Thursday, April 30, 2009

Sad day at a firm much like mine. We've had some layoff-related suicides as well, but at least we're competent enough not to let the news get out. Good grief, if you can't even keep secret a suicide in your building, how can a client ever trust that you won't let his dirty laundry out as well? I would never do business with a firm that couldn't keep its own mishaps out of the press. Even when a former associate came in and shot the entire 32nd floor to death, no one knew. Not even their families -- at least not for about a week, since it's not like they were getting home more often than that anyway. That's actually one of the (endless) benefits of working the associates to the bone: no one realizes when they go missing. No friends, no families, no nothing. They can just fall right off the grid, and besides the 2800 hours a year that we've billed for them, it's like they never even existed.

The ones who kill themselves in the office are always the selfish ones, only thinking about themselves. Do you know how much it costs to get blood out of the carpet? And the casebooks are pretty much unusable once guts have been splattered on their spines. We lost about thirteen hours of document work after the most recent suicide -- he had the gall to leave his latest markup on the desk, right within the splash zone. Couldn't tell what was marked red with the pen and what was red with blood. At least the guy at Kilpatrick Stockton updated his e-mail auto-reply. Be thankful for the little things.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The firm's Board of Directors met this evening to discuss the recent layoffs and additional possible actions we might take to stem the recent economic losses and put ourselves in a strong position should the recovery take longer than expected. No surprise, the Chairman seems to have turned to the bottle to get him through this crisis, and by twelve minutes into the meeting he was already on his fifth glass of wine and slurring his words. By twenty-two minutes in, he was kissing the man next to him after a particularly excellent suggestion about lowering the water pressure in the sinks and the wattage in the hallway lamps so we save on utility costs. By forty-five minutes in, he had taken a prone position on top of the table, and had started undoing his pants. By an hour and four minutes in, he was in the middle of an obscenity-filled rant about "woman lawyers" and how we should just let them the run the whole place since "everyone likes to do business with someone they want to f***." In other words, it was a typical meeting of the Board of Directors.

Being on the Board, sadly, has taken all the majesty out of law firm work. You start out and you imagine the folks in charge must be, in a way, better than you. Smarter than you, wiser than you, somehow more responsible and more important and more worthy of respect. And then you discover they're mostly just the worst examples of everyone else you work with, their flaws magnified by their desire for power and lack of any self-awareness at all that would keep them from spouting off ridiculous solutions for problems that don't even exist. "Why do we even need computers," one director emeritus said tonight. "When I was an associate, we didn't have them, and we did just fine. They're a distraction, they're expensive, and everyone spends all day figuring out how to make them work. What if we just got rid of the computers, went back to paper, and then we could get rid of the entire TI staff too." I think he meant IT staff, but that isn't really the point.

And that suggestion, like every other suggestion at these meetings, is taken completely seriously and put up for discussion and a vote. "I think computers do more than you realize," one guy said. "What if we assigned a subcommittee to put together a report about how computers benefit the firm," one guy offered. "I don't know if computers are the entire issue, but we definitely need to do something about all the beeping and buzzing that goes on in the hallways," added one guy. "I've even heard there are some people with these big screens that plug into their little computers -- is that fair to everyone else?" asked one moron. We eventually voted, 16-5, in favor of keeping the computers.

When Old Man Real Estate went to the bathroom, Baldy piped up asking for an emergency vote declaring him to be the new head of real estate once Old Man Real Estate dies. It passed, but just barely. Old Man Real Estate returned without a hint that his death had been contemplated during his absence, but later I saw Baldy hold out his foot to trip the Old Man. That's a situation that bears watching, it seems.

We adjourned after a seventy-three minute discussion about pencil sharpeners and whether it was appropriate to spend the extra twenty-two cents per box to buy pre-sharpened pencils. We deadlocked at 9-9, with 3 abstainers, so it's been tabled until next time.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Anonymous Daughter just forced me to watch a video on YouTube of an unattractive British woman singing very loudly. Apparently this Susan Boyle video has been seen by tens of millions of people and is captivating the world. This is why we ban YouTube in the office. I don't know what the big surprise is that a 47-year-old unemployed, unattractive woman can sing well. What else can she possibly have to do with her time other than practice? She has no job, no family... if I had no job and no family, I could be a terrific singer too.

