Ski In, (Can’t) Ski Out

This was it.  The year I finally decided to do it.  After three years of relentless work and zero (count ‘um—zero) vacations or sick days, I told HR, my boss and my secretary last October that I would be taking off the week of January 12.  My boss (I’ll call Eric), who’s the partner I work for on most deals, even congratulated me.  “Well deserved,” he said.  But again, that was back in October. 

For the last five years, I’ve missed the annual ski trip in Colorado that my six best college buddies all swear by as the best week of their lives.  Low cash flow in law school and years of being too dedicated of a new lawyer, I’ve annually settled for outrageous pictures and inside-joke emails for months following every trip.  I finally had enough.  And this was going to be my year for serious carving, pricey meals, aged whiskies, fine cigars, hours of poker, big laughs and loose snow bunnies.

I work M&A for a midsize, 40-attorney firm based out of Texas that suffered the dismal economy remarkably well.  We’re lean; each attorney handles a lot.  Everyone’s capable.  I work hard.  Eric works hard.  But sometimes Eric works hard at creating unrealistic expectations for clients.  And now it’s ruining my vacation.

After arriving Sunday and getting in about two hours on the slopes Monday morning, my BlackBerry started exploding.  The fear I had for weeks came true. 

When I booked this trip, I thought for sure this deal would be long completed.  For the last seven months, I’ve been working with a client that constantly changes its demands and refuses to agree to the terms of any LOI.  I watched Eric allow the clients to spin their web of unreasonable expectations.  He won’t tell them that what they want simply isn’t possible.  He’s sometimes a spineless client pleaser like that.

“Look, we’re working for you, guys.  We’ll figure this out.”

I had to keep my hole shut and watch it happen.  All while everything was needlessly delayed.

Things finally came to a head and suddenly there’s a big sense of urgency to get the deal square this week—of all weeks.  The clients are blowing me up because they can’t reach anyone at the firm.  No one that I briefed about this deal before I left has done a thing.  Eric is nowhere to be found.  He hasn’t returned calls.  His secretary said he went to a few meetings, but has yet to even be in the office this week.  I think he got confused about whose vacation this was supposed to be.

I’m handling everything now.  And flying solo without any support from my own goddamn office while the client sits desperate to merge in order to remain operational and avoid losing substantial assets—all while continuing to be irrational about the deal terms.  I sent a huge CYA letter to Eric this morning, laying out everything that’s been going on along with my advice.  Called twice and left voicemails a few hours later.  It’s now 6:00 PM, and I’ve heard nothing back. 

Meanwhile, three of my friends are soaking their bones in the hot tub outside my window after multiple runs, talking about the foxy lodge bartender and making plans for dinner.  I’m responding to pissed-off emails from my client every five minutes and just got off a call with an attorney on the other side that ended with:

“I’m not going to make you admit it, but just so you know, I understand.  No one is facing reality.  Your clients are idiots, and I don’t know how you’re going to pull this off.”

Internally raging about how true that is, I could only respond by saying, “I’ll get back to you after I review with them what we discussed.”

I’m a simple guy.  Don’t think I expect too much.  And all I was expecting this week were a couple days to mentally check out and wear the thousands of dollars in ski gear I bought in my early twenties when I thought my future life as a lawyer would afford me extensive recreational opportunities. 

Instead, with a slew of hours of work ahead to finish this deal, I basically booked myself on a weeklong cock tease.

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This was it.  The year I finally decided to do it.  After three years of relentless work and zero (count ‘um—zero) vacations or sick days, I told HR, my boss and my secretary last October that I would be taking off the week of January 12.  My boss (I’ll call Eric), who’s the partner I work for on most deals, even congratulated me.  “Well deserved,” he said.  But again, that was back in October. 

For the last five years, I’ve missed the annual ski trip in Colorado

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17 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    January 13, 2010 at 4:27 am

    What I do not understand is why this dilweed even brought the black-berry with him.  He tells the boss he is unavailable, then he goes away.  But being at work sure beats the alternative of sitting on your fat tuches all day watching reruns of Kirstie Allie when she was hot on the hoof.

