Friday, May 22, 2009

I'm out of town this weekend at an associate's wedding. I hate when my associates get married, but I hate it more when they're engaged. At least once they're married it's all done and they can turn their attention back where it belongs. When they're engaged, they're worrying about planning a wedding (and fake-planning a honeymoon they're never going to get to take) and for months nothing important gets done. Like any of it matters anyway. I understand a big party to celebrate a new job. You spend most of your waking life at the office. But what's the difference who you're married to? It's not like you really even see them. I once went two years without seeing my wife (awake) for more than ten minutes in a row. Sure, part of that was because of her own issues, but a lot of it was because of my work schedule. She was seven months pregnant before I knew we were having a kid. That's what happens when you automatically direct all of her e-mail to the spam folder and all of her voice mail to the garbage.

I really don't know why this associate invited me to the wedding. You would think he sees enough of me at work. You would think I'd be the last person his wife would want there. I'm the guy who takes him away from her. Although maybe she likes it that way. Maybe she's only marrying him for the money. What she doesn't know is that the moment he's back from the honeymoon I keep telling him he shouldn't take, we're going to lay him off. He thinks he's got a pretty sweet deal: lucrative job, new wife, brand new house he just closed the deal on. But just give it a month and see where he is. No job, a foreclosed house, and I'm pretty sure there's not going to be a wife anymore.

He should thank me, honestly. We're doing this for his own good. This way he'll really know: does she love me for my money, or is she really this desperate (because he's not much of a catch)? If she stays, he'll know it's not about the money. And that lesson will stick with him for the six unemployed months he's got left before he decides it's better to end it all, ashamed of the shell of a man he will have become. He'll know she really loves him, even if he can't love himself. Even if his whole identity is so wrapped up in the job that he can't recognize he has something most guys at the firm would trade their entire stock portfolios for.

It's hard to find love when you're working 90 hours a week. Of course, it's not like most of these folks would find anyone even if they were working half that amount. The law doesn't attract the kinds of people who are the marrying types. The kind who can compromise and sacrifice and remember to leave the toilet seat down. Lawyers have to win every time. And in a marriage, you can't. At least not in a happy one. I can count the people here in successful marriages on the number of fingers the plaintiff in the suit against the chainsaw company we're defending has left. That's zero. No successful marriages. I can count the number of unsuccessful marriages by the number of surgeries the plaintiff has had. Nineteen. And that's just in my department.

I know it's traditional to give a gift when you go to a wedding, but I always figure my presence is good enough. Besides, my gift is on its way. Two weeks severance. Heck, it's a lot more money than anyone else is going to give them.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

It's extraordinarily frustrating when things don't work out the way you hope they will. I thought swine flu was going to be a real issue, something that was going to become an actual epidemic, and potentially solve some of our problems here, but apparently no such luck. I thought it could wipe out some associates, keep us from having to pay severance, keep the profits per partner from falling the estimated 2% they're going to fall this year, keep everything status quo, keep the good life in the hands of those of us with the skills and talents to make ourselves successful. But, no, no one here has the swine flu, no one here seems like they're going to get the swine flu, and we're stuck with all of them, earning their bloated salaries until we finally pull the trigger and then they'll be earning their bloated severance for a mind-boggling seven more days. Why we need to give one week of severance, I'll never understand. It's one thing to pay them for the rest of the day, after we fire them. That's just the humane thing to do. But if I were laid off, I'd have a new job by the next morning, so I really don't understand the business justification for an entire week of severance.

Swine flu was going to fix things. Weed out the weak. And, incidentally, cancel out all the life insurance we provided our associates, since we were forward-thinking enough to list "diseases of animal origin" in the exceptions clause (along with suicide, cancer, accidental death, heart disease, and other medical-related causes). We need epidemics every once in a while. Plagues, famines, droughts. Things to test us, and give us an excuse to thin the ranks. How else can we do it without being subject to criticism on the Internet? How else can we do it without hurting our future recruiting prospects? How else can we do it without having to actually write that impossible e-mail telling someone he no longer has a job? I needed swine flu to do my dirty work for me. I needed it to make the hard decisions, and help me pick whose sick kids don't get medical coverage anymore.

But now it's over and no one here died and I'm stuck in exactly the same place I've been for months. This world is a screwed-up place.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

New plan. We don't want to lose out on young legal servants should the economy turn around and clients actually decide they want to waste money on our fancied-up busy work that they could do in-house for a tenth of the cost. So instead of paying our first years to go away, we're merely going to slash salaries and turn the first-year associate job into a comprehensive curriculum to train them to be good associates once everything gets better.

So we're cutting the salaries from $165K to $16,500 and instituting a set of modules through which our associates will rotate, be trained, and become experts.

