Daddy walks in the kitchen to find Fisher at the sink…
F (wagging a finger): Bad, boy! You bad, boy! Bad, boy!
D: Fisher, what are you doing?
F: I’m telling “bad boy” to that cheese grater in the er, uh, eh sink. Because it cut you.
D: Thanks, Fisher, but it was really my fault. I should have paid better attention when I was grating that cheese.
F (walking over to Daddy and wagging his finger): Okay. Bad, boy, Daddy! You are a bad boy!
Daddy’s finger throbs, while Fisher laughs and Cory rolls her eyes.
F (later in the morning): I wish a good witch could see your finger so she could heal it.
He sits down to make a rainbow loom bracelet to decorate Daddy’s “tubee” because “it doesn’t look good, just white.” At the emergency room, there were two others sitting around with makeshift bandages over bloody fingers. The tech called it “slicer” night. In the morning, Daddy’s tube gauze bandage renews the twins’ respect for sharp things. That’s the only up side to losing a chunk of your thumb.
Daddy holds both of their hands walking home from school.
D: And, what’s the girl’s name? The girl who comes on the train to talk to Harry and Ron?
F: I don’t know.
D: That’s close. Something Granger…?
F: Hermine Granger!
D (swinging their arms): That’s right, Fisher Bug! Hermione Granger. Nice teamwork. That’s a fun name, isn’t it? Hermione Granger?
C: I don’t like it.
D: You don’t!? I thought maybe we’d name our next dog Hermione. Do you want to?
F/C (laughing): No!
D: Well, what about Granger? “Here, Granger! Come here, Granger!”
D: And, what are the twins names? The redheaded boy twins, Ron’s older brothers?
F (deploying his usual filler): Um…what did you say, Daddy?
D: The funny redheaded twins, Fred and…oh! Shoot, I just…
C (laughing): Fred!
D (laughing with her): What’s the other one’s name?
C: Um…give us a hint.
D: Okay. What’s Leila’s daddy’s name?
F/C: Mister George!
D: That’s right. Good job, guys!
F: Daddy, what color hair does eh, er, uh Ron have?
D: He has red hair. Like his older brothers.
C: And like me!
D: That’s right, Cory. And, like me.
F: Daddy, what did you say?
D: Ron has red hair like Cory and like me.
F (confused): Daddy, you don’t have red hair!
C: Yah, Daddy, you don’t have red hair!
D: What?! I do, too.
F (laughing and using vocabulary from Jake and the Neverland Pirates): No, you don’t! Daddy, you are a scalawag!
D (letting his hand go to tickle him): I do too have red hair. Been a redhead my whole life, you silly goose!
C: Daddy, you don’t have red hair like mine, right?
D: I had redder hair than you do, Cory, when I was your age!
F/C: You did?!
C: Nuh uh.
F: You are just being silly, Daddy.
Back at home, Daddy produces photographic evidence, to big, surprised smiles. As a lifelong redhead, often unhappy about that fact when younger, it feels so odd to have to burnish one’s ginger credentials. Pigs must be flying’…
When you start by admitting, from cradle to grave, it isn’t that long a stay, there’s a pretty good chance that your job search will end outside a big law firm.
Many interesting conversations throughout this past spring and summer have confirmed the wisdom of moving in that direction. Well, for me to move int hat direction. Actually, some of those conversations have questioned the wisdom of having waited so long. (You know who you are.) I particularly like the idea, expressed over one (delicious) lunch, that current law students should understand better that when they go work for a big law firm, they are not selling crack legal services to anyone. The firm that employs them might bill itself out as providing legal services, but what the associates are selling is their time, just like almost everyone else. They are selling the time that they have on this planet, and they are selling a great deal of their time on this planet, to the partners, for a high price, to be sure, who will then turn around and sell that time to clients for an even higher price. (Billing rates these days are beyond ridiculous, but the market is the market.) Voilla, profit! Simple. Indeed, it would seem the system, with all its perverse incentives, communicates this basic premise pretty loudly and clearly, since it makes people enter their time in six-minute increments for billing to a client, but, so my lunch mate lamented, too few law students and young lawyers actually “get” it. A lot of people in the world sell their time by the hour and get paid a lot less.
So, as the summer of 2014 ends, I say, hopefully with finality, “goodbye” to the billable hour. I understand why you exist, but I won’t miss you one bit. Even less will I miss the automatically-generated messages from the firm notifying me that I failed to enter a day or two (or ten) of time, messages like little electronic shocks, just large enough to wake you up and reaffirm for you your FBU (fungible billing unit) status. Firms try, to various degrees, to downplay time billed, and I’m not sure why they bother. Maybe there’s something satisfying about clinging to the apprenticeship model, where a budding young lawyer would learn the profession from an experienced old guy (it would have been a guy back then) who “cared” about the apprentice in some personal way and then passed the practice on to him (even the apprentice would have been a guy). They do try to trumpet quality over quantity, etc. But it’s a bit of a lie.
