Wednesday, May 31, 2006

I received an e-mail from a reader the other day, "True story at a large law firm (not mine) -- associate tells a partner that he has laser eye surgery scheduled in three weeks. The week of the surgery approaches, associate reminds partner. The day before the surgery -- which is to be on a Thursday -- associate again reminds partner that he will be leaving Thursday afternoon and taking Friday off. Dealing with a self-imposed deadline on getting meaningless documents out the door to impress a client, partner says, 'I know someone who returned to work 2 hours after his laser eye surgery.'"

I wanted to point out a couple of things about that story that bother me. First, I'm confused why an associate would need laser eye surgery. All of his work is in front of a computer, and as long as he can see the screen, there's no reason to get eye surgery. If he's a professional ballplayer, fine. But he's a lawyer. What does he need perfect vision for? Let him wear glasses. I just hope the insurance plan wasn't covering it.

But second, and more important than the eye surgery itself, documents are never meaningless if they're going to impress a client. Clients need to be impressed. That's how we get them to pay us money and keep hiring us. So if getting some documents out the door quickly is going to impress a client, even if those documents don't have much use outside of that purpose, it's still worth it. We do lots of things of questionable outside value to impress clients. We yell at people during meetings to impress clients about how demanding we are and how committed to their case we feel. We spend extra hours on tasks that don't take that much time in order to demonstrate to clients how important those tasks are, and how we have to triple-check every citation just to make sure there aren't any mistakes, even if it takes a few more billable hours. We assign associates from prestigious law schools to the matter, not because they're competent but because telling the clients there are Yale-educated lawyers working on the case impresses them. We take them on expensive lunches, which they end up being billed for somehow anyway, to prove how prestigious we are as a firm. Lots of things to impress clients.

Impressing clients is our business. Not legal work. It's a fallacy people have. Like television networks. The business there is selling advertisements. In order to do so, they need to have programs people want to watch. So they spend a lot of money and time developing programs. But that's just to sell ads. And when people forget that, and complain about the quality of programming on TV, as if the networks care about the quality independent of how much they can charge for the ads they're selling, that's when things get silly. Same thing with us. Our business isn't winning cases and helping our clients navigate the sophisticated landscape of the legal system, or whatever the marketing brochures say. Our business is impressing them enough that they keep paying us money. Whether we do that by helping them win their disputes, or we do it by getting them useless documents as fast as we can, it doesn't matter. They're both legitimate ways to spend our time.

My firm just relaunched our website this morning. I consulted on the site and pushed us to forget about listing the cases we've won and the matters we've settled. The website, like everything else, is about impressing clients. And about impressing law students. The details about legal work don't matter. Throw in a robust recruiting FAQ, some pretty pictures, and everyone's happy. I'm annoyed they decided to give the associates profiles on the site. I've said this before -- associates come and go, why even mention them, it's just more work to pull down their pages every time someone decides to leave to go "pursue their dreams." Pathetic. They're interchangeable parts. Like clients. One's the same as the next, as long as they pay the bills.

Monday, May 29, 2006

We sent out a memo on Friday making it clear that while Memorial Day is an official firm holiday, the office will not be locked down, and the wisest thing anyone should be remembering today is how to get themselves to the office. So attendance was pretty solid, except for the summer associates, who we let stay home so they don't get the wrong idea about how demanding we are.

I took advantage of the empty summer associate offices to do a bit of a survey of how they've decorated. Every year there are always some summers who bring things in and try to "make the office their own" for the summer, with pictures of their family, and trinkets from home, and all sorts of other garbage. We don't encourage it. I don't like family pictures in the office. It reminds people to go home. We don't need that. No clocks in the office, no family pictures, and as little natural sunlight as we can get away with while still being able to advertise the window views. It's like casinos. We want people to get lost in here and forget the rest of the world, forget there's life outside of these walls, forget to leave. So family pictures are a no-no. The sparser the decorating the better. It makes it easier to get rid of them at the end of the summer. No messy clean-up.

