Thursday, March 30, 2006

I just received a very disturbing e-mail from a reader: "I am now living and teaching in China. I've been here a month, and I am just now settling down into a routine. This morning, I Googled 'Anonymous Lawyer" and the link to your blog is 404! Not to be found! You've been blocked by The Great Firewall of China!"

Of course it upsets me that people in China are unable to read my weblog. I expect the Chinese government has banned it because they are afraid that upon reading this blog, many Chinese citizens will immediately send applications to American law schools so that they can end up working at firms like mine. Perhaps they are offended that I haven't yet written about any $50 lunches at Chinese restaurants. We do have some $50 lunches at restaurants that claim to be Chinese, but I must admit that at the $50 price point, Chinese restaurants start to look a lot like fusion cuisine. I'm not sure how authentic General Tso's Chicken & Black Truffles is. Or Kung Pao Foie Gras. Or Quail Egg Foo Young with Curried Duck Breast in a Baby Bok Choy emulsion topped with Pine Nuts. Or Fortune Cookies 'n' Cream ice cream.

The bigger concern for me is why a country as large as China is able to successfully implement a firewall that effectively blocks sites like this while our firewall at the firm, which is supposed to block all personal e-mail, social networking sites like Friendster and MySpace (my nephew tells me about these things),, spider solitaire, Yahoo's "Super Text Twist" game, the Greedy Associates message board, all instant messaging services, legal recruiting websites, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, the American Red Cross,, Alcoholics Anonymous, Sons of Sam Horn, Instapundit, Gawker, Wonkette, The Huffington Post, a web game about urinal etiquette, and anything else we think is a drain on productivity, never seems to work. Associates find ways around it. And the IT department keeps saying it's impossible. If China can find a way to do it -- Communist, backwards, non-English-speaking China! -- then surely we should be able to patch together a solution. Or at least find a way to outsource it to whoever makes it work over there. They probably outsource it to India. India probably outsources it back to us. The guys in our IT department are probably implementing the successful firewall for the Chinese government in their spare time while they claim to be unable to do the same over here.

Actually, that's impossible. Our IT guys don't have any spare time. We eat of all that up with housecalls to the partners' estates whenever any of us have a problem with our home systems. I had one of the IT guys come out last weekend to fix my stereo. I couldn't get the remote control to work. It turns out it needed a new battery. One of those special ones you have to get at Radio Shack. Radio Shack doesn't even deliver. What kind of business today doesn't deliver? Luckily it was on the IT guy's way home (the long way) so I had him pick it up for me and then bring it to the office on Monday. I rewarded him with a piece of candy from my secretary's bowl. Not many people get to eat her candy. He should consider himself lucky.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

I just sent out an e-mail to a few of the associates who I've worked with recently. "Anyone free for lunch today?" I quickly got two responses. So I wrote back. "I see. Well, if you're free to go to lunch, then you'd certainly be free to work on some research for a client. I'll forward you some information and expect a memo from each of you by the end of the day. Thanks." It's as easy taking food from the mouth of an anorexic teenage girl. They never learn their lesson. Never tell a partner you're free. It's an invitation for more work. How, in good conscience, can I sit here knowing there are associates with free time, especially knowing how much we pay them. For this kind of money, it's our responsibility to our clients to keep the associates as busy as we can. Otherwise we should pay them less and lower our hourly cost. Of course that would never happen in reality, but I'm talking theoretically.

I just got a third response to the lunch e-mail. "Great," I'm writing back. "If you're free over lunchtime, I've got a few errands you can run for me. Stop by my office and I'll give you a list."

Monday, March 27, 2006

I just received the following e-mail:

"i just have a question i am 15 and i was dating a 39 yr old my mom called the cops because i was sleeping with him she say its rape but i dont think it is because i asked him to sleep with me when he was drunk
what can i do to get him out help please"

There's a 39-year-old senior associate here. I think it's probably him.

I just checked the NCAA Tournament Challenge standings. I'm tied for 12th out of 209, and I've got no teams left alive, so there's no choice I'm finishing any higher. Thus, I have been humbled, and I will keep my promise of posting at least four times a week. And if the ultimate winner wants a job here, I'll even read his resume. I'm kidding. I don't read resumes. Instead, I judge everyone by the quality of his shoes.

The NCAA Tournament Challenge was enough of a success that I've set up an Anonymous Lawyer fantasy baseball league over at Yahoo. It was a slow weekend. The houseguests left, I let the dairy products back in the refrigerator...

