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What does an “Associates” columnist become when he grows up? Once, “Partners” columnist might have been the natural answer. But as I know from my law school ’93 classmates, it would be more realistic to cover of counsel or attrition statistics. Fortunately, my editors don’t see the need for me to choose. Funky lawyers don’t cease to be funky when their hair turns gray or they hire office movers. After this week, I will roam the world in search of column-worthy lawyers of all ages and sectors. In 70 columns and nearly two years on the associates track, I searched for the paradoxical. My first column was on an Ivy Leaguer trapped in a small firm, and my last column was on “Cows that type.” In between, I covered a 70-year-old rookie, an entertaining law review and a lawyer’s orchestra. I found a firm with a beer keg, a firm overrun by dogs and a firm with a budget line for associate pranks. I found lawyers who play punk rock and lawyers who do yoga, lawyers who surfboard-paddle and lawyers who surf the Web. Boy, did I find lawyers who Web-surf. I tracked the Greedy Associates phenomenon from obscurity through the ascension of the “chief Greedy” to The National Law Journal‘s list of the nation’s 100 most influential lawyers. Of course, I have also written of the great mass of young lawyers who overwork and overbill and undersleep; and (lately) underdress and overearn. It’s easy to be funny about associates because their stereotype is so well-defined. Just as Al Gore is “the stiff guy” and George W. Bush is “the dumb guy,” so the law firm associate is “the miserable guy.” The official law firm motto could be “Bland Ambition,” which was the line my old law journal emblazoned on a T-shirt after Madonna’s 1990 Blonde Ambition tour. In early 1999, I covered a convention on combating law firm attrition, where I ran into the recruitment coordinator who had hired me for her law firm. As I said at the time, I felt like a butterfly at a “Save the Caterpillars” convention. Managing partners asked me then, and they have asked many times since, what is to be done about attrition. The first advice I offered was, “It’s not the money.” That may be a fine guide for enlightened policy, but it proved a poor assessment of the popular mood. When the mega-raise hit, I covered it with mixed feelings. I was pleased for those of my subjects, especially in New York, who were merely earning recognition for hours they were already clocking — and from firms that could afford the new wage. But the mega-raise reinforced all sorts of negative trends: the lengthening of hours, the lengthening of partner track, the loss of job security, the decline of pro bono and, most grand, the widening of the gap between rich and poor people in the United States. If there is any programmatic way to reverse these trends, I suspect it lies in part-time and flextime plans or, more radically, in a shift away from hourly billing. So long as the billable hour is the law firm’s stock in trade, the market will enforce associate misery. Some associates find refuge from their oppressive hours in the diversions documented in this space: in harmless obsessions and paperweight collections and the easy camaraderie of the Internet. Others, despite the hours, find motivation at work. The firms that win the retention game are those that give associates room to run as civic leaders, business counselors or policy experts. Lawyers in this boom economy have the luxury of shaping their careers, and from the standpoint of the individual and society (if not the firm), attrition is a happy tale of talent flowing to its best use, in whatever sector. But enough preaching. The columnist’s main role is to tell stories, which is why the Greedy Associates, for all our disagreements, remain my best associate sources. I look forward to exploring, in an enlarged context, some of the same themes: money and quality of life, workplace culture and quirky subcultures, passions curricular and extracurricular. As Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., himself the son of a journalist, wrote, “[T]he life of the law is not logic but experience.” An archive of “Associates” columns can be found at www.nlj.com. If you know a lawyer’s tale that should be told, contact Mike Goldhaber at (212) 313-9110 or [email protected]

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