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.

To quote: "And that's why I was here: to become a partner"

I would love to hear why you were so intent on being a partner in the first place. Was it something you have thought about? Was it the power, the money, the prestige, the respect? Or were you just following the well-trodden path through from law school, associate position, partner?
The world is divided into three groups of people:

1. Those who will screw you over to get ahead.
2. Those who will stand by and watch you getting screwed over if doing so will help them get ahead.
3. Those who will step in and stop someone from screwing you over.

I think that most lawyers fall in category 2 because they don't have the gumption to be in category 1. I used to work for a partner who was a 3 and it as very difficult to leave (but I did because he worked with a bunch of 1s and 2s)
"I would love to hear why you were so intent on being a partner in the first place. Was it something you have thought about? Was it the power, the money, the prestige, the respect? Or were you just following the well-trodden path through from law school, associate position, partner?"

I wish I knew the answer to that question myself, but for myself. It's amazing how we go down these paths automatically.
At least you can partially partition your character between work and personal life. Just imagine how much of a trainwreck your life would be if you were in partner-mode 24/7
Speaking only from my own experience, making partner was extremely dissapointing. I was in the same office, doing the same work, and for the most part still answering to the same people ahead of me on the food chain. It didn't take me long to realize that not only was it not what I wanted, but to be filled with deep regret for what I missed out on in life while working to get to what I had come to learn was a false goal, and for how my personality had changed in order to become the person that could reach that goal. While I didn't exactly do anything to be ashamed of during that climb, I certainly know the feeling of rooting for others to fail and calculating how their failures could rebound to my benefit. By the time that I was done, three and a half years after making partner, all I could think about was how stupid I was to allow partnership at a serious law firm to be my career path. I'm only now starting -- six months out -- to return to the person I was becoming twelve years ago. I'm not saying that people should abandon partnership as a goal, but I'm saying to think very carefully about whether it's really worth it. Great post AL.
About five or six years ago as a mid-level associate at a sweat-shop firm where all the attorneys in our practice group (including many of the partners) ate dinner together in the office most nights, I realized that if I worked my ass off for X more years and made partner, I'd *still* be eating dinner in the office every night. I left that firm and went in-house for a while -- I am back at a different firm, but now as a "special counsel" with no partnership track pressures. I make plenty of money, come and go as I please, bill enough to earn my keep and make sure that any partner that wants my help knows that I am working *with* them and not *for* them.

It's been very liberating knowing that I am not postponing this or that because "once I make partner" I will have "arrived" and everything will be different. I am not competing with others in my firm and I don't spend a lot energy in trying to outflank my peers.
I never understood hazing. Could it be as simple as the misdirected angry of sleep-deprived partners?
I wish that living on the west coast was in my plan. I've made it a point to only drop resumes and interview with firms in locations where I want to live and from whom I would be willing to accept an offer. But for that >> it would be a real study to switch over and spend a summer looking at this place (or rather, one like it) from the inside.
Anonymous : 11:34 AM has it right. Nice job.
Anon 1:25,

Thanks for the shout-out. Other benefits of my set-up is that I don't have business origination requirements so partners are happy to bring me onto projects because they get partner-level (I'm 11 years out) support and don't have to share billing credit for the work. I've given the billing credit for the couple of clients I have to partners I work with a lot, since they need the billing credit and I need the billable hours. Sort of like Jack Sprat and his wife.

I am also classified as an associate (employee) for benefits purposes so the firm picks up a bigger share of those costs than they would if I were a partner. It's all good.

Anon 11:34
"Anonymous : 11:34 AM" may indeed have it right, and he/she clearly does in the eyes of many lawyers in the younger generation.

"Anonymous : 11:34 AM," please check out the last two posts on my blog (www.biensmoebles.blogspot.com) and the links therein, which are basically about lawyers like you; you might enjoy the reading (not necessarily my rambling posts, but the articles to which I link are very interesting).

Thanks for letting me advertise here, AL.

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