Archive for May 5th, 2010

When I summered at Shearman & Sterling back in the late ’90s, the partners had just voted on whether to install a gym in the building or create a formal dining room.

Needless to say, they went with the dining room.

It was strictly lawyers-only. At the center stood a buffet fit for a cruise ship, replete with heaping chafing dishes. On certain days, they even had a “prime rib station,” manned by a guy wearing a toque.

This was the golden trough. We fed with complete abandon – at least on days when we weren’t being whisked off to The Four Seasons by a partner pretending to remember our names.

The joke was that all summer associates at Shearman gained 15 pounds.

It wasn’t a joke. We did.

Almost overnight a relatively in-shape pack of law students morphed into a fresh, pudgy litter of big firm attorneys.

It’s no secret law firms ply you with food to address the fact that they’re denying you everything else.

You’re giving up a social life and working around the clock – but there’s a smorgasbord only steps away, and free cookies in the conference rooms! If it gets really late (which happens a lot), you can order anything you want – anything! – from the 75 take-out menus stuffed in your secretary’s desk drawer.

One late night at S&C, we decided to push the envelope. We all ordered take-out “surf-and-turf” platters. It was absurd – bleary-eyed associates tearing into steak and lobster tails with plastic forks and knives, sitting around a table cluttered with closing documents.

That was, admittedly, taking things to extremes. But eating at law firms is always something of a parody of a true dining experience. It amounts to exacting revenge for the fact of your presence there when you’d rather be somewhere else.

In my day, at least, the financial printers was the ultimate example of what we used to call “punitive billing.” They knew you resented spending your night in that place proofing offering documents, and the client was paying the bill. So they outfitted their proofing rooms like suites on a yacht, with menus elegantly bound between leather covers.

If you nodded in the direction of a printer employee at 1 am when he asked if he could get you anything, you’d probably end up with a $300 plate of sushi from the best joint in TriBeCa.

I know – it happened to me.

I stuffed myself until I felt ridiculous, then simply gave up. I hope somebody ate it.

Ultimately, lawyers eat their anger. They pig out at the client’s expense – or the law firm’s – because they hate the way they’re treated.

Ironically – and I know this because in the business world I dealt with outside counsel – clients resent how much their lawyers charge, and punish them by demanding insane deadlines and making them work nights and weekends.

The wheel of bad karma just keeps turning.


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