Thursday, April 28, 2005

I have underestimated the reach of the Internet. In response to my most recent post, I heard from a number of "life coaches" offering a free hour-long session to prove to me they actually provide a real service and aren't just doing the same thing we do, fooling clients into believing they have some real expertise and using fear and manipulation to extort excessive hourly fees.

I told Anonymous Wife about this, and she encouraged me to take one of these "life coaches" up on his offer, because she's tired of marriage counseling sessions ending in an empty promise to spend more time at home as I rush back to the office in order to avoid the painful car ride home where we have nothing to talk about except how we hope the babysitter isn't stealing any jewelry.

So this afternoon, in exchange for the promise that she would stop calling me at work and pretending the kitchen is on fire so I come home to see her, I visited one of the "life coaches" and had an hour-long session. What a waste of my (very expensive) time. Although it gave me an entirely new sense for what people do after they realize they can't function in the high-pressure world of corporate law. The irony is that these people, claiming they can help people like me manage my life and deal with the stress and figure out how to reach my goals are the people who couldn't hack it themselves. They couldn't function at all, and so instead they're going to tell me how I can function better. They couldn't cut it, so they're going to try and grab a share of the people who could. They're leeching off people more talented than they are. It's sickening, in a lot of ways.

So I walked into his office (which was smaller than my bathroom at home), and he asked me to make a list of what I want in life, in terms of career, family, and personal satisfaction. Here were my lists:

1. Find more associates to buy into the pyramid scheme and help me afford a new pool
2. Figure out new ways to bill clients for work they shouldn't really have to pay for
3. Fire more people who are just like you and can't hack it

1. Effectively substitute time and energy with enough conspicuous consumption to make Anonymous Wife forget how little I care
2. Send Anonymous Son to military school
3. Have an affair with your wife, Mrs. Life Coach

Personal Satisfaction:
1. Buy a boat
2. Find a technicality in the law to enable me to force you to shut down your useless life coaching practice

Mr. Life Coach was not amused. But, in all seriousness, how is this an industry? How shallow does someone have to be for this to be an effective method of life change? The sad thing about too many people at the firm is that this actually does something for them. This actually works. Their degree of introspection, the lack of time they spend thinking about their lives and the people they are, the lack of depth which they can access in their heads is so startlingly small that this is enough to make a difference. This is useful to them because it's the only way to get them to stop and think about what they're doing and who they've become.

For all of my weaknesses, and I know there are many... at least I know there are many. I look in the mirror and I know this isn't who I thought I would become, and that this isn't the life that I should be leading. I know I'm a bad father and a worse husband, and that at some point along the way I lost my integrity. I think it's very hard to work at a place like this and have integrity. The pressure to bill hours is too high. The pressure to cover up mistakes, to lie to clients, to create busy-work simply to enable more hours to be billed, the need to cut corners in order to maintain some semblance of control. But at least I know this. And I cling to the hope that this somehow makes me better than the people who don't. That somehow this means I would never take that final step, that one last step toward complete inhumanity. There's a check in the system. I know when I'm over the line. I do it anyway, but I know. On the other hand, maybe that makes me worse. But in either case, I don't need a life coach to tell me. And it's the ones who do need a life coach, for whom the life coach is really adding value, that I'm most frightened of. Because they'll do anything to get ahead, and won't even know just how evil they are.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

To hell with clients. I just returned from a meeting with a new client and I'm ready to assign the worst three associates I know onto this project, just to spite him. There are two types of clients. There are the ones who understand how this business works and let us come in, solve their problems, and get out. And then there are the ones who want something we're not selling. They want a therapist. They want a business advisor. They want someone to "partner" with them, and "understand their business," and "be a member of their team." And if we try it their way, they get their first bill, realize we cost more in a month than the rest of their "team" costs in a year, and, finally, they let us do it our way. We're not psychologists. We're not management consultants. We're not life coaches for depressed CEOs. We do legal work. Sophisticated, cuting-edge, expensive legal work. What makes our tax guys good is that they know how to save clients money on their taxes. Not because they smell like flowers. What makes our bankruptcy guys good is that they can get our creditor clients more money back than they deserve. Not because they make good conversation at lunch and have carefully-pressed suits.

