Sunday, August 29, 2004

I'm frightened. I don't like to admit it, but I am. I'm frightened on the one hand that I'm going to wake up one day and realize that this is it. That this is all I have to show for my life. Money in the bank, but a family I don't spend enough time with, and an office full of papers that don't matter to anyone. That there was a better way to spend my time on the planet. Not necessarily that I could have affected the world, but at least that I could have enjoyed my days more and no one would have suffered for it. That I could feel like it was a life worth lived instead of a race to reach a milestone that seems less clear with each passing moment.

But I'm frightened on the other hand that this really is as good as it gets. There are millions of people living in poverty, or if not poverty then at least working in jobs that are a great deal more unpleasant than this one, and without the monetary reward. I know I'm fortunate to have had the chance to earn a salary most others do not have the opportunity to earn. I know there are people smarter and more capable than I am working in steel mills or factories or driving the cars that take us to the airport. I know I'm fortunate to be where I am.

And so I'm frightened that one day I will wake up and decide the trade-offs are no longer worth it, and I will leave, but then I will find that I had it pretty good. That there's nothing better than what I have right now, yet I'm too self-absorbed to realize it. That I can sit here, in my expensive leather chair that I may or may not have reported in my tax return after I took it home from the office, complaining about my secretary, when there are people who will never have secretaries, or who wish they could just be someone's secretary.

I know people who live lives I wish were mine, but I wonder if everyone feels that way. If a novelist looks at a law firm partner and wishes he had the secure and constant income, the chance to manage people, and the power to make large business deals happen like I have. Whereas I look at a novelist as having the freedom to control his own destiny, and the opportunity to express himself creatively, without having to spend 60+ hours a week at a desk, reading papers that matter to no one.

I was recently thinking about my place in the world, and I searched using Google for the names of some of my colleagues. According to the Internet, they barely exist. We work hard, but we really are Anonymous Lawyers. We affect people, but in ways no different than someone else in our positions would if they sat in these seats. It struck me as quite likely that more people have read the words I write on this site than have read the words in the legal documents I have drafted. That frightens me, because it makes me wonder what exactly I have spent these years doing. But, again, I know I have it very well. It frightens me that I may have it well enough that I have forgotten how well I actually have it, and can even be tempted by the idea that I should have it better than this, or that there are things that I would trade this for.

I should steel my spine before tomorrow's summer associate candidates come for interviews. This isn't the Anonymous Lawyer they should talk to. They'll turn me in. I need to show enthusiasm about the firm, like I tell the associates to do. If only I could write legal thrillers instead of pretending to be legally thrilled.

I have just noticed that the housekeeper forgot to vacuum under my desk. Combined with her failure to fold the laundry last week, and the missing letter opener, it may be time to find a new one.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Some of your comments have made me frightened to send e-mail, since you tell me it can never really be deleted. Instead, I just left an angry voicemail on an associate's phone. Because there's no danger of anyone ever hearing that.

I'm kidding. Like everyone else I've spoken to, I've recently been forwarded a link to a voicemail message from an associate at one firm to an associate at another, calling him a "monkey scribe," or words to that effect. I don't see what all the commotion is about. Of course young associates are just glorified secretaries. There's work that needs to be done, and I'm certainly not going to do it, so I pass it along to an associate, and if she's senior enough, she's certainly not going to want to do it either, so it gets passed down the line until the junior associate ends up sitting at the printer for 18 hours straight making sure nothing "happens to the document," whatever that even means. "Going to the printer" is a duty left over from pre-Industrial Revolution days, when things really did go wrong, and some man (the printer himself) could misspell a word, or misnumber the pages, or run out of ink. But now it's a waste of everyone's time in the vast, vast, vast majority of cases. Yet still we send an associate, just to be sure. That's what clients are paying for. Just to be sure.

I didn't send an angry e-mail, or an angry voicemail. Instead, I just went to his office and screamed at him. That's the best way to motivate people. In person. With fear and intimidation. How else do you think I got Anonymous Wife to marry me?

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Some questions in the comments I may as well answer.

Q. What do you think about people you meet during on-campus interviews who tell you that they want to litigate when you damn well [know?] that the only reason why they are saying that is because firms are not hiring as many transactional attorneys?

