In the hierarchy of law firm life, as well as everywhere else in the world, the shit rolls downhill. From the partner to the partner’s secretary (she is the gatekeeper to the man himself) to the senior associate to the midlevel associate to you. Yes, there are plenty of prongs above you that I dropped in favor of brevity (i.e. your law clerk, your smartphone, your trash can, etc.), but you get the point. As the young associate, you are likely at or near the bottom of the shit pile.
“I do believe those first two years were the worst for him, and I also believe that if things had gone on that way, this place would have got the best of him.” Red, Inmate
It’s a win-win for your bosses: cheap labor that’s (1) deathly afraid of losing his job, (2) will work long hours for (3) no recognition.
However, as you start moving deeper into your career and survive the layoffs, the longer hours and getting sued for an unpaid bill that your office manager failed to send a check on, you get to move up the ladder. The transition from denizen of the dung pile to piss bucket holder means more responsibility (i.e. working longer hours) and the ability to influence litigation strategy (i.e. working longer hours). As someone that has been in the senior of the two positions listed above, I get to work a lot more with one of my partners.
My working relationship with my senior partner has evolved into something this:
New Client Matter > We Strategize > I go work > He leaves the office early
Old Client Matter > We Strategize > I go work> He goes golfing
“You know what a Rainmaker is, kid? The bucks are gonna be falling from the sky.” Deck Sheffler, Paralawyer
The reward I get for working while he is living la dolce vita is typically the honor of fighting our opponents before the judge. I work hard, I get the experience of litigational fisticuffs and the client gets what he/she/it wants. Typically this is how it works. But not always.
Several weeks ago, my partner were engaged in the same routine and I was finishing up the preparation for a somewhat important oral argument. It’s Friday, the partner is leaving early (his name is on the door after all) and then he asks the innocuous question: “What time is this hearing?” I give him the time and he turns toward the aforementioned door, “Depending on my schedule, I might show up.” He leaves, I work and eventually the weekend begins. I get no calls, texts, emails or visits from the partner during the two-day respite from the workweek all the while I am blissfully preparing my gameplan to crush my opposing counsel in such a decisive manner that will result in a judicial bitchslap. Also, I’m billing hours on the weekend like a diligent associate. Bright and early on Monday morning, I show up at the courtroom to find the partner leaning against the wall.
“I think I’m going to take this one.”
It’s satisfying seeing your work product being used by someone else to cross-check an opponent. But I’d rather be the guy on the ice delivering the hit, instead of the guy on the bench that sharpens the skates and wraps the sticks for the player. Both are on the team, both collect their paycheck, but only one gets to build up his career stats.