What bothers me is all the attention she's getting. It's giving failures hope. I'm sure I have associates watching this video and thinking: "Things could work out for me, too. I could leave this job and follow my dreams and even though I'm very unattractive and have few friends and no family, I could find success doing something I love instead of being stuck in the office 90 hours a week doing mindless document searches and redrafting agreements that exist in virtually identical form on pretty much everyone's hard drive in the entire firm."

I can't have people thinking like that, especially in this economy. More than ever, now that we only have what seems like seventeen associates and half a staff member firm-wide, we need their eyes on the real prize: imaginary partnership. We need them focused on feeling like they could somehow do enough to impress me and my colleagues and force our hands into making them junior partners. Obviously that won't happen, especially in this economy, but we need them to feel like it could, and be hungry for it, and not just watching unattractive people sing loudly and get applause. I know they miss applause. I miss applause. But adulthood isn't about applause. It's about fear and worry and economic insecurity motivating all your decisions. Not passions and dreams. That's for the unemployed.

Friday, April 24, 2009

I received an invitation today to an associate's wedding. I don't know why any of my associates would think I would want to see them socially, or be part of their lives. I don't know why any of them would think I even approve of a wedding when all it will mean is they have less time to spend focused on their work. And now, even though of course I'm not going to attend, I have to give a gift. I feel like it's a shakedown for a present. He knows I'm not going to come to his wedding. He knows there's nothing I'd less like to do than come to his wedding, yet still he invited me. I'm not going to take the bait. I'm not only not going to give a gift -- I'm going to call his bluff and actually go to the wedding -- and still not give a gift. Hopefully he'll spread the word around and no one else will ever invite me to their weddings. Who would be marrying this guy anyway? His fiancee must be a real winner... he's one of my worst associates.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

An e-mail from one of our offer-rescinded summer associates somehow made it through my spam filter and ended up in the pile of e-mail printouts my assistant prepares for each morning for me to read in the bathroom. The unemployed 3L wanted to draw my attention to a recent post on the Volokh Conspiracy and the discussion in an Above The Law post and its comments.

Apparently there's some rumblings that despite at-will employment, there might be a breach of contract claim if we never hire, as opposed to hiring and then immediately firing. Something about health insurance, as if an unemployed law student's health is actually worth any money to insure. What's the difference if he gets sick, it's not like he's adding anything to society. Anyway, I took the e-mail printout to the one guy left in our internal legal department, and he laughed and threw it in the trash.

Nonetheless, I thought it could provide for a little bit of fun this afternoon. So I called the unemployed 3L and told him I received his e-mail, had considered it carefully, and wanted to invite him down to the office to chat. Three hours later, after he bought a last-minute ticket to fly down from the Bay Area, hustled to the airport, and took a cab straight here, I sat him down on my office couch and handed him a key card and a stack of paperwork.

"You're hired," I said. He beamed. "We don't want to get sued, and I want to thank you for pointing out the error of our ways. You will make a fine associate here at the firm."

"Thank you, sir," he said.

"Wait, can I see your key card for a second?" He handed it over. "Thanks. You're fired."

"Excuse me?"

"At-will employment. We hired you, lived up to our employment agreement, no questions there... and now you're fired. And, by the way, if you'd like to pay $775 a month for our crappy health insurance plan, you're welcome to take those COBRA documents with you and file the paperwork."

"But you just hired me."

"And then we fired you." I reached into my pocket and pulled out a $50 bill. "Oh, here's your salary for the twenty seconds you were employed. I even threw in a bonus for a job well done. You billed as many hours in those twenty seconds as some of our associates have billed all month -- good for you."

"But I just paid six hundred dollars to fly here."

"Doesn't seem like a very smart thing to do in this economy...."


"Oh, I'm sorry. I have a client meeting. Gotta run."