The League ID# on Yahoo is 293236. The password: anonymous. The draft is set for this Saturday, April 1, 10AM pacific. That's 1PM eastern, 12PM central, for the undereducated among you. If you live in the mountain time zone, you probably don't do anything important enough to bother with access to the Internet.

UPDATE: The 20-team league has filled up. I'll warn you that if you signed up and you're going to miss the draft (or not pre-rank the players), not going to maintain your team, etc, you should drop out now and open up a spot for someone else. Otherwise I will use my contacts within the industry to make sure a particularly unpleasant document review assignment lands on your desk. Trust me on this.

Friday, March 24, 2006

I just had breakfast with a client. Not one of my favorite clients, but he brings easy business to the firm and doesn't scrutinize the bill too closely, so from an organizational perspective, I like him. On a personal level, I'd rather eat breakfast with my wife. Maybe. This guy invites me to breakfast whenever he needs a personal legal favor that isn't really part of what his company should be paying the firm for. Some tax and estate planning for his relatives, a strongly-worded letter to get his son out of a drunk driving charge, an intimidating phone call to whoever he thinks is trying to cheat him out a few dollars on his dry cleaning or dental work or airline tickets. It's a bit sad to see a millionaire dickering over the price of laundering a sportcoat. But we humor him.

I'm not sure what makes eating with him as unpleasant as it always is. Usually when I feel this way, it's when dealing with a young associate who hasn't yet figured out proper business lunch etiquette and stares at his plate for half an hour not sure how to eat and talk at the same time. Last week I took an associate for lunch and he got a Greek salad to start. We were talking about real estate prices, a fine lunchtime discussion, and he's staring at the salad, trying to figure out how to attack it. I could tell he wanted to eat the olives. He stuck his fork into one of them, hoping against hope that they'd been pitted. But he struck pit, and immediately pulled out the fork, put it down, and went back to staring at the plate. There's nothing wrong with this course of action, obviously -- he was smart enough to know that there's no good way to eat an olive and remove the pit from his mouth while still remaining a polite lunchtime companion -- but for the successful business eaters, it's all second nature. I don't want to see the wheels turning in his head. I don't want to see the thought process played out right there in front of me. See the salad, know the salad, stick to the feta cheese. It's not crunchy, it's not drippy, it's not going to stick in your teeth. The feta cheese is pretty much the only part of a Greek salad anyone should even contemplate eating at a business meal. And no dressing. Dressing drips. And no onions. Onions smell. And no lettuce. Lettuce makes noise, and is hard to eat without a knife.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

I hate houseguests. My wife's sister and her husband are in town for a few days, staying in our guest room. They're insufferable. They didn't like our milk. They went out and bought soy milk instead. One of them is lactose-intolerant. Like that's my problem. So that's cluttering up the refrigerator. I'm just regular intolerant. I'm fine with lactose. So they wanted to go sightseeing last night, and somehow I got convinced to drive. They wanted to see O.J. Simpson's house, which isn't even the same house anymore. It's been rebuilt. I thought we'd just drive by, they could look out the window... but, no. They had to get out and search the sidewalk for blood stains. We saw some guy a few houses down watering his plants and they thought it was Mark Fuhrman, planting a bloody glove in the ground. They bought a star map and made me drive all around looking for these houses, like they were going to see Florence Henderson out in the yard throwing a football with her grandkids at 8:00 at night. Insufferable.

We stopped for ice cream sandwiches on the way back -- there's a place I take Anonymous Son to every so often ($1 for some ice cream sandwiched in between two fresh-made cookies, there's not a better deal in the city) and I figured these people are of a similar mental age so they might enjoy it. And again with the lactose. Suck it up and deal. The world has milk products. We learn to cope. If an associate here ever turned down a milk product offered to him by a partner, just because he was lactose intolerant, I wouldn't stand for it. Polite guests, and polite employees, take what's offered. It's not a nut allergy, they're not going to guy. So you're a little uncomfortable for a while. That's what being a guest is all about.

They wanted to go see the Hollywood Walk of Fame, but I drew the line and wouldn't indulge. Instead I dropped them off in Crenshaw and told them they could find their way back on their own.

Okay, I didn't. But I should have.

I left them some cheese for lunch. I hope they enjoy it.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Several readers have informed me that there are no longer any ties in hockey games, under the new post-lockout rules. Shows how much I pay attention. I stand corrected.

