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.

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