Thursday, September 30, 2004

I ate dinner with an associate tonight, over a stack of documents we're wading through, and the firm's website somehow came up in conversation. He said there's a whole bunch of associates who are upset that only partners have their pictures and biographies on the site, and associates only get their name and schools attended. "It shows you guys only care about the partners and associates," he said. Well, who does he think pays his salary? Why do the associates think they have the right to be featured on the website? They're lucky we put their names on there at all. The firm is not just run by the partners; it IS the partners. We're the partners OF THE FIRM. I hate how petty associates can be. They want their photos on the website? 30% of them leave every year. If we put their photos on the site we'll need a full-time administrator just to fix the site every time one of them is gone. They're not invested in this place; why should we invest energy into making them as much of a part of the firm as the partners are? Everything bothers associates. How many hours they work, how much responsibility they're getting, how much their bonuses will be. They should feel fortunate they have a secure job at a good firm where they make a lot of money and barely have to think. This is the reward for being smart and well-educated and suffering through law school. Why can't they appreciate that and stop complaining? What are they doing studying the website anyway? Who even looks at the website? Who cares? My photo on there hasn't been updated in years anyway. I don't even own that suit anymore. It frustrates me because here I am, in the office at 8:30 at night, working, tired, wanting to go home and have Anonymous Wife make me some dinner, and I'm stuck here listening to people complain about photos on the website. Photos on the website. Who cares? Everything is such a big deal around here. Just relax and do your work.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Q. "I've heard that NYU is not as highly regarded on the West Coast as it is in NY. Have you found this to be true? If so, assuming I want to work on the West Coast, should I try to attend a lower ranked West Coast school, a more 'national' East Coast school, or just go for the highest ranked school I can get into?"

A. NYU? Never heard of it. What is a "national" school? Don't these places have statistics in the job placement offices?

Q. "What does an associate have to do to get fired in their first few years? And how do you go about it?"

A. Kill someone. Fired is a bad word. Encouraged to begin looking elsewhere for employment is a nicer way to put it. A lot of what happens is pretty arbitrary. You either seem like partner material or you don't. Maybe it's your shoes. They're not shiny enough. Your tie isn't tied quite right. You have a weak handshake. Your wife needs you home too often. Arbitrary things like that.

Q. "how generous are you with billing time to the client? some people don't keep diaries, so a month later, they know they've worked on it, but aren't too sure for how long...."

A. More generous than you were with capital letters. I scrawl things down on a sheet throughout the day and hand it to the waste of a subsidized gym membership who sits at the desk outside my office and answers my phone. She records the numbers. We charge so much per hour and have enough clients with work for us to do that there aren't tremendous incentives to pad bills. Clients are relatively savvy. They've worked with all of our competitors. If we need more money, we'll raise our rates or start charging an extra dollar for photocopies. I can't speak for my colleagues, but my hours are pretty accurate, except for the time I bill clients for writing posts on here.

Q. "I asked this before, but how favorably would you look upon three years of public accounting experience with a big four accounting firm? or how about a year of public accounting experience and a couple years of experience with a well-known consulting firm? Also, do you place any value on the CPA if I were seeking to go into corporate law?"

A. I don't remember why I didn't answer this before, but I'm sure I had a good reason, so I'm not going to answer it again.

First question from this morning's post:

"How do you feel about hiring a student who intends to do public-interest work in the long-term?"

Look, everyone "intends" to do public interest work in the long term. Hardly anyone ends up actually doing it, not after they get used to the law firm salary and lifestyle anyway. If we had any second-thoughts about hiring people who seemed like they weren't going to be here for the long haul, we wouldn't have anyone left to hire. We know everyone comes here thinking they'll do it for a couple of years, pay back their loans, and then go on to do more soul-enriching things. No one wants to be a partner anymore, not like we used to see, but we accept that. And in a lot of ways it makes it easier for us, because we feel less guilty working associates to death when we know they're just taking advantage of us for the money than if we really thought they were emotionally invested in the firm and wanted to make a career of it. So it works out for both sides. You get to pretend you're going to do public interest work one day, and we get to work you hard enough that you forget the person you used to be anyway.

