‘Twas the week before Christmas when all through the firm,
The coming New Year caused every body to squirm.
Associates awaited the annual time,
When they’d learn of a bonus, oh so sublime.
The seasoned had worked a lot harder this year,
As dreams of a partner’s life blurred hope and fear.
Equity partners were again in a squeeze:
They ate what they killed. Who was ever at ease?
As happens whenever there is a recession,
Clients sought value; their lawyers fought depression.
While pondering how most large law firms had changed,
I overheard rustling, peculiar and strange.
The holidays! I remembered at last.
Hard to believe, one more year had now passed.
Whispers foreshadowed the annual display,
“The Chairman is here…he’s in town for the day.”
Chance and fortuity determine one’s fate,
Except for our Chairman who thought himself great.
A new breed of leader who’d come to the fore,
How much is enough? He will answer you: “More.”
I sprang from my desk for a glimpse of the man
Who’d been somewhere warm; he was sporting a tan.
With a custom made suit, crisp shirt, and red tie,
I knew in a moment that this was The Guy.
He walked not alone but with minions galore,
They seemed like a dozen, but there were just four.
The group strode by briskly – as followers massed,
I stepped forward slowly. Who cares if I’m last?
“The large conference room,” I heard someone say,
“That’s where the Chairman will speak this grand day.”
I dutifully followed the gathering throng
To where The Great Man was to sing us his song.
As dry mouth with oral argument arises,
I feared he’d be off’ring unpleasant surprises.
He was dressed to the nines – impressively so.
I prayed that he’d speak his piece quickly and go.
With the crowd settling in to hear his remarks,
I knew what was coming – pure brimstone and sparks.
“It’s that time again,” he began with a cheer,
“As we near the end of our firm’s fiscal year.”
“Get bills out at once and then follow them through.
Be relentless with clients; be tough; be true.
If our profits decline, it’s trouble for all,
Money binds us as one – without it, we’ll fall.”
He turned to associates, awaiting the news,
Another bad year? They looked closely for clues.
They all knew the truth: The firm’s profits still soared.
But what partners share their great wealth with the horde?
“We’re a business,” the Chairman silenced the joint.
“All else is, well, really quite outside the point.
It takes a whole team to keep the wheels turning,
Billed hours are key – although some call it churning.”
“Billables – that is the firm’s soul and its heart,
That means you associates must all do your part.”
As this aging hypocrite climbed the ladder,
Mentors told him that his hours did not matter.
I hoped he was done, but alas he was not:
“Associate morale is stuck deep in a pot.
So you’ll each get a bonus matching our peers,
And we’ve formed a committee – they’ll dry your tears.”
“I can’t promise mentors, good training, or more,
But you’ll out-earn friends for whom life’s less a chore.
You still have school loans that will not go away.
So happy or not, you will all want to stay.”
“Remember the job that you have in this crash,
Your unemployed friends would take on in a flash.
Keep making me rich – as much as you’re able,
What else can you do? Wash dishes? Wait tables?”
“Lest you think that I’m heartless, greedy, or crass,
I’m running a business, not being an ass.
A handful of metrics rule everything now,
Billables, leverage, the pyramid – Wow!”
His message delivered, he soon left the floor.
He picked up his iPad and walked out the door.
But I heard him exclaim as he vanished from view,
“Keep those hours rising – your worst enemy is you!”
—— Steven J. Harper, December 2010
Thanks to all of you, the editors of the ABA Law Blawg chose The Belly of the Beast as one of the 100 best blogs of 2010. To be selected from more than 3,000 in the ABA directory is humbling, especially for this novice blogger.
Happy Holidays – and please return in the New Year! I will.