Monday, February 28, 2005

I spent the day at an offsite seminar. I hate these, but I have to go every once in a while for continuing legal education credit. I brought an associate with me to do the menial work like park my car, take notes, and carry around my briefcase. At one point, I asked someone where the bathroom was and she got all snippy. How was I supposed to know she didn't work there? This wasn't so confusing before there were women lawyers. It used to be that you knew the women were there to be asked the questions. Now, and especially with casual dress codes, you can't tell the difference between lawyers and staff, or, beyond the office, between regular people and the help. The lunch they served at the seminar was terrible, so I sent the associate to get me something better. He didn't get back in time for the next session and so I ended up having to take notes myself for twenty minutes. I'll get him back for it next performance review. Meanwhile, there was traffic on the way back to the office, and now I'm stuck here doing work I should have been doing all day except they think these seminars are actually useful. Guess what? They're not. I don't care about new developments in the law. Let the associates learn about new developments, I'll stick to the law I know about and have worked with for the past decade. If my colleagues and I weren't good enough lawyers, we wouldn't be in the positions we're in. We don't need to go to seminars. It's not what our clients are paying for.

I have a temp secretary this week. My secretary is on vacation. She's visiting her in-laws in Colorado. What a waste. She's going to Colorado and not even going skiing. I never skiied until I started working at the firm. It felt like the right thing to do. Temp secretaries are terrible. I came back to the office after the seminar and she left me a pile of papers on my chair but I had to sort through it all myself and now I'm doing all of the work she should have been doing all day. I left her a note telling her to print out all of my e-mails that have attachments, and she printed out the e-mails but didn't print the attachments. I'm commandeering one of my associates' secretaries tomorrow and giving him the temp. But first I'm going to make the temp test out every highlighter in the supply closet to see which ones are out of ink. Last time I asked for a highlighter it was out of ink. It's amazing to me that we have so much money and can't afford highlighters with ink. It's like the time we ran out of stationery on my floor and I had to get them to send me some from downstairs. How can this happen? We're a world-class law firm. We should have enough stationery on every floor.

One of last year's summer associates who's coming back in the fall sent me an e-mail wanting to switch practice groups. We haven't done anything relevant as far as assigning offices, and one more or one less in any group doesn't matter much since we don't know exactly how much turnover we'll have before the fall, but it's the principle of this that bothers me. It's too late. You took your offer, you're stuck. You can't just change your mind and expect us to accommodate your every whim. It sets a bad precedent, and makes it seem like you have some control of the situation. We were nice enough to let you rank your choices to begin with, but we're not going to lay down and play dead here. I don't care if someone's "interests have changed since the fall." Effective lawyers make up their minds and stick with it. You have to commit to a position. You can't be wishy-washy. There's no room for that here. So we're making him stick with the original choice. I don't want other people finding out we let him switch and then calling us up and asking us the same thing. We can't make everybody happy. Sometimes there are lines in the sand. Like the time a summer asked to start a week late because he had an exam. I argued for three hours that we should say no, but because it was a summer, we couldn't. But why should we let people put their personal issues before the firm's needs. If you make commitments, you need to follow through.

Anonymous Wife came back last week. She missed the house. Anonymous Son missed the house. The house missed them. We're pretending I'm going to work less. It's going well so far.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

My favorite associate just popped his head into my office to let me know that tomorrow is his last day. I knew this would happen. I've never actually worked with him, but I've watched him from a distance. Anyone I work with can't possible stay my favorite associate for long. They'll eventually misfile a document, overlook a case, miscount a stack of paper, or leave the office, and then they can't be my favorite associate anymore and I have to find ways to make their lives even sadder than they already are. But this guy, he was the one. I don't even know his name. He was just the Fat Guy. And he was always smiling, even when I passed him being yelled at in the hall by a partner, or saw him in the conference room collating indenture agreements, or spied him in the bathroom brushing his teeth. It's a bad sign if we can't keep the Fat Guy. Especially after we raised the dinner allowance to sixty dollars. But he's a fourth-year associate, and this is when we start to lose them, even the ones we want to keep. They've been here long enough to know what the career path looks like, and they see they're not even halfway there, haven't gotten enough encouragement to really believe they have any chance to make partner, can envision their future, have a wife and kids at home, and they start to get the calls from headhunters... and the grass sounds greener on the other side.

The grass always sounds greener on the other side, but a bigger office, a younger secretary, and more indentured servants under you to boss around isn't always the ticket. People don't realize how good they have it here. We don't tow associates' cars from the garage when they park in a partner's spot. We don't have surveillance cameras in the offices. We don't limit you to one bagel in the morning. I mean, we experimented with a system, but it didn't work. People kept getting locked out of the attorney's lounge even when they just wanted coffee and weren't trying to take another bagel, it was a poorly-designed system, the IT department apologized, we ended the experiment, and went back to the old way where if you didn't get a bagel, you just went back to your office and knew it was going to be one of those days, and you'd have to deal.