I'm in the office early to get ready for a series of conference calls today with people on the East Coast, beginning at 10:30 (that's 10:30 their time, not mine). We're hammering out some last-minute parts of a deal, and I'm expecting I'll have to sit in on these calls for most of the day. If anyone has any questions they'd like me to answer, put them in the comments and it'll give me something to do when the calls get slow.

Someone commented on a recent post, "What do you consider a mildly sexist remark? And what is over the top? Can you post what he actually said?" No, I can't post what he actually said, for obvious reasons. But, for illustrative purposes, mildly sexist: "the women around here aren't bad to look at, are they?" over the top: "you fire them if they get pregnant, right?"

Monday, September 27, 2004

Only the young ones take the stairs. You get to be important, it's the elevator every time. Can't waste energy on the stairs. Besides, it's a status symbol. I see you on the stairs, I know you're not important. I see you take the elevator to go down one flight, I know your time and energy matter, and you can't be wasting it on the staircase, sharing space with the people delivering mail, or the first-year associates still trying to wean themselves off the daily trip to the gym they no longer have the time for, or the inclination to bother with. When you're not meeting new people, who needs to look good anyway? At about four months in, most new associates have lost their youthful glow. They're pale, and puffy from lack of sleep. Their skin starts to react from the harsh lighting and lack of natural sunlight and weather, and the stress. The consistent and neverending stress. Their bodies start to adjust to the greasy takeout and they begin to get a little soft in the middle. Not fat, at least not too many of them. Fat is sloppy. But soft. Soft is good. If you're too fit we know you're thinking about other things besides the lease agreement. Not a good reputation to have. No client wants to see you order a salad at the steakhouse.

Friday, September 24, 2004

We're doing our last set of on-campus interviews next week, so I'm going to probably make the trip, do some interviews, and hopefully find some good candidates. My heart's not quite in it as much after we finish dealing with the students from my alma mater, which came earlier in the process. I've noticed among my colleagues that most of us feel a certain amount of ownership when it comes to our law schools, and we fight harder for candidates from our schools even if on paper there's no reason for it. Intellectually I don't really think that I got a better education than people who went elsewhere, or that I'm a better person because I went there, but I still look at the numbers in every entering associate class and hope I can get "my people" to take their offers so we can have a bigger presence at the firm than we otherwise would. I'll admit I'm not completely unbiased in the recruiting process. If you go to my school, if you have interests like the ones I used to have before I became a lawyer, if you find a way to tell me you're a Dodgers fan, if you're nice to the recruiter who brings you by, if you don't mention the weather (you wouldn't believe how many people open with something about the weather, especially since there's really nothing to talk about here related to the weather except that it's just like yesterday), then I'm predisposed to like you more, and to look at your candidacy more favorably.

I interviewed a candidate last week who made a marginally sexist remark during the interview. Something that, if I was a woman, would probably not be enough to disqualify him, but would send up a red flag. But, me, I kind of liked it. He won points. Because he wasn't being "too careful" like so many law students are, afraid to say what they're really thinking. He had some spark. I like that. He got an offer. It's that kind of thing that makes me feel good about the process, like I'm making a difference.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

I'm swamped with a deal closing this week, but to address some of the concerns in the comments on the last post:

1. Some associates do it to pad their hours. And I'm sure it's easier for them to write a memo from scratch than to worry about whatever their next assignment will be. Due diligence, perhaps? Reading the fine print on insurance contracts?

2. Partners need memos about the applicable case law because we don't want to tell our clients something that's wrong just because an associate is too stupid to get it right. I read most of the cases from Lexis that my associates cite in drafts they write. Because it's my name on the document and my reputation with the client. So maybe we don't do all the groundwork. But we need the supporting documentation so we can be sure we're not committing malpractice and screwing up the business.