There was an article in Sunday's New York Times about the lack of female partners at top law firms. We had a good laugh about it on the partner e-mail list. We'd love to have more female partners. They're much nicer to look at during the meetings, and for the most part they do excellent work. They have to do excellent work, or they'd never have made partner. The problem isn't us. It's them. They leave. They go elsewhere. We don't tell them to. We encourage them to stay here. We do what we can. They leave anyway. Maybe they know something the rest of us don't. Maybe they aspire to a different kind of lifestyle. Maybe they don't want to deal with all of the men.

I'd be thrilled to find a retention program that worked. I'd be delighted to figure out the secret and poach all the talented female associates away from our competitors. While we're at it, even better if the secret worked for minorities, gay and lesbian attorneys, the blind and deaf, paraplegics, and those people who age too quickly. Progeria, that's it. Right? Variety is terrific. Different perspectives, different points of view, different people to talk to. I don't think very many of us like the fact that our partner meetings are filled with people just like us. It's a room of middle-aged white guys with pallid skin and bags under our eyes, all wearing the same suit. Women's outfits come in slightly more colors. It's refreshing that way. (And I'm sure blind attorneys dress in all sorts of fun colors too, since they can't see what they're doing when they take the clothes from the closet.)

Yet the media wants to accuse us of creating an inhospitable environment and making it difficult for women to stay long enough to make partner. It's not our fault the only bathrooms on the partner floor are men's rooms, with a trough instead of individual stalls. It's expensive to retrofit the building. It's not our fault the partnership committee requires candidates to bench press 200 pounds and do 50 chin-ups. I'm kidding. Not even the men can bench press 200 pounds. Most of us haven't been to a gym since it was required as part of our high school curriculum.

You know the secret for getting women to stay until they make partner? I'm all ears. Until then, the mainstream media should focus on why we have as many women as we do. Thirteen female partners. Well, twelve and a half. It's progress.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Ended up with 209 entries in the NCAA pool. After the first round, I'm tied for 3rd. That's less impressive than it sounds. A lot of people are tied for 3rd.

I don't believe in ties. That's why I don't watch hockey. There should always be a winner, and, even more important, there should always be a loser. In sports, and in life. There's no glory in a tie. No glory in a settlement that works out for both sides. No glory in a work-life balance that both employee and employer are happy with. Someone has to win, and someone has to lose. That's the kind of world I want to live in. A decisive world. Where people are rewarded for excellence, punished for incompetence, and never have to share the spotlight in a "tie." And our clients should never finish a deal thinking that they didn't come out on top.

Not to dwell on sports, but I'm feeling a little angry about the United States getting eliminated from the World Baseball Classic. It's our sport. We invented it. And now we're getting shown up by second-tier countries like Korea and Mexico. It's as if some law firm from Charlotte or Detroit were to beat us out for a case. It wouldn't happen. We're better, and we'll always be better. I don't know how baseball could have let this happen, but the firm certainly won't. This firm's offices in top-tier cities will stay top-tier and won't be overshadowed.

My wife made me sit through American Idol again this week. At least there were no ties. American Idol knows what it's doing. They make examples of their losers. They make them suffer in public, and then they force them to sing the song that got them eliminated. That's compelling television. And the negative critiques of their performances are a joy to watch. We should do that here. Rent out a theater and do the performance reviews on stage, for everyone to watch. Shame the people who've done a bad job. Make an example of them. Let everyone know. You think I'm kidding, but the more I think about this idea, the more I like it. Public reviews. The entire firm, sitting rapt in an auditorium, one by one called up to the stage to get told what they should have done better and where they need to improve. We could even charge for it. I bet lots of associates would pay to see something like that. I wonder what a day of Simon Cowell's time costs. It would be a lot more entertaining hearing him read the report. Imagine -- "Your billable hours were down this year, and your work product was horrible. Simply horrible. Like something I would expect to find at any one of a thousand law firms in a city like Trenton. Absolutely terrible. You should pack your bags, because I expect we've seen the last of you. Dreadful. And you're fat, too."

We could take our bottom three associates, call them out to the center of the stage, and let them sweat it out while they wait to hear which one of them will be going home. And we could put together a little video to wish them off. It could be a whole big production. I love this. Next partner meeting, I'm bringing it up for discussion. Maybe we could even televise this. Law students would watch. I'm going to revolutionize the way we do performance evaluations. Just like the BlackBerry has revolutionized the concept of "out of the office."

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

106 entries in my ESPN NCAA group so far. See the previous post for the group name and password. I wrote yesterday that I was sure no one playing college basketball ever becomes a powerful corporate attorney. Two readers e-mailed to tell me I'm wrong. Well, maybe. No one's perfect.