Sometimes it's just too easy.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

None of our peer firms are admitting this -- and we're not admitting it publicly either -- but we're absolutely rescinding some of our full-time offers to last year's summer associates. That's been the one thing people think none of the top firms are doing yet. Sure, we're delaying start dates, and laying off associates, and paying people to leave the firm for a year... but rescinding offers is that last flood wall that's keeping back the crush of bad press and point-of-no-return recruiting issues and really hamstringing our future attempts to reload once the economy turns around. People think it's not happening, but, secretly, it is. We're just desperate for word not to get out. So we're paying people off and making them sign airtight non-disclosure agreements.

(Sidenote: You want to keep associates without any work occupied for a couple of weeks, and scared out of their skulls? Have them write non-disclosure agreements people would have to sign to get their severance, and make them include all sorts of terrible, evil clauses, like about how they're giving up their right to sue for wrongful death in case someone from the firm follows them home the day they get fired and kills them... and then fire all the associates who worked on the documents. They won't sleep for a week.)

Through some independent testing, we've discovered that $12,000 is the right amount to keep those with rescinded offers from talking. Less than that, and we're worried they'll leak it. More than that, and we're just throwing money away. There are no jobs in this economy. They need the $12K to tide them over for a couple weeks. No one wants to risk having to miss a payment on the BMW they foolishly leased back when they thought they had a $160K/year job.

One of the people whose offer we rescinded was Number Two. I don't even remember his real name. No one does. This is one of the few nicknames that wasn't just in my head, but throughout pretty much the entire firm. I was in another summer's office last year, yelling at him for stapling a set of documents at the wrong angle (I like my staples vertical), when I noticed he had been Google-chatting with one of his colleagues down the hall. I heard the computer beep, and looked over to see the message. "Gotta sign off for a bit. I have to go #2." To his credit, the guy whose office I was in quickly clicked the window closed, hoping he could cover for his friend and I wouldn't see. (Have to admit, that showed me a lot about that guy -- didn't have the killer instinct, automatically wanted to protect his friend without considering any potential benefit to his own career... we didn't give him an offer at the end of the summer.)

But I did see, and almost forgot about the staple for a moment and started to laugh. Of course I didn't actually laugh. But I felt the urge for a split second. And then, once I was sufficiently convinced this guy would never staple incorrectly again, I stopped off at The Tax Guy's office and told him the #2 story. And soon enough, it spread throughout the firm. Killed the guy's reputation, was terribly embarrassing for him the rest of the summer. But he took the full-time offer anyway, since what else could he do... and last week, we rescinded it. Didn't even offer him the full $12,000. Offered him $8,000 and the promise that if another firm ever comes calling for a reference, we won't mention the incident. As soon as he heard that, he signed immediately. Good luck to him. In the job search, and in the bathroom.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

I caught someone this afternoon writing Twitter posts during a meeting. I took a peek at her BlackBerry screen and read what she was writing. "In a meeting." "Still in the meeting." "This meeting is really dull." "I wish this meeting were over." "Will this meeting ever end?" Come on, law firm work is dull enough. Even someone like me is able to admit that. The last thing anyone needs is meta-commentary on the moment-to-moment business of being an attorney. Who could possibly want to read any of this? But here's the thing -- when I got back to the office, I tracked down her Twitter page and took a look. She has 47 followers. And three of them are clients. So she can bill this. And that makes it all worthwhile. In fact, I almost understand why clients would want their attorneys to have Twitter feeds. It's reassuring to know what you're paying for. If I can monitor someone moment to moment, I know if they're lying when the bill claims three hours of meetings on Tuesday. Or at least I'd know if they're lying if I could trust their Twitter feeds.

Which is why starting tomorrow, all of my associates will be required to join Twitter and post all day about all sorts of billable work they may or may not be doing. Just like with our billable hour reports, we're going to require shadow Twitter feeds to reflect what we want our clients to believe we're actually doing. This way, in case anyone wants to check up on us, we're completely covered. I have found the Twitter value proposition: faking it. This is a huge potential moneymaker for the firm. We can now back up our claims of 12-hour meetings, with fake documentation that our clients won't even realize isn't true. How many clients are going to doubt an associate's Twitter feed? "How much foresight would it take to fake one's entire existence just for the paper trail?" they will ask themselves, before concluding that no firm could be so genius as to do this deliberately. Except that's why they hire us. We go above and beyond.