I received an e-mail from a law student, asking about his hair. He's worried he wears his hair in a style that isn't conservative enough for an old-school law firm. I wrote back and told him he shouldn't worry too much about it, because all the male associates lose their hair after a couple of years anyway. Frankly, I don't pay much attention to an associate's hairstyle, even during the interviews. Comb it, don't comb it, grow it out, I don't care. Associates won't be seeing clients for a decade, so what's the difference. And it's not like they have time to go home and shower between days in the office, so a certain degree of sloppiness is expected. And in fact is a sign of dedication to the job. Of course, facial hair is frowned upon, and we don't like hats. And there are some senior partners with an aversion to sideburns, but we're pretty tolerant of those today.

I went to a wedding yesterday. My BlackBerry wasn't getting good service at the reception so I left early.

assoc hair

Thursday, May 25, 2006

It's been a long day. I've got a client with a document warehouse in Wichita, Kansas, and we may need some help out there this weekend. I did an experiment. I sent one e-mail to the associate list, asking if anyone would be free to spend their "holiday" weekend out there, and another e-mail to the summer associate list, asking the same question. Within four minutes, I had zero replies from associates, and fourteen replies from summers. That's fourteen out of twenty-two. The other eight will be seeing their lunch limit drop by $5 for the next week or so, just as an incentive to be a little faster on the send button next time. It's interesting. Summer associates will do anything for us, even though they're all getting an offer at the end of the summer, and they don't really have anything to be worried about. Associates, on the other hand, do nothing for us even though we're watching their every move to find reasons never to make them partner. The problem is that summer associates aren't going to be much good on this project, because they're not much good on any project, because they don't know how to do anything. So all those plane tickets to Wichita, and not a drop of work is going to get done.

There's an associate in the London office who's getting ready to transfer over here to do a rotation in my group. We've been exchanging e-mails. I told him that for a little while, when he still has some UK matters he's working on in addition to the domestic ones he'll be assigned, it'll probably be a good idea for him to be in the office for the normal business hours in both countries. Nine in the morning until nine at night, Pacific Time, and nine in the morning until nine at night, Greenwich Mean Time. He said he's not sure he can do it. I reminded him the coffee's free in the American offices, and I'll be happy to assign him a secretary who's especially good at carrying it down the hall. The foreign associates who come here for a stint don't have a very good work ethic. They think they're entitled to go home. I'm a big fan of London. They have wonderful office parks over there. Very modern buildings. That's all I saw when I was there. Canary Wharf, right downtown in the heart of the city. I don't know why people say London is full of culture and history. I didn't see any of it. I saw a shopping mall and some tall skyscrapers with offices. There's no culture in London from what I saw. No theater, no bridges, and no palaces. Maybe they're somewhere, but I didn't see them. All I saw were some strange varieties of potato chips, and some fake plastic trees in the middle of an office park. I didn't even see any orphaned children roaming the streets picking people's pockets, as I expected I would. London's changed. When I was there, the office cleaners were trying to hold a demonstration about poor pay. We fired them all. No one holds protests at the firm, or in our office parks. It's inappropriate.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Apologies for six days without a post. I was on a bit of a business trip. I may talk about it soon, but not today.

No, today I want to talk about my bookshelves, and how while I was away from the office, someone borrowed something, and put it back in the wrong place.

See, I keep my books organized the way everyone should: by price. It's the way I like to sort everything I own. The food in the refrigerator, the clothes in my closet, the cars in the garage, and the dishes in the dishwasher. Well, that's how I tell the maid to arrange the dishes in the dishwasher. I don't actually touch the dishwasher. Last time I tried to do dishes, I caused a flood of soap suds to come out the bottom.

