Blame

The only thing a biglaw associate enjoys more than taking credit for another associate’s work is blame.  Biglaw associates like blame so much that they will seek out an opportunity to blame someone else when they aren’t even being accused of doing anything wrong.  The most saavy biglaw associate will anticipate a crisis and immediately find a way to blame someone or something else.  There’s also the advance blame maneuver which can be used to soften the blow of the biglaw associate’s overwhelming incompetence.  Of course there is no self-respecting biglaw associate who will assume blame.  To do so shows the partners that you do not deserve to be a biglaw associate and may get you laid off.  This is because the partner got to be partner by being a superior blame artist.
As with anything involving biglaw associates, the blame game is quite intricate.  There are hierarchies, rules, exceptions, hybridizations and contingency plans.
The first line of defense is of course to blame someone outside of their firm, and if possible, to blame an inanimate object.  Common targets of this rule are court clerks, opposing counsel, electronic equipment, and software (e.g. Word didn’t save properly or the PDF didn’t image those signatures).  If an associate is female and a firm actually cares the biglaw associate will utilize any number of working mother defenses.  Examples include sick child, nanny problems, and “my baby ate my homework.”  The best thing about the working mother defenses is that they can also be used not-so-back-handedly to elicit some praise.  So, one might receive the email at 2 a.m. from the working mother who cranked out the drafts after she put the kids to bed, which elicits resounding praise from the partners about said associates work-ethic.  Of course this ignores the fact that the fathers and female associates without children were also working until 2 a.m. without a break to bathe the kids or eat dinner with the family.
The next line of defense is the “shit rolls downhill” defense.  Like all things involving shit this one gets very messy.  The biglaw associate will blame a classmate, junior associate, paralegal, secretary, reprographics, the mail room, the receptionist, custodian…anybody with a pulse.  When done well this move can get people fired.  This move works best when the associate can give the firm an excuse to get rid of someone they never liked in the first place, e.g. a minority, working mother, or homosexual.
And of course, the absolute last line of defense is the blame the superior defense.  This is more of a Kandinsky-esque, throw paint at the wall and hope some of it sticks and you can sell it as art move.  It takes great skill to pull the move off, and often it fails.  The move works best when a junior associate can blame a senior associate (especially one about to go up for partner in this economy), but it can also work when there are known partner fueds.  Here are some examples:
  • Partner X, let’s call her the Baren Barrister,  is a feminist who gave up everything in her life to make partner in the 80s and not only hates male partners but also junior female partners who have “work-life balance.”  Biglaw associate fucks up project for  Baren Barrister, but Partner Y, let’s call her Female Partner (because she’s the poster child for female partnership as long as those clients would like to see one), was supposed to review the project before it went to Baren Barrister.   The associate sees an opportunity to deflect and says, “sorry we missed that.  Female Partner was going to handle it, but her kids had a soccer game.  I don’t know how she does it all.”  This move is known as the reverse working mother–it only works with partners because if used on a fellow associate it just makes you look like a chauvanist or a future Baren Barrister.
  • Senior associate’s practice group has been hurting since the economy took a nose dive, so he’s diversifying into new practice areas.  Most of the partners who supported senior associate for partnership have left and he’s also trying to rebuild his reputation.  Junior associate has always worked in this area and made a very obvious mistake on a project in which senior associate was involved.  When partner calls junior associate on the problem, junior associate explains how difficult is to have to explain something to someone so senior–junior associate knows that he understands the project better, but he doesn’t want to disrespect senior associate.  Senior associate’s work suddenly dries up–but that was going to happen anyway because nobody’s making partner anytime soon.  Outside of confirming that junior associate is an asshole, not much is accomplished by this one. Of course if senior associate is a golden boy (and by golden boy we mean Aryan.  You know how firms love the Aryan boys.  They have to fill their white boy quota), this can backfire horribly.  It works best if junior associate is also a golden boy with the credentials to trump senior associate (e.g. father who is a partner at a competing firm; relative who is CEO of a company and client of the firm, etc…).
Given all the blame going around these days how does one avoid becoming the target?  Well the best defense is a good offense.  Go back to your desk right now and start thinking of scenarioes that allow you to throw a co-worker under the bus.  And as a closing note, when you’re going to throw a co-worker under the bus, it’s a great style move to say “I’m not trying to throw anybody under the bus or anything….”  The partner will know you’re throwing them under the bus, but it will alert them that they are supposed to supsend reality and believe your lie.
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