And we don't monitor people's Internet usage either. Despite my protestations at the board meetings. We threaten to, sure, but it's an open secret that you can occasionally send a personal e-mail and you won't get in trouble. This is my pet project for 2005. I want us to enforce the Internet policy and improve productivity. We make every employee sign a form that clearly outlines their rights and privileges with respect to the Internet. No personal communication, no Internet usage that isn't work related. And then we ignore it. IT has been begging us to add some excitement to their day and let them spy on what people are doing on their computers. We know they're looking anyway, but we have not yet created a system for them to report the information, and we need to. I don't like going into someone's office and seeing them reading movie reviews or ordering flowers for their dying mother-in-law. Order flowers on your own time. When you're in the office, it's my time. Or you should be the one people are ordering flowers for.

But the Internet is a whole different story. We can't keep losing associates like the Fat Guy, especially to firms down the street. If we lose someone to an in-house position, I can't really blame them. If we lose them because they become pregnant, then, I mean, I blame the labor laws for not letting us weed those kind of people out to begin with, but beyond that there's only so much I can do. They just don't realize that kids are even less fun than work. Yet very few of them are willing to admit that to themselves, relinquish custody, and come back to work. Occasionally, but not that often. Kids have mind control techniques not even we can compete with. If we could harness the guilt people feel when they leave their kids with a nanny and turn it toward their legal work, we'd revolutionize the industry.

We're having a send-off party tomorrow afternoon for the Fat Guy. Drinks in the conference room at 5:00. No food. He's had enough. Let the new firm feed him. I'll now be on the lookout during interviews for a new Fat Guy to replace him. He's a fungible part, he fills a role, every firm needs a Fat Guy. Although the idiot in corporate is getting pretty close there himself. No exercise'll do that to someone. And all the fast food. Every day. He's killing himself.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

I just got back from a meeting concerning whether to begin this year giving the summer associates Blackberries to use while they're at the firm. I strongly believe we should. For starters, I want to hook them before they get comfortable working without one. Second, I want them to get used to being on call no matter where they are. Third, I think we can present it to the summers as a gift, and gain points on campus for it. In fact, I believe that if we were to send them the Blackberries now, in advance of the summer, word would spread at their schools that we were giving away lavish gifts, and 1Ls would remember our name and be more likely to interview with us next year. Clearly, blackberries are extraordinarily useful for associates to have (how else could I get someone to pick up my dry cleaning over the weekend?). But for summers, it's not so simple a decision. We don't give them enough work that they actually need to be in contact with us 24 hours a day. But my argument is that it can't hurt. There is no downside except we lose a few thousand dollars if some summer associates decide not to accept their offers after the summer and keep the Blackberries. But if even one more summer decides to join us, that cost becomes inconsequential. And what's a few hundred dollars on a Blackberry when we're paying them $2400 a week and spending thousands of dollars feeding and entertaining them. Plus, we can raise their billable rates by $10/hour and just amortize the cost of the Blackberries over the course of the summer. Someone available to work on a client's case seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day, at the touch of a button is certainly more valuable than someone who's only reachable at the office. It's a cost I'm sure our clients would be more than happy to incur.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

We have one summer associate who still has yet to accept or reject her full-time job offer. She asked for an extension back in November, saying that she was looking at some "non-legal employment" and wouldn't be able to give us an answer until April. I usually think of "non-legal employment" as code for "escort service," but for this girl that definitely isn't an option. We told her that April was too late and would need an answer by the end of the year. April isn't actually too late (there's always room for one more person, especially since we can never predict how many associates will leave any given season), but there's no reason why we should have to wait until then. I hate waiting. We told her that February 15th was the latest possible date we could guarantee her position, and even then we couldn't guarantee that she would get to join the practice group that she wants. I got an e-mail from her today saying that she hopes to have an answer within the next week, but wants to know which practice group she'd be joining before she accepts. I'm inclined to call her bluff and give her her last choice just to see if she still accepts. I have a feeling, from the tone of her e-mail, that whatever "non-legal employment" she was waiting for has not come through and we're her only choice. I want to teach her that sometimes making an employer wait six months for an answer can have consequences. Or maybe I just want to make her suffer. Either way, it doesn't matter. Anyone who's already looking for non-legal employment won't last more than two years anyway, and we don't make real money off the associates until they're here at least three years anyway. Lunches, training, and chocolate-covered pretzels in the interview rooms get expensive.

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