  2. Anonymous

    January 13, 2010 at 4:43 am

    A rather attractive woman goes up to the bar in a quiet rural pub. She gestures alluringly to the barman who comes over immediately. When he arrives, she seductively signals that he should bring his face close to hers. When he does so, she begins to gently caress his beard which is full and bushy.
    “Are you the landlord?” she asks, softly stroking his face with both hands. “Actually, no,” he replies.
    “Can you get him for me – I need to speak to him,” she says, running her hands up beyond his beard and into his hair. “Im afraid I can’t” breathes the barman – clearly aroused. “Is there anything I can do?”
    “Yes there is. I need you to give him a message,” she continues huskily, popping a couple of fingers into his mouth and allowing him to suck them gently.
    “Tell him that there’s no toilet paper in the ladies room.”

  3. Handsome Avocat

    January 13, 2010 at 7:43 am

    I feel your pain, mon ami.  It seems to me from your story that you did not do sufficient due diligence to ensure things would flow smoothly during your absence.  I think deep inside you knew this and that is why you brought in the CrackBerry, “just in case.” I would not have taken off for vacation without some kind of reasonably thorough status meeting with your boy Eric, which does not appear to have taken place.  The after-the-fact CYA letter is a nice try, but I’ll guarantee you it won’t stand in the way of Eric ultimately throwing you under the proverbial bus–and getting fired.

    It sure sucks to be you.

  4. BL1Y

    January 13, 2010 at 8:12 am

    I wouldn’t really fault him for bringing his blackberry on vacation with him, most lawyers do that so they can stay aware of what’s going on and field simple questions if they come up.  This guy’s mistake wasn’t bringing his blackberry, but rather not putting setting his e-mails out of office auto-response.  30 seconds on Outlook would have stopped the clients from bothering you and made sure they went after the partner like they should have.  In the future though, try going on vacation to a third world beach with no cell phone signals.

  5. Juris Depravis

    January 13, 2010 at 9:01 am

    Yeah, this sucks. But you must have actively avoided reality on one underlying point about which you needlessly whine: In no way is it Eric’s–or any lawyer’s–job to keep client expectations “realistic.” In private practice purgatory, we ATTORN to the client (ergo, the term “attorney”).  The client sets forth its requirements, and we strive to achieve those goals.  Yes, we may fail, but ultimately the client decides whether negotiated terms are satisfactory and whether to close the deal.  And if you or your firm will not endeavor as instructed/expected by the client, there are hundreds of firms just waiting to take your place.  Also, in the future, I would recommend doing a coverage memo before any planned leave that is given not only to your peers and Eric but also with a cc to firm management.  However, if the client complains enough, your ass is grass, and Eric will be the mower.  It may not be right, but it is reality.

  6. anon

    January 13, 2010 at 11:33 am

    This is unnecessarily whiny. There is no snow in CO to ski on anyway.  Let alone in UT or anywhere else. This dude could easily just sit out in the sun with his blackberry and take care of this. Or if he was smart, ski runs near a lodge, and stop occasionally to deal with things.

  7. DantheMan

    January 13, 2010 at 12:01 pm

    my advice. leave the blackberry at home dude

  8. Guano Dubango

    January 13, 2010 at 4:19 pm

    They wanted to give me a blackberrry at work, and told me it was optional.  Since I was not given any extra money for being on call, I told my boss that I was not internet saavy so I would not want to have the blackberry, even though I now have to pay for my own phone service.  When I tell this story in a group, I become the center of attention.

  9. BL1Y

    January 13, 2010 at 5:35 pm

    Be sure you don’t get time spent doing work counted against your vacation time.  Sure, you might think that you aren’t going to need the time anyways given how little vacation you take, but given the (very real) chance you might be canned, you’ll need those days so you can cash them out.

