The practice of law can be illustrated by the following tale. Once there was a young person who stepped into a hole. The hole was pretty empty at first and the person was able to move freely within the hole. Pretty soon, other people started to approach the hole and shovel a thick substance onto the person. The person was able to dodge the substance for a period of time, but soon enough the substance had overtaken his ankles and he could no longer move very well. Luckily, a friendly type threw a shovel into the hole. The shovel was labeled “Bill”. The person started to shovel the substance out of the hole and was able to free up his ankles and move about for a time. Unfortunately, because he was such a good shoveler, additional crowds of people approached the top of the hole and started to throw the substance in more aggressively. The person increased the rate at which he was throwing the substance out, but as he went faster and faster, more and more people started to shovel the substance on top of him. The person tired of the shoveling and decided to rest for a bit to regain his strength and fell asleep. When he woke up, the substance was to his waist and he could not move. More people had started throwing in the substance while he slept. He tried to shovel more of it out, but he couldn’t keep up with it. Then, he died.
How come the junior associate gets to make the PDF signature package? What about the high school intern? The high school intern has more enthusiasm and costs much less per hour.
People laugh when I tell them that one of my favorite things to do is sit in a quiet room at night, after the constant email traffic slows down a bit, and simply enjoy the silence. What they don’t realize is, I mean a quiet room with a variety of pies available.
I have completed a lot of deals in my time as a lawyer. On only one deal, a partner rewarded each member of our deal team with a luxurious timepiece for our efforts. Every other deal has been judged against the timepiece deal since that time. I now make sure to clarify that I will be rewarded with a luxurious item before accepting any additional work. One time a partner reminded me that I receive a paycheck for my hours. I had to laugh at that. That stuff goes straight to loans. You want my hours? Pony up a timepiece (or similarly luxurious item).
One way to really keep morale high among a group you are working with on a legal project is to assign them nicknames and use them mercilessly in both written and verbal correspondence. For example, I prefer to address other associates or partners I am working with on a particular project as “wild strider”, “wild beast”, "genius freak", “raging hog”, “meandering brute” or other such names rather than their actual names. For most, it puts a little smile on their face in what is likely a time of great turmoil. Others will find it disrespectful and ask you to stop calling them such things. I don’t usually like working with those types.
There are many stages to a client meeting and some thoughts about each stage. First, there is the start time. If any of the client’s employees or investors are late to the meeting, it’s no problem. As a lawyer, you better damn well be on time. Second, there is the actual meeting. Everyone in the room, except you, will generally be engaged in the meeting’s content and will discuss things such as “corporate strategy” and “disrupting industries”. As a lawyer, you will generally be given a brief period to discuss a few items that nobody else wants to or has any interest in. Third, there is the end time. Client meetings will generally blow right past the scheduled end time, often by an hour or more, with no regard for your time or other commitments. Some will feel enthused by the additional time to shine in front of their peers while you feel further trapped and begin frantically sending emails to reschedule other commitments. I’m usually in a delirium by this point so I am not sure if there is a fourth stage.
At some point in your legal journey, probably in law school, you will declare how important it is to you to have a lot of “client contact” in your career. This is just another indication that you did not understand the legal industry when you chose to become a lawyer.
As a lawyer, there are days when you don’t know how you can possibly get everything done. This is perhaps best illustrated on days that you suddenly realize you have two separate phone calls with two unrelated clients at the same time just before those calls are scheduled to start. When this happens, the mediocre lawyer may try to reschedule one of the calls, which is sure to disappoint the client and make you look like a disorganized dope. I suggest, therefore, that you field both calls at the same time, selectively muting the call on which you aren’t currently speaking. You usually end up coming across totally clueless for both clients, but, hey, you showed up.
Sometimes when I feel like quitting my job, I do a couple little tricks to calm myself down. First, I print my resume and leave it by the communal printer for all to see. Then, I tell a couple gossip types that I am thinking of leaving the firm. I then just sit in my office and wait to see how long it takes for someone to ask me if I am okay or to tell me that they heard I was leaving. Because gossip speeds in law firms move faster than most high schools, it usually only takes a couple hours before a third party drops in to see how you are. Go ahead, give it a shot.
If, like me, you thought being a lawyer would make you like those lawyers in John Grisham novels, I have some bad news.
