Thursday, September 20, 2007

Today was our first annual Volunteer Day at the firm, orchestrated by the new Outreach Committee, organized as part of a settlement after a few of our neighbors sued us for some bogus charges they couldn't prove. But instead of dragging it out and fighting them in court, we decided to pay a little bit of money and commit to being a "nicer corporate citizen" and "giving back" to the community. The term "giving back" doesn't make any sense to me. They didn't give us anything to begin with. So there's no "giving back." It's just "giving." And when you've worked hard enough to charge $700/hour for your services, it doesn't feel very good to just "give" hours away.

I don't understand successful people doing things for free. If someone offers you a free pair of shoes, you wouldn't take it. You would think something's wrong with the shoes, that if they were any good they would cost money, that someone's trying to pull a fast one on you. It's the same way with people's time. Someone offers me something for free, I have no choice but to assume it has no value. Someone says they'll help me for free, they must not be very good at what they're offering to help me do. I wouldn't send a child to a free school, I wouldn't rely on the free police to protect my family, and I certainly wouldn't want someone building a house for me if they weren't good enough at it that they could charge some money.

Nevertheless, as part of the settlement we agreed to spend a day helping some organization build a house for poor people. As if building them a house will really solve the underlying problem of why they're poor. Anyway, we assigned each partner 3 associates, and we took our associates down to the construction site and spent the day supervising as they did the work. It was a ridiculous waste of my time to have to sit in a chair, answering e-mails on my BlackBerry, while my three associates carried wood and hammered some stuff into the ground. The chair they set up for me wasn't very comfortable, and they ran out of water bottles before lunch.

I had a side bet with one of the other partners that I could get my associates to do more work than he could, but my associates were lazy and I lost. Even the threat of weekend work didn't get them moving any faster. Toward the end of the day I realized a loophole in my side bet, and so I had my associates undo some of the work my colleague's associates did, unscrewing some bolts and knocking over some support beams, but my associates weren't even skilled enough to undo enough work to put us into the lead. The organizers were a little confused about why they were taking things apart that they should have been putting together, but I slipped one of them a $20 bill and she kept quiet.

Luckily, we were all back in the office by 6:00, so everyone was able to work a half-day anyway. It's not like clients put all their problems on hold just because we want to waste a day helping the community. It'll take two days just to catch up on the missed phone calls.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

I just sent an e-mail to the firm's associates regarding the recent removal of the water cooler from the 17th floor. I haven't been a member of the water committee since '96, but since I'm seen as one of the more approachable and reasonable partners here, they asked if I would send the note:

"Recently there has been an outcry regarding the removal of the water cooler from the 17th floor. The firm removed the water cooler because it appeared to be a drain on productivity. Despite rumors to the contrary, this decision was unrelated to the memo sent out during the April heat wave regarding excessive water consumption leading to unnecessary trips to the bathroom, costing the firm approximately 400 potentially billable hours per month. We have been pleased with the response to the Water Memo and want to thank those associates who have taken it to heart and kept their personal hydration to a minimum.

"Instead, the water cooler was removed because of a number of associates who were often seen congregating in the water cooler area, in violation of the October '01 memo regarding associate congregation in the wake of the September 11th attacks. We are still on high alert, and therefore need to ask that associates continue not to congregate in the hallways. In these dangerous times, it is unfortunately a security risk.

"Nevertheless, the management committee has read your e-mail conversations and listened to your personal phone calls, and has been convinced to reconsider. Therefore, effective September 30, it is our intent to restore the water cooler to the 17th floor. In doing so, we hope to end the disturbances and provide our clients with lawyers who can devote 100 percent of their time and effort to the critical issues our clients face.

"We have little control over what you choose to believe about the water cooler, and why we removed it. But continuing to withhold water from the 17th floor would be an unwanted and unfair distraction. These are serious times of war and of conflict -- times that deserve everyone's full attention. Thank you."

Will there be a water cooler on September 30th? Of course not. Will anyone complain? Maybe. Will we care? Not really. It's been our "intent" to give the assistants health care since 1986, but that's not happening either. Short attention spans. Just like with the clients. Write up a memo, people forget about it, and when it doesn't happen, no one bats an eyelash, taps a foot, or even swipes a hand under the stall.

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