Tuesday, November 28, 2006

As I suspected she might, the associate I invited over for Thanksgiving ended up calling to cancel a few hours before dinner. She wasn't feeling well, or so she said. I think she just got cold feet about having to spend the evening at a partner's house, without any other associates to share the experience with and deflect some of the attention away from her. It could also have to do with the phone call I made to one of my colleagues earlier in the day, asking him to spring some "urgent" work on the associate, just to give her a little bit of added stress and tension in case she did end up deciding to show up. My spies in the office tell me she was at work for about 9 hours on Thanksgiving Day, and then 12 more on Friday. So at least she got a small vacation from the usual 16-hour days.

I happened to catch a segment on ABC's World News Tonight last evening. The piece was about professionals working longer hours today than ever before. They interviewed an attorney in Orlando, Florida who is trying to make partner at his firm and said he gets into work early in the morning and sometimes will work straight through until 9 PM, then go home for a short nap, and come back in at 1 AM and work through the next day. Only in a third-tier city like Orlando can someone go home at 9 PM for a nap. How ridiculous. The correspondent asked his wife if he's ever home for dinner or to tuck the kids into bed, and she laughed. The correspondent asked the attorney if he thinks he could keep this lifestyle up forever. He said hopefully he can. Well of course he can, with that nap every night! Naps are for the office, not for home. Home is for working remotely.

If I ever saw one of my associates on World News Tonight, I'd be pretty upset. They shouldn't be talking to the media. I bet his firm was not so thrilled to see him on TV. He might have to give up those naps for a few weeks if he wants to maintain a chance for partnership.

Without the associate interloper, Thanksgiving turned out to be excellent. I do an annual cranberry hunt with my kids. I hide a hundred cranberries around the house. Under rugs, inside the laundry hamper, in the pockets of dress shirts, behind the couch cushions, places like that. It's then a contest between my son and daughter to see who can find the most cranberries. The winner gets twenty dollars. But the real fun is watching the housekeeper's horror for the next two weeks as she finds crushed cranberries staining everything in the house and she has to clean it all up or she gets replaced. We also do a sweet potato fight with the leftovers. It's a lot of fun.


One of my associates e-mailed me this morning that she's leaving the firm to become a writer. Ha. She told me she's going to a free panel discussion in New York tomorrow evening, Wednesday the 29th, about lawyers-turned-writers (information here). Three people are on the panel, including the one who wrote my Anonymous Lawyer novel. I hear you can buy a copy for $5 off the cover price and get it signed by the author. Exciting. Hope to see a few of you there.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

I'm in the office early today, trying to catch up on some work. I've been busy for the past few days finishing up a proposal for a non-fiction book I'm hoping to write. It's about a pair of associates the firm hired a few years back. They started out promising, but we soon realized they couldn't handle the workload and they ended up tragically collapsing in a conference room. It was 3 A.M., and even though normally the firm would still be pretty busy at that hour, it was Christmas Eve, they were the only ones left on their side of the hallway, no one heard anything, and we weren't able to get them medical attention until two days later. So they died. I've long maintained that the firm was not at fault, despite what their families think. But I figured it was finally time to set the record straight in print, so I've put together my proposal for the book: "If We Killed Them, Here's What Their Billable Records Would Look Like." Judith Regan has shown some interest. I expect it to be a pretty quick sale on the open market, and I can probably squirrel the money away somewhere so the families can't collect on the civil judgment they earned a few years back.

The book proposal hasn't been the only thing taking up my time. We decided to do a recruiting event on Friday night for some of the 2Ls who have just decided to take their offers. We took them to the Laugh Factory in West Hollywood and everyone was thrilled that one of the performers that night was Kramer from a program called "Seinfeld." I've never seen the "Seinfeld" program. I'm always at the office when it airs. I wish they would air the reruns more often, at some more convenient times, so I could eventually catch an episode or two, but it's never worked out that way. In any case, the associates all seemed to enjoy the show, although it ended earlier than I expected it would. I was distracted by some BlackBerry messages I needed to answer, so I didn't actually hear any of the performance. I'm able to tune things out when I work, even in a noisy comedy club.

I'm starting to put together plans for the firm's annual holiday party. It falls under my domain because we only have the party as a recruitment vehicle. If it was up to the partners, we'd skip it entirely, but recruits like to see some evidence of fun at the office, so we do it, invite the incoming associate class if they're in the area, get a chocolate fountain or two, and let the support staff take a twenty-minute break to enjoy some complimentary hot cocoa and half a biscotti. I've sent out an e-mail trying to form a "Spirit Subcommittee" to choose where in the office we should hang the blue streamer someone found on the street the morning after Halloween and brought into the office to be a holiday decoration. It should be a fun time for everyone.

