Monday, July 25, 2005

Our incoming class of first-year associates takes the Bar Exam tomorrow. There's usually one or two who fail. Pathetic. Most people here pretend it's okay, but it's all for show. You can't really expect to fail the bar exam and then be respected around the office. They're mercilessly mocked, to their faces and behind their backs. They have two months with nothing else to do but study. If they can't pass an exam on the first try, how are they going to do the cutting-edge work our clients demand? You don't get a second chance to file a motion.

Well, you can amend the motion. So you sort of do get a second chance.

Usually, failing the bar is a sign of things to come. No work ethic, lazy intellect, unprepared for life at a big firm. More suited to another line of work. Maybe another service industry. Maybe a paperboy.

But occasionally it's just a fluke. Occasionally someone can be smart and talented and just screw it up, for whatever reason. The questions just happen to hit the areas you're least comfortable with. You lose track of time. The planets align in such a way that on the most important test of your life, you go blank and it all unravels. Or maybe there's a part of you purposely trying to sabotage it, that knows you're not meant for this life, and that wishes you'd reconsider. This is the warning shot. The excuse to escape. You can heed its call, or you can ignore it, take the test again, and go on blindly assuming this is the life for you.

I ignored the call. Very few people here remember this, but I failed the Bar Exam the first time I took it. The day the results were released was without question the most shameful moment of my life. My name wasn't on the list. The managing partner at the time called me into his office and asked if I had an explanation for it, just moments after the names came out, before I'd even had a chance to process what had happened. I told him I had no explanation, but that I would spend the rest of my career trying to make up for it, and to prove that I wasn't like everyone else who failed the exam. That I was different. Something in my eyes must have told him I was serious, and that there was some hidden potential inside of me, because he never again mentioned it. Everyone else did, of course. But I steeled myself to the snickers behind my back and decided this would be the clarion call. Not to rethink my choices but to rededicate myself to this life. I worked my ass off for the next decade to make up for those three days of darkness, never sure I'd fully erased the stigma until I became a partner. Never sure I wasn't just deluding myself into thinking I had a chance to make it here, the same chance as everyone else.

But I was an exception. The rest of them are unfit for this career. No mercy if you fail the test. Especially not from me. You need to spend the rest of your life repenting just like I have, never looking back, never slowing down, never letting it catch up to you. You have to stay one step ahead of your score report, one step ahead of the people who are doubting you, mocking you, laughing at you. I get respect now because I've earned it. Not because I passed a test but because I've lived a life of devotion. Devotion to this firm and this profession. No one can doubt it, given how I started. No one can doubt my commitment, getting as far as I did despite failing the exam.

For thousands of recent graduates, this week is the most important week they have ever experienced. You can have a second wife, another child, a new car... but you never again get to take the Bar Exam for the first time. Don't forget that.

Monday, July 18, 2005

We have a policy here discouraging dating between lawyers at the firm. It's hard enough to work with these people and still act civil; imagine what happens after a nasty breakup. What we require is that if two people find themselves heading down that slippery slope toward a relationship, that they come tell a partner and keep us in the loop so we can act appropriately. That is, so we can keep them apart in work situations and try our best to sabotage any budding romance that might be developing.

There's little that's more distracting to the rest of the firm than two people making eyes at each other during an important meeting. Plus, people in relationships tend to want to leave the office, and that certainly doesn't serve the goals of the firm very well. You let these things get too out of control and next thing you know they need two weeks off for a honeymoon. And then someone gets pregnant and it's all over.

So to avoid heading down that slippery slope, we demand to be kept in the loop. A third-year associate stopped into my office early this morning to tell me that he's been seeing a first year for a little over a month now and thought he would let me know. I shared with him her recent work evaluations and told him he might want to be wary. She's not partner material. (Neither is he, but he doesn't know that yet.) Also, she was dating another associate earlier in the year, so I warned him about that. And a quick investigation informed me she's spending a bit too much of her paycheck on shoes and purses. She may be after him for his money. I planted that thought in his head just in case. He seemed less enamored when he left the office than when he came in, which, of course, is exactly the point.

We won't let them go down the road to career suicide without a fight.

Monday, July 11, 2005

One of our most aged partners, who should have retired years ago but has nothing to retire to, sent out an e-mail a couple of weeks ago asking for assistance with a relatively delicate assignment.

"I recently misplaced a fairly personal item, and it is somewhat embarrassing to have to ask my secretary to type out this electronic message to send to the summer associate list, but I am requesting your assistance. In the office yesterday, I appear to have misplaced my lower dentures. Under normal circumstances, I would have assumed I left them at home, but I recall eating a peanut butter sandwich for lunch, and could not have done so without my teeth; before I left the office I noticed them missing. Therefore, they must be somewhere in the building. I attended a meeting in the 18th floor conference room, as well as visiting a number of offices on the 17th floor. I thought this might be a good assignment, if any summer associates are finding themselves with little to do this afternoon. If you find them, there will be a reward in the form of an exciting tax-related assignment that I could use someone's help on. The assignment will provide exposure to some of the firm's more prominent tax attorneys and will be a good experience for any summers interested in tax. If no one finds the teeth, the assignment will be up for grabs to any interested summer. Tell my secretary if you are interested and she will keep you posted. Thank you for your assistance."

This was a number of weeks ago. No one found them. This afternoon he came into my office, gleaming. "I wanted to tell you to inform the summers the offer is no longer open. I was pulling a book from my shelf, and, lo and behold, I found my teeth. Right there on my shelf! Tell the summers the tax assignment is still available though. Why is nobody ever interested in tax law?"

Monday, July 04, 2005

One of my favorite things to do is impose artficial deadlines on projects when I assign them to associates. Not only does it get the work done faster, but it reinforces the power hierarchy. I control your time, and whether I'm going to be kind about it or capricious is entirely up to me, and there's nothing you can do about it.

There's little better than the feeling I get when I track down an associate on Friday afternoon at 4:55 and throw a stack of paper at her, explaining the work has to be on my desk by Monday morning at the latest, and then on Monday, when she drops it off, thanking her and telling her you'll get back to her later in the week sometime, when you have a chance to read it.

Wasn't it urgent? Eh, everything's urgent and nothing's urgent. The magic is that the partners are the only ones who ever really know.

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