BL1Y to Partner: Associates Like to Work Hard, Not Stupid


The fourth and final installment of our impromptu partner v. associate debate.

1. It began last week with “Partner to Associates: Stop Being ‘Entitled, Whiny Pussies,’” which was written by a “38-year-old partner at a prestigious firm.”

2. In response, frequent Bitter Lawyer commenter BL1Y submitted “Associate to Partners: Shut Up About Us Being ‘Entitled,’” which we posted last Friday.

3. On Monday, the same BigLaw partner reiterated and defended his argument in “Partner to BL1Y: Associates are ‘Self-Absorbed Egotists.’”

4. With his final rebuttal, today’s piece is again by BL1Y.

Read all four rants and vote at the bottom of this post for who you think won the debate. ]

“If this were a jury trial…”

Objection.Relevance? Do you really make arguments that way?  Are you aware that outside of an actual jury trial, preparing for a jury trial or participating in a mock trial competition, it doesn’t matter what would happen if this were a jury trial?

You missed the point, 38-year-old partner at a prestigious firm.

The point is that most of us want to do a good job as lawyers, and we are willing to put forth the time and effort necessary to do so, but a combination of unprofessionalism and incompetence in the management of our firms has made that more than a little difficult.  I’ve heard plenty of associates complain about their work, including the hours.  But not once have I heard anyone complain about being asked to work hard.

What I’ve heard are complaints that we were being asked to work late and on weekends on projects that could have been completed during regular business hours had they been assigned in a timely manner.  I’ve heard complaints that associates were being asked to stay in the office well past midnight, every night, for weeks at a time, with no work to do because the partner in charge of a matter thought something might come up.  We don’t complain when asked to work hard, only when asked to work stupid.

Furthermore, Big Firms do indeed make representations, both explicit and implicit, about the “stability,” “profitability,” and “likeability” of the firm and legal practice.

At my firm’s most recent “state of the firm” meeting, upper management assured us that while things were slower than normal, our particular balance of practice areas (and the fact we landed a client with a multi-billion dollar suit) meant that we were in a good position to weather the economic crisis.  We were told that while there would be some cutbacks in spending, management did not believe the firm would need to take any drastic steps.

A few comparatively busier months later, ten percent of my department was laid off, along with a few others scattered across the firm.  I can’t speak for everyone, but I know that several of us who were let go—myself included—had already billed enough hours that year to more than cover our salaries.  We could have weathered the economic crisis intact, as our management predicted, but they decided to avoid a 2.6% blip in partners per profit.  (I did the math: Combined salaries of everyone let go divided by the firm’s total profits.)

Show me a firm that doesn’t tout the excellent training and mentoring it offers, the fulfilling, meaningful work it gives to young associates, or the collegial atmosphere of the office, and I’ll show you a firm that shouldn’t even bother showing up to OCI.

Now, maybe I read your argument incorrectly, but it sounds like you’re upset that we associates want something better than the job you had.  At least, that’s what it sounds like when you complain that we want to change the way BigLaw does business.  Maybe you think that when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade—and that’s great if it worked for you.  But some of us have decided that when life gives us lemons, we’re going to take that lemon, bean life in the head with it, and while life’s down, we’re going to steal its strawberries and cherries.

We’re not entitled to have the industry work the way we would want, but you’re not entitled to keep it working the way you’d like.  If you want it to stay the same toxic grind it is now, then you’re going to just have to figure out how to be smarter, faster and more efficient than the “self-absorbed egoists” who will soon become your new competition.

And this whole “entitlement” nonsense is just a straw man anyway.  Whether or not we’re entitled is irrelevant; I can’t find anyone saying that we are.  There are only people telling us to shut up because we’re not.  Next time your wife complains about you forgetting your anniversary or her birthday, try telling her to shut up because she’s not entitled to a nice night out.  See if she buys that argument.

No one is entitled to be treated well, but that doesn’t mean it’s not the right thing to do.  We’re not entitled to be treated like professionals (a word you admit not knowing the meaning of), but we are sure as hell free to complain about it.

Read more from BL1Y.

