Tuesday, December 28, 2004

The week between Christmas and New Years is always a slow one, but it's now when you can tell which associates really have their priorities straight. We don't mind if our associates have families. We tolerate it. But it's nice to see them in the office this week, so we know the firm is really what matters. I see people leaving at 3:00 and I start wondering whether their heart is in it, and whether they'll stand for it come crunch time when we really need them. This isn't just a job, it's a career.

Anonymous Wife called me to wish me a Merry Christmas. I think she misses me. She asked me if I want to spend New Years together as a family. I told her I would like that, unless something comes up in the office.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Merry Christmas. I think someone spiked the office egg nog.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

We're having a holiday party in a conference room tomorrow afternoon. Open bar, decent sushi, and a fat paralegal dressed as Santa Claus. It's fun for the paralegal. Better than on Cinco de Mayo when we make her dress as a pinata. We have a Secret Santa gift exchange. I hate Secret Santa. I picked one of the librarians out of the hat. My initial idea was to wrap up the books I owe the library. I decided instead to give her a scented sponge with soap inside of it. I hope she doesn't think it's a message I think she's dirty. I don't know if she's dirty. I've never met her. She might in fact be dirty. It might be just the right message to send. We're supposed to spend ten dollars. It looks like it costs about ten dollars, although it looks like it's worth about two. Anonymous Wife got it as a present last year from her sister and never opened it. It smells like mango. I hope she likes mango.

She probably will think it's a message that I think she's dirty. People read too much into everything we say. I tell someone I'm too busy to meet with her today, and she sends me an e-mail apologizing for anything she may have done to disappoint me and offering to stay late if I need anything. All it really means is I'm going golfing. Of course, put the idea in my head, and of course she can stay late. I tell someone he looks well-rested and he thinks it means he's about to get a big assignment and he hides from me the rest of the week. All I meant was he looked less sickly than usual. I tell someone I hope she doesn't plan on getting pregnant and she thinks I'm a jerk. It was a compliment. I meant I like your work. People think that because we're having the party on Thursday, we're giving tacit approval for them not to show up to work on Friday. People are wrong.

Monday, December 20, 2004

I went to a partners-only Holiday Party last night at a colleague's house. The host was a relatively new partner, a young guy. He's a little too ambitious for his own good. He wears nice suits. And helps keep the shoe shine guy in business. That's how you can tell someone cares about their future prospects. They get their shoes shined. It's already obvious he's gunning to run the firm one day. Hence the partners-only affair. He wants as much face time as he can get with the rest of us. Lord knows it's not because we're a fun crowd to spend time with. Especially not the Tax guys. Although I got some advice at the party on how to structure one of my investment portfolios that may end up saving me a few thousand dollars if I can get it done by the end of the month. It was a nice evening, except somehow one of our "senior counsel" showed up. He was once on the partner track, but never quite made it, and so he's just been hanging around the firm ever since. I feel sorry for him. He's obviously jealous of the rest of us. Why else would he show up at the party? We make more money, we get more respect, and we have a significantly greater fraction of a secretary than he does. Significantly.

Friday, December 17, 2004

I've been sensing some anxiety from associates over the year-end bonuses. We haven't announced yet. Whenever associates ask me about it, what I like to do is tell them I think they're going to find out later that day. It freaks them out. It's fun to watch. Look, every year we match our peer firms. We shouldn't, but we do. There shouldn't be any suspense. We're going to match. They know we're going to match. But still, they worry. They hover around the partners when they see us talking in the hall, wondering if we're discussing the bonuses. We're not. We're talking about the inappropriate outfit the paralegal is wearing, or the rumor about the associate who got genital warts from the proofreader at the copy center. I've consistently argued that we should announce that we're giving $5.00 less than our peers. Nothing substantial, but to put everyone on edge, a little bit, and motivate them to do better next year. "They didn't match," people would say. "It must mean we're not working hard enough." And then they would stay in the office just a little bit later, or do just one more profit-generating Lexis search. We'd light a fire under them. It's amazing what $5.00 will do. We switched from store-brand cookies in the attorney lounge to real Oreos and we got e-mails praising the decision. Costs perhaps two dollars more per day. The profit on four photocopies. I'm willing to have my secretary make four extra photocopies to charge to clients every day if it means people will thank me for upgrading to brand-name cookies. It's a sacrifice I'm happy to make.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

