Friday Files: Stupid Phone Tricks

You know how they tell you in trial practice class that you should check all your equipment functioning, the courtroom, etc. before you start the trial? Well, this isn’t about a trial. It’s about something much closer to home and office — your telephone.

During my last law firm gig, I worked on a ginormous patent infringement case. The parties were two names you’ve definitely heard of. The case on our side was staffed out of four offices, in DC, San Diego, LA, and San Francisco. You can imagine the friction and the battling egos — and between opposing counsel as well.

So one evening, I sat with a DC partner while she left a message for the San Diego partner about a brief. The DC partner, Maire, and I both more or less loathed Sam, the San Diego guy. And after the call, we discussed the direction Sam had insisted we take the argument (the reason for the call). Marie and I made no bones about how stupid we thought the argument was, how moronic Sam was, blah, blah, blah. If you have NOT had one of these conversations about someone in another office, or heck in your own corner of paradise, I would be shocked.

I’ll bet, though, that you managed to hang up the receiver completely and not record the entire bitch session on the hated colleague’s voicemail.

Friday Files: The Mad Partner Editor

I worked for a couple years in a boutique firm of about 30 attorneys. Smaller numbers did not make this a warm fuzzy place to work. The parnter I worked for most of the time billed a ridiculous amount of hours, like 3,000 annually. Some of it was actual legal work, but a lot of those hours were from micro-managing and editing documents to make them worse — I’m sure you’ve run into such beasts.

The associates in the office who worked for this particular partner, let’s call him Hank, were sick and tired of all the crazy, nit-picking, make-your-writing-worse edits he insisted upon. So we decided to have a monthly contest. Whoever got the worst Hank edit of the month would get lunch on the others’ tab.

It was a great idea, but shortlived. Hank’s secretary won the all-time title in the first month.

Even if you’re not a litigator, I’ll bet you know the standard boilerplate for affidavits: “I certify under penalty of perjury that the foregoing is true and correct to the best of my knowledge.” And should you need to look it up, it’s in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Even after 9 years away from practicing law, I don’t have to look that up.)

Well, Hank gave his secretary this edit on an affidavit: “I certify under the penalty of perjury that the foregoing is true and correct to the best of my knowledge.” Yep, he added THE to the boilerplate. He edited the FRCP!

We just couldn’t go on with the contest after that.

I am not making this up — I’m just not that good.

Friday Files: Lawyers and Cars

Lawyers pop up in the strangest places. There I was a couple Monday nights ago, watching Top Gear, a fabulous and (in Britain) wildly popular TV show about cars. Well, it’s about cars the way Car Talk is about cars. But the accent is better and the show much funnier.

So the Top Gear guys decided to come to America about a year after Katrina and see if they could prove that it was easier and cheaper to buy a car, rather than rent one, for a long trip. The plan was to buy the $1,000 car in Miami, drive it to New Orleans, and then try to sell it.

Yes, there is a lawyer in this story, but she comes in at the end.

So off they went. Sadly, I did not catch the first part, in which they bought said cars. (Three hosts each got to make his own best deal for a car: one bought a 15+ year old Camaro, no AC; another, an equally old Caddy; the third, a pickup truck also sans AC.) When I caught up with them, they were in Alabama, and had decided it would be a laugh riot to “decorate” (their word) their cars a bit. The Caddy had a simple “I’m BI” on either side of the hood ornament. The white truck had pink lettering down either side agitating for gay rights. I believe the Camaro had something about Man Love emblazoned on the hood.

They stop in a gas station just off the interstate in rural Alabama. Let’s just say that the station owner, a woman, did not care for their message. So she called some local toughs, who actually chased the guys, and their very visible film crew, down the highway. Even on the interstate, they’re not safe, as some 18-wheeler drivers bear down on them. Eventually, they pulled off onto the shoulder and quickly expunged their decorations. It actually scared me to watch this part; I don’t think it was staged. Shades of Matthew Shepard and all that.

But I digress.

They approach New Orleans, and are in shock at the still evident devastation, one year after Katrina. “My God, you would think in the world’s richest country, this would all be tidied up quickly. But look at it!” Indeed.

So, they abandon their plan to sell the cars (“it just wouldn’t be right”) and decide to give them away. They find a non-profit agency and ask for some help finding good candidates to give the cars to. The pickup location is somewhere in the Ninth Ward, I think. Their cars are not exactly the most desirable things you’ve ever seen, even minus the gay pride decorating. It takes some persuading, but eventually two of the cars are indeed given away.

But after the cameras stopped rolling, an attorney shows up. She is there from the agency. She says that the show had promised to give the agency’s client a 1991 piece of crap car, but instead delivered a 1989 piece of crap car instead (the Camaro). So she wanted $20,000 on the spot to make up for the misrepresentation.

Just for kicks, I checked out the cost of a 1991 Camaro on Edmunds: between $1,500 and $3,000.

Fortunately, the neighborhood toughs showed up in the midst of this discussion and told them all to get the hell off their street. So it all worked out in the end.

Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer, writer, and collector of good lawyer stories. If you have one you’d like to share, email her at jennalvey AT gmail DOT com.

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 jalvey@jenniferalvey.com.

Friday Files: Lawyer Hygiene

You see some weird shit when you practice law. Funny, yet disturbing. And while creating a better life for yourself either elsewhere in the law or outside it altogether is a serious topic, you have to admit that being able to laugh sometimes while you do it is a gift. Enter, the Friday Files.

I’m going to start with something that didn’t happen to me, but to a couple associate colleagues. They were working with one of the most dysfunctional partners I ever worked for. Let’s call him Max (cause libel suits are no fun). Max, Linda, and Toni were working feverishly on an opposition to a TRO. They had worked all night. Max comes into the conference war room, in his usual disheveled state — shirttail hanging out, tie gone, overly long hair in dire need of combing. Dress socks on feet stuffed into Birks. This happened in the 90s, so both Linda and Toni were in something suit-like, feeling none-too-fresh themselves.

Max sat down and started going over a draft. Suddenly he stops, looks directly at Linda, and asks, “Do you smell something?”

Linda turned crimson, praying that somehow a hole the size of her chair would suddenly appear under her. He must be talking about her. Holy shit, the big rainmaking partner thought her personal hygiene was lacking.

Without waiting for Linda to respond, Max turns to Toni. “Do we have any Lysol?”

“I’ll go see, Max.” Toni, the lowly first-year associate, scurries out. She comes back a few minutes later, brandishing the Lysol she scored from the receptionist. She hands it to Max, and both she and Linda eye him warily, their faces tense.

Max says thanks, itself somewhat surprising. Then, he lifts up an arm, and sprays the Lysol right onto his shirt underarm. He does the same with the other.

Linda and Toni are frozen.

“Whew! I feel better.” That’s all Max says.

This is, honest to God, a true story.

Send me yours, and I might post it. Suitably anonymized, of course.

Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer, writer, and teacher, who doesn’t need to make up the weird things that lawyers do. She coaches unhappy attorneys on getting what they truly want out of work and life. Jennifer offers discounted sample sessions so you can try out coaching and experience its unique power. Email her at jalvey@jenniferalvey.com to schedule yours today.