Wednesday, November 15, 2006

One of Many Reasons I Dislike My Firm

Since I'm so cheery lately, I thought I'd direct some negativity back towards my firm for a while. Why not? One thing I've noticed while going to countless depositions is the varying treatment that partners from other firms give to junior associates. For example, at today's deposition, it was clear that a junior associate was being allowed to "take the lead," while his partner sat at his side ready to offer him assistance. The junior associate made objections, counseled the witness, dealt with opposing counsel, and generally ran the show. The partner sat silently by, occasionally conferring with the junior associate. It was like they were almost equals. It was like they had mutual respect for one another. It was so bizarre.

This type of mentoring is something I have never experienced at my firm. Whenever I have gone to a deposition with a partner, it's never been a situation where I am allowed to take the lead under the partner's guidance. Rather, I'm there in a "second chair" capacity, which means that I sit next to the partner and hand him or her documents as needed. Usually such experiences are intensely stressful, particularly when second-chairing for Dragon Lady, because if there's any hesitation in finding a document, or any glitches, however tiny, there's a sense that you have committed an inexcusable error, that you are a total failure, and that you might as well go jump off a building since you are so completely lacking in worth. Those are the type of people with whom I currently have the pleasure of working.

In the long run, a lack of mentoring hurts both the firm and the associates. Associates get frustrated and go elsewhere in order to seek out the type of mentoring and training which is essential to their professional development. The firm loses smart people at an extremely high rate, and has to expend additional resources training new waves of first years - most of whom will go through the same process, become dissatisfied, and end up leaving after collecting their bonuses. At my firm, I believe we lose and gain approximately 100 associates each year. That's not a firm. That's a revolving door.

In this cycle, the ultimate losers are the firms. Of course, they don't notice this because they have a steady stream of income, and a steady stream of incoming first years to suck dry and abuse. At least all firms aren't like this, as my experience at today's deposition shows. But, a lot of them are, including mine. So, law school students, beware.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I can completely relate, however I've had mixed experiences with mentoring. When I practiced (up until about 6 months ago) I was with the Attorney General's Office..provincial government. The AG's office was a strange place that attracted all sorts of different lawyers. Some were flunkies, others lazy-asses but also some lawyers who were at the top of their game...who simply wanted a different life..and different practice (public practice can be extremely rewarding, strangely enough...and a stable salary). There weren't alot of material perks though. No paralegals, no expense accounts and not a big budgets for the relative size of the files, meaning that MOST of the time, you flew solo on your files, regardless of who/were was opposing counsel (or counsels)....Opposing counsel on a securities file could be in Manhattan and have a team at their disposal...it didn't matter....you did the files you were assigned...with the resources you had....period.

So essentially everyone got their own files. Complete ownership..which was good...and also bad...good in the sense that you controlled our own calendar...but really bad in the sense that if something ever went wrong..or you got sick...you were FUCKED....there's nothing like calling a judge at 7am from home to try to describe why you are too sick to argue something while trying to justify why another of the dozens of lawyers you work with really can't fill in for you because they have never seen the file before. So, the files were assigned based on linguistic capacities (french/english speaking), experience and interest. We weren't however payed alot of money (as previously mentionned) but if you worked hard...you could actually FEEL and SEE an improvement in the substance of the files you were assigned....which was a double edged sword...of course. For senior lawyers, most see this as a dream scenario...they leave big firms...take a pay cut...but are given pensionable work, relatively steady hours and complete freedom to handle a file whatever way they want...a good way to spend those latter years. With government, there are not client retention issues just a love/hate relationship...and an interesting one at that.

However, that being said, every once in awhile a file came along that (by virtue of its size or political weight) required/justified more than one "chair"....

I'll always remember a particularly large insolvency file that I worked on...which required an emergency meeting one Sunday night (one of many)...in that case, there were actually 2 of us on that file (miracle) but I was the only one available...not so good.....I sat facing 5 opposing counsel....me....with 3 years at the bar.....I've never been so terrified....I literally had to face the firing squad, my comments ended up in the news the next day.... Was it fun? HELL yes....was it a responsible way to mentor? Absolutely NOT. It actually really frightened me and made me re-think what I was getting myself into....and it was a factor in my decision to leave (not the only one, mind you). Mentoring is good...if done properly...this was not a shining example.

My experience in those situations literally ranged from "taking notes" and "document jockeying" to doing closing arguments....and attending solo meetings with national union leaders and their counsel....which was probably a bit *too much* lattitude on the mentoring scale. There is a particular firm in Atlantic Canada, the largest, that has an awesome mentoring program. This firm literally trains lawyers on all fronts and goes through succession planning with them in terms of who will inherit what file and at what point in their career.

I would have settled for being allowed to "take the lead," with someone else being ultimately in charge. Egoes aside, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing....trust me, I've been there.

Anonymous said...

Oh my god, that's really long....so sorry!

Ally Bean said...

Your experience with Dragon Lady reminds me of a lawyer that I worked for (as a paralegal). He went ballistic on me one day because at a closing I had put one paper clip the wrong way on his precious docs. Everything was in perfect order except this one paper clip and that's what he focused on. Such a jerk. Who needs 'em?