisoning and I'm back in a day and a half. Okay, it wasn't really anthrax. It was just a couple of days of settlement negotiation. Out of the office, couldn't post, and can't really go into any more detail. But I come back to check the weblog and find that someone's posted a long explanation for this site claiming that I'm not real. Hogwash. Probably the same guy who stole my stapler. But I'm back now. No more of that stuff.

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