3. Sometimes, even if they come from top schools and did great on the LSAT, associates are just inexperienced and stupid and don't know what they're supposed to be doing. I've gotten documents that make no sense. Drafts of memos that focus on every court in the country when we're just talking about a specific circuit. Citations to secondary source materials cited as precedent. Not necessarily maliciously bad work product but inexperienced work product signifying things that they need to be taught not to do. And if I'm harsh to them, they get the message better than if I write them a fancy note on a pretty card. It's just business.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

One thing we do too often here is reinvent the wheel. I ask an associate to get me a memo on some point of law, I don't care if she writes it herself. If there's a memo someone wrote for another partner last week, give me that one. As long as it's decent. But why waste your own time and my time and the client's time on doing things that someone has already done. It's why we invested so much money into a document management system, not that I know how it works or exactly how much money it actually cost, but no one ever uses it. I know people have written these memos before. I even tell associates sometimes that I think there's a memo in the system they can use and merely update. But hardly anyone ever does. If you want to make more work for yourself, and make me think you're stupid for it, that's fine. But there's a reason we keep old documents.

The reason I write this today is because I gave an associate an assignment today and then a few hours later remembered that I had a memo on the same topic from about 6 months ago. I called the associate and told her, but she said she'd already started the research on this one from scratch and she'd "just as well go ahead and finish it herself." "No, it's not just as well," I yelled into the phone. "Maybe the other associate was smarter than you and found something you're not finding. Maybe not. But it's your job to check. Unless you don't want a job anymore and we can just give your salary to someone who doesn't want to waste her time, my time, and the client's money." "I'm sorry. I'll check." "Yes, you will. And if you could grab a Coke from the attorney lounge for me on your way up to give me the memo, that would be great too. Thank you."

Monday, September 20, 2004

One of our summers called today to tell us she won't be coming back to the firm in the fall because she got a clerkship. Clerkships are good. They get them used to doing hours and hours of boring work and sitting alone in an office all day. Plus our clients like it when we tell them we have associates who worked for judges. They think it means judges will like them more. Not that we ever get to court. But if clients want to think that, it's fine with me.

I wish I had clerked. Just because if you're going to be doing this for the rest of your life, why not spend a year doing something you'll never get to do again?

Over the weekend, I met a friend of a friend at a dinner party. He's a doctor, and was telling us that the best part about being a doctor is that he gets to hear people's private secrets all day, things that they tell no one else. If that's the best part of being a doctor, it made me glad to be a lawyer. I would not like to be one of his patients. I guess there are bad apples everywhere.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

I just had dinner out with Anonymous Wife and then came back to the office to finish something up. I'd normally do the work from home, but it involves some files that are too big for me to want to take them home, and I was in the middle of it here so all of the papers are organized around my desk, and this shouldn't take too long anyway. The office is relatively empty, for 10:00 at night. About eight months ago, the nighttime cleaning staff switched its route and started coming by my office an hour later than they used to. I had internalized the cleaning staff coming to mean that I was here late, and haven't been able to adjust. Late doesn't begin now until an hour after it used to. I was thinking I'm probably not the only one who gauges his time here against the cleaning staff. If we could get them to start their shift two hours later than they do now, I wonder if people would stay later just on reflex: the cleaning staff hasn't come yet, so it's not time to leave. Similarly, if we were to change the time they can order dinner in and get it paid for by the firm to 10:00, would more people hold out and stay? Right now people wait the extra half-hour to get to 8:00 (and a free meal) a decent amount of the time. Less than they used to. If they're still working at 7:30, sometimes they'll stick around. So if we moved that time two hours later, maybe we get more work out of them. (Of course, I realize we could also just chain them to the desk.)