One reader wrote, "Jay Bilas, practicing attorney at a corporate law firm in Charlotte, as well as popular ESPN college basketball analyst, was the starting Duke center in 1986 when Duke lost to Louisville in the NCAA Championship game!" Well, that one's easy to dispute. Charlotte. Second-tier city. Third-tier city, even. Doesn't count as a "powerful corporate attorney." Even the e-mail admits it. "Practicing" attorney. Practicing. Practicing for the big leagues. Charlotte. Ooh, I'm scared. And he lost the basketball game anyway.

The other reader wrote, "For what it is worth, Aaron Dyer is a partner at Pillsbury in LA and played basketball at USC. Second string, I believe. But still." I can't really dispute this one. Second string at USC is still pretty impressive, and he works at a real firm in a real city. And it turns out we're neighbors of sorts, actually. So I admit it. I'm wrong. Aaron Dyer is the exception that proves the rule. Besides, he defended the producer of the “Girls Gone Wild” videos, in a criminal racketeering prosecution. That takes... something. He's also defended a former executive of Enron in a federal criminal prosecution. This is what's on his web site biography. Good for his firm for leaving that up there, even with Enron's recent troubles. After all, if I'm a company looking for representation, and I've done something awful, I'm not sure it's a bad thing to choose lawyers that work with people who've done things even worse.

This is why I'm not a litigator. I want the things I do to be opaque and incomprehensible to people. I don't want to be caught in the position of having to defend my job to strangers at cocktail parties. I just want to bore them. I talk about the recruiting process. That engages people. I don't talk about clients. I don't talk about the firm's environmental practice. I leave the defending to the litigators. I don't have to justify what we do. It pays the bills.

Monday, March 13, 2006

I'm sorry I didn't post last week. I was too distracted by the death of one of this world's true heroes. I'm talking, of course, about Slobodan Milosevic. He did what every lawyer in a losing case wishes his client would do, and made sure he died before the verdict came out. Good for him. There's nothing worse for a lawyer than a high-profile verdict against him, and Milosevic, his own lawyer, understood this better than anyone. His reputation as a man may be in tatters, but his reputation as a lawyer remains intact. No verdict to sully his record. And he becomes a hero to defense lawyers throughout the world.

The man was a master of self-promotion. The New York Times obituary talks about the cult of personality he created around himself, with songs and chants, slogans, and orchestrated television coverage. His story was an inspiration to men like Joe Flom and Marty Lipton, who sought to achieve the same with their law firms, and have largely succeeded. But this side of Slobodan -- mentor to business leaders around the world -- has largely gone ignored. Larry King hasn't done a tribute to him on TV, talking to his close friends and associates. It's the mainstream media's unfair bias against dictators. Liberal bias. It's all to be expected. Everyone makes mistakes. There's positive and negative sides to everyone. But sometimes the positive gets ignored because the negative is a better story.

Like law firms. We do lots of good things. But then some former Cravath associate pays a couple of girls for sex and the whole industry gets tarnished. Who else is going to have sex with a Cravath associate? It's not like he's out of the office often enough to develop a real relationship. People don't realize the pressures of a job like this. At least he paid them! Where's that side of the story? At least he didn't just intimidate them into doing it for free. And with the power he's got as a lawyer at Cravath, he certainly could have. I can intimidate people into doing all sorts of things. I got an associate to send me a gallon of Clam Chowder from Legal Sea Foods when he visited Boston on assignment. I didn't offer to reimburse. He'd never ask. He's flattered I trusted him enough to ask him. It's good stuff. Haven't found clam chowder nearly as good out here. And I've sent associates to look, absolutely.

I went to grab an associate to work on something for me, hoping to get him before he left for lunch, and I saw him on ESPN's web site, filling out an NCAA tournament bracket. I hadn't realized it was that season again. NCAA pool season. Even if it takes ten minutes to fill out a bracket, ten minutes times a hundred lawyers is a lot of billable time, lost to deciding whether U Conn is going to go all the way. What a waste. They think they sound cool talking about the NCAA tournament. Cooler than talking about the tax code. Well, you know what, it's not cool. It's pathetic. No one in this office ever played college basketball, I'm sure of it. And no one playing college basketball is ever going to be a powerful corporate attorney. These are worlds that don't ever collide. And to spend any energy living out jock fantasies through an online tournament bracket is sad. Real sad.