  10. KateLaw

    January 14, 2010 at 7:41 am

    Poor guy.  I would be so pissed.  Ski time = Kate time.  When I take vacations, I maintain no contact with the office and they know better than to try to reach me.  I guess that’s the luxury of not working in Big Law!

  11. R Smith

    January 14, 2010 at 11:00 am

    If you don’t like being in a service business, leave. Doctors, lawyers, plumbers, vets, etc are pestered all the time because things don’t wait for ski vacations. I don’t like it any more than you do, but get real: Tax laws, finance, and a host of reasons account for your ruined vacation. Want to take vacations without a blackberry? Cede the client relationship to someone else, become a bloated state employee, or take a big pay cut. Otherwise, book a flight to the client’s offices NOW to meet with them to “ensure its all set in stone,” and leave after a day.  They will call you before anyone else for the next 10 years.  You just cemented a relationship that often takes years to do. So fertilize it now and vacation later.

  12. BL1Y

    January 14, 2010 at 1:18 pm

    Smith: If I don’t have an emergency and want to see my doctor when his office is closed, he’ll tell me to call back when the office is open.  If it is an emergency, he’ll tell me to go to the ER.  Plumbers won’t stop their vacations to handle the problems of someone hundreds of miles away; they’ll simply not answer the call.  It has nothing to do with being in a service industry and everything to do with being a spineless wimp.

  13. www.pinkshoelawyer.blogspot.com

    January 14, 2010 at 1:18 pm

    Agreed with Mr. Smith…
    You don’t get that bloated ridiculous (but not wall-streed stoopid) salary not because you’re smart or special or better than the rest of the world (although the group-think that you are doesn’t help).  It’s because you’re officially a toolbag.
    Suck it up.

  14. R Smith

    January 14, 2010 at 7:27 pm

    BL1Y: if I was a doctor, I might tell you to call back too. But good paying clients have a disturbingly odd way of deciding that lawyers who aren’t there when they need them are . . . replaceable.  There is always some new AGC wanting to give his or her old firm some work at your expense.  Other pestiferous firms are asking your clients to lunch, and touting their spineless willingness to “do what it takes.” That resonates when you aren’t calling them back.  Ever read “The Philadelphian?” You might get away once with not calling back, or “I’m on vacation,” but only once. Clients wanting to seal a deal don’t want to hear about your lost hours in a hot tub. Fair? No. Real life? yes.

  15. Guano Dubango

    January 14, 2010 at 7:36 pm

    I must stand up for my friend, BL1Y.  He is a bitter lawyer, but he has a point.  There comes a time when you have to lay down the rules, even for a paying client, otherwise he gets even more ridiculous–like a tiger cub that is always given milk; he will always want more.  If the client has no loyalty, then to heck with him, I say.

  16. Juris Depravis

    January 15, 2010 at 7:46 am

    If anyone is trying to kid themselves into believing that the path to success in/for a private (biglaw) firm is ANYTHING other than shameless whoredom, I have some real estate in Narnia to sell to you.  No, it is not right to constantly kowtow to unreasonable client demands, to treat associates like disposable razors, to race toward the lowest common denominator of maximum revenue at minimum cost, but it is how the broken system dysfunctions.  My father was right–radiology and dermatology and dentistry are the way to go.

  17. R Smith

    January 15, 2010 at 11:53 am

    But Guano, if my client is loyal to me and calls me first; am I not also loyal in taking that call? Loyal to all my associates and staff with car payments, mortages and private school tuition etc?  The ones that would be getting pink slips, searching for jobs, negotating with banks and bitterly rebuking me for not giving them work if I did not take the call?  Not to mention the lifestyle I want. So I am indeed at a client’s beck and call, and thus busy and solvent. It beats trying to rebuild a client base after alienated ones leave and tell their friends (“Smith’s always in hot tub when you need him”).  If I could only patent a device that assured me effortless money; or if I was good looking enough to live off heartbreakingly beautiful women; but…

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