So the books were on my shelf when I left, carefully arranged from my $650 Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory to the hardly-relevant $5 pocket constitution. (I keep my rare-book collection at home.) But I returned to the office yesterday, and my $82 Bankruptcy Code was just to the left of the $106 Text on the law of debtors and creditors. Instead of just to the right. So someone borrowed one of the two books, and put it back incorrectly.

Associates don't have any respect for the personal property of partners. They think that just because we go into their offices and steal their things means they can do the same to us. They can't. We run the firm. Their offices belong to us. If I need a tie, I can take an associate's tie. Off his door, out of his closet, or off his neck. If an associate needs even a paper clip, there are proper procedures. And those procedures don't involve sneaking into my office and taking one. Because I'll notice. And I'll find him. And he'll pay for it. Literally, he will pay the firm the cost of the paper clip. It will come out of his paycheck. With the appropriate interest. Compounded daily. And a 5% service fee on top of that.

There are requisition forms. If an associate needed the latest version of the bankruptcy code and didn't have one, he could file a form and have it within a week. If the assignment is more urgent than that, we have a library. I think we still have a library. I haven't been inside it in years, but I believe the plan to convert it into a partners-only exercise facility was voted down. So we have a library. My office is not a library. It's not a library, and it's not a lobby either. No one should be coming in and sitting down. If you're early for a meeting, sit somewhere else. Not in my office. Not anywhere I can see you. My office also isn't a storage facility, although the maintenance staff seems to think it is. I found a spare light bulb in my closet. My office is not to be used for storing spare light bulbs. We have facilities for that.

I'll be watching the tape from the closed-circuit camera this evening and figuring out who stole the book from my office while I was gone. I knew it was a good thing when we put hidden cameras all over the firm to monitor associate behavior. This will be just like the time I caught the associate leaving at 6:30. She didn't realize she was being watched. They're always being watched. Always.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

I heard two associates talking in the hall this afternoon. One said to the other, "You meet the summer associate with the gap between his teeth? He said he's really interested in real estate. I'm hoping he can take some of my grunt work, let me get out of here by dinnertime a couple nights a week."

I called the associate into my office later in the day and told him he won't be working with the summers this year. Administrative issue, I said. Nothing personal. This isn't what we have summer associates for. They're not to relieve the workload of the associates. They're not to relieve anyone's workload, but if they're going to relieve someone's workload, it should be the partners. But they don't, because they're incompetent. They're here to learn what it's like to be a lawyer at the firm. That means no real assignments, none of the garbage we have our associates do, just made-up stuff they might find interesting and that will keep them engaged enough to take the offer. I can't have associates giving them their grunt work to do. That'll make them realize what they'll be in for and they'll run somewhere else. And why should we be paying summer associates to do the work of associates, who we're already paying? If we didn't have summer associates, the associates would do the work. So they should still do the work. This shouldn't change things. People take advantage of the summer associates, like they're their own personal slaves.

The associates are the slaves, and the slaves aren't allowed to have slaves of their own. Wouldn't make sense. The summer associates belong to the entire firm, for us to manipulate and lie to in order to get them to take the offer. Not to do an associate's grunt work.

I gave the associate more grunt work to do this evening. He's my new go-to for any grunt work I have lying around. It's punitive. People have to pay for the things they say. And for the things they think. I wish we could read minds. Thought police. We already read their e-mails and check which websites they visit. Reading their minds wouldn't be that big a step. Technology. It'll get there eventually, I'm sure of it.

Monday, May 15, 2006

It's like a flower shop in here this morning. All the color is very irritating. Many of the mothers in the office -- mostly the secretaries, since the female associates and partners mostly don't work here anymore once they have kids -- brought in flowers they received for Mother's Day, and now they're all over the place. They can't shut up about what their kids did for them to celebrate. "My son made me breakfast in bed." "My daughter vacuumed the living room." "My son peed in a cup and drank it."

