Friday, February 24, 2006

Law Firm Life: The Absurdity of Post-Its

At my firm, we have a committee that meets to discuss ostensibly important matters of concern to associates. When I first heard about the existence of this committee I thought that it was a positive sign signifying that the firm considers its associates valuable and cares about our professional development (associates, please refrain from gaffawing too loudly at your desks at that bit of naivete). I imagined serious discussions about hours, assignment rotation, and training.

In my first year at the the firm, I billed a few thousand hours. This is insane. I had many weeks where I would wake up Monday morning, go into the office, grab the necessary cup of caffeine, sit at my desk for 15 hours broken up only by trips to the bathroom and out for a soggy tunafish sandwich (with chips on particularly horrid days), leave the office, get home, crawl directly into bed, sleep for a few hours, then wake up groggy with a minor headache and do the same thing again on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. During those weeks it was like I ceased to exist because my entire life was work. I had no time nor energy to contemplate anything else, or any kind of semblance of a social life for that matter. So hours are a serious matter for associates, especially when they are exacerbated by artificial deadlines and b.s. projects (topics for another post).

Assignment rotation is something you take for granted until it is unceremoniously ripped away from you when you are told that you have been staffed on a large litigation case that will consume 100% of your time, that involves billions of documents that yours truly needs to look through, and that has no hope of ending until at least 2012. I challenge anyone to do two weeks straight of document review where you find only two relevant hits (not "hot", just relevant) after reviewing 7,000 documents, not to feel like they are completely bereft of all meaning in their professional existence. That kind of pointless monotony sucks the soul right out of you and leaves you an empty shell with an inordinately exercized index finger.

Add to this picture an endless series of "firedrills" where you are constantly in triage mode, and its sink or swim each day, any thought of training goes out the window. Don't get me wrong, I learned a lot my first year at the firm and I'm thankful for all of the opportunities I had to sink or swim where I swam. But that's due only in small part to the firm's efforts to actually train me.

Hours, assignment rotation, and lack of training are just a few of the important issues that deeply affect the lives of associates in my firm. A small change in just one of them could have a profound impact on improving both my professional and non-professional life. Do you think that the committee discussed any of those things? Nope.

Instead, the committee decided that the highest topic of concern that they could tackle was, you guessed it, post-it notes. The kind Michele claimed she had invented in order to impress her snotty highschool classmates in "Romy and Michele's Highschool Reunion." It seems that post-it notes have been a contentious issue for some time now here at the firm and had caused some amount of angst among associates. The problem is that we have large post-it notes and small post-it notes but no medium-sized post-it notes. Horrors of horrors. To be fair, this had actually annoyed me a time or two, and it did seem rather odd that we have one set of post-it notes slightly larger than a post-it flag, too small to write on and in boring paper yellow, and one set that's too large and unweildy for most purposes, and not the one size that's "just right."

To tackle this Goldilock's problem, the committee took swift action. Within days of their meeting, an email went out to all members of the firm announcing that as a step towards improving the daily lives of all associates, medium-sized post-its would now be available for everyone in the firm, proving once again that squeaky wheels - if they're not squeaking about hours, assignment rotation, training or anything else of significance - will get greased. Oh, happy day.


Anonymous said...

This reminds me of a great episode of Sex and the City where Carrie gets dumped by a Post-It. Interestingly, I think it was one of those medium sized ones.

Wood said...

the medium sized post-it is the only useful size.

reading this made me frustrated on your behalf. not just about the post-its, but you know, everything.

Tracy said...

I love R&M's High School Reunion. I particulary love the scene where they're talking about how cute they are--that they've never been so cute before! Classic stuff!

Heather said...

God, that antecdote perfectly sums up big firm life. At my old firm they formed a committee to choose the new firm pens. The committee spent months testing pens. Meanwhile, all the important issues are ignored and associate morale continues to plummet.

What is assignmant rotation? Is is some kind of formal work assignment? They didn't have that at my old firm. Each associate was supposed to find their own work. They call it a free market system. My firm did have hours issues and lack of training though.

And I can so relate to the two weeks of doc review where you only find two relevant docs. How about when you have 32 copies of the same 100 page document but you have to read every page just in case. . .

Norma said...

I was a librarian. And there is something vaguely familiar in your meetings about post-it notes--which I think really were invented by a librarian.