Tuesday, June 16, 2009

the too casuals

Hello all. Sorry I've been away for a bit.  Some work things came up, of course, I am busy with our summer program, and I just didn't have anything on my mind to write about.

One thing that came to mind that I wanted to mention is over-familiarity.  In today's more casual society, sometimes we tend to assume that a seemingly less hierarchical work environment or even one when, say, partners seem young and hip and not stiff, means that we can really let our hair down, speak as if we are speaking to our pals, and even joke in a way that we think is funny but might actually offend.  Case in point:  my friend, we will call her Partner Jennifer, had to leave for an appointment.  She ran into junior associate Ellen.  They briefly discussed something and then when Ellen saw Jennifer was leaving, Ellen made a comment about "oh I guess you don't have a lot of work to do since you get to leave early." Or something to that effect.  Similar thing happened to another person I know.   Jennifer - who is a youngish, approachable partner - was really annoyed.  First, Ellen has no idea where Jennifer is going. Jennifer may be off to a client meeting. Second, Jennifer has 15 years of experience, including long nights, weekends, holiday work.  Jennifer has busted her tush and is entitled to respect, particularly from junior attorneys.  Even if Jennifer is going home - that really is not for Ellen to comment on.  Ellen hasn't even proven herself yet.

Thus the long and short of it is to remember - and I know I've mentioned this before - these people are not your pals.  They may seem approachable and laid back but there is still a hierarchy and you need to respect that.   Be careful how casual your conversations may be.  Watch the "digs," and watch the casual language - cursing, rough slang, etc.  I've been in interviews where people throw out the F-bomb as if it is a "hello."  This gets you marked way down - actually off totally - in my book. It is about judgment.  These days, we are very sensitive to judgment red flags. Remember it is a buyer's market now.  Show us your terrific work, your potential client handling skills. Keep the slang and snide comments for another day. 

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

To all those who are "fortunate" to be an associate at HP's law firm, remember that brown is the new black - especially if it covers your nose. NEVER EVER make eye contact with any of the partners and ALWAYS address each partner as Your Majesty, Your Excellency, Your Royal Highness, or Mein Furor. If you are walking down a hallway and you see a partner following you, you better make sure you have rose peddles available to drop behind you so their feet never touch the ground. Please have chapstick available on you at all times - partners hate having their asses kissed with chapped lips (it's very harsh and uncomfortable). Finally, remember that it is an absolute honor for you to be in the presence of awesomeness that is HP and his fellow partners. Remember these pointers and you too will one day rise to upper echelons of HP's firm....

BTW, I realize that this is a jackass response to HP, but HP's law firm must be a miserable place to work at. I'm glad I get to work at a law firm where partners don't consider themselves god's gift to mankind and prefer (GASP!) a casual working environment. Note to readers, not all firms are like HP's firm and there are firms out there that actually prefer that you have a personality and other human-like qualities (like compassion, humility, humor, integrity, etc). Not all law firms have partners that require you to "earn" the right to joke around or expect you to take abuse while asking "Please sir, can I have another?" Yes younger associates should be respectful, take ownership in their work product, and understand their place in a law firm, but you should also not have to second-guess and over-analyze every comment made to an associate or partner to make sure all is absolutely copasetic. In most law firms, if you act like the lame, ass-kissing associate that HP suggests you act like, you will be kicked to the curb wondering if anyone has seen your red stapler. Good luck to the associates at HP's firm...you're going to need it!

f-3 said...

The comment above is totally uncalled for. No one's saying you can't joke around. All HP is saying is "know your audience," and don't make assumptions about people's comfort level with you. There's a distinction between being casual and being disrespectful / inappropriate. It's called showing some social tact and judgment.

The advice applies to anyone with whom you come into contact at work, not just partners. If you happen to work at a firm where people don't care how you talk or what tone you use, then fine, good for you. You'll just have to remember that not all clients, nor other places you lateral to after this job, will adopt the same attitude.

Anonymous said...

This post by HP makes me sick to my stomach. HP seems to think that associates should be treated like cogs in a machine and not human beings. As long as they sit in their little cubicle offices churning out research memos without whining, complaining, or showing any remote signs of human emotion, they will keep their jobs. No one could possibly work for any amount amount of time for hypersensitive assholes like Jenny or those intent on imposing stifling, suffocating conformity like HP.

Do you realize that most of your associates hate you as well as their jobs? Wouldn't it make more BUSINESS sense to allow people to enjoy their workplace and the people they work with?

HP, you are a horrible human being and are a small part of the reason why working in biglaw gets such a bad rap.