23 Comments

  1. Guano Dubango

    November 11, 2009 at 5:43 am

    Associates should have better relations with partners.  If I were a partner, I would make sure to be very friendly to the associates, particularly the female associates, since they are the ones that can get the work done.

  2. Matt

    November 11, 2009 at 6:13 am

    “Maybe you think that when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade—and that’s great if it worked for you.  But some of us have decided that when life gives us lemons, we’re going to take that lemon, bean life in the head with it, and while life’s down, we’re going to steal its strawberries and cherries.”
    Thank you for that

  3. CSM

    November 11, 2009 at 6:49 am

    “Next time your wife complains about you forgetting your anniversary or her birthday, try telling her to shut up because she’s not entitled to a nice night out.  See if she buys that argument.”
    This is one of the best things I’ve read in a long time.  Great work.

  4. Craig

    November 11, 2009 at 6:52 am

    This was my favorite post so far and swung the debate in BL1Y’s favor.  Congrats.  Where does he pick up his prize?

  5. Anonymous

    November 11, 2009 at 7:38 am

    I liked to hear both sides of the rant. good piece.

  6. KateLaw

    November 11, 2009 at 8:08 am

    Nice!

  7. BL1Y

    November 11, 2009 at 8:24 am

    Your kind words are the only prize I need, Craig.  But I wouldn’t mind if LF10 took me out for sushi.

  8. Anon Female

    November 11, 2009 at 10:40 am

    funny!!!! LF10 taking you our for sushi. I bet you would love that!

  9. c_broski

    November 11, 2009 at 10:42 am

    lost in this argument is the fact that 2300 hours today is far different from 2300 hours 20-30 years ago, when itemized billing statements were virtually unheard of, and clients would blindly pay hefty bills for “legal services rendered” without a second look. padding back then was a way of life – if you were in the office for 9 hours, all 9 got billed, and nobody said peep about it. now with corporate clients scrutinizing legal bills and demanding more competition from their lawyers, as well as not paying for travel time or other classic pad-tastic events, billing 2300 hours today is a complete fucking grind.

  10. Anonymous

    November 11, 2009 at 10:43 am

    I’m going with BL1Y on this one. I’ve been a paralegal in both BigLaw and boutique firms and now am in law school myself. I would never want to work in BigLaw because of the way I saw partners treat the associates. Most of the time, in my experience, the paralegals were treated better. If you ask me, the partners are the ones who act “entitled” to treat associates like pond scum just because some other partner did it to them when they were associates – they paid their dues, now its someone else’s turn to pay their theirs. BL1Y definitely nailed it on this last rebuttal.

  11. UnclePeaz

    November 11, 2009 at 10:55 am

    Way to pull through in the end, BL1Y.  I found your previous rant a bit sophomoric and weak, but this one hit the nail squarely on the head.  Why anyone business would pride itself on using highly paid talent in the most inefficient way possible is beyond me.  I thank my lucky stars that I do not, and will not ever, work in such an environment.

  12. R Smith

    November 11, 2009 at 11:18 am

    Associates whining while they “wait” for assignments become fungible.  A few learn that an associate position is not a peerage in the House of Lords. They strive to advance–without “waiting” for assignments and without whining. They become partners.  Give BL1Y his own business one day, and he’ll be perceived as a demanding tyrant by the whining and waiting class of employees.

  13. BL1Y

    November 11, 2009 at 11:51 am

    Smith, I’m having a hard time figuring out what you think I should have been doing.  So, I’ll give you a not-so hypothetical.  One of my first assignments was looking into whether there would be any potential liability for securities fraud based on statements made a year ago regarding a tender offer going on at that time.  After completing that research and memo, asking that partner if there’s anything else for me to do (no) and asking the partner in charge of assignments if there are any projects that need anyone (no), what am I supposed to do?

  14. Craig

    November 11, 2009 at 12:33 pm

    LF10 taking you for sushi, BL1Y?  You don’t strike me as the type of guy to travel to Chicago so a neurotic real world 6 or 7 can take you out?  Unless you are expecting her to come to NYC, which she may actually be desperate enough to do.

  15. BL1Y

    November 11, 2009 at 12:56 pm

    Craig, do I strike you as someone with something better to do?

