I’m sure I’m not the only one who would be happy to see the back end of this week. Holy lord, what a fakakta mess this world is sometimes. I know that adversity and horror and sadness and the unexplained senselessness of it all has always been with us and most likely things aren’t “worse” than they have other been, but the 24/7 news cycle makes it worse…but still, it can really just take the goddamned wind out of you. I will be more philosophical soon, I hope, but right now I just want a time machine. And since that isn’t likely to present itself in my kitchen at this hour, I want to close this chapter forever. ONWARDS.

I had my first couple of “real work” days this week, as I’ve otherwise been totally doing nothing at the office. It’s kind of appalling. For those of you who don’t “get” law firms, and in particular law firms like the one I’m at, they are dreadfully managed, if they are managed at all. The partners bring in work from clients and push it down on associates, who they purportedly supervise and train. In reality, you’re often lucky to get five minutes of a parter’s time when you have a burning, serious, this-could-get-us-sued-if-we-fuck-it-up question. At the firm I was at in NYC, they had an assigning partner, and until I left that firm I never knew what a smart, sensible thing it was. The assigning partner was the guy or woman to whom all partners made their requests for associate assistance. A new file would come in, the partner who got the file would call the assigning partner, and the assigning partner would be the one to look at every associate’s file load and dockets and decide who was in a good position to take on new work. If the partner with the file tried to sneakily go off and staff his or her file by contacting an associate directly, and the assigning partner got wind of it, the staffing decision would be unwound. They took this seriously. It sounds a bit weird and unnecessarily formal, possibly, but at least this way you had a fair chance of getting new files as they came in and there wouldn’t be too many situations where some associates were billing 80 hours a week while others were billing 10. 

At my “new” firm, there is no such structure. Partners are free to contact whichever associate they like to assign work. Partners like it this way, I’m sure, and it would actually not be the worst thing ever if you actually articled at that firm and went on to work there as an associate. That way, you’d naturally be exposed to everyone at the firm from day #1 – everyone always wants articling students and they are always busy, because their hourly rate is relatively cheap and clients don’t want to pay for more senior, experienced associates if they don’t want to. That way you build up your pipeline of work and have your usual “go to people” when things aren’t busy.

This is a dreadful system if you are a lateral from another firm, especially if you came over mid-career (as I did) and from another jurisdiction (as I did). It is far, far more difficult to “sell” a mid-level associate to partners and clients. My hourly rate is almost $600…no lie. It is madness, and FWIW not all that much less than I was being billed out at in NYC! The partners, most of whom don’t know me, stick to the mid-level associates that they do know, and if they have to reach out to the unknown pool of people, they tend to pick more junior people than me for cost reasons.

This is bad for me for a number of reasons. Yes, I get paid a generous salary no matter how many hours I work, but I do have a target of 1600-1800 hours a year. That breaks down to 150 hours a month that I’m supposed to bill – not work, but bill (so if I’m sitting around at the office waiting for someone to give me something to do…that doesn’t count). I haven’t come close to that number, ever. And it isn’t my fault. I never turn down work. I’m always available if necessary. I want to do well and show everyone how awesome I am to work with, and the people who do work with me have lovely things to say. But it isn’t enough. If I don’t bill, they can’t afford me. End of story.

It’s a weird world, private practice – and it’s not going to get any better anytime soon. And I have no answers. Nothing positive to say to people joining the profession, that’s for sure – I can’t even give myself effective pep talks anymore! It’s discouraging but in a way I almost feel glad that the decision is almost being made for me, you know? Life can be infinitely more complicated when you have all kinds of decisions to make! But knowing as I do now that private practice doesn’t seem to be going anywhere for me, I find it easier to pull away and keep working on my Plan B.