Clients like today's will tell us, for hours and hours, that they'll trade a little bit of competence for some bedside manner, but when push comes to shove that's not really what they want. They want success. On whatever the case is. If we succeed, even if we don't take the time to ask them about their kids, even if we couldn't care less how long they've been in business, how they make their widgets, and who's been drinking too much coffee from the pots in the employee lounger, they keep hiring us. If we fail, even if we're really friendly about it, even if we go with them to the Yogurt Manufacturers Convention, even if we give them a few hours of free advice about exploiting the stock options loopholes, even if we go out of our way to learn their names and not take the vegetarian COO to a steakhouse for lunch, they don't pay us.

We can charge what we charge because we're better than the guys in the yellow pages. But that means we're not generalists. We're specialists. We have people who spend every day of their lives executing the same deal, over and over again, for different companies. He's the guy you want executing that deal, because he will do a better job than virtually anyone else on the planet. But you don't really want him telling you how to optimize the way you put your sprockets together on the assembly line, because that's not where his expertise is. And we as a firm don't want him spending time learning all about your sprockets, because that's not where the best use of his hours is. We want him to do your deal, and then do six more deals this quarter, make 7 happy customers instead of just one, and have people lining up to get us to help them do that same deal too.

Today's moron told us they fired their last firm because there were issues "they could have spotted in advance had they paid more attention, but instead they waited until they were real problems, and it ended up costing millions more to solve them." Well, sure, in a fantasy world, we'd solve problems before they ever became problems. But that's the client's fantasy, not ours. Do you think the firm they fired is upset because the jobs cost millions more of the client's money? No way. Economically, where's our incentive to find the problems early anyway? You're willing to pay more when you're being sued then 6 months before when you "might" be sued, "if" the customers ever find out. At that point you don't want us telling you there's a problem. You're not willing to pay us the money it would take to fix it anyway. It's not a problem yet. You just want to ignore it. So stop lying and telling us you want us to find problems early. You don't. You want us to find the one that's going to erupt into a lawsuit, but the nine that won't, you don't want us touching. And we're no better at fortune-telling than you.

It's disingenuous for them to argue that they want us to be partners in their business because they spend considerable energy hiding everything from us they'd rather we didn't see. No one shows us the fraudulent accounting records before the Wall Street Journal writes the front page story about them. At best, the clients telling us these stories about wanting closer customer relationships are lying to themselves. At worst, they're lying to us. And this is why they should all go hell. They're worse than we are. At least we're up front about it. We are going to charge as much money as you will pay us to solve problems that the guy in your own accounting department could probably solve if you bought him a Lexis-Nexis subscription and a couple of books about corporate finance from Barnes and Noble.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

This is a terrible day. Every year it frustrates me. For no good reason, tonight at 2 A.M. we lose a billable hour. Daylight savings time is ridiculous. Individually, it's not a big deal, but think of it on a firm-wide level. That's hundreds of billable hours. Gone. Without a trace. And don't tell me we get them back in October when the clocks turn the other way, because by October everyone forgets about the debt they incur back in April, and just uses the extra hour to sleep. It's a useless waste of valuable time, and I hate having to tolerate it every single year. Definitely on the list of things I will change when I become chairman of the firm.

Hourly billing gets a bad reputation, but I don't know why. If we charged a flat fee by project, we would have an incentive to push the work down the food chain to our most junior-level associates, or, even worse, farm it out to temps. This way, the clients get what they pay for. If I spend an hour with your file, that's one rate. If an incompetent first-year spends an hour with your file, that's a different rate. Only makes sense that way, since my time, obviously, is a lot more valuable. Everyone knows that.

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