I was forwarded an e-mail that one of our upcoming summer associates sent to a young associate she's been corresponding with: "Will the firm ask to see my grades from this fall?" She thinks she did particularly poorly and is worried we're going to see the grades, decide she isn't the student we thought she was, and rescind the offer.

The good news for her is that, no, we don't usually ask to see 2L grades. It's too late for us to do anything about them anyway. If we were to rescind someone's offer, the impact on campus would be disastrous. We'd be "the firm that rescinds offers" and no one would choose us. (Almost as bad as "the firm with no box seats at Dodger Stadium.") We know that. We accept it. We also know that students stop trying once they have their offers, and there's nothing our clients like better than a set of expensive lawyers who can do good work when they feel like it really counts, but when they think it doesn't matter, they do crappy work instead.

The bad news for her is that everyone will know she sent that e-mail. Every year, students fail to realize that the lawyers they meet during the process are not their friends. And even if an associate has the best of intentions, there are times, alone in your office, when the craving for some sort of connection, with anyone, is strong enough that it doesn't seem like a bad idea to forward to a couple of colleagues down the hall that e-mail the summer associate sent you, just to share a laugh. And once you send it to a couple of people, they send it to a few more, and eventually it's all over the firm.

So everyone knows about the e-mail where you asked whether romantic relationships ever develop between summer associates and regular lawyers at the firm. And we're waiting for you.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

I just got off the phone with my nephew, who's a sophomore in college. Today's his birthday, so I called him to wish him well. I think college is turning him into a communist. He thinks making money is wrong unless you do something good with it. He said I'm selfish. I think he's trying to get me to offer to pay his tuition. It's not going to work.

He said he sees his friends who are seniors start to get jobs, as investment bankers or management consultants, or decide to go to law school, and he feels sad for them because they're going to waste their abilities and not do any good for the world. I think he has a lot of growing up to do. It's not all about doing good. Not everyone can do good. Some of us like having nice things. Some of us like being able to pay our bills. Some of us like playing golf. He wants to paint. Not everyone who wants to paint can make a living painting. He thinks anyone who doesn't follow his passion is a bad person, living an unclean life. When he was talking it made my skin crawl that he's even related to me. He doesn't understand that the world doesn't always let you do what you want to do. Sometimes you have to make decisions. There are sacrifices and tradeoffs. You can't always follow your heart. The world isn't like that.

He brought some of his paintings to Thanksgiving. I don't know anything about art, but I know I thought his paintings were terrible. He's going to end up homeless. And he'll deserve it, because he's a bright kid and if he doesn't go do something useful with himself, like become a doctor or a lawyer, he's wasting his mind and he's being stupid. Too many kids are stupid these days. They think they can have ridiculous dreams and make them come true. How many people are making a living as painters these days? How many of them are making as much money as I do? How many of them can strike fear into people's hearts just by picking up the phone? How many of them are making as much money as I do?

It's not all about the money, but the money is society's way of saying that what I do is valuable, and what I do is important. Not everyone can do what I do. Not everyone can get to where I've gotten. Especially without losing his humanity. Most people in my position are real jerks. I'm glad I'm not. I'm glad I haven't turned into one of them. When I was a young associate I saw them and on the one hand envied them, but on the other hand promised myself I'd never be like them. Sometimes I catch myself acting like them, like when I don't hold the elevator door for an associate racing toward me, or I search through people's desk drawers late at night after they've gone home, but sometimes I surprise myself and do good. I remembered my nephew's birthday, after all. So how bad a person can I be?