During really busy periods, everyone you associate with will be angry with you to some degree. Your clients are angry because you are late with something or because you have made an error in a document. Your supervising partners are angry because you are doing the work of other supervising partners. Your junior associates are angry because you haven’t gotten back to them about something they need from you. Your family and friends are angry because, since embarking in the practice of law, you routinely fail to keep personal commitments. In summary, you have now become a bad person and everyone is mad at you for it. During these periods, I like to listen to that rap song that says, “Don’t hate the player, hate the game.” It’s got a real good mood boosting beat.
As a prospective lawyer, you may ask, “What is it that will enable me to regularly work through the night drafting documents and performing other legal tasks that are inherently not interesting whatsoever?” The answer - hard drugs.
Law firm partners trying to reach consensus on how to conserve money during tough economic times have a few options. One is to stop providing perks like free sodas and snacks. Another less controversial option is to keep the free sodas and snacks and just fire a bunch of associates.
One day I had just finished washing my hands in the bathroom at my firm when I heard a large snorting sound from one of the stalls. I turned to the stall, startled by the sound, and out came a partner. His slim fitting Oxford shirt was covered in water and his eyes were bloodshot. He asked me how I was and I said I was good but had been busy. He extended his fist, pre-wash, and feeling pressured to return the fist bump, I extended my fist as well. He then said "we are warriors" and returned to the stall. I washed my hands again and left, never to return to that particular bathroom.
While traveling, I often work on my laptop in the passenger seat, using my iPhone as a personal hotspot while someone else drives. I do this even though I get so carsick that we need to pull over frequently so I can vomit violently by the roadside. The lingering question I have is, can I bill that time spent vomiting or should it be considered personal time?
Blowing deadlines is an inevitable part of legal practice since deadlines are imposed upon you by third parties who do not care about your other client or life priorities. If you have blown a client deadline and you are experiencing guilt or anxiety, the best thing to do is to own up to it in some form by email and hope that will be the end of it. There is the gentle “my bad” type email – “Apologies for the delay!”, “Sorry for the radio silence!” or “Apologies for the long lead time here!” There is the bold unverifiable lie that you can use once per client – “Must have made it to my spam folder!”, “The firm’s servers have been down!” or "So sorry, looks like this has been sitting in my outbox for a couple weeks!" There is the plea for sympathy – “Apologies, I have had a horrible flu!” or “Catching up here, had a medical procedure!” There is the vague high drama email – “I am a failure!”, “This is my last email!” or “Tragedy struck last week!” There is the blame shifting email - "Apologies, I'll follow-up with my team.", "Let me ping Dennis again on this." or "I am just as upset about this as you are, let me crack the whip on Dennis." Some of my favorite attempts at acknowledging a delay are those who truly don't care but still feel some moral obligation to address the issue - "Attached.”, “I’ll try for next week.”, “This is low on my radar right now.” or “Please direct all further questions regarding this matter to Dennis.”
Performing legal research presents a great opportunity to test the limits on the number of tabs you can open in your web browser. I often get to a point where the tabs are no longer identifiable because there are so many open, which can be frustrating and may lead to uncontrollable cursing as you search for that one tab you remember you needed. But the one thing you should never do is fall victim to the temptation to close the entire browser at once thinking that a fresh start will do some good.
The passing of a significant jurist naturally prompts in the young lawyer a moment of internal reflection on his or her own impact on the legal landscape. And while you might not be remembered for any particularly momentous decisions or brilliant opinions, you did build a pretty good closing checklist last week.
One time I was in a board meeting and the Company's CEO was explaining how difficult times were financially for the Company such that they might have to close their doors soon. I thought it would be a good time to add some value rather than simply surfing the Internet, so I said, "This sounds like a real dumpster fire." It's that ability to really sense the right time to assert yourself that will help you achieve greatness in the law.
To me, “friendly reminders” aren’t friendly at all in the context of legal practice. In fact, friendly reminders are often somewhat hostile in intent. When a client sends you a friendly reminder, for example, it conveys annoyance at you for something they think you should have already done. One time, around 9 PM on a Wednesday, I sent a friendly reminder to a client for a file he promised to send me that day so I could complete a project for him by the following morning. He said, “I told you I would send it today and, last I checked, the day isn’t over for another three hours.” I thought that was pretty neat so tried using it myself when a client sent me a friendly reminder. Next thing I knew, I received a friendly reminder from my partner supervisor to be more friendly to my clients.