I got to the office this morning and there was an e-mail from one of my associates, volunteering to work over the Thanksgiving holiday because she's no longer in touch with her family and has nowhere to go to celebrate. I e-mailed her back with some assignments to work on, but then I had somewhat of a change of heart and invited her to spend Thanksgiving with my family if she finishes the work in time. I've never had a second-year associate inside my house before. I'm still contemplating whether I should actually let her eat at the table or if I should set up some sort of satellite Thanksgiving station on the porch and she can eat out there with Anonymous Dog. I'll keep you posted. Best wishes for a good holiday.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

I've been hearing something about an election yesterday, but with a big client deadline it was crunch day at the office and so I don't think anyone's left the building since Monday. I guess I got some e-mails from associates asking if they could take 10 or 15 minutes to go down and vote, but I didn't really know what they were talking about and so I ignored them and had my secretary deactivate their keycards for the day just so they couldn't get out into the elevator bank and escape. I used to think it was my civic duty to vote, but I lost those ideals a long time ago, around when I realized the laws don't apply to people like me anyway, so what's the difference. All the candidates are the same anyway. They're all lawyers who couldn't get a job at a firm and had to go into "public service" just to save face. I don't for one moment think Eliot Spitzer wouldn't rather be a litigation partner at Fried Frank than governor of New York. Well, I guess he wouldn't rather be this litigation partner. But speaking more generally, why wouldn't he? More money, more power, and just as many interns to boss around.

Forget the House and Senate, the one recent election that was actually important around these halls was for 20th Floor Fire Captain. State law requires that we elect a fire captain for every floor, to run a fire drill once every quarter and stay behind in case of a fire. Go down with the ship, and all of that. On most floors, someone has to be cajoled into doing it, threatened with loss of privileges if they don't, maybe allowed an extra hour of pro bono work. But in an unusual turn of events, it turned out that three people on the 20th floor wanted the job, and were willing to fight for it. My incompetent secretary suggested we put the three names in a hat and choose one, but we don't allow associates to wear hats in the building, and that wouldn't be a particularly fun way to do it anyway. I proposed an election. The contestants agreed, under duress. The Whore From Real Estate immediately put up some signs in the hall asking people to vote for her. Stinky brought in doughnuts. The third candidate, The Volunteer Fireman, didn't do much of anything. I suppose he assumed his semi-relevant extracurricular pursuit would sway the voters. As the election neared, I thought I would add a bit of excitement to the process, and I started a small fire with the unsaved memos that an associate had handed me that morning. The associate was upset he'd have to redo all of his work, but I thought it was worth it for the sake of the firm. As soon as I heard the smoke alarm start to ring, I expected the three candidates to leap from their offices and show their leadership skills. But nothing happened. I'd forgotten that we only installed smoke detectors in partner offices, so no one else even knew what was happening. I met up with my fellow partners at the elevators and went outside to wait and see what would happen. An hour later, I returned to my office to find that my secretary had put out the blaze, but no one else had even gotten up to see where the smoke was coming from. They all passed my test. Associates should never leave their desks during a fire until they are actually engulfed in flames. That's for their protection, of course. Keep working until the fire reaches your person. Number one rule of fire safety.

Because of her bold performance, my secretary won the election as a write-in candidate. She only received one vote, but I was the one counting the ballots, and so I declared her the winner. Despite burns to 20% of her body from her efforts in saving my office from the blaze I started, she will do fine in the role when she returns to work.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

I received an e-mail the other day: "My firm just removed the vending machines stocked with sodas, water and fruit juices. In their place, there are new vending machines stocked with red bull (regular and sugar free), coffee drinks and coke (diet and regular). No juice. No water. What's wrong with juice and water? I like juice. When I'm in the office, which is all the time, it was my only source of vitamin C. I'm not happy."

His firm should be ashamed of itself. Why has it taken them so long to make this obvious change? Of course you want your employees hyped up on caffeine (or worse) whenever possible. Red Bull, coffee, bowls of amphetamines in the supply closets, it's all part of what makes a firm function as well as possible. This past season, major league baseball banned the use of amphetamines, leading to a whole series of articles in the mainstream press about how players relied on the pills to get them going -- especially for day games that followed night games the day before -- and how players were going to have to learn to adjust. At the firm, we don't have the luxury of letting our associates "adjust," and pretty much every day at work is a "day game" after a "night game," with an early-morning scrimmage and maybe a 3AM conference call in between. So of course we want to provide every means possible to make sure our employees are awake, alert, and drugged to a point where they can't think straight about what we're doing to them and what their lives have turned into.

Of course, my e-mail correspondent does have a point regarding the Vitamin C. It's not in our financial interest to have employees sick with scurvy, and it's certainly not in our interest to make employees have to leave the building to find juice or other standard vitamins and minerals they need to remain healthy and productive. That's why we started delivering our associates nutrient-rich fluids intravenously throughout the day, in a pilot program we began last spring. We selected two dozen test cases, based on a battery of medical and psychological tests we administered to the entire firm one Sunday morning at an off-site conference, implanted catheters in their arms, and installed the necessary medical equipment in their offices. Whenever they are at their desks, they just plug in and are "fed" everything they need to stay alive. During meetings, when they're forced to leave their desks, we supply them with a cracker, or a few slices of fruit, in order for them to keep their strength up. The unavoidable downside for them is that because of the around-the-clock requirements of the IV feeding, they are no longer allowed to go home. Early results from the pilot program are mixed: while the associates are billing more hours than ever before, more than 40% of them have died. We are constantly looking for ways to refine the program before rolling it out to the entire firm this Christmas.

Incidentally, we've found vending machines can be great moneymakers for the firm, since our employees are a captive audience and have few other options. We've been raising prices slowly but consistently over the past decade, and a 20-ounce bottle of soda is now up to $42.00. We've brought in the companies that stock hotel mini-bars to consult on this initiative.

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