"The meeting's still going," the associate just wrote, as she gets ready to feed the four cats she keeps in her house and treats as substitute children, making up for the fact she never met a husband, and won't have the family she always dreamed about.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Re: More Layoffs

Just kidding. See, it doesn't always have to be bad news. I assure you, we are doing everything possible to avoid further layoffs. Our recent associate survey confirmed that you would like us to do everything possible to avoid further layoffs. We are listening. We assure you, we are listening. (We even shut off the water in all non-partner bathrooms.)

That's why, retroactive to January of 2004, we are imposing a 20% salary reduction on all associates and staff. This is the best way to avoid further layoffs, while at the same time preserving the integrity of the firm's partnership, which was the top concern according to our survey of the firm's partnership.

Salary reduction invoices will be placed in your mailboxes by Friday. We recognize that covering the back salary owed since 2004 may be an overwhelming burden. We are therefore allowing the amount to be paid back in installments over the next six months for an additional 10% processing fee.

The partnership recognizes that there may be associates and staff uncomfortable with the idea that salary previously earned can be taken away. For those who feel this way, we invite you to read section 14.2 of your original employment agreement: "Salary previously earned may be recalled at any time."

However, because of these tough economic times, we would like to extend an offer to all associates and staff who would prefer not to have to return the back salary: if you decide to leave the firm by the end of the week, we will reduce your payment burden by 90%. Thus, you will be allowed to leave the firm, and only pay back 2% of your salary since 2004, rather than the 20% standard.

We hope our generosity does not go unnoticed.

All the best to you,
The Partnership of The Firm

Friday, April 17, 2009

The New York Times is reporting that a man is suing the New York Yankees and the City of New York, saying his civil rights were violated when he was not allowed to go to the bathroom during the playing of "God Bless America" after the seventh inning stretch.

Obviously, I think this lawsuit is ridiculous. Is someone going to sue us next for not letting our associates go to the bathroom during business hours? It's not that I'm a fan of patriotism or music. I believe our loyalties should be to our employers over our country. How can we expect employees of multinational corporations to choose? How can we ask them to divide their loyalties between the German parent company and the Dutch subsidiary? But I also don't think it's right to tell the Yankees how they should be able to treat their fans. If they don't want people to go the bathroom during the song, that's their right. It's not like they're restricting BlackBerry use, or something truly unjust like that.

Frankly, even if the rule that people can't leave to use the bathroom doesn't make any sense, I think it's still okay. We need rules, even stupid ones. Rules teach compliance and obedience. And that's what we need to be training young people in. Listening to authority without questioning it. Blind adherence to directives. Following the herd. It's how we get law students here, of course, so why shouldn't it work for the Yankees? We tell students law firms are the place to be, we make it seem selective and prestigious, and they flock to us. They listen. Yankee fans need to listen when the team says that God Bless America is important enough that no one should be urinating. If I owned a baseball team, I wouldn't have any free bathrooms in the stadium. There'd be a charge -- maybe even a big one. The beer would be free. The bathrooms would cost a hundred dollars. This way, everyone would get drunk, lose their sense of judgment, need to go to the bathroom, and pony up the money. I think it's a great plan. And if someone went to the bathroom in their pants because they didn't want to pay? I'd turn the camera on them and humiliate them by showing their accident on the JumboTron. That'd show everyone else we mean business.

So that's what the Yankees should be doing. Price gouging and humiliating their fan base. Not letting them go to the bathroom during God Bless America is baby stuff. Not even worth the energy. They could be doing so much more.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Oh, Passover, why did you have to end so quickly? Usually I'm the first one to speak out against holidays, for the way they guilt us into letting people go home for a few hours, or the way they remind us that for some people there are things in their lives besides the job, but Passover's one of the few I like. First of all, no one's allowed to use it as an excuse to miss work, because the celebrating happens after sundown. Which, I hate to admit, is usually the time of day when things slow down a little bit, and if an associate must leave the office for an hour to have dinner with his family, two nights out of the year, it's not the end of the world. But second, and here's the great part: we get eight days of significant savings to the firm as far as bagel and muffin costs, doughnut costs, sandwiches, cookies. For years now, I've made it part of the official schedule to celebrate all spring birthdays during Passover so as to save on the birthday cake costs.

