Signs that your law firm might be in trouble from The Snark. See #5 for my personal favorite…
1. People start doing strange things, such as taking vacations or long weekends. Even without gas to get anywhere, “vacation” is a much better excuse for not billing hours than not having any work. And since no one takes a vacation when they have work, days off can be a sign of a slowdown.
2. The holiday party gets downsized. You know your firm is hurting when you get this e-mail announcement: “This year Biglaw has decided to go green for the annual Holiday Party. In the spirit of sustainability and eco-awareness, we are moving the party from the un-energy-efficient Grand Ballroom at Five Star Hotel to a quaint, family-owned country farm that grows organic cotton and raises grain-fed, free-range, opera-loving chickens. Everyone will get one glass and one plate to use throughout the night to save costs — oops, I mean to save the earth. And no band this year, because of the wasteful energy sucked by those high-powered (and expensive) amps. Instead, we will have a harp player from the local music school (the managing partner’s grandniece — no charge!). Please come and join the fun!”
3. Basic services and perks start to evaporate. The firm also may cut some costs in tight times by eliminating nonbillable staff positions or perks. But they’ll make these changes sound like something done for your benefit and totally unconnected to the bottom line.
4. Billable hours dry up. As Cogs, we all know our function in life is to bill hours. When partners stop calling you and asking you to research mundane areas of the law for hours on end, you need to worry.
5. Partners start doing their own work. The final and most telling sign that times are tough at Biglaw is when you find yourself in this conversation:
Cog: “Hey Partner, it’s Cog. I just wanted to see if you had time to discuss the brief you wanted me to write today.”
Partner: “No need, Cog. I went ahead and started a draft yesterday and will be making revisions today. I went to the firm library and pulled down some cases from the books on the shelves. They really need to dust in there. I may call you if my secretary is at lunch when I need to enter my changes into that word-processing thing-a-ma-gig. But otherwise, I think I have it under control.”
Partners doing legal research and writing memos and briefs in longhand is a sign of the apocalypse and proof that Biglaw is not immune to a bad economy.