I called my Mom yesterday. We had a lovely chat. I told her I loved her, she told me she loved me, I asked her how her gardening was going, I answered a few e-mails while she told me, I put the kids on to wish her a Happy Mother's Day, I promised to come visit soon, and I made sure she got the flowers I had my secretary send her. Easy. I had the kids make some breakfast for Anonymous Wife, which I substituted with some breakfast I had delivered from a catering place we use sometimes. We brought it to her as she was waking up, she ate it, she liked it, I threw a box of chocolates at her, we watched TV, the kids tied her shoes together, it was a fine day.

My wife's parents came over for dinner, it was all about as much fun as sitting in a hospital waiting room, and now it's over and I don't need to see them again until someone's birthday, or funeral, whichever comes first.

We're doing a Mother's Day celebration in the office this afternoon, mostly for the sake of the summer associates. We'll serve some cake, we'll have some champagne, I'll give a speech entirely for the summer associates' benefit about how we're so happy to have so many mothers here and what a family-friendly place we strive to be and some garbage about how it's easy to balance a career here with being a committed parent because we're just so flexible and encouraging. And then God will strike us all dead for our evil lies. No, he won't. Everyone will go back to their offices and try to make up for the half hour they just wasted hearing this crap about how it's easy to balance family and career and then they'll cry themselves to sleep tonight as they lament their life choices.

We shouldn't have holidays like this because they encourage self-reflection. Self-reflection is bad. We need more holidays like July 4th. July 4th does not encourage self-reflection. It encourages fireworks and barbecues and being thankful you only have to put in half a day at the office. Softball games. Naps. Mother's Day makes people think about their parents, and their kids. It's not good for the firm. Not as bad as Thanksgiving, but still not good.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

From a reader e-mail: "Perhaps a blog post should address the topic of dealing with paralegals who are either attending or planning to attend law school."

I hate paralegals who are planning to attend law school. They're so needy. They want to learn what it's like to work at the firm, they want recommendation letters, they want to stay for a year and then go away, and then bombard us with their resume once they're at school, begging to come back as a summer associate.

Paralegals are service providers. They need to do their job and be quiet. The problem with paralegals who are planning to go to law school is that they have a different agenda than the one they ought to have to be a successful paralegal. They're reluctant to do the busy-work that their job consists of. They want learning opportunities. They want to see the kinds of things associates get to see. They want to know about the cases they're working on. They want to get a sense of what the lawyers do. But they can't. They're just paralegals. They're confused. They think spending a year as a paralegal is going to give them some special insight into how the firm operates, and help them get a job down the road. They think they'll learn things that'll help them in law school. They won't. They'll learn things that'll help them if they want to work as a professor's secretary in law school, not if they want to be a law student. It's like working as a coat check girl to learn how to be a chef. Sorry. You're not welcome in the kitchen. It's like working as a receptionist in a doctor's office to learn how to be a brain surgeon. Not going to happen.

I want paralegals who've already given up on life. Who've accepted that a paralegal is all they are and all they'll ever be. People with no hope. No pride. No ego. People who are willing to count the pages to make sure all seven thousand are accounted for, and then do it again just to make sure. People who won't talk back. People who will obey without question. Like the Germans who obeyed Hitler. Not the ones who actually hurt anyone, but just the ones who didn't talk back. That's the model paralegal. Or the average American television viewer. The ones who'll watch anything and don't want to actively change the channel. Idiots. I want idiots. Competent idiots, who can staple right, but idiots nonetheless. Maybe idiot savants, who can count a stack of cards but can't interact with other humans. Perfect.

Paralegals who want to go to law school? No thanks. Let them work at day care centers instead. That's better training for law school. Dealing with babies all day. Cry babies. "I didn't get a clerkship. I'm sad." Pathetic.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

A reader wrote to me earlier this week asking for clarification about one of the ten tips for summer associates I provided. Tip #7 said that summer associates should share their gossip. I should have been clearer, and explained that I only meant gossip about other people, and NOT things that partners tell them in private. My reader explained it well:

"Sure, I may tell one associate one thing, and tell another associate something completely contradictory, but there are reasons for that. Reasons the associates wouldn't understand. Reasons for the good of the partnership. And so the associate should keep his mouth shut. Each associate should realize that I surely respected him enough to give him the straight dope, even if I had to 'color' things for one of the other associates. If I wanted to have to be consistent, I wouldn't have spoken to them each privately."