A. Who says firms aren't hiring as many transactional attorneys? But more importantly who says we care what the students say? They have no idea, and we can manipulate it however we need to over the summer. Need more associates who want to do litigation? Well then all of a sudden all the litigation assignments we give out are going to be as good as it gets ("want to go to court?") and all the transactional assignments are going to be as dull as we can make them ("Here's a stack of documents. I think there are some typos. Find them!"). Suddenly, surprise surprise, they all want to be litigators. And it works in the reverse too. Want to do some document review? Or sit in on a negotiation? Your choice! Like it matters what they think they want to do. Come on.

Q. What do you think about law students that tell you: "I want to be a corporate/securities/M&A lawyers" when you know perfectly well that they have absolutely no idea what any of those areas entails" (lawschool seeming to focus solely on the analysis of appeals cases).

A. First I tell them to learn some English grammar, and that we like to try for singular/plural agreement in our documents. Again, I don't care what they say, although they get bonus points for convincing me they do at least think they have some idea of what they want to do and can sell me on it. We know they don't know what securities lawyers do. We know that first week of the summer when we tell them all about the '40 Act group and then ask who wants some assignments from them and everyone runs for cover.

Q. Does the secretary pay for the candy or does the firm shell out for it?

A. I assume she pays, but if she submits a receipt it's not like anyone even looks at them. She'd get reimbursed. Hell, I get reimbursed for a new piece of office furniture every year and I just take the old ones home.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

To the associate who keeps taking candy from the bowl on my secretary's desk: I see you. I see you when you walk by my office, trying to look like you have a reason to be there. But you don't. You're just there for the candy. I see the guilty look on your face. I see you come by at lunchtime, when you know she'll be out. You try not to make eye contact. You try to rush past. But I know what you're doing. Everyone knows. Well, she's my secretary, not yours. That candy belongs to me. And if I have any say in whether or not you make partner -- and, trust me, I do -- I'm not going to forget this.

Besides, it's not like you couldn't stand to lose a few pounds.

I also saw you sneak out at 8:00 three times last week. Don't think I don't see you. I see everything.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Someone wrote a comment in the last thread asking about e-mail and whether we're afraid of having a record of everything we do. I'm surprised none of the responses touched on my answer, because I thought this was fairly widespread among large firms. Our computer system (and I don't know how this feature came about; I'm not on that committee) automatically deletes e-mail after a certain number of days, and it cannot be recovered. This way, we can e-mail each other terrible things about our clients and our colleagues, and it all goes away. There is a way to save the e-mails in the system forever. But my secretary does that for me. I am very good with computers, to a certain point. Anything I know how to do, I know how to do well. But if you ask me to enter my own time, use Lexis or Westlaw, save an e-mail into the system, make typographical corrections to a document, or remember when Valentine's Day is - well, I'm completely useless.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

An e-mail from a reader:

"What exactly are these 'must-haves' [Blackberries] used for? I can understand an important client wanting instant access to their attorney, but how big a role do these play in your daily life? At what level are they really necessary? First year? Partner?"

I don't think it's an understatement to say that Blackberries have revolutionized the way we work. From my perspective, they've completely changed my expectations for associates. It used to be that I would understand if I didn't get a quick reply back from an e-mail sent over the weekend or late at night. Now, there's no excuse. Blackberries have made us better service providers because we can work from anywhere, at any time. It's not just clients who want answers. If I happen to be thinking about a case late at night, and need a quick answer -- is there case law on this, have we thought about this, etc -- I can get an answer right away, or at least know that someone will be working on it. It's very nice. On the flipside, they've also added freedom, because if you're checking your Blackberry, I don't care where you are. You can go to lunch. You can go to the bathroom. You can run home to your son's birthday party. As long as you're checking the Blackberry, you're free to leave the office. Associates enjoy that freedom, I think, and have the Blackberry to thank. They've very quickly become indispensable.

Friday, August 20, 2004

I received an e-mail a few days ago, from a law student, asking me how I ended up here: "I'm curious about how you made the decision to work for your firm. Did you always know you wanted to work for a firm? Why your firm in particular?"

