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

BL1Y Columns, Lawyer

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.

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