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Posts Tagged ‘billable hours’

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By definition, anyone who asks me to be featured on her podcast is a lovely person…but Karima Gulick, even if she hadn’t asked me to be on her terrific podcast for lawyers, would still be a completely lovely person. She’s just great.

The podcast, called Gen Why Lawyer, is focused on young lawyers who “who dare to live their lives on their own terms and who are building fulfilling careers.”  That sounds good to me.  You can read more about it here.

For more information on Karima, and her producer, Nicole Abboud (who also hosts some of the podcast episodes) click here.

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Karima and I spoke for about half an hour, but managed to cram in a lot of talk around about the challenges lawyers face in their jobs, and the work I do as a therapist to try and help them.

You can listen to our podcast episode here.  It has been assigned the mellifluous title “Understanding and overcoming procrastination, burnout and anxiety with Will Meyerhofer”…which makes sense, since who else could be better to understand and overcome procrastination, burnout and anxiety with than yours truly?

The Gen Why Lawyer podcast series is so strong that you really ought to check them all out – there’s a long list of episodes available here, and I’ve been dipping in and have to admit I’m hooked.  (I’m Episode #154, so yeah…there’s a lot to explore.) What they’ve put together is incredibly impressive and useful, too.

Heartfelt thanks to Karima and Nicole and the folks who help them put together The Gen Why Lawyer – I’m honored to be a part of your series.

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Please check out The People’s Therapist’s legendary best-seller about the sad state of the legal profession: Way Worse Than Being a Dentist: The Lawyer’s Quest for Meaning

And now there’s a new Sequel: Still Way Worse Than Being a Dentist: (The Sequel)

My first book is an unusual (and useful) introduction to the concepts underlying psychotherapy:Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy

I’ve also written a comic novel about a psychotherapist who falls

in love with a blue alien from outer space. I guarantee pure reading pleasure: Bad Therapist: A Romance

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I tell the truth in these columns – at least, to the degree I find convenient or advisable. There is such a thing as a surfeit of veracity. My clients are lawyers, so god help me if I record something a little too candid with regard to their doings. Just talking about myself raises issues.

I haven’t worked at Sullivan & Cromwell since 1999. A statute of limitations must cover misdeeds perpetrated in that dim, dusky epoch. But I’m not betting the farm on it.

I will, therefore, tread with caution as I recount events that occurred in the life of a close friend who practiced at Sullivan & Cromwell during that time, someone whose tenure at this august institution coincided precisely with my own. A dear, personal friend.

It is possible this person occasionally misrepresented his billable hours.

I know. You’re sickened. Awash with a visceral revulsion.

Could I be saying what you think I’m saying!? Not that. It’s unthinkable.

I shall not shy away from the painful truth. I’ll say it: my close personal friend cheated on his hours. At least I think he did. I only think, because he was so sloppy in keeping track of his hours it wasn’t clear what they actually were.

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What is it about lawyers and vacations? Like the old saying about long-horn cattle and a Texas fence – they just don’t get along so good. It’s like a physical aversion.

I worked with a client recently who was planning, in utter frustration, to quit his medium-size firm in a medium-size American city. The partner was lecturing him about his billable hours, but business was dead slow so there was nothing to bill for. The lawyer found out later that all his peers were simply billing for work that hadn’t been done yet, on the theory that they’d be laid off by the time the proverbial cow-patty and the fan were joined in unison.

He couldn’t bring himself to fake his time records to that degree, so he was stomping mad, announcing in stentorian tones that this was it, he was quitting. I urged him to stick around and see if he couldn’t get laid off with everyone else, so he could at least receive unemployment. No, he insisted – he needed out now.

Well, I reasoned, then why not take some vacation, so you can cool off and kill time simultaneously?

That was unthinkable.

It turned out he hadn’t had a vacation in 8 months – and that vacation was for 3 days.

Yes. THREE DAYS. Actually five, he said, since he took the weekend, too.

He took the weekend.

His objection to taking a vacation now? He wasn’t going out like that, on a sour note. That wouldn’t be right.

So. Quitting in a huff was okay. But taking any of his accumulated vacation time when the firm was so slow there was nothing for anyone to do and everyone was faking their hours? Inconceivable.

Flash forward six weeks. He didn’t quit. Instead he managed to convince a partner to dump a bunch of work on him, and actually managed to approach the insane billable hours requirement for last month. Now he’s totally exhausted, and his fellow junior associates are complaining he’s hogging the work.

How about a vacation? I suggested.

No way. He’d just made his hours – how could he take a vacation now?

But isn’t that the whole idea? That you’ve earned some time off?

He looked at me like I’d gone mad. If he took vacation now, all the other associates would get his work and he wouldn’t be able to make his hours. Besides, if he took vacation, he’d have to work twice as hard.

Why? I asked. If you’re off for two weeks of the month, you’re only expected to work half as many hours, right?

Wrong. It doesn’t work that way. You still have to make your hours for that month, even if you take a vacation. You just have to pull double-shifts.

Doesn’t that defeat the whole point of taking a vacation?

He shrugged me off, exasperated. I didn’t get it.

In the twisted mind of a lawyer, taking a vacation is simply bad. To take a vacation when the firm is slow rubs the unthinkable in their face – that the firm is slow. When things are busy? Well, then you’re not pulling your weight, are you?

Of course, you can’t simply “take” a vacation at a law firm – you have to clear it with the partner. At my client’s firm, the standard response was: “this isn’t a good time.”

There is no good time.

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