I ended up here the same way most people end up where they are: I just did. I went to law school because my dad was a lawyer, and it seemed like the thing I was always supposed to do. Now, and it's only in the last few years that I've really noticed this, young people feel entitled to a job that means something more than just a way to earn a living. My dad never talked about "job satisfaction." He's satisfied now that he's retired. But he liked his work. He didn't complain. I never thought to ask whether being a lawyer was the thing I was "supposed to do." I knew I could do it, I had seen that my dad worked hard but provided for the family and didn't seem terribly miserable at all. And so I decided this wouldn't be a terrible career to have.

But the questions I get today - in the rare moments of candor from young associates or from students I'm interviewing - are so much more pointed. As if just because you're a good student you have a right to have a perfect life with no sacrifices to be made. No job is perfect. And there are things you should have in your life besides your job. You don't need to rely on your job to be the only measure of who you are. I'm a lawyer, and I work hard. The money is good. It lets me provide for my family. I would not be happy working hard at something that did not let me provide for my family. I don't know that I expect my job to fulfill me emotionally, or whether that's a fair expectation. I don't know too many people who have found that, and most of them are probably either more talented than I am, or more willing to endure hardship than I am. And even if something seems exciting from the outside, on the inside it might be terrible.

People look at my career and they're envious. They want to be where I am. They don't see all of the details. And maybe with all of the details they'd still want to be where I am. But the grass often seems greener on the other side.

Too many young people are overemphasizing the importance of their job in defining who they are as a person. It doesn't bother me to have a job that is not the best job anyone could ever possibly have as long as I am not too miserable, which, most days, I'm not, and it's not interfering with other things I enjoy doing, like playing golf. Which it isn't. So maybe this is the best job ever. Because I don't have to worry about money, I have security, and although I work hard, people everywhere work hard. I don't understand the outrage some people have.

But I've gotten sidetracked from the original question. Why did I end up here? Because they offered me a job here. I figured I would work for a law firm because that's the life I knew. I knew firms paid well and provided a career. With a career path. So I made a decision. I've made a lot of friends here. It's not a bad place to be. I get frustrated sometimes, but so does everyone. Stupid things happen here, but they happen everywhere. I have it pretty good.

I don't mind when people ask me questions with a hidden agenda. My e-mailer probably wanted me to say I came here and it was a mistake. I won't say that. You're not entitled to a perfect life. You're not entitled to anything. You're fortunate to be talented enough that law firms want you to work for them. These are high-paying, prestigious jobs that lots of people would kill for. Be thankful. Don't be cynical. Life is harder than you think. People make choices. There are worse choices you can make.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

After an endless flight -- I was stuck talking to a second-year associate about investment strategy for four hours -- I returned to the office a little while ago to get back up to speed. I had two voicemails waiting for me:

"Attention all personnel. This message is to let you know that the voicemail system will be down for maintenance on Saturday, August 21, from approximately 3 a.m. until 5 a.m. Callers will be transferred to a recording instead of proceeding directly into the system. The recording will instruct them to call back after 5 a.m. to leave a voice message. We apologize for the inconvenience."

"Attention all personnel. Earlier we alerted you to a voicemail outage planned for this Saturday, August 21, from approximately 3 a.m. until 5 a.m. The outage will no longer be necessary. Thank you."

I'm about to head to the airport to fly back home. Interviews went well yesterday. Only a few complete idiots that we're calling back anyway because of their grades. One student asked if we provide salary advances. Bad question to ask at the first round interview. Another student wore socks that were definitely different colors. I didn't say anything, but I wrote it down. Another student mentioned the interview room "smelled good." That alone was enough to kill his chances completely

I think I may have revealed myself to one of the students by accident, and I'm hoping if he's reading this post, he'll recognize himself and do me the favor of keeping my identity quiet. He asked something about weblogs -- he said he writes one about being a student, and wanted to bring that up right away in case someone Googled him and found it, and he was wondering if the firm would have any problem with him writing over the summer as long as he was careful. I said something about how these weblogs are a pretty new phenomenon, and no one really knows the rules yet. He said he's seen some written by lawyers at firms, writing things about work, and some that almost frighten him from heading down this career path, but he assumes everything's exaggerated for effect. I told him you never know, and "for all you know, I've got a weblog," which was a careless thing for me to say, and I really should have known better. And he got a look in his eyes, like he was putting some pieces together (and maybe I'm just imagining this) and I wouldn't be surprised if he now knows.