Four weeks of Google searching
Four weeks of coffee making
Four weeks of comma finding
Four weeks of bill padding
Four weeks of conference call scheduling
Four weeks of smiling in the corner of a meeting room and never saying a word
Four weeks of handshakes
Four weeks of lunch-fetching
Four weeks of stapling
Four weeks of making excuses for why we need to delay the proceedings
Eight weeks of lying
Two weeks of intense lunch
And two weeks when we tell them they have vacation time but we actually call them into the office every day for "emergencies" that will really just involve them sitting in a bathroom stall counting the number of times the toilet flushes, for a comprehensive study on our water usage tracked by hour, day of the week, and outside temperature.

This will prepare them well for life as an associate once we again need associates, and will also keep us from getting the bad publicity layoffs provide. See, it just takes some outside-the-box thinking. Which of course, being lawyers, we're terrific at. How else can we explain record-setting profits per partner even in this economic climate?

Friday, May 08, 2009

To: All Associates
Re: Summer Lunch Policy

Please note the following changes to our summer lunch policy. Be aware that these changes are unrelated to the firm's current economic situation, which, as we discussed during everyone's "salary realignment meetings" last week, is quite excellent, and our unwillingness to back that up with any sort of documentation is entirely due to our new environmentally-motivated "paper(and printer)less office" policy and not due to the numbers on our balance sheets, or the fact that we can no longer afford toner. Instead, we are amending the lunch policy to reflect that in today's health-conscious society, it doesn't make sense to eat lunch more than once a month. Also, in today's overpopulated society, it doesn't make sense not to take advantage of our laid-off associates in a new "alumni lunch" program, details at #6 below. We appreciate your attention to these important matters.

1. The per person lunch cap will be revised from $80/person to $.80/person.

2. Summers will share entrees at a rate of 40 summers: 1 entree.

3. Each summer is entitled to one lunch credit per month. Additional lunch credits can be purchased at a rate of $100/credit, cash only, from my office.

4. Each associate is entitled to take any particular summer associate to lunch no more than zero times.

5. Approved restaurants include the following: [end of list]

6. Our new "alumni lunch" program will consist of former associates returning to the firm during the lunch hour, under the false pretense of getting their jobs back. They will be slaughtered and served to summer associates in conference room 23B. Please direct all summer associates who ask about summer lunches to this conference room. Advise them that they should provide their own flatware.

7. Partners are exempt from the new rules and will continue to spend an unlimited amount of money on food they won't even enjoy.

Thank you,
The Partnership

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

The New York Times wrote an article yesterday about high-functioning alcoholics. As if it's a problem to be a high-functioning anything. I wish the alcoholics at the firm were high-functioning. The difficulty is that they're low-functioning, sober or not, and the fact that they also happen to be alcoholics is just icing on the cake.

I don't know what the point of labeling is. If someone's high-functioning, why is it anyone's business what they're doing in the six hours a week they're not in the office? I think we've become an overly paternalistic society. It's the end result that matters, not the process. Being a lawyer -- or a doctor, or an astronaut, or a parent, or anything else mentioned in the article -- isn't a test of moral goodness or purity. If someone needs a bottle of gin to get through the day, good for them -- as long as the work doesn't suffer. When the work suffers, then of course it's a problem. But it's a problem whether they're an alcoholic or not. And that's when we stop calling them high-functioning. High-functioning alcoholic is a nonsense term. No one's writing about high-functioning diabetics and how we need to get them help before they eat too many cookies.

I actually wish we had more alcoholics at the firm, if I'm being really honest. Alcohol dulls the senses, dulls the pain. More alcohol and they won't realize what we're doing to them, they won't care that the document review is taking eighteen months and that they're spending years of their lives in basements reading lease agreements. More alcohol and they won't notice when we cut their salaries 10% without telling them, or when we cut health benefits. More alcohol and they'll think they're having a grand old time at our partner-associate cocktail parties while everyone who's sober realizes they're actually torture. More alcohol and they'll sleep in the office, just like we want them to. And it's not like we don't have custodial staff to clean up vomit and incorrectly-placed urine. So I say bring on the high-functioning alcoholics, the more the better, and we'll not only tolerate them but embrace them. In fact, I'll trade the low-functioning pregnant women for them, any day of the week.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Happier news today, at least for incoming associates at one competitor. Stroock is offering $75,000 to incoming associates, as long as they don't show up. Ever. That's a lot of free money for doing nothing. Not that the associates who do show up make us much money anyway. Beats our new "Defer Until 2250" option, where we offer to cryogenically freeze any willing incoming associate for the next 240 years, in the hope that the economy will have turned around by then, and there'll be work to do. Also in the hope we will still be in business. We have a handful of associates I've been trying to push this program on, explaining how much it will help their careers, etc etc. Obviously because I hate them and wish they would go away until I'm long gone.

On Monday we're actually going to start offering the same opportunity to our clients. Let us freeze you for two and a half centuries, and then when you're back, your industry will be in much better shape and there'll be so much more that we can provide as far as legal services. Of course for the clients it isn't free like for the associates. No, for the clients we charge a maintenance fee for every hour we keep them frozen. We're trying to think outside the box here -- new products and services, new ways to add value to our clients, new revenue streams. I hear our point man at Chrysler is seriously thinking of taking us up on the offer.

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