On one business trip, I sat next to a woman from another large Silicon Valley law firm. She managed their litigation group. Her laptop open right next to me, it was impossible not to notice (to be honest, I didn’t try not to notice) that she was calculating suggested annual bonuses from a list of associates sorted by the number of billable hours, from most billed to least. The process was entirely mathematical. Great. Those who logged the most hours should be paid the most, although anyone who’s worked in a law firm for a few years understands the problems with adhering too closely to that principle. Similar rankings existed at one of the firms that I worked for. I saw lists (that weren’t meant for my eyes either) ranking partners and associates by their rolling 12-month billable totals with highlighting, comments, and questions that rarely touched on anything but quantity: “why so low?”, “unacceptable”, and “????”. And, it was absolutely clear, when you saw these numbers and knew the ins and outs of the practice group, that a large number of billers weren’t being, could not possibly have been, truthful in recording their time. I am not sure what better way to gauge the activity of a group of lawyers billing in a large firm would be or whether there is a way to keep people from the perverse incentives that lead them toward inflation. You have to balance the load somehow. You have to be able to “run the numbers” and make the business work. It is what it is: selling time. A lot of people do it. Some people just don’t realize that they are doing it, thinking that they are doing something else, as they sit there late into the night and well into the weekend. The pay, at big law firms, is good.
Were the years in Big Law worth it? That’s a complicated question, the answer to which really just turns on how one chooses to view things. First, I gained a ton of material for an update of Joseph Heller’s classic, set in a big firm in the modern legal world, working title being “Catch 22 U.S.C. 333.” But, more seriously, the high price that a law firm was willing to pay associates, was forced by the market to pay associates, during my time as a big firm lawyer helped Darin and me to become parents. Surrogacy costs a lot of money. Sure, we might have had the money from some other source, if not from my law firm salary. Maybe. Probably? Who knows. But, the fact is, we had it, in part because I worked (hard, back in those days) at a big law firm, and we used it to pave a road for ourselves that led to Fisher Bug and Cory Bee. How could that not be worth it? Thank you very much, Vielen Dank, and merci beaucoup! There are very few things that it makes sense to regret anyway.
And as for me? And as for me. I made my mind up back at Heller/Covy/Wilmer, when I go, I’m going like…Elsie? Hell no, I’m not going like Elsie. She may have been the happiest corpse ever seen, laid out there like a queen, but that’s what came from too much pills and liquor, and, as a matter of fact, from renting by the hour. And, I’m no longer renting by the hour.
Okay, all right, maybe that’s just what I’m telling myself now. But, so, yah, I’m no longer renting by the six-minute increment…
F: Daddy, why did Papa paint that girl on the side of the car?
D (turning the other car off): What did you say, Fisher?
F (pointing): Why did Papa put that girl on the side of the BMW?
D (turning to look): You think that looks like a girl?
F: Uh huh. What do you think it looks like?
D: Um, racing stripes maybe?
F: Oh. I don’t think so. I think it looks like a girl.
F: Actually, Daddy, you are right. I think it’s just uh, er, eh racing stripes. But, why did Papa paint those racing stripes on the BMW?
D: He didn’t. He ran into a pole and scraped along it. The paint from the pole came off on the BMW. It only looks like racing stripes.
F: Oh. You are right, Daddy. It does look like racing stripes, but I don’t know why Papa did that.
D: He didn’t mean to.
F: Oh. (Pause.) Daddy, what are racing stripes?
D: Fisher, you are sure that I am right, but you don’t know what racing stripes are?
F (smiling): Uh huh.
D: Well, what if I said that now I think it looks like a girl?
F (taking Daddy’s hand): Um, I don’t know.
D (squeezing his hand before turning back to Cory): Racing stripes are stripes that people put on the cars that they race to make them look fast, to make them look cool.
F: Oh. Well, I don’t think those stripes make the er, eh, uh BMW look faster. No, I don’t think so. (After a long pause, to himself, as Daddy helps Cory down from the suburban…) Actually, I think those colors look more like a girl.
Daddy studies the scrapes a little more and just doesn’t see it.
D (catching up to Fisher and ruffling his hair): Interesting. Where I see racing stripes, you see a girl. Cory, what do you see?
D: On the side of the BMW?
C: Scrapes. Papa said that he just hit something and he, like, ran the car along it, so the color from the…(gesturing)…thing-y came off on the car.
D: I know, but Fisher thinks it looks like a girl. I say, racing stripes. What do you say?
C (shrugging as she pushes the door open): I say, I’m hungry.
Sometimes a reindeer doesn’t even want to play in any of the games.