Anonymous said...

Sounds to me the people who are complaining about this post are the hypersensitive ones...I suppose they're in for a rude awakening when they have to deal with professionals

Anonymous said...

Don't kill the messenger. I think HP's post should serve as a word of warning - as intended, but also on another level:

To me it illustrates that many partners that cultivate some sort of (over-)familiarity often do so out of a certain insecurity over the full weight of their seniority. It's a peter-pan syndrome of sorts. They want to be considered part of the 'gang' (i.e. the associates) because they couldn't handle being seen the same way they saw so many of their seniors when they were juniors. They're getting old and it's lonely at the top, and many long for that feeling of coolness and levity they had as associates.

But they of course still want (and need) to be respected by their peers and hence are uncomfortable with the very familiarity they cultivated when confronted by it in front of other partners. So suddenly, e.g. the fist pumping in celebration that one partner may even have introduced himself a few weeks back will be met with a disapproving "get a grip." and a frown when you do it in the wrong venue.

It's important to remember that everybody in BigLaw is below someone bigger and hungrier in the food chain, and if you don't respect *that*, you run the risk of a train wreck, because someone may feel they need to save their own reputation - at your full expense.

So in a sense I'm with 3:07 in that it shows bad judgment and a certain lack of integrity by the partners if they cultivate a familiarity that they are completely unwilling to own up to at least semi-publicly (i.e. within the firm). It's obviously also bad judgment by the associate though (and there I'm with HP) for not recognizing that with all social interaction, context is everything, and a well-intended humorous jab at the wrong time may cause serious embarrassment to the addressee.


That said, if Jennifer had a problem with the leaving early comment, she should have spoken to the associate about it, not complained to HP, that reeks of insecurity and backstabbing. From the description given by HP it sounds like a typical "Leaving early again, huh? Man, life must be sweet over at IP." comment that gets (humorously) served and received by the dozen daily around where I work. If you're reasonably secure about yourself, you know what you're worth and you know the other guy knows and you won't get all offended over something like "Man, I wish I had time for lunch like you guys..." (There's another one).

Anonymous said...

3:40 has a very balanced viewpoint, and I respect that. What the junior associate said wasn't horrible or malicious, it was just poor judgment, especially in a profession in which the way you communicate is 90% of the job.

Stop thinking that everything HP writes is an "us versus them" thing. Take it for what it's worth, but if you disagree, do so in a civil manner, rather than going on a tear about what a horrible person HP is. That only shows you're incapable of making a good argument.

Anonymous said...

I don't get it. How did advising people to be careful and tactful when they talk turn into "imposing conformity" and "not letting people show signs of human emotion"? Some serious over-reactions going on here.

Anonymous said...

HP, once again, illustrates what a jerk and just downright miserable and myopic human being he is.

The substance of his post is good sound advice. Yet he is apparently incapable of conveying it anything other than the most obnoxious way possible.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if HP realizes that most of the associates who work under him utterly hate his guts?

Anonymous said...

I don't usually get casual at all but I was in a conversation with a slightly inebriated associate and he was saying sh-- and f--- all over the place so I think used the word ass as an adjective to describe someone (not a co-worker) and I feel like that was totally fine. If you gauge the situation you can tell what's acceptable and what's not.

Anonymous said...

HP - how does fall oci look to you? Drastic pullback? What about 2Ls v. 3Ls? Are firms now going to be very gun-shy about taking on 2Ls because they require the firm to project hiring needs two years in advance? If that's the case will 3Ls have better hope of being interviewed than in previous years?

Deb said...

Boy, this seems to be a hot topic. I am not a lawyer; I am a landscape architect, and have worked in enough offices to know that overfamiliarity with one's boss is a poor idea. It's not a law office thing, it's a professional thing. Work is work, and yes, we are all humans, but we should remember to be respectful and aware of the hierarchy. My guess is that the junior commenters may look back ruefully on their comments when they reach partner status, or have their own practices to run.

f-3 said...

Well said, Deb.

Anonymous said...

Snap.


what is HP's response to the slap downs? probably driving his ferrari to Las Vegas at 150mph and banging some hottie with Kobe at an orgy.

Anonymous said...

