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Today is like most other 16-hour days. This day is special, however, because you have made arrangements to get together with a friend whom you haven’t seen since you started law school, or you may have promised your spouse you’ll be home in time for dinner — for the first time this fiscal year. The morning goes smoothly. At noon, you have the usual deli sandwich at your desk while reviewing documents. All seems well through most of the afternoon until, suddenly and without warning, a partner appears and drops a large clasp of documents on your desk. By the anxious look on her face, you can tell what the partner has just given you. It is the emergency du jour — an assignment that needs to be completed immediately. As the partner explains what needs to be done, you glance at the documents and notice the cover letter from the client is dated over a month ago. Be this as it may, you are an associate. She is a partner. You cheerfully accept the assignment. You spend the next few hours working as fast as you can. At 6 o’clock, your secretary stops by to ask if you need her to stay late. By this time, you feel as if you have everything under control and you tell your secretary she can go home. Two minutes later, the telephone rings. You hesitate before answering because you fear it may be more work on the other end of the line. You notice the call is coming from outside The Firm and determine it is safe to pick up. You are wrong. On the phone is a partner calling from his car. He tells you he has a conference call with a client scheduled for first thing in the morning and needs a few issues researched. Out of force of habit, you promise to have a memorandum on the partner’s desk by 9 o’clock the next morning. You then ask the partner where he can be reached later in the evening in case you have any questions. He says he is going to be “out of pocket tonight — got The Firm’s tickets to the ball game.” You now have to make the phone call — a call you’ve made many times before — to cancel your plans for tonight. Before you can articulate what you think is a pretty good excuse, you listen to how this other person no longer wants to be your friend, lover or spouse. The Firm, you are told, has become all these things to you. You are then accused of having no time for anything or anyone else. You strenuously object to such claims, start to defend yourself but then realize valuable time is ticking away. You cut the conversation short and promise to continue it next week when you aren’t so swamped with work. That little detail out of the way, you get to on the assignment. You work almost nonstop for the next 12 hours. At about 5:00 a.m., you start having trouble reading. You are so tired you can no longer see straight. Attempting to analyze some of the issues, you discover you are also unable to think straight. You resign to the fact that you need some sleep. Instead of making your way to the conference room couch, you simply lean forward in your chair and lay your head on your desk. When you wake up at 6:30, your eyesight and thinking are clearer but sleeping at your desk has caused your neck and back to stiffen. Now you can’t walk straight. As others start to report to work, you can’t help but notice they are staring at you. At first you think this might be because you are unwashed and wearing the same clothes you had on yesterday. At other places of work, such conditions are signs one may have engaged in a sexual adventure and ended up sleeping at someone else’s place. At The Firm, however, being unwashed and in the same clothes are indicators you pulled an all-nighter and are badges of courage to be proudly worn. Later on, you figure out why everyone has been staring at you. Indented into your forehead, you find a paper clip you picked up while sleeping at your desk. At exactly 9 o’clock, you go to the partner’s office and hand him the memorandum. He tells you to sit down while he calls the client on the speaker phone. After the substantive part of the phone call is completed, the partner looks at you and flicks the fingers of one hand in your direction. This is his way of telling you to leave. As you stand up, pain shoots through your back. Because you don’t want the client to hear you wail, you bite your lip to keep from screaming. As you hobble out of the office and down the hallway with blood dripping from you lip, you hear the client thank the partner for all his good work. The client then apologizes for the assignment’s short fuse. The partner responds by saying, “It was no trouble, no trouble at all.” 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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