There's also something about the story of Passover that's always spoken to me. The Jews had no time to let their loaves rise before leaving the desert, so they just took the unleavened bread and ran. It's about sacrifice and knowing what's important. The bread wasn't important. The good meal, the time to linger, the socializing, the hobbies, the fun -- all of that wasn't important at all. What was important was the job at hand, no matter the sacrifices. And that's really all we ask of our attorneys here. To put the job first. And if that means running out of your house in the morning with a frozen waffle you don't have time to throw in the toaster, so be it. If that means darting out of your son's Little League game the instant after he gets beaned in the head, because you know you don't have time to take him to the hospital and you just can't take the risk that if you rush over to see how he's doing, it's going to end up being a three-hour adventure in the emergency room and so it's better to just sneak out and pretend you were never there, then that's the price you have to pay. Being a professional success has its costs.

Sure, some of you are probably thinking that I'm completely missing the point of the Passover story, and that in reality the Jews were rushing to escape slavery -- to escape the same kind of slavery conditions with which we treat our associates. But I don't think that's the right interpretation. Poverty is slavery. Laziness, lack of ambition, wasted time -- all of that is slavery. Wealth, power, modified and highly-restricted expense accounts -- that's the kind of freedom the Jews were running toward, and that's the kind of freedom working at a place like this provides.

At least it's a better lesson than Easter, which mistakenly teaches associates that things can come back from the dead. They can't. Reputations, careers, the deal that you spent three years working on only to see it fall apart at the very last minute over a technicality -- they're all gone. Once they die, they die. Nothing comes back, no one gets a second chance, no one gets resurrected once an opinion is formed. You're either partner material or you're not. You're either a worthwhile human being, or you're not. Jesus clearly was not. He was dead. He should have stayed that way. A firm would have never let Jesus return to work if he misses three days being crucified. Crucifixion is no excuse for staying home. If he rose three days later, and was an employee of this law firm, he would have found that his office had already been assigned to one of the lawyers who'd been working in a bathroom stall due to lack of space, his chair already stolen by some idiot from trusts and estates, and his life insurance policy voided due to a technicality we invented. No one would be celebrating his return, we'd just be calling security.

I am, however, okay with Maundy Thursday, because they're exactly right -- the Last Supper should definitely be on Thursday if you already know you're going to be working the weekend. Eat the rest of the meals at your desk. Finish up, gobble down the food, and get back to the office.

Incidentally, you know what I gave up for Lent? Granting vacation requests. It was so easy, I'm going to pretend it's Lent all year round.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

We'd been trying to avoid this, but we finally had to do some layoffs today at the firm. It's a sad day for the handful of attorneys and staff... who remain employed. I'm kidding. It's actually a sad day for the people we laid off, since we didn't give them any severance, and we didn't let them go back to their offices to collect any personal belongings, not even the family photos and personally-owned electronics we had asked them to bring in today for "Family Photos and Your Personally-Owned Electronics Sharing Day." It wasn't a real event, it was just a way to get people to bring those things to their offices so we could claim they're company property and not let them take them back home once we terminated them. I think next round we might try a "Bring A Delicious Baked Good To Work Day" and then the survivors can all have a potluck celebration after the unwanted ones leave the building. There was a suggestion at the last partner meeting about combining the layoffs with "Take Your Child To Work Day" and then claiming the children belong to us now -- and in a better economy we might have run with the idea -- but there really just isn't enough clerical work to do around the firm, and so I have no idea how we'd make use of all the children. Not to mention the concerns about lice.