That's all very true. Sometimes it's important to tell an associate a white lie, to protect him, or to protect the firm. Maybe the deadline isn't really today, but I just want the assignment to be finished. Maybe you don't really have a chance to make partner, but I don't want you to quit yet. Maybe you aren't smart. Maybe you don't do good work. Maybe the client didn't request you. Maybe you're just not invited to dinner, and so I have to make up a story to explain it. Maybe I just don't like you and that's why I'm sending you on a business trip to Chicago in the middle of winter. Maybe I don't feel like telling you the truth.

And then if you start comparing stories, people get hurt. I don't want people getting hurt, except for the people I want getting hurt. I want to have control over who I hurt. So, yes, I want to know all the gossip about everyone else. But I didn't mean to imply that anyone should be telling other people the gossip I tell them. I may tell you one of your colleagues is incompetent, ugly, about to get fired, whatever. But you should keep that to yourself. After all, maybe it's just a decoy. Maybe you're the one who's about to get fired. Maybe I'm just hiding the ball. Regardless, I have reasons. I'm smarter than you. That's why I'm a partner and you're not. So be quiet. Unless you have something to tell me, about someone else. Otherwise, quiet. Important rule. Didn't mean to be vague about it.

Monday, May 08, 2006

The previous post lists five pieces of advice for summer associates. I said I would share five more today, and, unlike too many of my associates, when I say I'll do something, I don't make excuses about sick relatives and immigration issues. I just do it.

6. Dress like your parents. It's easy to pick out the summer associates who've never had a job before. You're the ones wearing shorts to work. I recognize we've started sliding down that slippery slope of appropriate business dress, and I don't expect you to wear a suit to work. But I do expect you to wear a shirt. I do expect you to wear shoes. I do expect you to limit yourself to the narrow range of the color spectrum that the world has deemed appropriate for business environments. In some respects I understand that for men this is much easier than for women. Women have all sorts of options, most of which I don't know enough about to criticize. Women get a free pass as long as whatever you're wearing looks sensible enough. But don't dress like that insipid character in the Legally Blonde movies, don't wear things that are four sizes too small, don't wear things that show off your shape if your shape is the same shape as a military vehicle. Men should be able to navigate this terrain fairly easily, but there are always a few each summer who don't. Shirts come in two colors: white and blue. There are enough different shades of blue that you should be able to satisfy your urge to be different. I'll accept an occasional yellow, maybe a tan. But when guys are walking around the halls wearing purple and green, you've gone too far. Bold colors are too bold for work. Shiny fabrics are too shiny for the office. If your shirt reflects light, it also reflects poorly on your common sense. Buttons are on shirts for a reason. Use almost all of them, please. Socks should not be white. Neither should your pants or your shoes. The best advice is to follow this rule of thumb: If it's something you wouldn't wear to a funeral, don't wear it to the office.

7. Share your gossip. Others might pitch this as "be friendly," but I'm not going to patronize you. Law firms, like law school, are like high school. It's a small community and since none of us ever get to leave and spend time with people outside the firm, it's very insular and finding out people's secrets is very exciting. If you know something, tell someone. It will make our day. If you tell me you saw one of the other partners masturbating in the bathroom, I'll pretend that's inappropriate information to be spreading around, but I'll make a mental note that you're just the kind of observant associate that's good to have around. And then I'll e-mail all of my colleagues about it and we'll have a good laugh. Gossip about your fellow summer associates is especially valuable. Think of it like the honor code. If you don't report it, you're guilty of an offense as bad as whatever the crime. It's very hard for someone to do something bad enough so as to not get an offer at the end of the summer, but that doesn't mean I don't want to know who's making out with who in the firm's rooftop attorney lounge. Keeps the job interesting. You will make friends and become invaluable if people know you're a source for the latest news.

