Oh the irony. I returned from an extended lunch one day last month only to realize I had a meeting for my annual review that afternoon.
After ditching out of work early the day before to meet up with a cute cocktail waitress from my old bar for a 6:10 showing of Up in the Air, there was something about watching George Clooney fire people way more competent than me for two-and-a-half hours that put me on edge. I couldn’t help being a bit squeamish; however, I figured if I managed to survive for this long with all the shenanigans I’ve pulled, I was pretty much bulletproof. Firing Matthew Richardson at this point would be like trying to impeach George W. Bush now.
I closed my door and mentally prepared myself to meet the two ad hoc corporate review partners, Bob and Jin. I had managed to avoid working for—and barely even speaking to—both of them my entire career as a lawyer at [Big Firm.] Bob, mainly because his breath stinks and I hate staring at his ear hair. And Jin, well, mostly because I don’t mesh well with the Asian work ethic.
I rehearsed some stock responses in case they turned on the heat:
“Sure, my hours were low this year, but weren’t everyone’s?”
“I plan on picking it up BIG TIME this first quarter.”
“I know I haven’t worked with either of you before, but I’m really looking forward to doing so in the near future. Especially you Lin—I mean, Jin.”
“Offices are notorious for gossip. I know better than to dip my pen in the company ink.”
I took a few deep breaths. With those gems in my pocket, I knew I was going in fully prepared. They knocked on the door, and I offered them both seats in my office.
The looks on their faces immediately gave me a queasy feeling. I made a joke about the holidays that fell flat. I could see in their eyes they wanted to establish no human connection with me. I’m all too familiar with that look. It’s the same one I’ve dished out to many a stripper trying to pump me for more cash by telling me about their family life.
Jin: Matthew, I’m not going to beat around the bush. The reviews you received this year are consistently negative and your hours are way down. You’ve only billed 1350 hours to date.
Okay, wow. Cutting straight to the chase here. Not even a simple “How was your weekend? Did you see Avatar?”
Me: Well, I’ve had a bunch of broken deals, you know how that goes… I—I mean, sure, my hours were low this year, but weren’t everyone’s?
Jin: Matt, how do you feel you can improve your job performance? You agree that it needs improvement, yes?
CODE RED. I AM BEING FIRED.
I started tuning Jin out while visions of vengeance filled my mind.
My temperature started rising. I considered which one of them I’d punch in the face and which one I’d smash in the ear with a closing binder. I watch a lot of UFC, so they could be in for some serious pain.
I weighed the pros and cons of having a total Michael Douglas Falling Down episode. Should I handle this firing like a professional? After all, I’m Matthew fucking Richardson—not some whiny associate who actually gives a rat’s ass about this job—does my reaction even really matter?
Matt. Matt. Control yourself! Tune back in. What the hell is Jin even asking?
Then it dawned on me. Bob hadn’t chimed in yet. Was he the firm’s executioner? I stared him down carefully as I spoke.
Me: You know what? I think I’ve made some steady progress over the years. Overall, as an attorney, I think I’ve grown. Maybe this year isn’t as indicative, but I plan on picking it up BIG TIME this first quarter.
Jin: This isn’t just about your subpar work performance, Matthew. There are also some major concerns about your extracurricular activities.
He must be referring to me sticking my pen in every inkwell at the company. And, like I feared, he likely really did overhear me that time I threatened to carve a glory hole in the women’s bathroom on the 13th floor.
Jin: I think it’s fair to say you are starting to develop a less-than-professional reputation. It’s not good. For the firm especially these days.
Damn paralegals. They can never just bang and keep their mouths shut.
Jin’s BlackBerry started chirping and he excused himself, claiming it was a client. I figured this was their system for executions. Bob would now coldly ask me to lay my head down sideways on my desk ALA Mel Gibson in Braveheart, and I would wait for him to cut off my head and let it drop into the wastebasket.
When Jin was good and gone, Bob leaned in close. I pictured the last paralegal I would ever bang and braced myself for the guillotine—my well deserved fate at long last.
Bob: (Practically whispering—) You’re lucky you’ve got allies at this firm. Partner told me about all of the intangibles you bring to the table. Guys like Jin, they just don’t get it. In their country, it’s all about the work—not about the people. That’s why we run this world. In the old days, a guy like you would be on partner track, but now we’re more international. One of these days, you’ll have to take me out on one of your famous Richardson adventures.
Hold the phone. Hold the goddamned phone.
If I understood Bob correctly, he just said that Partner made a call on my behalf and gave me a stay of execution based on my “intangibles” (i.e. I take a lot of these loser associates out and get them pussy, and I take loser clients out and get them pussy). I DO perform a valuable service!
Also, Bob had just revealed himself to be a blatant racist, but he’s old, it wasn’t that overt, and he just saved my ass—so I’ll let it slide.
I was thanking him for understanding as Jin walked back in the room. Jin looked at Bob, and Bob nodded. As if to say, “I set him straight.”
Jin: Before we go, we really need to impress on you that this is the only time that we’ll ever be having this conversation. We hope you take what we said to heart and that we see some marked improvement soon. Otherwise—
Me: I get it. 100%. And you will see a 180-degree turnaround. I’ll call you both tomorrow to see you have any new deals for me. I know I haven’t worked with either of you before, but I’m really looking forward to doing so in the near future.
They got up to walk out. Bob patted me on the shoulder the way a scummy-but-proud grandfather would. It was enough to make me start rethinking the whole bad breath/ear hair thing. Maybe he wouldn’t be so bad to work for after all.
I exhaled. Holy shit, that was definitely a close call.
I have been playing with fire for years. Have almost got burned many times. But nothing like this. I always figured the fact that I lasted this long was a testament to my rapport with partners. Guess I was right. I’m like the law firm version of Liam Neeson in Taken. “What I do have are a very particular set of skills.”
Now I know I have Bob and Partner on my side to protect me from the Jin’s of the world. If he had his way, he’d be dining on my corpse right now. But, unfortunately, the Jin’s of the world are becoming the rule; the Bob’s are now the exception. The fact that I came this close to being canned today means I may be the Last of the Mohicans.
In a few years, there may be no more room for a guy like Matthew Richardson in BigLaw. I’ll shed a tear when that day comes. Obviously because it will mean I got canned.
In any case, for once in my life, I was a little shaken up and needed to clear my head. So I calmly walked out of the office, smiled at my secretary and headed straight for the strip club. All in a day’s work.