Monday, March 26, 2007

I've received a number of e-mails asking for my thoughts on Aaron Charney's sexual orientation discrimination suit against Sullivan & Cromwell, an undistinguished law firm with only seven graduates of Ivy League law schools in their Los Angeles branch office. I've avoided commenting until now, because of the seventy-one sexual harassment suits my firm is currently fighting, but I was just dropped as a defendant in a couple of them (if only there was a surveillance camera in my office, it wouldn't have been so easy), so I figured I could celebrate by sharing my thoughts on the Charney case.

The most comprehensive article on the case is over at New York Magazine, in case you need to get up to speed. But the article I want to focus on first is from the New York Observer, where it's said that Charney "boiled his home computer’s hard drive in hot water, attacked it with a hammer, boiled it again and then discarded the remains."

Kudos to Charney for that, and to the New York Observer for printing it. I've been looking for a new way to destroy associate hard drives (just for fun, in the midst of an important deadline, if I think they haven't been working hard enough) and my usual tactics (coffee spills, electromagnets, termites in the floppy disk slot) have occasionally been thwarted by some unusually resourceful experts in data recovery. But if repeated boiling is the key, then repeated boiling I can do. It's funny I never thought of boiling the hard drives, since I've done away with at least one insubordinate associate through a similar method. Something about how raising the temperature gradually doesn't ever alarm the associate enough to leap out of the pot, and eventually he just succumbs.

But back to Charney's lawsuit. I find myself strangely unmoved. If Sullivan & Cromwell is anything like this firm (and -- only *seven* Ivy League graduates in their Los Angeles office -- I have reason to believe it isn't), it's completely unsurprising that a partner might say something offensive, or that two partners might independently say offensive things, or that the impression might be made that anyone deviating from the norm won't be a good fit at the partnership level. Despite the token attempts to demonstrate otherwise. The thing is, I don't expect it's necessarily got much to do with sexual orientation at all. Charney is just lucky his discrimination involved a protected class. But we discriminate against all sorts of people in the minority. People who have hobbies, people who leave the office, people who care about their families, people who let their guard down, people who cry, people who laugh, people who are friendly, people who have gastrointestinal issues that make their presence known during a long conference call, people with speech impediments, people with integrity, fat people, ugly people, thin people, large-breasted women and men, bald people, bearded people, creative types, immigrants, religious believers, graduates from non-elite schools, those who fail the Bar Exam, vegetarians, loud talkers, and the unfortunately clumsy.

Is it right? No. Is it nice? No. Would it pass muster in a business that doesn't involve $160,000 starting salaries? Of course not. But what do you think the money's for? It's not just for the long hours. It's for the willingness to be subjected to obnoxious partners making inappropriate comments about personal aspects of your life and controlling your destiny at the firm in a manner consistent with their own personal whims and preferences. You drink decaf? Then you're not much of a man, and you're never making partner. And if you don't like it, sue me, but you'll lose, and you'll never get another job again. At least not with a big law firm. Well, maybe a place like Sullivan & Cromwell, looking to boost that pathetic number of Ivy League law school graduates in their Los Angeles office. And please don't leave any comments about the denominator problem. Raw numbers are what counts, not fractions. Fractions are for idiots and anyone who pays attention to fractions isn't making partner. Or if they do, their share is going to be a very, very, very small fraction. If it's fractions you love, you'll just have to deal with the consequences of that.

Perhaps you can tell that I'm conflicted about the case. On the one hand, I can absolutely believe that Charney's complaint is true. On the other hand, if you take away our ability to make rude comments about anything we want, what do we have left? Have some sympathy for the partners here. It's sad how society has lost respect for its elders to such an extent that we're suing them just for being cantakerous and discriminatory. Next thing you know, they'll be making us pay taxes. That'll be the day.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

A reader sent me a link to a Washington Post article from a couple of weeks ago about a law student who's finding it hard to get a job and thinks it might be because of some negative things written about her on a message board. Apparently, the student interviewed with 16 firms, got only 4 callbacks, and no offers. She assumes the lack of offers is because she was Googled, they found some negative message board threads about her, and decided not to give her an offer. "She was stunned when she had zero offers," according to the article.

I can't speak with any particular knowledge about this student, the message board threads, or how any firm but mine makes its hiring decisions, but those would have to be some awfully interesting message board threads to get me to make dispositive judgments about candidates. Perhaps photos of them playing sports, or reading, or sleeping, or doing anything besides work. Maybe some proof that they write poetry. Short of that, I'm a little skeptical. The article mentions that the message board contains threads about "sexual activity and diseases." No serious firm is going to pay attention to that. We do our own battery of tests before they get hired, and the initiation process will take care of any problems going on down there. Lawyers at firms like these don't need genitals. It's all a moot point.

