When a partner comes by and gives you a bunch of urgent work to do on a project he described as a “biggie” with an impossible deadline due to your current workload, it can be a bit awkward and it is hard to decide if you should try to decline the work or do your best to get it done but probably end up delivering it late. While I was trying to decide, the partner walked out. I emailed the partner stating that I could not do the work, but I got his out-of-office auto reply. He had gone to Hawaii.
As a more senior attorney, one of your opportunities will be to mold the next generation of legal minds by providing critical feedback to junior associates. It can be hard to find time to give detailed feedback in a day filled with seemingly endless client emails and other demands. If you find yourself in this situation, please remember that you have to make as much time for feedback as you can, even if it is only a few moments. Even a quick office drop-by to give quick feedback goes a long way for those who see you as a mentor. In this spirit, one day I dropped by the office of a young associate and said, “You were doing great on the project until you started drafting the documents and interacting with the client.” I left right after that because I had a lot to do.
The practice of law can be compared to walking through a beautiful forest filled with beautiful trees. Occasionally, as you are strolling along, you notice that one of the trees is on fire and you jump into action to “put out the fire.” You then continue to stroll along in the glorious forest of the law. Every time you see a fire, you go ahead and put it out to maintain the integrity of the forest.
Then, there are days like today, where, you walk into the forest of the law and every tree is burning mercilessly and the burning branches of the burning trees are falling on you repeatedly and you fall down and roll down a hill breaking each of your bones.
The associate found himself in a vast, windowless room. Torches shed faint and flickering light over long desks that stretched into the distance. Empty coffee cups and half-eaten breakfast foods were littered about. There were moldering documents everywhere, covering the tables, heaped on the floor and piled against the walls. A few huge piles looked to be on the verge of collapse. In the rafters hung row upon row of ancient pairs of slacks—trophies from vanquished foes.
Far off in the gloom, the associate thought he saw a dais. Moving toward it, he made out a mahogany desk, more ornate than the others, and behind it an overstuffed leather chair with its back toward him. As he crept closer, the chair slowly turned, revealing a decrepit figure.
“How is your…bandwidth?” the ghoul hissed, barely audible. The associate shrank away. “P-pretty j-jammed at the moment, sir, but maybe I can c-circle back to you next week?” he stammered unconvincingly. “Do you see those… closing volumes?” A desiccated finger pointed to a particularly unstable stack of documents reaching nearly to the moth-eaten pants above. “One of them contains a…precedent agreement of… particular use to me. Find it and I shall… reward you.”
The associate took a deep breath and walked over to the stack. He noticed one of those colored tab things that marks an important page and gingerly pulled at it. The pile began to shake ominously. The associate turned to run, but the agreements toppled onto him. Pinned under tons of documents, he tried to scream but the paper muffled all sound.
The associate awoke, soaked in sweat, in his studio apartment and checked his phone to make sure he hadn’t missed any urgent new emails. He had missed several.
One way to get some exercise and not miss out on billable time is to hold a “walking meeting.” A walking meeting is a lot like a meeting except you are walking the whole time. During a walking meeting, you may discuss client matters with another attorney or action items with a client. One time, two attorneys from my firm went on a walking meeting and were never seen again. Their cars were in the parking lot over a year after they started their walking meeting. I was so mad about it because I was asked to cover some of their clients and I really didn’t have time.
One of the sweetest moments in any lawyer’s life is the birth of their child. First and foremost because of the joys of a new baby, obviously. But don’t overlook the more law-specific benefits, like being able to tell clients you’re about to go on parental leave. Witnessing their internal struggle, as they wrestle with competing feelings of knowing that it’s expected they sound happy for you and their actual exasperation at you for leaving abruptly in the middle of their project, is a subtle pleasure. Like writing fake legal tips late at night after your baby goes to sleep.
The end of your tenth year of legal practice is a good time to take a minute and reflect on where you are in your career and life. Don’t reflect too long though – if you think too hard about it, you will probably come to the conclusion that you have utterly and completely wasted the last ten years of your life, which is kind of a bummer.
The dying lawyer should consider his burial options. There’s always the traditional casket, but consider entering the eternities with a bit more pizzazz! One might choose to forego the casket and have their lifeless body placed under a giant mound of legal documents or statutory materials. Or, consider the cremation of your uninhabited soul by the burning of documents, your ashes to be scattered on the grounds of your former firm. Whatever option you choose, just be sure it’s all sorted out while your withered being has some life left to it. Nothing worse than a lawyer who couldn’t sort out his own will.
I’m always really intrigued by law firm associates who left the firm to do something that sounded a lot better (like not working at a law firm) and then returned a year or two later. I’m also always really hesitant to ask them why they came back, since it would probably crush a lot of my hopes and dreams.