Friday, December 10, 2004

I hate the gift-giving tradition. My secretary earns a good salary. Why should I be expected to buy her something just because it's the holidays? We're not friends. She works for me. Whatever I buy her, she probably won't even like. There are people here who give out too many cards and gifts. Everyone they work with gets something. It's economically unproductive. The holiday season makes it more difficult to get anything done. People think you're mean if you make someone work on Christmas. But there's still work to do. People think you're mean if you won't give an associate an afternoon off to do some holiday shopping. But I don't invent the work, at least not usually. It has to get done. This is what we signed up for. This is why we earn a lot of money. The Internet has made me completely unwilling to stand for anyone saying they need to leave work early to get to a store before it closes. Anything you can buy in a store, you can buy on the Internet. Anything you can buy on the Internet, you can buy at three in the morning. I don't know what to get my secretary. She could use a daily planner, in my opinion. But I imagine she wouldn't think that was much of a gift. She could also use some therapy.

Someone has started playing Christmas music in her office. I hate Christmas music. Every year it seems like more and more radio stations switch to an all-Christmas format. I can't find anything else to listen to on the commute. The only Christmas Song I like is Silver Bells, because it's about silver.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

A sixth-year I work with came into my office to vent a little while earlier this morning. A partner he's been doing work for gave a good assignment, that usually would go to someone like a sixth-year, to a fourth-year, and the sixth-year feels slighted. I heard rumors that someone was upset with me for giving to a fifth-year an assignment a third-year might usually get, because he felt the work was beneath him. But this is flipped the other way. The sixth-year would have wanted the assignment, and thinks it's unfair the fourth-year gets to do it. The associates think about this much more than the partners do. If I'm giving someone an assignment, I'm really not that concerned with whether a second-year did it last time, or a seventh-year. I just want it done right. Although if someone feels slighted, and thus more motivated to step it up and "prove" he should have gotten the work, all the better.

Monday, December 06, 2004

There's an associate I work with who's on vacation this week. Something has already come up this morning that I've needed her for. She'll probably end up billing enough hours that it won't count as a vacation day. Sometimes people like that, because even if they're on vacation, they can spare four or five hours in the middle of the day, and then it's like they get credit for being in the office. I've often made the argument, though, that if we give people credit for doing work when they're on vacation, we should subtract a vacation day for every time they're in the office and don't bill a certain number of hours. It would save us a great deal of money in the end. I've had trouble getting much support though.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

There have been some comments suggesting I ban comments. Here's why I'm not. In real life, I ban comments. People don't react honestly to what I have to say because they're scared of me. I could tell a law student at an interview that I was a pedophile and she would nod her head and smile. She might not take the offer, at least not if she has small children, but she would not talk back, by and large. I could tell an associate he deserves to die, and he'll nod his head and smile, and then go back to his office, bang his head against his desk, and go back to placing colored post-it tabs on a big stack of paper, promising himself he'll work harder so that next time, he can get the tiniest bit of praise from me. I could tell a client my time is worth a thousand dollars an hour, and he will nod his head and smile. No one comments. Anonymous Son barely even comments anymore. So this is the one place I can get honest feedback. What the comments here have told me, and those of you at fault know who you are, is that honest feedback is overrated, because a lot of what you have to say is junk. But that's not all it has told me. There have been a lot of insightful, perceptive, and even heartbreaking comments left on some of these posts. Fewer recently, but that's probably my fault for doing a worse job on here than anyone who reads and comments deserves. The comments have made writing this somewhat worthwhile for me, since people are too frightened to e-mail me their thoughts. I don't believe that human nature is by default good, but maybe the Internet can prove me wrong and the people who leave comments here can take it upon themselves to not leave the kinds of comments that will make other people wish there were no comments. Besides, to police a comments section would mean that some of my clients would not get the attention they deserve from me and the indentured servants who work under me.

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