His resume was pretty impressive, and there's really no reason he wouldn't get an offer... assuming we don't find a reason to doubt his professional discretion....

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

I'm flying to the east coast this evening to help interview students on-campus tomorrow at one of the handful of east coast schools we actively recruit at. It was a last-minute decision; I don't always make the trip, but things are relatively slow with clients this week, so I thought I would go along and try to frighten some 2Ls. I've come up with a few new interview questions I may try, although more likely I won't have the energy to do anything different than we usually do:

"What are some things you think of when you think of corporate lawyers?" This one I'm serious about. I want to see what they say, and then see if I can dispel any negative images by making things up. "I've heard you're all intense," one student might say. "We're not intense," I could reply. "At least not at my firm. Maybe the other firms. But not at my firm."

"What if I was to tell you we were cutting our starting salary in half. Would you still want to work for us? Why?" I know they'll all say yes; I just want to hear the garbage they can come up with. I do worry that they'll think I'm serious and it'll start a rumor on campus, so maybe this one is a bad idea.

"I don't like your tie. Do you have another one?"

If you get asked any of these questions, and you're a 2L at an east coast school, you'll know it's me. Say hello. I won't hold it against you.

Monday, August 16, 2004

The rumor here is that one of our smaller practice groups is about to get poached by a competitor. They've made an offer to bring over the undisputed stars of our practice and let them be in charge of building a world-class practice over there, from scratch. It's a tempting offer that I would almost certainly take if I were in their shoes -- they'll have more power and influence there than they do here, and an opportunity to really move their careers to the next level. It would, however, leave our practice in complete disarray and probably lead to most of the people who remained leaving for other pastures pretty quickly. These things set off chain reactions. The concern, from their perspective, is that this other firm is less stable than we are, and there's a real risk that what looks like a great opportunity now could turn into a failed experiment and unemployment just a short ways down the road. Of course, unemployment doesn't really mean unemployment -- I'd imagine we'd probably take them back, unless our ego gets in the way. We don't like to be passed up for opportunities elsewhere. We like to think we're better than everyone else. But so does everyone. Personally, I know there are lots of people who could do my job better than I do. But I don't dwell on it. I just accept my lot in life. To get paid an implausible sum for being decent but unspectacular at what I do, and buying a new set of golf clubs as often as it seems reasonable.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

You think I'm a jerk sometimes... I woke up to an e-mail from a friend of mine at another firm:

"One of my best associates comes into my office on Friday and tells me she's leaving the firm because she's pregnant. I shut the door and told her I'd like to get her up on my desk, spread her legs, grab a coat hanger, and perform an abortion myself. We need her hours! She's the lead associate on our biggest case of the quarter! Now we have to train a new person to step in and take over. It's a mess. She's really screwing the firm here."

Saturday, August 14, 2004

I'm up early on Saturday morning, getting some work done at home that didn't get done yesterday because of the exit interviews. And under a self-imposed deadline of 9 AM -- taking Anonymous Son to the Zoo this morning.

Someone asked in the comments: "I was wondering what people in your area think of schools like the University of Minnesota, University of Wisconsin, and University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign. Minnesota is ranked around 19, and the other 2 are ranked around 30. What're my chances of getting an interview, let alone a callback for jobs?"

People in my area think those schools are very far away. Especially after the handful of summers yesterday who said they're going back to the other side of the country, I can't help but be skeptical in thinking that someone who has chosen to go to law school in Wisconsin really wants to practice law out here and isn't just looking for a fun summer. But, look, if you're first in your class, Editor-in-Chief of the Law Review, got a 178 on the LSAT, your mother or father is a partner at the firm... then even if you go to law school in Siberia, who knows.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