In such a competitive environment for legal services, it’s always nice when a client recognizes the unique attributes you bring to the lawyer/client dynamic. Just the other day, a new client said to me, “of all the counsel I could have gone with, I went with you because your office was the most geographically convenient to my office.” Joke’s on him though—we will only correspond by email or phone for the rest of our working relationship.
If I had to compare the practice of law to a recreational activity, I would say that practicing law is like horseback riding. The client is the horse and you the lawyer are the rider. You get on the horse and the horse walks this way and that way. After a while, you want to get off of the horse but the horse won’t stop walking and you can’t get off of a moving horse. You wait it out a little longer thinking that the horse will tire so you can get off but you realize that you are ethically obligated to continue riding the horse. The horse will at some point start to run wildly, bucking up and down violently. You really want to get off of the horse now but you can’t get off of a horse that is running and bucking. Eventually, the horse will stop and you will think you can safely get off. As you are disembarking the horse, the horse will often kick you in the face or the ribs, sending your body to the manure soaked ground in a heap! Then, you will promptly get on another horse and do it all again until eventually your body is a sack of broken bones. One thing about law though is that you rarely see the outdoors.
As a lawyer, sometimes your communications require prompt responses. But commonly used language can only go so far when it comes to expressing urgency. Milder expressions like “at your earliest convenience” or “at your soonest” are fine in many cases. Slightly more aggressive approaches such as “please send immediately” or “need ASAP” are also often used when deadlines are looming. When it really gets down to the wire though, I like to bust out “send at your promptliest immediance”.
Citing caselaw spontaneously can be an extremely effective tactic for corporate lawyers, impressive to your colleagues and intimidating to your counterparts. On a recent conference call, for example, opposing counsel cited Hadley v. Baxendale to support their position in a contract negotiation. Not wanting to be outdone, I quickly countered with a reference to Dudley v. Stephens. While I think it worked well enough in the moment, dealing with subsequent emails asking for clarification on the applicability of a case about cannibal sailors to indemnification provisions took a lot of time and energy.
There’s nothing more important in life than these special, too-infrequent moments when you and your loved ones gather together to give thanks and share a meal. That’s why I try to only check my emails a few times during dinner. Clients have generally been pretty understanding about the resulting delayed responses.
The law can be compared to a marathon in which you sprint the whole time and rather than winning you just die at some point. So in that sense it’s a lot like the original marathon, which is a nice little allusion for all the history majors that were forced to go to law school due to their undergraduate degree’s complete uselessness.
The worst thing about watching lawyers on television is that every lawyer you see on television is doing something better than what you’re doing. You never see a lawyer on television just sitting in their office generating a document. You also never see a lawyer on television just sitting in their office quietly farting. And that is why I am working so hard on this screenplay.
We lawyers want to be remembered. We want to feel that we have contributed something great to the world. Our time to serve clients is finite. When I am dead and gone, I hope people will say of me, “that guy sure produced a lot of documentation.” I don’t even really care if people say that it was “good documentation” or that the documentation provided any benefit to anyone. Just knowing that I created a lot of documentation generally is enough.
People think it’s easy to make up fake lawyer tips. And it is. So I’m back, but only on Tuesdays and Thursdays and only until I can figure out a way to have artificial intelligence write them for me.
For a very select few, the practice of law can be illustrated by the following tale. Once there was a young person who stepped into a candy store. The candy store had many varieties of candy and the person began to partake of the candy. Pretty soon, other people started to approach the candy store and throw more candy into the store. The person was so excited by the additional candy that he began to eat it at a faster and faster rate. He ate so much of it that many assumed he would die. One day, an old wise-ish looking person from the back of the store emerged to the person’s great surprise. The wise person said that he was special, that the candy would not make him sick no matter how much he ate and that he would be rewarded with great wealth and all the candy he could ever want should he keep eating the candy all around him. He followed the wise person’s advice and as he ate more candy, his ability to consume candy increased and pretty soon he was almost inhaling the candy. He gave up all other interests and all other foods so that he could focus on the candy around him. He started spending the night at the candy store, and when he woke up in the mornings, he would be buried in candy that people had thrown onto him during the night. He frolicked about in the candy, eating it with great enthusiasm, his body covered in sticky candy juices. As more and more candy piled up, he would drag his body through the candy to the top of the candy pile and feast on the candy below him. After years of eating the candy in this manner, the wise person gave him a necklace made of candy corns that was labeled “Equity”. The wise person told him that he now had the power to bring in other people to help him eat the candy, which he did. He employed many people and commanded them to eat the candy. They tried to eat the candy as fast as the person so that they might get a candy corn necklace, but, unfortunately, they all died.