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

You know what I hate? The Jewish holidays. It's defensible to make someone work on their kid's birthday. It's defensible to make them work when their dad's having surgery. It's defensible to make them come back in three weeks after they have a baby. But for some reason, you call it a holiday - and it's not just the Jewish holidays I'm talking about; it's any holiday - and people want to guilt you into letting them take time off. Our clients don't care if it's the American New Year, the Jewish New Year, or the Chinese New Year. I hate hearing that someone wasn't planning on coming into the office on Presidents Day, or Labor Day, or July 4th: what are you celebrating, and why can't you be here? You want an hour off on Christmas Eve to go to mass? I'm willing to let you do that. Two hours to go to temple on Yom Kippur? Fine. I won't schedule the meeting right at sundown. An hour to take your daughter to the doctor for a pregnancy test? I'm willing to be flexible. But you don't need four days off in two weeks for the Jewish holidays, especially right when everyone's getting back into the swing of things after their August vacations; you don't need a 4-day weekend to give thanks for the Pilgrims, especially less a month before Christmas; and you can take your wife out to dinner the day after Valentine's Day when the restaurants are less crowded. Children go to school on their birthdays; you can come to work on George Washington's birthday, Martin Luther King's birthday, and Jesus's birthday.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

I just woke up at my desk, head on an agreement I was paging through for last-minute changes. I must have fallen asleep. That's been happening more lately than it used to. If I caught an associate asleep at his desk I'd wake him up. I'd probably find some mindless task for him too. I don't why I'm different in the office than at home. If I found Anonymous Son asleep over a sheet of spelling homework, I'd gently carry him up to bed and tuck him in tight. Then again, he's not getting paid a six figure salary to do his spelling. There's something about walking through the revolving door every morning that transforms me into a different person. Outside, I'd possibly help a stranger who dropped a pile of papers on the ground. Inside, I'd probably have to think twice before even stopping to help a friend. It's just not the culture here. People don't ask about each other's lives; most people don't have much of a life to ask about. I don't know if most of the associates who work for me have families; I don't know what the last movie they saw is; I don't know whether they like the Dodgers or the Angels (although who likes the Angels?). It's not what we do. We do work. Showing emotion, showing tenderness and compassion, or even kindness and interest, is weakness. It's survival of the fittest. I didn't get to be a partner by helping my colleagues during their moments of weakness. I mean, I showed professional courtesy. I didn't backstab them, sabotage them, or actively machinate to destroy them. But I would be lying if I didn't admit I rooted for them to fail, even if it hurt the firm. I rooted for them to get the assignments I knew I couldn't handle, just so they'd be shown to be fallible. The number of partners is limited. It's a zero-sum game. And that's why I was here: to become a partner. There's nothing else out there at the end of the rainbow to strive for once you reach a certain point. The first few years there are things outside in the world that call you, but once you pass a certain threshold, and I think the timing is different for everyone, and you know you're here for the long haul, then your eyes are on the prize. And maybe I didn't poison anyone's coffee, but I might have turned a blind eye if I saw you with the arsenic standing over their mugs. And it's not like it stops once you make partner. There are other partners in the way of more power in the practice group, more influence, more respect among my peers, and (of course) more money. And why should I make it easier for the people below me than it was for me? Why should they get the benefit of a partner who feels mercy? I know the right thing to do. Why does that mean I ought to do it? Why should that give others an advantage over the people working for partners who don't have any idea what jerks they are. At least I know. At least I have my moments of clarity. If all I'm going to do is fall back asleep I may as well go home.

Monday, September 13, 2004

I just sent an e-mail to the IT department asking them if there's any way we can remove solitaire from the computers on the network. I'm fed up. I went to talk to an associate today, an associate who was supposed to be working on a project for me, and I know he was playing soliatire when I walked in. He's supposed to be working. I started asking him about his progress, and he continued to play solitaire. As if I couldn't tell because I wasn't facing the screen. I know what it looks like. I've guest lectured in law school classes before. I know what it looks like. I don't know what's wrong with this generation. We've given them too many toys. They can't focus on a task. They sit there facing the screen for hours. Playing solitaire. I wish I could fire everyone who plays solitaire. I think it demonstrates weakness of character. I think they think we don't know. They think we don't realize we're paying them for hours of nothing. Should ban the whole Internet. Let them find cases in the books like we did. Spending six hours in the library is character-building. Spending six hours playing solitaire is lazy, mind-numbing and insulting to the partnership who pays them.