I think I made an associate cancel his vacation today. He's scheduled to go away next week, to Bermuda. He asked me today if I think we'll need him on a case we're working on. I told him I'd never ask an associate to cancel a vacation, but I think it's a decision he has to make for himself. I could have said something else. I could have said "Absolutely not. Go and have fun." But instead I said what I said, in a tone of voice that made it pretty obvious what I wanted him to do. I'm a bastard sometimes. But they force us to be this way. They look at us like we're superhuman. They let us rule their lives. So what else can we do but try and be benevolent dictators. Or sometimes not so benevolent. The client will at least pay for the cancelled plane tickets.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

I took one of the few summers I can tolerate out to lunch today. Somehow we ended up talking about the excessive drinking at the summer associate events. The practice the past few years has been to have an "afterparty" after most events, where the firm will open a tab at a bar or club somewhere near wherever the event was. In the past, the tab closed at midnight and was exclusively for beer and wine. Somehow, in the last few years, it has escalated to the point where the tabs are being kept open until the wee hours of the morning, long past the point when the partners have gone home to sleep and most of the associates have headed home or back to the office, and there's people buying bottles and bottles of expensive liquors and the tabs are really quite outrageous. I've tried to curb this trend, but I can't act unilaterally and there are people who feel vehemently that to keep pace with other firms we need to indulge the summers in this way, and that if this is what gets them back to the firm.... I don't buy this line of reasoning. And it worries me that we create a picture of the law firm as a place for alcoholics, and that we've set up a culture where drinking is not just tolerated but encouraged -- and a situation where summer associates are getting very drunk on the firm's tab -- on a worknight -- and showing up the next day in no shape to do any work, not that we give them any work. But I've seen summer associates vomiting in the bathrooms the morning after events, and not just a few times. It's a pretty regular occurence. The summer at lunch was telling me he thinks there's a reputation on campus of our firm as a place that's especially indulgent in this respect, and I don't like that. I worry not so much that we have this reputation, but that it will scare off students who aren't attracted to this element of the legal culture -- and I'd be lying if I didn't admit that lots of lawyers end up as functioning (or non-functioning) alcoholics, and that is a broader problem than just in the summer class, or even just among the associates, or just at our firm -- and those might be students we'd rather not be scaring off, since they might actually be able to do some work before lunchtime. But I feel like the tide is moving in the other direction and it's just going to get worse, like it has already -- although I suppose it can't get much worse unless we're buying cocaine for the summer associates to snort in the conference rooms, or distributing amphetamines on orientation day -- and I'm powerless to stop it. I don't know. Are there any summer associates out there reading? Or even associates at other firms witnessing their summer programs in action? Is this an issue? Is it bad for the law firm to cultivate a culture of extreme intoxication, or is it what people expect these days?

Monday, August 09, 2004

Someone commented on the last post: "Seems like this is an easy problem to solve. Let them do meaningful work."

We CAN'T let them do meaningful work, because some of them will prove incompetent. And if the work is meaningful, then by definition we need to have competent people doing it. If we have them do meaningful work, we'll need to have an associate babysit until we're sure the work is going to get done right. And, frankly, some of the associates can barely do meaningful work themselves, so having them babysit a summer associate isn't going to turn out well.

We also can't let them do meaningful work because one of the few chips we have left at the end of the summer is that meaningful work is somehow different from the bottom-barrel assignments we've been giving them. We know that's not true, but they don't yet. And so we can tweak the reality a little bit, if someone's on the fence, and tell them they haven't really tasted true big law firm work yet. The intellectual challenge. The unyielding pace. The power to make or break the country's corporate giants. Maybe we can't go that far. But we can try. We can try and pretend that research with consequences is different from research without consequences, even if it mostly isn't. And maybe we get a few more summers to accept the offer and be our indentured servants for a few years. It's worth a try.

But we lose that sales pitch if we actually let them see what "meaningful" work looks like. As if there's such a thing anyway. As if all they want is meaningful work to begin with. At a hiring committee meeting a few years back, I suggested that we do more to show the summer associates that we value them individually, for their own unique skills and talents -- that they're not just interchangeable cogs on a legal form-filing assembly line. We couldn't figure out how to do that -- how to tailor assignments to people's strengths and weaknesses -- whether as summers or as associates. Because all of this work is fundamentally pretty much the same. There are "good writers" and "good diligence doers" but for the most part we just need warm bodies with hours to devote, not necessarily the unique combination of talents one particular attorney brings to the table. Maybe at the most senior levels, with courtroom antics or client development. But not for the first decade or more of practice.

