Thursday, August 25, 2005

I'm quickly checking some billing reports before sending them down to a fourth-year associate to put together to send to the client. This client is not going to be happy, but that's what he gets for making it a habit of calling with problems at six at night instead of nine in the morning. No one admits it, but an hour worked at three in the morning is significantly shorter than an hour worked at noon. It's impossible not to take it out on a client when you know he's the reason you're in the office instead of home alphabetizing your DVD collection, or whatever else associates do nowadays after the firm has rid them of all the hobbies they had before they came to work here. At three in the morning, you work for twenty minutes and it's impossible to resist the temptation to put a full hour on the time sheet. It's impossible to resist the urge to bill the client for the ten minutes you spend checking e-mail, the five minutes checking your stock portfolio, the fifteen minutes checking out what you can buy with your frequent flier miles, and the six minutes reading the Victoria's Secret catalog online, since it's the closest thing to porn that isn't going to get flagged if anyone ever looks through your Internet history. Not that anyone's really taking the trouble to do that, but you want to be careful just in case.

Anonymous Wife dragged me to see March of the Penguins last night, since I was home unusually early. I thought it would be another dreadful movie pitched right at Anonymous Wife's minimal IQ level, but I found it quite inspiring. Associates could learn a lot from the penguins. Marching back and forth to and from the ocean, a long and arduous march in the cold on which many of them perish, yet none complain. They just do it. No whining, no trying to sneak out of the pack and find a shortcut, no escaping, no giving up. They just walk because that's what they're supposed to do. That's all we're asking the associates to do. Don't make it more complicated than it needs to be. Just march. March to the library. March to the document room. March to the printers. All together, mindlessly following the herd. That's all we need. Bodies, not brains. March. The penguins don't expect to be mentally challenged. The penguins don't expect individual attention. The penguins don't expect praise for their jobs. They just do what they have to do. Maybe I'll find a useful when it comes out on DVD and add it to the summer associate presentation next year. Not the part where the little penguins are born, because childbirth is the last thing we want them thinking about. But the marching. Good movie. Good life lessons.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Most of the lawyers here are a little insecure. You need to be a little insecure to stay at a place like this, and to believe that the long hours and the unreasonable demands are the best you can do for yourself with your law degree. The insecure ones feel fortunate they haven't been fired yet, and in turn are willing to do just about anything, no matter how little sense it makes, as long as they know that somebody is watching. For many of them, the insecurity spreads into their personal lives as well. They end up with people who are worse than they are, at least on the measures that count, like education and income. They end up feeling unworthy of having anybody, and so they take whoever happens to pay them a little attention. A little attention can go a long way. But the insecurity tends to fade over time. You make partner and suddenly you feel like you're on top of the world, and working the long hours becomes a matter of pride instead of fear. And the wife you picked when you thought no one else was interested suddenly becomes a bad choice when you feel like there shouldn't be anyone who isn't interested. The pendulum swings in the other direction.

Of course, the insecurity expresses itself in other ways as well. One of the partners here is an alumnus of Stanford, and never misses an opportunity to remind everyone else. He owns a half-dozen Stanford ties, has Stanford cufflinks, has framed pictures of Stanford on his office wall, a Stanford watch, a Stanford chair, and uses only Stanford pens. He has coffee table books about Stanford, Stanford casual wear for partner social activities, and, in essence, is a walking billboard that screams, "Look at me. I went to Stanford. Aren't I important?"

He's not important. At least not after Stanford fell a spot in the US News rankings.

Monday, August 01, 2005

I'm in the office early because we're working with local counsel on a matter in a small East Coast city. Think Baltimore, but it's not Baltimore. Whenever we work with local counsel, I like to take an antihistamine right before the phone call. This way I'll talk slower and slur my words a little bit so they understand me. Their minds all work in a different gear than the rest of us. If they didn't, of course they'd be in a real city. No legitimate corporate lawyer chooses to be in Atlanta or Boston or Detroit or Dallas. Why would anyone choose to work with second-tier clients, second-tier colleagues, and in second-tier office buildings with second-tier artwork on the walls and second-tier views from the balcony? Who cares if you can see the Hartford skyline? Who wants to see the Hartford skyline? Who wants to work where the most expensive lunch you can charge the client is $20 and it's at Applebee's? Anonymous Wife made friends once with a couple who invited us to eat with them at Applebee's. We weren't friends after that.

One of my associates was in early also. I saw the light on in his office as I was coming down the hall and I stopped in to see what he was working on. He said he got engaged over the weekend. His first engagement. That's cute. He said he fears she's marrying him for his money. Only knowing what I know, I can't say I disagree. She's not marrying him for his legal skills, I know that for sure. Or if she is, she's in for a terrible disappointment the first time she gives him an assignment.

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