8. Badmouth other firms. You all interviewed at other firms, and you have friends at other firms this summer who I presume you'll be talking to. You'll have stories. Share them. It's helpful for recruiting, and it's a great way to make friends with associates and partners. We know we're the best firm out there, and it's always nice to hear that validated by your stories. Tell me how much better a job I'm doing than my hiring partner colleagues elsewhere. I'll like you more if you do.

9. Keep law firm food where it belongs. Every year there are summer associates who take the extra food from law firm events and bring it back to their secretaries. It's not for your secretaries. It's for you, or it's for the garbage. Someone once took a plate out to a homeless guy. If you want to feed the homeless, do pro bono work. If you want to work at a law firm, know that the trash goes to waste. That's the way it's always been and the way it always will be. Working at a firm has its privileges. The more we help others rise to our status in life, the less of a premium there will remain on being one of us. People talk about the disparity between rich and poor as if it's a bad thing, but it's a societal motivator. Every cookie the law firm pays for that you bring home to your little brother is one less reason for your little brother to go to law school and become part of the next generation of associates we can take advantage of.

10. Act like you love it here, but don't go overboard. You're fortunate to be here. You know that and we know that. Act like it, but don't be an idiot. Smile, do everything you're told, act appropriately deferential, but you don't have to act like a paralegal. You're not the slaves, they are. You'll do some busy-work, but you don't have to clean up trash and no one should ask you to. And if they do, just find a paralegal or a secretary, act like you own them, speak in a stern voice, and they'll obey, just like they've been trained to do. You're higher on the food chain than they are. In the event of an earthquake that wipes out all food supplies, they will be eaten before you will be. Remember that. Take the hierarchy seriously. Deferential to those above you, but don't take it to an extreme. You're still more important than the recruiting coordinators.

If anyone has any additional advice, feel free to e-mail me and I will post anything of value that I receive. In any case, I wish all of the summer associates, at whatever firm you'll be working at, the best of luck this year. I expect I'll think of more advice to share in the coming days.

Friday, May 05, 2006

With summer programs set to begin in just over a week at most firms, I've been receiving lots of e-mails asking if I have any advice for making the most out of a summer at a firm, making a good impression on the attorneys, and getting an offer. I thought about this for a few minutes in the bathroom this morning, and came up with ten tips for law students looking to me for summer advice. I'll share five of them today, and save the other five for Monday.

1. Be on time for meetings. I say this not only as a warning against showing up late, but also as a warning to the suck-ups who think they're supposed to show up ten minutes early to everything and don't understand why I'm not ready for them. If I call a summer associate and tell him we're meeting at 10:00, I don't want to see him lingering outside my office at 9:56, waiting to catch my eye. I've booked those four minutes for other work, and it's work I need to get done. What am I supposed to do with you for four extra minutes? I don't want to invite you into my office and have you sitting on my couch while I make a phone call, because you're going to look at things, and look at me, and ask me questions, and touch things, and mess up the couch, and expect me to talk to you, and I don't want any of that. But if I leave you in the hall you're going to think I didn't see you, and I'm going to have to try and avoid eye contact and you're going to be a distraction for those four minutes and I won't be able to get anything done. I schedule meetings for the time I want to meet, not five minutes before and not five minutes after. Don't be a nuisance.

2. Ask someone else. I know we all say you should ask questions when you don't understand something, but, honestly, it's a waste of my time to sit down with a summer associate and explain how we like our memos formatted. Of course you should get clarity on every assignment before you waste time doing the wrong thing, and of course there are things you're not going to know everything right when you start -- you're not going to know anything at all right when you start, I know that -- so you should absolutely feel free to ask questions. Just don't ask me. Ask someone else. Ask an associate, ask your secretary, ask someone you find lingering in the halls looking like she has nothing to do. Ask a paralegal, ask another summer, I don't care. Find out which associates work for me and ask them how I like things. But don't ask me. I don't have time and I'm just going to snap at you, make you feel stupid, and make you regret you even bothered. Neither of us want that.