The Army has done a great job pretending it can do this, with its advertising campaign, "An Army Of One." I'm floored that anyone finds this persuasive. Is there an organization that depends on individual talents more than just having a set of interchangeable parts *more* than the army? Maybe just us. An army of one can't win the war any more than a law firm of one can do document review in a large case involving a Fortune 500 company. "A Law Firm Of One." Maybe that can be next year's slogan. Or next year's summer class size.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

Tomorrow begins the final week of this year's summer program. The summer associates, as usual, have contributed virtually nothing and cost us a great deal of time and money. Mostly our fault, since we don't even pretend to be giving them work of any consequence. The problem is that it's impossible to know at the start who is competent and who is not, and we can't take that risk. Nevertheless, most of them will be getting offers to come back. One will not. This is a recent development. We discovered that he has been printing resumes, cover letters, and writing samples at work, and sending them to other firms. His secretary clued us in. She saw him running to the printer a number of times in a row, and was curious what he was doing. So she checked out the papers before he came to fetch them the next time, and gave the recruiting coordinator a call. We expect that some of our summer associates will reinterview as 3Ls and contemplate taking jobs at other firms. We do not expect that they will use our resources to do that. For this, we decided we could justify not giving him an offer.

We will, on the other hand, be giving an offer to another summer, who has told everyone she has encountered in the past month that she hates the firm and can't imagine coming back, has failed to return calls and e-mails regarding assignments, and has sabotaged her work product on more than one occasion by fudging Lexis case cites, misstating the law, or just demonstrating general laziness and incompetence. She also keeps coming to work drunk, or so I've heard. Mostly we're giving her an offer just to keep up our recruitment stats, since we're pretty confident that she has no interest in working here. If it turns out she's been fooling us, and actually does intend to come back, we'll deal with it then. But we think it's a pretty safe bet, and with one summer not receiving an offer already, we'd rather not decline to invite another one back. It could hurt our reputation on campus.

She is this summer's "one." The one who is clearly here for the salary and nothing else, and if we didn't make our summer hiring decisions based almost entirely on law school name, 1L grades, and law review membership, hopefully we'd have a process that would weed people like her out. I've never seen a summer with none of these creatures like her, but I've also never seen a summer with more than one. If there were two or three, I'd imagine they might band together and expose the evils of corporate firm life, and turn everyone else against us. They also might figure out that if they stopped showing up at the office, no one would notice. But when it's only one of them, they're afraid to do anything too bold and risk the paycheck stopping. Not that we would actually fire someone mid-stream for anything less than a criminal offense. We've even had a summer associate ask for time off to address his drug problem one year -- and still we continued to pay him. In fact, he's currently a 4th-year associate, and one of our brightest young stars.

Saturday, August 07, 2004

Someone e-mailed me and asked if there are any lawyer or law student weblogs I read. You tell me - what should I be reading?

Thursday, August 05, 2004

I'm in the airport waiting for my flight. Decided not to push myself too hard with a flight too early in the day. I'm chalking up today to travel and hopefully will just swing by the office on the way back to check up on things but won't stay long.

To answer a question in the comments: I normally fly coach, actually. The client pays enough for me already, and any money the firm kicks in for the upgrade is really just money out of my own pocket. I'm not sure what my colleagues do, but I've never found the upgrade worth it. The food's still terrible. It's still an airplane. I'd rather spend the money on tickets to a Dodgers game.

Dinner last night in Chinatown was a nice change of pace. My friend was telling me about the uproar at his firm over too few in-house promotions to the partnership. Apparently for the past 5 or 6 years, all of the new partners in his department have been laterals, brought in from outside the firm. This year, 3 senior associates who've been at the firm their entire careers are up for partner, and there's talk that if at least 1 or 2 them don't make it, there's going to be a mass exodus. It's hard to string people along with the promise of becoming a partner if they literally never see it come to fruition. A few token promotions can make the dream seem possible for everyone -- like the handicapped parking spot analogy -- everyone thinks that spot could have been theirs. Frankly, I'm a little appalled that the firm even feels some pressure to promote from within just to placate people -- it's a business, we need stars. If the people from within aren't cutting it, then we'll go outside to find some. It shouldn't discourage the people who are here who are stars. Stars will rise to the top. Everyone else -- let them leave. To some extent. We need their hours. But we can find replacements. Unless you're a star you're just an interchangeable part anyway.