While I agree with most of HP's advice and find this blog to be an excellent public service for young lawyers, I think he went to far with this post. Yes, it is true that no one should act too casually in the office. Yes, cursing is offensive to many people. However, HP's anecdote about Jennifer and Ellen smacks of condescension. I think that Ellen's comment was slightly out of place, but I think that Jennifer sounds whiny, insecure, and petty. I don't think associates should have to walk on eggs to accommodate overly sensitive young partners. Also, Jennifer should have behaved like an adult and either: (1) written it off (since it sounds like Ellen is laregly respectful and productive); or (2) addressed the issue with Ellen directly.Both Jennifer and Ellen behaved poorly, but Jennifer behaved worse.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of too casual, opinions on wearing sneakers into and out of the office at the beginning and end of the day? I was thinking about trying it to avoid wear and tear on the shoes but I don't want to look like a schmuck.

Anonymous said...

Heh, I don't know if this falls within that category of inappropriate/too-casual comments, but "my" partner and I have a routine where he'll say, "So what are you going to do?" And I'll say, "Not fuck it up." Of course, this is after three years of working together (almost solely... my firm is weird that way) and it's one of his sort of "catch phrases" about how to do a good job as an attorney. It's then usually followed by what I actually plan to do.

Anonymous said...

Well that's because you have already established that rapport with your partner. Can't just do that with everyone.

Anonymous said...

There's rapport and then there's hubris. I am seeing a lot of the same sort of behavior in my associates, and I don't like it. I'm easy to deal with and I'm not a narcissist. But don't bust my balls (boobs?) until you've established your right to do so. And that usually means you've got a book of business and you're not an associate.

Anonymous said...

Jeez -- so many people here are totally out of control! Get a grip, kids. I know HP personally and HP is universally loved and respected. HP treats all people in the firm with respect and kindness -- from the support staff to the mailroom to the associates to other partners. How do you think HP became the Hiring Partner??? Think about it. People are happy to work for HP. Honestly. HP is merely trying to say that you have to be mindful that you are in a professional environment. Chill.

Anonymous said...

"I'm easy to deal with and I'm not a narcissist. But don't bust my balls (boobs?) until you've established your right to do so. And that usually means you've got a book of business and you're not an associate."

Any person who believes that other people--no matter their rank or title--have to EARN the right to associate with him, is, in fact a narcissist. I would venture to say that said person would be a malignant narcissist.

Anonymous said...

Really? Seriously? Where do you live 10:32 AM? Fantasyland? You are saying that it is appropriate for anyone of any rank to tease/bust the balls of their superiors in the firm? So the guy in the mailroom can bust on the CEO of AT&T for leaving early one day? No problem whatsoever? I'm not saying that in a perfect world that wouldn't be the case. But guess what? Not a perfect world. And as we all know law firms are definitely not perfect. So why must we criticize HP for giving us advice for surviving in this difficult environment? Until you solve all the world's problems and make everyone equal, can you just realize for one minute that the harsh truth is that some partners are not going to be too happy about associates implying that their books of business are lacking or that they don't have enough work to keep themselves busy? Especially in this economic environment when partners are going to be very sensitive to such issues. HP is not an a-hole for pointing this out.

Anonymous said...

Argh! 10:32 AM is just not getting it. This isn't that difficult. We all need to accept reality. In a perfect world could anyone of any rank approach a superior in the firm and bust his balls? Sounds good. Does anyone here believe we live in such a world? What advice do you want HP to give you? That it is totally acceptable for an associate to basically come out and accuse a partner of not having enough business -- even in a joking manner? That is a blog I would not be interested in reading (unless I wanted to be laid off). HP did not create the law firm environment we all know. But he understands the game and has learned to play it. If you want to survive in a law firm, you have to learn to play that game also. If you can't tolerate the game (and who would blame you?), then leave. Go in-house. Go to a small firm in a small town. Something to change your situation. But if you think you can stomach it and you want to make it in big law, then don't be stupid. Don't tease the partners about not having enough work. Especially in this economic environment when partners are going to be particularly sensitive on that subject. HP is not an a-hole for trying to explain the game to us. And then maybe when you make it to the top, you can try to change the world.

Caroline said...

This is from 10:32.

My comment was direct toward the person who wrote the blurb I quoted, not towards HP.

And, for the record, I am a partner. So I've survived quite nicely.

And I stand by my comment. I don't think people should make unprofessional jokes towards anyone. It's insulting and uncivil. But I don't think they should refrain from that behavior because of rank. They should refrain from it out of respect for other people. The associate should not belittle the partner, and, likewise, the partner should not belittle the associate.

My associates respect me at least in part because I respect them. I don't need reverence or sycophantic behavior from people lower than I am on the ladder to succeed in my job or to build my self esteem.

Plus, if one of them offended me, I wouldn't cry to other partners. I would be enough of an adult to confront him or her about it directly.