3. Your problems are not my problems. You want to go to your best friend's wedding and it requires you miss a Friday. You don't know whether an assignment is important enough to skip the summer associate event, or whether we'd want you to go have fun and do the work tomorrow. You've been asked to go to court and don't have a suit in the office. You don't know if you really want to work at a law firm after graduation. You have lice. These are all problems, sure. I'm not saying they're not. But if you want to be treated like an adult -- and, even more important, receive an adult's salary -- you need to act like an adult and solve your problems on your own instead of bringing them to me. Of course you can arrange your work so you can miss a Friday, of course there are assignments you don't need to do right away and you can go on the summer associate strip club trip instead, of course you can go to the bathroom during a conference call if it's really an emergency -- but I'm not your parent and I'm not your friend and I don't want to take on the burden of solving your problem. You can solve it yourself. You can tell the people you're working for that you won't be here on Friday, you can gently ask if the assignment is more critical than the summer associate dance party, you can slip out of a room for a moment. It's okay. You don't have to turn it into a federal case and waste my time thinking about it. Ask once. Listen to the answer. Don't ask again, don't write me a memo, don't make it a discussion, don't take my time. I want to think about me, not you. If you must be annoying, be annoying in front of someone else. I guess this isn't that different from the previous tip.

4. Read my mind. This one is pretty self-explanatory, and I touched on it in a recent post. We're not always clear about what we want, but that doesn't excuse you from knowing. You're smart enough to know what people mean even if they say something else. If I tell you to send the client an e-mail, it doesn't make sense that I really want you to send the client an e-mail without me looking at it first, except in the cases where I don't really want to be bothered reading every e-mail that gets sent to a client. So maybe I want to see it, maybe I don't, but whichever one it is, you should be able to figure it out and not do the wrong thing. Don't send it right to the client without checking with me, if I want you to check with me, and if I want you to send it right to the client, please don't bother me with it, because you're just being a nuisance then, and violating rule #2. You need to know what I'm thinking, even when I'm not being clear, and even in situations when I might not even know what I want, and am just talking to hear myself talk. I don't always mean what I say or say what I mean, but if we decided you were smart enough to work here, you're smart enough to figure it out. I'm not that complicated a person. You should be able to know what I'm thinking. It probably involves you leaving my office and doing some menial task anyway, so just do it. Quickly.

5. Eat like a civilized human being. This should be obvious, but for too many summer associates it isn't. This shouldn't be the first time you've ever eaten in a restaurant. Napkin goes on your lap, fork gets held like a fork, not a shovel. Butter goes on your plate, then on your bread -- don't double-dip your knife after it touches something that touches your mouth. Take some of the shared appetizer and put it on your plate instead of reaching across the table for more calamari every time you want some. Ask to be passed the bowl of pasta instead of precariously carrying it from the center of the table to your plate and dumping it on the tablecloth. Don't look waiters or busboys in the eye. Order the same number of courses as everybody else. Don't order things I don't like, even if they're your favorite things to eat. Don't complain about the food unless I do. And if I do complain, don't disagree with me. If I think it's lousy, you think it's lousy. No exceptions. Don't sit down before me, in case you sit in the seat I would have chosen. Don't eat too quickly. Don't eat too slowly. Don't touch my food. Don't talk with your mouth full. Don't chew on the ice in your water. I hate when people chew on the ice. Hate it. Don't do it.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

I've received a number of e-mails asking me if I have any advice for law students about to take their final exams. I have only one piece of advice: Do Well. When I'm looking at a hundred virtually identical resumes, there aren't many ways for me to make distinctions.