In any case, before a disgruntled ex-paralegal leaks it to Above The Law, I thought I'd share a copy of our internal memo about the cuts:


To: All
Re: Impending Doom

I wanted to take a moment to address the current economic situation, in the world and at this firm in particular. Over the past months, there have been many rumors of layoffs floating around our halls, and in recent weeks, as a handful of partners have been seen tumbling from the roof, those rumors have only increased in force. We on the management committee have grown more and more frustrated by these rumors, and by the distraction they have become to the actual business of this firm. More and more attorneys are spending time worrying about layoffs, talking about layoffs, and searching the Internet for news about "stealth" layoffs than actually doing their assigned client work. We have struggled to come up with an appropriate response to this problem that would put the layoff rumors to bed once and for all. To that end, the continued behavior on the part of the associates and staff of this firm have forced our hand: in order to put an end to these inaccurate rumors of layoffs, we have decided to lay off 324 staff members and 18 associates.

These layoffs, which will be done in secrecy over the course of the next sixteen days, are not IN ANY WAY motivated by the firm's finances. Our balance sheet is strong, our billables are steady, and our firm is well-prepared to compete in this or any future economic climate. Nevertheless, to put an end to the rumors, we felt we had no choice. We reiterate: YOU caused these layoffs. You are your rumor-mongering, you and your Internet-searching, you and your failure to stay sufficiently focused on our clients and on the important business of this law firm.

People being laid off: this is the fault of your friends and colleagues, not the economy, and certainly not this firm. We have done everything we could possibly do to preserve your jobs. But your friends insisted on continuing to propagate the vicious rumors of impending layoffs. We had no choice but to act. Once again, the financials of this firm are strong. We could absolutely keep you employed if your colleagues hadn't done this to you. We could absolutely pay you severance if your colleagues hadn't told us not to. We could absolutely give you back your treasured family photos if your colleagues hadn't already burned them in a bonfire in Conference Room 25-D. It's them, not us, we promise. Blame them. They stink. We're great.

I want to express our collective appreciation and respect for those individuals affected by this decision. I also want to use this opportunity to wish them well on their journeys, wherever their lives end up leading them, since I will almost certainly never speak to any of them again, ever, and if any of those who remain do continue to speak to anyone affected by these layoffs, you will be affected too, in a most unpleasant way. Let us shun the rejected ones, for we will all grow stronger by removing their poisonous influences from our lives.

Best wishes,
Anonymous Lawyer

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Like a lot of firms, we've been trying to find a way to push the start date of our incoming class of new associates, since there isn't a great deal of work to go around, and the last thing we need is more people roaming the halls, making idle conversation. A bored associate isn't just a drain on the firm's financials, he's also a potential rabble-rouser and troublemaker. It's one thing to have a hundred miserable associates slaving away at their desks, feeling like they're alone in the world, their work doesn't matter, and they're wasting their lives. It's quite another thing when they have the time and freedom to wander the halls and discover they aren't so alone, and everyone else feels exactly the same way. It's never helpful to the firm for associates to have a chance to talk to each other. They start comparing notes and realizing whatever they're obsessing about isn't just in their own heads (yes, we really do hire someone to secretly follow them every time they go to the bathroom, and make sure they're not using more toilet paper than the designated allotment). And they go from merely paranoid to actually almost ready to do something about it. Of course, no associate ever really ends up putting up a fight over anything we do, but the realization that they should, and that we are in fact just as bad as they sometimes fear we might be, is not good for morale and does not lead to added productivity.

Thus, in order to avoid having idle feet roaming the halls, we're encouraging incoming associates to find public interest jobs, in exchange for significantly more money than the people currently in those jobs earn. The tremendous side benefit (and I don't know why we didn't come up with this plan sooner -- give credit to the economy for forcing us to come up with even more diabolical ways to ruin the world) is that our overqualified-but-now-super-cheap labor can displace the idiots who couldn't get a firm job and were forced to go into public interest to begin with, and leave them on the streets where they belong (and where most of them are probably thrilled to be living, so that they can better understand the kinds of people they're so desperate to "help"). Finally, students from third-tier law schools won't have the crutch of a public interest job to help them forget they got rejected by firms like us. Finally, there won't be a place for "lawyers" who are ruining the reputation of the profession by passing up good money in order to change the world and help those too lazy to help themselves. And, finally, we won't have to make up stories about our associates doing pro bono work -- because they actually will be.