Friday, September 10, 2004

I just got off the phone with Anonymous Wife. She accepted my proposal: we spend 10% less on the kitchen than she was planning, and in exchange I take 10% more days off from work this year. She liked that. So I'm feeling a bit better about the day.

To address something in the comments on the previous post: I didn't go to a top ten school, so I don't know what all the fuss is about people not ending up like me if they don't go to Stanford. Maybe you don't start at a place like this, but we do hire laterals, and they come from more places than the places we recruit from on campus. You want to end up here? You stick it out long enough, after the years of attrition steal away 95% of the associates who start, and we might get desperate enough to read your resume.

To address something else in the comments: Yes, the paralegal wants the money. I understand. I'm not stupid. But if I was a paralegal, I'd go to business school instead of this. At least at McKinsey you get to stay in fancy hotels and travel the country.

I think my secretary cracked the crystal I got from a client while she was dusting my shelves. I don't remember if the crack was there before or not. I don't know why clients think their service providers enjoy getting plaques, crystals, trophies, and other worthless trinkets commemorating the hours we spent sorting through their lease agreements. I'd rather have a gift basket.

One of the paralegals in my department asked me today if I would write him a letter of recommendation for law school. He's been here for about a year and is applying to law schools to start a year from now. I don't fully understand how paralegals can spend time here and still decide they want to go to law school. We gloss everything up for the summer associates, with expensive food, unlimited alcohol, little work, and fun events, but the paralegals see everything. One of my colleagues thinks it's that they don't realize they're not the only ones treated like crap. They don't love it here, but they imagine life is so much better for the associates, because they get to do "real" work instead of collating papers, and get offices with windows. I have no sympathy for paralegals who go to law school. They know what they're getting themselves into. I told him I would be delighted to write a recommendation letter. I'll write anyone a recommendation letter for law school. I'll write the janitor a recommendation letter. The more people who go to law school, the more validation there is to the career I've chosen. Come to law school, everyone. You can be just like me.

I'm not in the best of moods today, as you might be able to tell. It's been a long morning. Anonymous Wife decided she wants the most expensive kitchen anyone has ever built. Our kitchen sink is going to be a jacuzzi.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

I have a senior associate who's after me for dirt about her chances of making partner. It's gotten pretty irritating. She's always been very upfront about her desire to make partner. Once word got out over the grapevine that a particular associate was in line to make partner, she'd be first in line at his or her office, trying to ingratiate herself, sometimes in ways that went beyond simply helping out on a case. It became a running joke among some of the partnership: "John's next in line; how long until [she]'s sleeping with him?" But now she's started asking directly about her chances, and it's very uncomfortable. She does decent work. But we've made a lot of women partners recently, and aren't specifically looking for any new ones. And even if her work is decent, it doesn't stand out, and most people don't particularly like her as a person. She won't get my support. But I have no desire to tell her that: the longer we can keep her here, billing hours at the rate a senior associate bills out at, and training people below her, the better for us. Plus, she's not bad to look at, especially when she dolls herself up for the associates-turning-partners she has her eyes on.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Every year I do this, I forget how busy interview season gets. It's one thing to get interrupted all day with junior associates asking me inane questions about the cases we're working on. But it's quite another thing to get interrupted all day with 30-minute interviews with law students. It makes getting anything else done relatively difficult, and by the end of the day I'm not much use to my clients, or to the law students I'm interviewing. If I charted how many students I gave a positive evaluation to against the time of day, I'm sure it would fall as the day gets longer. I have no patience at 4:30 for a guy who doesn't know we don't do Intellectual Property work, or a girl who has no idea why she wants to move to California.