It doesn't take any skill to do this. At least if they're going to waste ten minutes of the firm's time on filling out an NCAA bracket, they'd better be smart about it, and they'd better win. There's no excuse for doing this -- and losing. Especially if there's money involved, but even if it's just pride. So here's my challenge. I'll set up one of these NCAA bracket groups on ESPN -- well, I'll have an associate do it for me -- and I'll put an entry in there. I'll post the password and encourage anyone reading this to do the same. And I'll prove that knowing nothing, I can win, just because I'm smarter than all of you.

Skeptical? I'll put it all on the line. Anyone beats me, and I'll go back to posting new entries on here 4 times a week, at least. That's a promise. Heck, I could promise anything. Of course I'm going to win. With sheer force of will, a hiring partner can do anything.

Here's the web site:
Group name is Anonymous Lawyer
Password: anonymous

[Update: some people were having trouble with the password. That should be fixed now.]

Anyone working anywhere, go for it -- except of course for the people who work directly under ME. If I find you wasting your time on this, you're fired. No questions asked. Except maybe a couple of questions about sleeper picks and what the difference is between Utah and Utah State. I don't even know where half these schools are. I know 20 schools. The ones we recruit at. Gonzaga sounds like the name of a mythical beast.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Anonymous Wife and I watched the Oscars telecast tonight. Usually I try to avoid watching awards shows, because I don't think anyone should ever be given any awards, for anything, but my wife really wanted to watch it, so I relented. I haven't seen most of the movies that were up for awards, but some of the titles piqued my interest and I might have to check them out to see if they'll be appropriate to show the summer associates this summer during orientation.

I don't know what "The Constant Gardener" is about, but I love that title. Hopefully, it's about a gardener who works all the time. And then I can show a clip and explain how we merely want our employees to be "The Constant Lawyer" and it's really not that hard.

Similarly, "Good Night and Good Luck" resonated with me, because that's often what partners say to associates, when we leave for the evening knowing they've got assignments that will keep them busy well into the wee hours of the morning.

"Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe" reminded me of three of the partners down the hall from me. The fat and hairy Trusts guy, the mean woman partner, and the guy with seven or eight suits hanging in his closet. The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. Probably won't make sense to show a clip in orientation, but at least I can relate to the film, if I'm ever forced to watch it on an airplane.

I enjoyed the song performance of, "It's Hard Out Here For A Pimp." Of course it's hard. Most of his prostitutes are probably failed lawyers who couldn't hack it. And they're usually no lookers.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

I just got a panicked telephone call at home from an associate. He shouldn't be calling this late, but he's never done anything like this before, so I gave him the chance to explain himself before tearing into him. He said he just got home from the office, and his wife had packed her things and left him, and he didn't know who else to call. First I made sure he wasn't going to do anything rash -- after all, we need his hours on a big deal we're working on, and I don't want everyone else to have to take time off for a funeral, too -- but when he assured me he wasn't near the windows or the kitchen knives, I told him to calm down. It's not the end of the world, and his salary is high enough that he'll find someone new, sooner or later. If they can't deal with the pressures of being married to an associate, it's not the right match. "Imagine what would have happened when you made partner and really felt the stress of growing the firm's business?" I asked him. It was purely a hypothetical. This guy's never making partner. But I didn't think now was the right time to tell him that.

He told me how much he loves her, and wanted to know if I had any advice for winning her back. "As your employer, my answer is no," I said. After all, any answer I would have given him would have involved cutting down his workload, or maybe even finding a new job, and I can't give those answers to an associate and still look at myself in the office mirror every morning. We get the mirrors custom made. Partners get mirrors with a slight curve on the glass to make us look slimmer than we are. Associates get mirrors that curve in the other direction. It's a subtle move to affect people's self-esteem. It seems to work. "As your friend," I continued, "well, we're not really friends, so I can't really give you any advice from that perspective. I know a good divorce lawyer if you need one. I'll have my secretary send you her contact information." I told him that if he's distraught he might feel better by throwing himself into the job and really making that push for partnership. Prove to us he deserves it. Like I said, he's never making partner. But I didn't think now was the right time to tell him.

I met his wife once. She seemed smarter than this. He's a lawyer. What could be better? Why would any smart woman leave a corporate lawyer, at the top of his game? Even though he won't make partner here, he'll lateral somewhere and make partner there and be set for life. She's passing up security. And for what? For nothing, that's what. I'm sure everyone reading this agrees. If you don't, you can send me an e-mail. I'll post any contradictory opinions worth posting.

Earlier this evening I watched this past week's American Idol episodes on fast-forward, skipping all the filler and commercials -- my wife TiVos them. Taylor, with the gray hair, looks like a lawyer. Kevin looks like one of our paralegals. Mandisa sure can sing.

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