The second to last thing I want to be doing on a Friday afternoon is sitting in a CLE class trying to pay attention to some droning tax partner talking about the newest updates to “the Code”—whatever the hell that is. (The last thing I want to be doing? Going to work and listening to a droning tax partner.) Unfortunately, I have been woefully unprepared when it comes to staying on top of my CLEs.
A few years back when I was just starting out, there was a minor mention of CLEs at orientation. Get them done or risk . . . something bad happening? I was pretty hungover at the time. And I never ever gave it much thought for the subsequent several years. But it turns out there are some serious repercussions for fucking off CLEs after all.
CLEs are like a cyst that you don’t take care of. At first, it seems like nothing—a glorified zit—so you just ignore it for a few years and hope it will go away. But the more you ignore it, the bigger it gets. Eventually, it becomes a serious problem. Mine is now stage-four and can only be removed by showing up for a bunch of BS classes. That’s assuming I don’t want to risk being put on “inactive status.” And while “inactive” sounds pretty cool, I unfortunately think it’s something like when a cop shoots an old lady 44 times because he thought the can of tuna fish she was holding was a gun—also known as suspended without pay!!
I realize 24 credits every two years doesn’t sound like much. And maybe most of you think I’m crazy for even suggesting that this is an ordeal. But, in my mind, it’s like having to go to the dentist every two weeks. Once law school ended, I thought I was done with classes, done with lectures by some pretentious blowhard regarding things with very little practical application in the real world. I mentally shut off that part of my brain, never to be used again. So, when I tuned into this whole CLE thing, I was incapable and unwilling to turn that part back on. The few CLE’s I went to at the start of my legal career confirmed my belief that they are useless exercises—a state-mandated time suck from doing actual legal work. And the cherry on top is the fact that they always take place at a time when I actually have shit to do.
Especially now. There are whispers of more people getting fired, and I’m falling back into old habits by slacking off and shirking responsibility on a deal that’s about to close. We are trying to get it all done, and soon. Unfortunately for me, this CLE thing isn’t going away—the unceasing harassment I’m getting from HR proves that—so now I have to squeeze in a boatload of CLE’s while not screwing up multiple deals that are simultaneously closing all while trying to maintain a faltering relationship with my girlfriend.
So as a nod to my upcoming CLE requirement deadline, I made a short list of things I’ve actually learned over the course of my legal career in what I consider Matthew Richardson’s version of Continuing Legal Education:
1. Don’t Pick Up the Phone When a Partner Calls
There has never, ever been a time where a partner called my office just to chitchat. No matter how chummy you are with partners at your firm, they see you as the help. Therefore, if you’re like me and like to decide what work you take on to avoid it not being dropped on you, this is a critical rule.
2. Establish a Good Rapport with Your Secretary
Despite some of my rumblings in earlier columns (which I hope my secretary has never read—though judging by her work performance, I don’t think she reads so well anyway. HA! Kidding, Nancy!), your secretary is your very best line of defense in this world. As the fielder of all your phone calls, they can really nail you to the cross if they feel like it.
If you want to be left alone, you need to be tight enough with your secretary to be able to get them to lie for you. And I’m not just talking about lying to partners at your firm. I’m talking about lying to life partners. “No, Matt is on an all-night conference call, but he was just telling everyone here how much he misses you!” Nice work, Nancy! I better get you another Starbucks gift card. Even though bonuses are down, take care of your secretary at the end of the year. They can make or break you.
3. Don’t Treat First-Years as Equals
Even if you like them and drink beers with them and occasionally hit up clubs with them, at the end of the day, you need to keep pushing the shit downhill. You don’t want to be in a situation where some first-year is questioning why he has to work on a Friday night while you’re eating steak. So set them straight early and keep your boundaries—but occasionally throw them a bone and buy a first-year a nice dinner or scotch on your own dime. Let them think you appreciate his efforts. It will go a long way when they’re covering your ass because you’re nursing a hangover and neglecting to make sure the closing is going smoothly.
4. Put a Whiteboard Up in Your Office
Make a list of all the deals you’re on. And here’s the key: Never, ever erase any of the deals you have completed. Even if you are actually only on one or two deals, anyone who walks in will say, “Wow, how does Matt manage it all?”
Same goes for your desk. Messier the better. Closing binders should be opened to random sections so it looks like you are multitasking as we speak.
5. Make Damn Sure People See You If You Work in the Office on Weekends
Otherwise you are just being a dipshit. You could have done that work in your underwear while watching College Gameday. It’s worth its weight in gold if multiple partners see you in the office on a Saturday.
6. Almost Forgot—CLEs are Important
Apparently. So make sure to stay on top of that shit.
And with that, class is adjourned. Carry on, fellow comrades.
Originally published Dec. 2009