  16. SDL20

    November 11, 2009 at 1:14 pm

    i’m glad this glorified message board debate is finally over. get back to the regulars

  17. Anom10

    November 11, 2009 at 4:28 pm

    MATT, contact Love Lawyer in Chicago (BL News today) because she may be your cherry on top.

    COMPUTERS, have they not chg law research and other communication in the past 20/30 years?  Life was a bitch 30 yrs ago when I sat in a dingy law library.

  18. Guano Dubango

    November 11, 2009 at 5:02 pm

    BL1Y, be careful what you wish for.  I met a girl who took me home for sush ast monthi, and it smelled old and putrid.

  19. R Smith

    November 12, 2009 at 10:15 am

    BL1Y: I don’t mean to be at all facetious, and it sounds like your firm was a real pain.  I had no parents supporting me and didn’t want to be one of those people carrying a box out of the office. So fear was as much of a motivator as desire I suppose.  I scoped the office on lunch hours, evenings or weekends for the crazed looking partners and senior associates. You know the types: The ones with no time for lunch.  Working late.  I gleaned what I could about what they’re doing, decided what looked good and long term.  I decided what work I want to do and with who, (and if there is an LF 10 on the team, so much the better), and get it by trying to bypass the regular flow of work to associates.  Monday, for example, I go the the Assignment Partner.  Assignment Partner: “nothing for you today.” YOU: “Equity down the hall has a big deal, needs help and I don’t mind helping out till you have something. OK?” AP: “Yeah sure, good idea [thinks to himself, “great! one less pest!”] You then burrow into Equity’s work: you read all the drafts; pester the senior associates with questions: “Why do we do that? What do you look out for? etc. Senior Associates love to share with credulous younger lawyers. You pick up a lot this way.  I liked litigation and asked to sit in on depositions (without billing for the time) (yes its a time hit that has to be made up, but its like school and it beats doing nothing). I reviewed drafts of motions and asked senior associates why they did certain things.  In the process I learned a lot. In less than a year I was discernably ahead of most of my class and so affixed to one group’s work that it was not POSSIBLE to let me go. I knew all about the documents in Texas and California, etc.  If the group slowed, someone else wanted the kid with “real experience.” I never felt the time sunk into learning was wasted. Didn’t relate to people who thought working weekends was “sick.” I knew what I wanted.  As time went on, I saw the ones that didn’t make partner, not coming in the week of the decision, slinking about the next week, stripped of stature, like career derelicts.  By year 4 or 5 you were in the running or not. It was too late to enter the race , so the late bloomers, like people who suddenly worry about their diet when they get chest pains, were too late.  When I came up for partner, one out of my area partner criticized me as “acting like he thinks he’s already a partner.” My backers pointed out that was exactly what the firm wanted isn’t it? It was. Granted this is not for everybody.  I had fewer sushi dates with LF10’s. Lost some vacations. Anyway, I didn’t mean to sound like a calvanist preacher. regards.

  20. KateLaw

    November 12, 2009 at 10:30 am

    Wow.  R Smith, I respect your decision to put in the time and effort to get you where you are today (whatever your initial motivation may have been).  However, I get the impression that BL1Y would appreciate a healthier and more fulfilling work/life balance.  One that could be accomplished with applying effective management skills and strategies in large firms -just like they do in the business world.  Listening to you describe your experience reminds of a wise quote:  “the price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.” So I wonder… was it worth it?

  21. Bitter Lawyer

    November 12, 2009 at 12:36 pm

    R Smith: You’ve got stuff to say.  If you, or anyone worth a writing lick, has a piece to contribute, by all means, send it our way.

  22. Magic Circle Jerk

    November 13, 2009 at 3:41 pm

    BL1Y-

    Every single point you make is valid.  However, it still misses the key point: associates are the employees of the partners. 
    Yes, most partners couldn’t manage a hot dog stand efficiently.  That being said, we still have to eat their shit because they own the place.
    sorry you got laid off. the fact that firms lay off first-years shows what a disgusting and contemptible bunch are running so many biglaw shops these days.

  23. Anon Female

    November 15, 2009 at 11:41 am

    R Smith has good points. Bl1Y’s firm does sound like it was a royal pain.

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