Of course I throw away any resumes that list any interests outside the law, anything that flags a student as a political radical on either extreme, anything that indicates an affiliation with a religious or cultural group that might take precedence over their loyalty to the firm, or anything that makes me think the student prefers the Giants to the Dodgers. But I'm still left with dozens of resumes, and grades become one of the only ways to tell people apart.

It doesn't matter, in the grand scheme of things, how a student does in Civil Procedure. Almost any law student is capable of looking things up and figuring out answers to the kinds of problems they're faced with as young associates. Problems like how to make reservations online for some of the city's top restaurants. Problems like how to program their voice mail. Ability to perform the job doesn't really factor into it much. Most students would be capable of the work -- at least until it gets more complicated after a few years -- even students from second-tier law schools.

But we have to make choices, and grades are a proxy for the ability to please. Law school grades indicate how well the student was able to give the professor the answer he or she was looking for. I'm not saying that's the same thing as legal knowledge, but it doesn't matter. All we're looking for at the firm is people who will please us. Associates who will read our minds and produce the kinds of things we think we're asking them for, even when we're not so clear about it. If I tell an associate I need a memo, and what I really need is an excel spreadsheet, I want the excel spreadsheet, and if the associate gives me a word document, I'm going to yell at him. It doesn't matter that it's not his fault. It doesn't matter that he gave me what I asked for. It doesn't matter what I ask for. It matters what I want. Same thing with law professors. They ask for all sorts of things on exams, but it's not always what they want. Sometimes they don't even realize they're not asking for what they really want, because their grading scheme is illogical and they're giving lower grades to better answers, just because they didn't think through their point system. It doesn't matter. I want to find the students who can figure out the tricks and game the system. I want to find the students who know how to please, even if they don't always have the best answers. Because that's what we need at the firm.

So my advice isn't to learn the law. The law doesn't matter. You can look up the law. My advice is to do well. That's the only way your resume is going to stand out, and the only way you're ever going to get a job. And the only way you'll ever really be happy in life. Do well. It's all that counts.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

There's a Wall Street Journal article that's been going around the firm today (you can find it here), called "Law Firm Life Doesn't Suit Some Associates." Associates today whine about all the hours we make them work, but as the article says, it's nothing compared to when people of my generation started out at the firm. Today's associates are coddled. They expect weekends off. They expect a full night's sleep. They expect to be able to devote time to their families. We didn't have those luxuries and neither should they.

I'm sure the article's been getting criticized by most young associates. They think they have it pretty rough. They don't know how rough it can be. They don't know what it's like without the Internet to amuse them. Without BlackBerries to stay in touch with the office. Without Lexis and Westlaw and Microsoft computer applications making their lives comparatively easy. We spent hours in the library. We spent hours squinting at small type, getting paper cuts from turning pages, getting food poisoning from the poor refrigeration technology the firm used to have back when I was first starting. Now refrigeration technology is almost perfect. No one gets food-borne illness anymore. They don't know what it's like.

The article is right on target. It says associates "are more interested in going to their children's soccer games than they are in staying in the office late in the hopes of getting extra work done or making a good impression." Exactly. It's pathetic. Who wants to watch their kids play soccer when you can be advancing your career? That's where the glory is. Career advancement. Impressing partners like me. Making sacrifices. Working hard.

The article says associates today aren't satisfied with the high salaries and "want to feel like they're contributing to the greater good." Stop whining. Go work for the Peace Corps if you want to contribute to the greater good. Go to Burkina Faso or New Hampshire or some other third-world country. The Wall Street Journal has it right. We don't expect enough these days. We allow associates to go home. We allow them to leave for doctors' appointments when they're sick. We allow them to go to the bathroom. We shouldn't. We coddle them. It's our fault they expect luxury treatment. We've trained them to expect it. Our fault. That has to change. Only the strong should survive. I don't usually read the Wall Street Journal, but if there's articles like this one in there every day, maybe I ought to get a subscription.

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