What's making these past couple of weeks slightly more difficult is the bastard partner down the hall from me. He keeps signing up for a full slate of interviews, and then cancels almost them all, throughout the day, one by one, leaving the recruiters scrambling to find a last-minute replacement. And, more often than not, the replacement ends up being me, because they can't find anyone else. The most frustrating thing is that when he's not being a bastard, he's a great interviewer. He does it very well, I think leaves candidates with a favorable impression, and is able to cut through the crap and get as real a picture as someone can get in 30 minutes. He's smart. But he's unreliable. It carries over to his work product too. He made partner on the strength of the work he can do when he's engaged, and the client relationships he can effectively form. But for all his strengths, he's impossible to work with because you never know when he'll disengage and flake on something, or drop his work on someone else, or refuse to respond to e-mails, come to meetings, and really stay on top of things.

It's an unusual trait among lawyers who get far -- the lawyers I've encountered in my career tend, more than the average, to be reliable but boring, hard-working but unspectacular, diligent but predictable. He's more like a businessman. Moments of greatness but a general difficulty in always knowing what you're going to get. People like that are more interesting people. They're not better colleagues when you need to get things done, even if they're better lunch partners. But lately he's been worse than usual, and this interview season he's been making my life hell. He did a 7-minute interview with a candidate on Friday. After 7 minutes he told the guy he enjoyed meeting him, but had other work to do, and had the kid sit in the hall for 23 minutes waiting for the recruiter to come back to pick him up, while he called a client. The student mentioned it to the recruiter and apparently seemed pretty frustrated by the whole thing. Meanwhile, the partner loved him. He said that in 7 minutes he learned all he needed to know, and gave the guy a thumbs-up. We can't do it this way. We can't have candidates sitting in the hall, where they might see something we don't want them to see. We can't have them thinking we're shortchanging them, that we have other things to do that are more important than they are. He doesn't understand. And he keeps trying to poach one of my clients that I brought him into a deal on, just to help me out, and now he's getting too cozy with the CEO. My client, not yours. Deal with it.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Anonymous Wife decided a few weeks ago that what would really make our marriage stronger is a remodeled kitchen. I don't know if she read this in a book somewhere, one of her vapid struggling-actress friends told her, or she came up with this idea herself. But, however it happened, we're remodeling the kitchen. New refrigerator, new cabinets, an island in the middle, a deluxe range. She never cooks, so I don't know what it's all for. But now every night when I get home she has catalogs for me to look at, and colors to choose from, and tile patterns... she says making the decisions together is part of the fun. She needs a job.

If the novelist who left a comment on Sunday's post is still reading, send me an e-mail.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

For years, the free coffee on every floor of the office was pretty good. When I drank coffee. I don't anymore. Last year, to save less money per year than we spend on one day of summer associate lunches, the firm management decided to switch to a cheaper brand. On Monday, the "lifestyle committee" released the results of its annual survey, and "The new coffee is terrible" was #1 on the list of complaints. (My response, "The lifestyle committee is useless and should be disbanded," did not make the top ten.)

In response to the survey results, there has been a groundswell of activity in trying to get firm management to switch back to the old coffee. A petition has been circulated. Multiple firmwide e-mails have clogged my inbox. An "open forum to discuss coffee and coffee-related issues" has been scheduled between the firm chairman and the newly-formed coffee subcommittee. I am, of course, not on the coffee subcommittee. One of the firmwide e-mails posited the question of whether work on the coffee issue was billable, since the caffeine in the coffee affects productivity on client-related issues. I think it may have been a joke, but is anything here really a joke?

It amuses me that the coffee is what gets people incited to act, and nothing else. When "support staff is treated poorly by the attorneys" was #1 on the list of complaints, nothing happened. When "we don't get any feedback on our work" was #1, nothing happened. But when people realize that they're not the only ones who hate the coffee, we get action.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?