I was bothered by the "stunned" quote. Obviously I'm wrong if these message board threads did in fact stop this girl from getting a job, but it seems a bit presumptuous to assume you're entitled to one. I like to steer clear of anyone who seems too entitled during the interview process. Feeling entitled to anything is definitely a negative, whether it's vacation time, weekends, or food. There's a box on our internal evaluation form we use during the interview process: "Did they ask to use the bathroom?" If so, it's an automatic no. Recruits are not allowed to use the bathroom, and if they ask, they almost always assume we're going to say yes, and give us a look when we tell them it's against the rules. That's entitlement. And I can't deal with it.

Also, maybe this girl just looked pregnant or something. That's always a reason not to give an offer. I don't know why she's assuming it's because she was Googled. I gave up on Googling after I started finding information about other people with the same name that didn't correlate at all. I Googled one candidate when he sent in his resume and called him in for an interview thinking I was getting the shortstop for the Texas Rangers. Turned out he just had the same name. This guy was five-foot-three, thick glasses, terrible breath. He's in the tax department now, doing a terrific job. But he's no shortstop. I thought we could plug him into our softball team and win the division. But he's our third-string statistician now. It's all a mess. We have a 70-year-old retired trusts partner playing left field and a woman playing second base. There are grade school teams that could beat us. We lost 21-3 last week to a boutique entertainment firm. Not even a good boutique entertainment firm. I think their biggest client is that gecko from the Geico commercials. He gets his own trailer.

We reject people for all sorts of reasons. Frankly, it's a badge of honor to have message boards writing about your diseases. One time the Greedy Associates board said I had lupus and I got gift baskets from a half-dozen of my colleagues around the city. Excellent stuff, fresh fruit, great pears. My kids loved it, we had a feast. I was flattered they even cared. Turned out it was just some screwy blood work, I'd eaten too soon before the appointment, it screwed up all the enzyme levels. There's an associate here who complained once that there was a message board thread accusing him of having ambiguous genitalia. Eh, what do I care? Clients aren't reading this stuff, it doesn't affect the firm. I've toyed with the idea of setting up an anonymous message board in the office where people could post rumors about their colleagues. It would give people a place to vent without having to go outside the firm, and it would ensure we were up to speed about everyone's lives, but the proposal didn't get out of committee. Partners with too much to hide.

I do read people's MySpace pages though. I listen to their music. Makes me feel young again. I've got over 350 MySpace friends. Too bad I only have 3 or 4 actual friends. Maybe this girl who got rejected from all these firms would want to be my friend. Not if she has diseases though.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

I received an e-mail this week from a real go-getter. I'll reprint the e-mail below. I wish I could help him, but ever since an incident with the Labor Department a few years ago, we've been unable to secure work permits for anyone under 16 years of age. There was a whole problem with working conditions and language used around the office and the lack of a real system for making sure people don't impale themselves on sharp objects installed around the office for disciplinary purposes. We could have corrected some of the issues and made the building more child-friendly, but there's just something about a working guillotine in the corner of the big conference room that makes people pay just a little bit more attention when you're talking to them. And the invisible spikes coming up from the toilets are a lot of fun too.

You'll see why I wanted to post this once you read what's pasted below, but I do want to stress that I do think this kid's impulse is absolutely right. 14- and 15- year-olds should absolutely be looking for work experience at any big law firm that will hire them, and this kid is right to be proactive about paving his road toward indentured servitude at a young age. I really do feel bad that I have no ability to help him. I also want to stress that this is an actual e-mail.

Dear Jeremy
I am a 14 , 15 year old to be student.
I have always been interested in becoming a lawyer or barrister.
I am writhing to request work experience in your law firm during the easter holidays, i want to see if this is what i really want beacause i dont want to study something that im not too sure about.
after this experience i will be pretty sure about whether i want to study
law futher or not.
please contact me on this email address as soon as possible. i will be really happy if you could possibly get me work experinece
thank for your time
your sincerely,
[Name Withheld]

A couple more like this and maybe it'll be worth it to try and start that youth camp again. We secretly tried a few years ago, floated the idea internally and externally, but apparently calling it a "work camp" was a turnoff, and there was some negative reaction to the possibility of turning one of the attorney break rooms into a bunk where the campers could sleep.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

There's a blood drive going on in the lobby of our building today. One of my colleagues e-mailed the firm offering to buy dinner for whoever gives the most blood. Predictably, it's started a string of e-mails among the associates (I'm only getting a chance to read them because I make it a habit of tapping into some of my associates' e-mails to keep up-to-date on firm gossip and stop complaints before they escalate into rebellions) about how they already give enough blood to the firm, and they shouldn't be asked to give any more. They overestimate themselves. In most cases, we're just squeezing blood from a stone. They hardly produce any work worth noting. In any case, I expect my colleague's offer will lead to a decrease in the amount of blood donated, not an increase. He's not someone I would want to have dinner with, and I expect most of the associates feel the same way. Except, of course, the ones in his department, looking for his approval and willing to do anything to get it. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the two suck-ups who work directly under him end up donating more blood than they should and wind up in the hospital. If I was in need of blood, I wouldn't want a lawyer's blood. Probably woefully low on white blood cells from lack of sleep, and loaded down with cholesterol and other unhealthiness. Plus the cancer-causing chemicals in the printer room, and the asbestos still in the walls of all associate offices. We did some asbestos remediation work in the partner suites, but decided to skip the associate offices and the secretary cubicles. It's not worth it. They're hardly here for long enough to make it count anyway. A few years of exposure, no big deal. But partners are here forever, so it made sense. Same reason we don't give the associates chairs. They're only passing through. They can stand.

