In these turbulent times, you must always be on your best behavior at Big Law -- even during those rare hours when you are outside of the office. You work with hundreds of other Cogs, partners and staff, many of whom you have never met. So even when you think it is safe to let loose, kick back or go crazy, someone is always watching and -- these days -- looking for any excuse to reduce the payroll.
In an effort to help you survive the type of out-of-office encounters that can lead to social awkwardness at best and a career-ending faux pas at worst, I've compiled the following set of hypothetical questions to guide you during these troubled times.
My summer Saturday morning ritual is to roll out of bed, throw on a sports bra and shorts, turn up my iPod and jog with my dog Finch through Piedmont Park before it gets too hot. I sing along to Justin Timberlake as we run, and then we stop off at the dog park.
Sometimes I see neighbors from my condo, but last week for the first time I thought I saw a partner in our M&A group at the dog park. I've only been at the firm two years, and I have never met her because I work on another floor. I wasn't even sure if it was her -- she looked different in her Bermuda shorts and golf shirt, and she was wearing a huge visor and sunglasses. Finch was ready to go so I decided not to walk over to her and instead left the park and jogged home.
When I got home my BlackBerry was blinking with a new e-mail. It was from the M&A partner. She said she hoped I had enjoyed my time at the park, but that I should remember even when walking my dog that I am a representative of the Firm and a lady. She said I should consider wearing more "modest" clothing when running and that singing to songs like "SexyBack" only added to the improper impression.
I think this is crazy! I work for a law firm, not some cult that dictates dress and behavior! A random partner should not be able to tell me what to wear when jogging or what songs I can sing when I'm not at the firm and not billing hours. Freedom of speech! I do not even work with that crazy old bag. I am thinking of reporting her to HR -- what do you think?
Big Law is everywhere, and you have to play the game. Your first mistake was to ignore a partner in this situation. You should have walked over, introduced your dog and made small talk -- "Can you believe this heat? That is a great visor. Where did you get that? Oh look, Finch is exhausted. I am afraid I have to jog back home now and get ready to go into the office. Great to see you!"
Compliments and billing hours will help smooth over most awkward out-of-office encounters. Ignoring a partner only sends a message that you do not care to know those who sign your paycheck. They need to know you understand their importance. She may have overlooked your outfit choice and song selection if you had showed a little grace. And forget about reporting her to H.R. Seriously? You need to give her a call, thank her for the sage advice, start wearing clothes when you run and find a new dog park.
I have been attending a weekly Jujitsu class for more than three years. I love the chance to get away from the office a little early, channel some stress into the art of movement and take down my opponents. Last week one of our new lateral partners approached me in the hallway and said, "Hey, aren't you in my Jujitsu class? You've got some skills. See you next week."
I did not recognize him or remember seeing him before -- he is new to the firm. But now he appears to have invaded my retreat. What should I do?
You have a few options depending on your personal preferences. If Lateral Partner is an influential guy who is likable, he could be your new pal and ally. You could help him navigate his way around the Firm by telling him which floor has the best coffee and which route is fastest from the office to the Dojo. Maybe he will be impressed with the discipline and skill you show in class and mentor you as a young lawyer who reminds him of himself as a lad.
Or maybe he will hate you for being younger and more fit and start making snide remarks like, "Apparently this Firm is less strict about face time for Cogs than my old one. You seem to scamper out of here at 6 p.m. every Wednesday without any problem." You also may face the awkwardness of having to change in the locker room together before class -- it is never good to see a partner without his clothes on.
You should consider finding a new class. But be careful -- if he thinks you're avoiding him, it could get dicey. You may need to fake an injury. Better yet, let him injure you in class one day in a glorious take-down where you are shamed. Then he will feel better about himself, you can go to a new class and maybe get your retreat time back.
Now, as all Cogs are aware, not all awkward encounters occur in athletic situations such as those discussed above. My point is, when you least expect it -- expect it, and keep your guard up anytime you're not at the office, especially in the following situations:
• Drive cautiously. Don't go running over some pedestrian in the crosswalk near your building -- it could be the chairman's mother-in-law.
• Drink responsibly. Don't indulge too much in the tequila shots and end up dancing on the bar at your favorite cantina. You never know what partner was having a hankering for tacos that night.
• Shop carefully. The person you're locked in a tug-of-war with over the last size 8 pair of Jimmy Choos at Neiman Marcus -- or wait, there's a recession on, so maybe it's the last size 8 pair of Converse at Target, but whatever -- could be the new partner assigned to your performance review committee.
• Watch your mouth. Don't go flapping your lips about hating your job, getting the shaft on pay cuts or wishing you had not slept with the receptionist unless you are alone and have checked your living room for hidden listening devices. The guy in line behind you at Whole Foods could be a Big Law colleague -- and a rat fink.
Of course you can't lock yourself up in your house -- you've got too many hours to bill -- but you must always be conscious of your surroundings. Remember: Big Law is EVERYWHERE!
Do you have dirt to dish? Do you have a column idea? Or do you just need to vent in six-minute increments? E-mail the Snark at firstname.lastname@example.org.