Monday, August 02, 2004

In a comment, someone wrote asking what he or she "SHOULD do in an interview... do's, don'ts, questions to ask, specific things I should know about the firm going in...."

Just asking the question means you're someone I wouldn't want to hire. Part of what I look for when I interview is that the candidate can figure all of this out for him or herself and isn't just following some set of one-size-fits-all rules. Every interviewer is looking for something different. It's the candidate's job to figure that out and adapt. Just like every client is looking for something different, and it's the lawyer's job to adapt. If I went into every client meeting with the same strategy -- emphasize our past experience, for instance, and the competence of our team -- I'd lose clients before we even got them on board. Some clients want a nice lawyer; some clients want a feisty lawyer; some clients want a sophisticated lawyer; some clients want a blue-collar rough-and-rumble fighter. It's our job to get in there, and as quickly as possible assess the situation and figure out what hat to put on. Just like I want a candidate to do in an interview. No matter what I ask, I don't want the prefabricated answer they rehearsed in the hotel room the night before. I want to see someone who's engaged and thinking and working hard to spin their story to impress me. I want someone who's selling him or herself to me, just like he'll have to sell himself to opposing counsel, to clients, or, in the rare case we leave our desks, to a judge.

"Do" be prepared to think; be able to sell yourself; be able to craft an answer on the fly to anything I ask; make me like you.

"Don't" be a jackass.

As far as questions to ask, I've never been asked a good one. I've been asked spectacularly bad ones about what the worst part about working here is ("this interview, with you, right now"), whether we provide good training to summer associates ("no, of course we don't"), how I balance work and life ("what? do you not know what you're in for?"), whether the lawyers here are friends ("with each other? who cares?"), how we assign people to practice groups ("aren't you getting a little bit ahead of yourself?"), why we chose the building we're in ("I didn't choose it! Are you a moron?"), whether we value lawyers with prior experience ("experience doing what? Being President? Sure. Being a trash collector? No."), and, once, why there's so much paper on my desk ("Because I'm busy. Leave. Now.").

Specific things you should know about the firm going in: know where the building is and how to get here so you're not late and waste my time; know where your resume is so you don't spend ten minutes fumbling for it; know how to politely decline when I offer you some coffee; know that I don't want to talk about any of the pictures in my office, so don't ask about them because you have nothing better to say; know that you're wasting my time unless I decide I like you; know that it all probably depends on your transcript anyway; know that we're not a "lifestyle" firm and we're not selling "nice people." We're selling "challenging work" and "a top-notch legal experience." You want that, we can talk. You want a fraternity, there are other places you can go. You want to argue in court, go to the DA's office. You want to get paid to "think about the law," go clerk for a judge. That's not what we're selling.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

One of the worst things about this profession -- and I suppose most of the professions where, effectively, you're a service provider -- is the lack of control over what your days will look like. It's much worse as an associate, but I can get a call from a client, and all of a sudden my life looks radically different than before the call. One moment I'm planning to go to Anonymous Son's hockey game, and the next moment I'm looking at eight more hours in the office before I can go home and turn on the 64" TV for an episode of Law & Order to lull me to sleep.

The point is salient this afternoon because I just discovered that I'll be taking a trip to New York to meet with a client on Wednesday. My next step is to find a nice restaurant for lunch, midtown area -- because if I'm flying across the country to talk to a client, there's no way I'm not getting a good lunch out of it. I don't if anyone from the opposite coast even reads this, but if anyone has any suggestions, feel free to drop them in the comments.

Also, if anyone knows where I can get a dozen of the best bagels in the city, Anonymous Wife has put in a request I'd like to fulfill. It's the least I can do, since I'll be bailing on a dinner party I promised I'd make time for. But what do promises mean when I'm at someone else's beck and call.

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