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Let’s All Play Biggest Loser, BigLaw Edition
New York Lawyer
March 25, 2009
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By The Snark
Daily Report

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ATLANTA – Who will be next? And what determines who gets to remain an over-paid associate and who must go forth into the scary world without the protections and comforts of BigLaw? Skill? Good looks? Seniority? Connections? Random luck? Hmm.

Unfortunately luck plays a huge role in the process—making us all feel powerless to the whims of fate and leading to an environment of paranoia. Is there a way to avoid this?

Freak out!

Many of us who have not yet received our pink slips from BigLaw are freaking out. Our hands shake as we try to right-click our mice. Beads of sweat accumulate as we pass partners in the halls. We carry loads of papers home at night to appear busy and valuable. If we weren’t afraid to use the computer for anything other than billable work, our status updates on Facebook would read “Associate is compulsively checking e-mail for news of his fate.”

We fear that any second we will get a knock at the door, a tap on the shoulder or a mass e-mail giving us the news that we too must pack up our custom-framed diplomas, inspirational paper weights and ferns and get out of Big Law Land because the carnival ride is over …

But why? Shouldn’t we feel confident that BigLaw has set itself straight by now? Rid itself of all the dead-weight, low-performing, excess associates in order to spare those of us with a bright future? Nope. Those of us who remain are not yet running out to purchase our “I Survived the Purge” T-shirts.

Well, I shouldn’t say that. I am sure some associates are feeling that way, telling themselves that their continued employment is a sign of their superiority to those who were fired and that life is great because now the competition for partner has been significantly reduced!

Lucky duck

If you are one of thoseassociates, it is time to wake up to the reality that at least 60 percent of the reason you have survived as long as you have in the BigLaw machine is attributable to nothing but pure, dumb luck. I know—luck is not as sexy as crediting your skill, wit or brown-nosing abilities.

But luck plays a roll from the earliest phases of the BigLaw journey, beginning with whether or not the random Big Law representatives sent to conduct your on-campus interview share your fondness for acid jazz. Luck continues to intervene at every stage.

• Will you work primarily for a partner who seeks to cultivate your career or the one who seeks to boost his own by throwing you under the bus?

• Will the privilege document you accidentally produced go undetected because the case settles, or will you be the poster child for over-paid, inexperienced associates making case-losing errors when that document is used to sink your firm’s biggest client in a high-stakes lawsuit?

Sure, skill plays a role. But all things being equal, luck determines whether you sink or swim in Big Law.

Those poor associates who randomly selected to pursue a career in something like, oh say, real estate finance, probably chose that path before they even had a clue what it entailed. They could not be expected to predict the future job security implications of such a path. And now they are being laid off in droves.

But the layoffs are not confined to those poor associates who selected, or were chosen, to practice in certain areas. It is widespread and somewhat random. Which makes most of us paranoid. … “Aaahh Freak out! Le Freak, C’est Chic!”

Associate Ax 2009

Maybe some of this rampant paranoia and fear could be quelled if we felt we had some control of our fate? Maybe we should combine BigLaw’s need to trim the ranks with an exercise that would give employees back some sense of control of their own destiny?

I say we institute some reality television mechanisms for reducing the number of people on the island. Let’s reduce the role of luck in the process with some old-fashioned challenges to see who stays and who goes.

Work is slow, and no one can get anything done because they are obsessing over the potential loss of employment. So rather than prolong the pain and anxiety, there should be one 24-hour marathon Associate Ax.

Associate Ax should test a variety of skills essential to BigLaw survival such as legal skill, work ethic, over-confidence and, of course, popularity (in reverse order of importance).

Popularity should be used as a first-level filter—all associates and partners should text or call 1-(800)-ASS-4567 to vote for their favorite associates — as many as they want as often as they want to vote — for the first two hours of Associate Ax 2009. This initial vote will cull a significant number of nameless and forgettable associates who are destined to be weeded out of BigLaw regardless of the economy.

Harsh? Not as harsh as telling them they are being fired for some reason other than their lack of popularity. These associates were headed for the door eventually anyway—at least this way they get out and start finding new paths before incurring more debt by relying on a job that was never going to last.

This popularity vote can also evaluate over-confidence by monitoring the number of people who vote for themselves. They must be retained. It may seem unfair to reward such behavior, but self-love and over-confidence are essential for future success at BigLaw. If you are not willing to frequently praise yourself and demonstrate blatant over-confidence in your own worth, you can’t expect to survive long in BigLaw Land.

Finally, for those who still remain, the last 22 hours must test legal skill and work ethic through a marathon document review. This will help weed out those associates who have been surviving on self-confidence and popularity alone.

All associates will be placed in front of a computer loaded with millions of pages of client documents. Partners will yell at them and demand to know why they haven’t finished and why they can’t keep the issues straight. The associates’ blood pressure and heart rate as well as review pace will be carefully monitored. Anyone who falls asleep or requires food is out.

At the end of 20 straight hours of staring at a computer screen, reading tiny fonts and getting reamed by partners, the associates will be given the final test — who found the one privileged document out of the 10,000 documents reviewed? Those who find it stay and everyone else goes.

Oh well, maybe it is impossible to remove paranoia and luck from the equation. Good luck!
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