One of my associates told me today that he's heading to Africa to work with a business development organization over there. Law firm life got to be too much for him. I told him he'll be back. Life here may be bad but at least there's air conditioning and electricity. And despite the limited amount of time he gets to sleep in his bed, at least it's comfortable. Down blanket, 350-thread-count sheets, feather pillows. Too bad he has no one to share it with.

A summer associate e-mailed to ask if she can have a weekend in July off so she can attend a wedding. Good form for e-mailing months in advance. Of course I told her she can't. They won't be working weekends normally, but I'll schedule something special just for her that weekend. Can't let them get too comfortable. If they start being able to keep outside plans now, it'll just be that much harder once they're working here full time. Let them figure out the hard way that they need to do it the way smart associates do. Don't tell anyone you're leaving, take your BlackBerry, and no one will notice or care. It's astonishing how long it takes most of these people to figure it out. We demand they're always here, but no one's taking attendance. Get the work done, respond to e-mails and voice mails, and it doesn't really matter. Sure, I'll hold it against you if I see you sneaking out early, but out of sight, out of mind. Not only won't I notice if you're not here, I also won't think of you when I'm giving out work. It's a win-win situation. Also, you can falsify your billing records so you don't get caught. Again, it takes these people forever to figure these things out. This doesn't have to be so hard.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

I just set up an Anonymous Lawyer fantasy baseball league on Yahoo.

Similar to last year, but a couple fewer teams, since the free agent pool became pretty dire. Also, this year I'll win.

The Yahoo Fantasy Baseball link is here. Click to get a team > Join League > Join Custom. The League ID is 196853, and the password is anonymous (all lowercase -- it's case-sensitive).

There's room for 15 teams besides mine. So the first 15 to sign up....

The live draft on Yahoo is scheduled for next Sunday, the 18th, at 10AM Pacific (1PM Eastern). Please don't sign up if you can't make the live draft.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Slate has an article about the $200,000 bonuses that most firms offer to lure former Supreme Court clerks to their offices, and how that's a lot much more money that those folks would make if they go teach or become a special prosecutor or a public defender. Added onto the $160,000 salary, and a bonus, that's a lot of money for someone who's probably not even 30 at the time.

A lot of whining in this article. Whining about how these former clerks don't even do all that much work at the firm, since their goal is to bank the money and then go teach, so they're spending all their time polishing their job talks for professor interviews. Whining about how there are lots and lots of rejected Supreme Court clerks just as capable of doing the work, but not getting the $200,000 bonus. Whining about how Supreme Court clerks end up making more than the justices they worked for. Whining about how the clerks are really just trophies to let the firm say they have a former Supreme Court clerk working for them.

Funny enough, the only people not whining in the article: former Supreme Court clerks, and the firms that are hiring them. Both sides seem happy enough. No one's forcing the firms to pay, and no one's forcing the clerks to accept it. It's a free market.

And, how about this argument: For the clerks, it's actually a real free market, as opposed to the "free market" that forces their non-clerk colleagues to take firm jobs. See, the clerks have tons of other options. They can get hired anywhere they want, law firm or not. They can go work in government, public interest, teach, anything. So when they go to a firm, they're making a real choice, and none of them can reasonably claim to be forced into it. Their classmates without the clerkships? It might be a firm or temp work. A firm or living with their parents. Public interest jobs are hard to get. Government jobs are hard to get. And the ones that aren't hard to get pay $25,000 a year. The run-of-the-mill elite law school graduate has far fewer choices than the big firm life, and it's a lot harder to pass up the $160,000 salary and a productive way to fill the day than it is for the Supreme Court clerk to decide to do something else.

Not that I'm saying we should be lamenting the plight of elite law school graduates forced to take jobs with firms like mine, but we certainly shouldn't be whining about the Supreme Court clerks. They're smart enough and have enough choices that they can make their own decisions and aren't being bullied into it. And if they're not complaining, and we're not complaining, why is Slate complaining?

I say "we" but I don't mean "we." My firm doesn't pay Supreme Court clerkship bonuses. We've discovered that former Supreme Court clerks tend to bristle at the idea of getting a partner's coffee for him, spending 80 hours a week putting "sign here" stickers on documents, doing mindless legal research, and showering in the communal facility we installed in the basement. They also tend to bring morale down in the office, by telling the run-of-the-mill associates about their glamorous lives getting coffee for Supreme Court Justices, making their more ordinary coffee runs seem a lot less appealing. Every time we've had a former clerk here, the first-year class has come perilously close to revolt. And we can't have that. So we don't hire former clerks. Or individuals with any sort of unique achievement or history of special recognition. We hire robots instead. And it's working out just fine.

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