Friday Files: Lawyer Rationalizations

Lawyers have this maddening, awe-inspiring ability to rationalize damn near anything. Take, for instance, a D.C. BigLaw firm that, back before emailing to people outside your own firm was common, moved into swank new offices in a restored historic building.

These offices were meant to impress. Pearwood and black terrazzo surrounded us, along with glass and chrome.

But we all know how renovations and build-outs go. The money and time start running out, and people — read, partners — start to make some interesting decisions.

First was the black, painted, associate office furniture. We associates might have thought it looked like it came from Ikea (the less-than-hip 1990s iteration of Ikea), but rest assured, it was very expensive wood furniture that was painted black because the supposedly orange tone of the wood clashed with the pearwood corridors. We simply could not lose design integrity. Cost had not one thing to do with getting skanky black desks.

But the even better design decision was the placement of the nameplates outside the office doors. For those of you who have never worked in a 300-attorney office (you lucky dogs you), it’s a given that as a young associate, you will get calls from partners you’ve never spoken with before, whose visage you know only from the firm directory. And you then get to take your pirate map and divine in which office this illustrious presence parks the morning Starbucks. Nameplates are essential to scoping out the office while pretending you knew exactly where the partner sat all along.

Imagine the horror when nameplates started going up and they were 34 inches off the ground. In light gray lettering about three-quarters of an inch high. On a cream background.

Word on the street was that the managing partner and his right-hand guy were none too pleased (I guess it was hard for them to find all their associate victims, too), and were spotted around the firm measuring the nameplate placement. To our faces, however, the partnership assured us that they embraced the placement, particularly since it was mandated by Americans with Disabilities Act.

Right. Because people rolling along in a wheelchair naturally had better eyesight than the rest of us.

You have to admire the inventive chutzpah.

Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer and career coach who loves a good gut-busting story about strange lawyer behavior. Got a good story for the Friday Files? Send it to

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