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Many of my acquaintances from other states have inquired as to how California lawyers and law firms are managing through the power shortage we have been experiencing in recent months. They express concern that a shortage of electricity will shut down our computers, phones, copying machines and other office equipment that might hamper our ability to competently represent our clients. There is really nothing to be concerned about. And it is wrong to assume that a dark law office is an unproductive law office. Most California law firms are, in fact, making the best of the situation and managing quite well without full power. And I’m not talking only about those many attorneys who, with much energy, are participating in the bankruptcy of the big public utility out here — one of the biggest filings in history. No. The real reason law firms continue to thrive under these trying circumstances is because they have prepared so well for such emergencies. The Firm’s emergency plan in case of fire, for instance, is quite detailed. There is a well-defined evacuation procedure that follows the sounding of the fire alarm. The first step is to grab important files and move them to an internal room and to continue billing. (Timesheets should also be saved at all costs.) If flames threaten your life and it appears certain that the building will burn to the ground, office personnel are instructed to evacuate the building in the following order: 1. Partners 2. Associates (according to billing rate) 3. Of Counsel 4. Secretaries 5. Office manager 6. Other staff members. (Note: It is a law firm tradition that paralegals go down with The Firm.) Comparatively speaking, working without electricity is a piece of cake if you’ve ever had to work through an inferno (or at an insurance defense firm). Plus, a few simple precautions can assure that business at The Firm continues uninterrupted. At my firm, for instance, there are several backup power generators that we sometimes activate in order to keep computer terminals operative and legal research flowing. As you might expect, there has been a shortage of these generators over the past four or five months. Fortunately, we were able to snag several of them from one of our hospital clients that fell behind in its legal bills. There are several additional alternative power sources that The Firm makes available. All associates, for example, are given flashlights to keep in their briefcases. During the darkest days, partners walk the halls wearing miner hats. Personally, getting caught in the dark on the 51st floor of a high-rise really doesn’t faze me. I am, however, terrified of getting stuck in the elevator. It’s not that I’m claustrophobic or anything like that. I just don’t want to be in the same small space with certain individuals. These include (1) my hated rival who I haven’t spoken to since he publicly and intentionally embarrassed me at The Firm’s 1997 summer picnic; (2) my former law firm lover who I stopped seeing because our secret love affair was, well, no longer secret; (3) the office manager; and (4) one of those partners who always gives me rush assignments. I think I’d rather go down in flames. In recent weeks, things have looked brighter in California. This is especially good news because summer is just a few weeks away. Without full power, we might not be able to charge clients (with premium added) for air-conditioning the office when we work overtime. The Firm’s Year 2000 revenue from this source accounted for 15 percent of partners’ draws. Many Californians are chipping in to help the situation — even us lawyers. To help save energy, The Firm installed motion detectors in all of our offices. If no movement in an individual office is detected for a certain period of time, the sensor recognizes this and automatically shuts the lights off. Several junior associates have complained, however, because even though the sensors do not kick in until after 12 minutes of inactivity, the lights were shutting off while these lawyers were in their offices proofreading documents. I don’t think the motion detectors ended up saving very much power. Fortunately, however, many of our clients are going out of business and that should solve the problem. The Rodent is a syndicated columnist and author of “Explaining the Inexplicable: The Rodent’s Guide to Lawyers.” His e-mail address is [email protected]

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