Of course, even better is that once the economy turns around and we collect all of our people back from Lawyers For The Dumb, or wherever else they're going to be working, those organizations that were short-sighted enough to take our people and save themselves a little money now will have no one left and will be forced to close their doors. What will they do over at Legal Aid when they realize that all of their lawyers are actually discarded law firm associates, who, after a week of fighting for the government's very last paper clip, will realize just how good life is at a law firm and will vow to come back to us the very first chance they get -- and there's no one left to work there? We displace the public interest lawyers, then we pull our guys back and leave them with nothing. It'll take years for them to rebuild all the lost expertise, all that institutional knowledge -- okay, it'll actually take a week and a half, since no one's ever doing anything over there anyway. But still, that's a week and a half that they're gone, vanquished, missing from the legal landscape as they ought to be.

Now excuse me while I go participate in a deposition regarding a class action lawsuit filed by fifty law students who claim we offered them a spot in our summer program, but, magically, we have no record of their existence.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The New York Times wrote an article today about one of our competitor firms paying associates one-third of their salary to take a year off. Obviously inspiring some negative reactions from people who don't make close to a third of a big firm lawyer's pay but still have to show up at work all year to get the checks. At my firm, we've actually decided to take it one step further. We're paying associates double their normal salaries to leave for a year, because, frankly, in this economy, who needs 'em? Without associates, we can lay off every member of the staff, get rid of the cafeteria, and earn some money renting out our luxurious and well-appointed offices. In fact, we're saving so much money by sending our associates home that we can afford to pay our clients to switch firms.

There's no work for anyone here to do, but why should that stop us from spending money like it's still 2007? Without the expenses of a summer program, of $60 lunches, of health insurance (don't tell our furloughed associates, but we're secretly cutting their health plans -- since there'll be no one to here to answer the phones when they call to complain, we figure it'll be pretty hard to hold us accountable... especially since without health care, whoever's calling will probably be dead pretty soon anyway), we give ourselves the flexibility to stake out new ground in the recruiting game for when the economy does eventually come back to life.

And that means doing more than just paying our old summer associates $50K to delay their start dates a year. That's just a baby step. Sure, some people say it's crazy to pay people thousands of dollars not to work for you when they've never even really worked for you, may not be any good at the job, and you may not have work for them a year from now when they come calling. And, sure, some people say it's insane, in a world of at-will employment, in a world where thousands of competent law students graduate every year without a job at all, in a world where the work an associate does isn't even work you need someone with half a brain to do, in a world where the buyers surely have more leverage than the sellers, to basically throw away money just to hold the rights to some kids who put in thirteen weeks last summer and didn't vomit in a partner's lap, or stab a client to death, or whatever it would take not to get a full-time offer at the end.

But we say why not take it one step further and use this economic downturn to really kill our competitors and make it impossible for them to get things back up and running once things turn around. That's why we're not only paying our own incoming associates thousands of dollars not to show up -- we're paying any lawyer we can find $25,000 just for the promise they won't go to work for anyone else who isn't offering them a job. $25,000 and all you need to do is exactly what you've already been doing -- not get a job at a law firm. In fact, we're extending the offer not just to lawyers, but aspiring lawyers too. If you're thinking about going to law school, and even have the possibility of ever being someone one of our competitors could hire to take business from us, we'll give you $25,000 to go become a banker instead. Or a teacher. Or a bus driver. Whatever you like, we don't care. All you owe us is a kidney. No, not really a kidney. In most cases. Check the fine print. We figure this way, we'll have cornered the market on potential employees once things turn around. We'll have the pick of the litter, and our competitors won't have anyone at all. Can't get back in the game without associates. It's not as if partners are able to make copies or proofread lease agreements, so, really, they're going to be screwed.

That's our recession plan over here. Double salary for associates, $25K for anyone else who wants it, paying our clients to go elsewhere... and we're still somehow raking in more money than when we were throwing it away on chocolate fountains and wine tastings. It sort of makes you wonder -- how much profit must we have been making in the good times that this plan makes any business sense at all? How much must our clients have been paying for virtually nothing? How awesome must it be to be someone like me? You know how I'm coping with the recession? I sold some used books on eBay, and sold my daughter into slavery. Those two simple transactions, and I'm back in the black. Easy.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?