Thursday, April 28, 2011


I am out of control busy all of a sudden. I got home late for dinner, scarfed down three bacon chocolate chip pancakes* while sitting half on the edge of my chair, like leaning against the back would be too great an indulgence and indication that I wasn't working for a whole 7 minutes. I sent out my draft motion right after dinner (I decided while chewing that it didn't need to be edited any more), took a nice splashy bath with Clairebear, and tucked her in bed just in time to get the email back with edits from the senior associate. Perfect timing.

(* The most delicious pancakes in the whole entire world. My friend and her husband brought us a Vosges chocolate assortment when they visited Austin last weekend and it is all amazing. I meant it when I said they shouldn't have, but man I'm glad they did!)

I'm waiting for another round of edits, so I have time to share this embarrassing story from earlier today. I'll start off by saying that I very rarely, really never, get flustered at work. I feel generally competent at what I do. I have a lot to learn, but I do okay with what I have and I have no problem with feedback, constructive criticism, or a complete re-working of a 30 page brief I labored over for 3 days. There's a separation between my work feelings and my real feelings. Both can make me happy, but work doesn't often make me sad, and even if it does, the level of sad is much shallower than my range of emotions in my real life. This is all healthy and good.

But then today, I hung up on a partner. On accident. And then I did it again. And then I hung up on our local counsel, also a partner. It was awesome and ruined at least three hours of my afternoon. You see I've been working on this case for months, but in a discreet area that caused me to work with only one other person while otherwise being the master of my own domain (a domain of 7-10 contract attorneys). But then I wrote a motion to compel that won and suddenly other people on this case, who are on a different floor from me, realized I was on the case and could be contacted for other case-related work. So the big partner, who I've only ever spoken with in passing, called me directly from her cell phone at 3:12 this afternoon. I answered because I thought it was the daycare number. It was not. She then asked me to conference in our local counsel in a faraway state. I had never called him before and had to frantically search old emails just to find the number. Then I stared at my phone and realized I had never conferenced anyone- I'm always in someone else's office when they do that. Shit. I pressed hold, got a new line, dialed, got local counsel partner, tried to rejoin, and hung up on my partner. Then I did it backward, keeping local counsel partner on the phone, calling my partner, and hanging up on local counsel. It was terrible. I was flustered. I put the phone on mute (my partner was still on the line) yelled for the secretary who sits closest to me, who is actually not my secretary, but who is a good friend of mine, and frantically pantomimed the universal motions for "Holy hell I hung up on two partners and one is still on the line and probably wondering how I can manage to type words in the right order and will now never want to work with me ever - HELP." When my friend ran over, my partner hung up on me, in her case, probably on purpose.

I pulled myself together, called local counsel, explained our question, got an answer, and called my partner back. I then got a big new project due tomorrow morning. I'd like to think it was a vote of confidence, but I'm really pretty sure it was punishment. I will not be sleeping. I'm supposed to be packing for an out of town trip with the kids and JP (we leave in 12 hours), but I'm not doing that either. I'm also not watching my Thursday night shows, the end of Steve Carrell's run on the office, or the 100th made for TV movie about Will and Kate.

Don't hang up on partners.


  1. I hate when that happens! I swore in front of a captain the other day, as in "Fuck it!" It either made him respect me more, or think I'm a complete asshole. I can't tell yet. If I were you, I'd blame it on the phone. "I think I need a new phone. Mine keeps shorting out or something. Weirdest thing..."

  2. Betcha those partners don't know how, either. Knowing how does NOT improve your partnership prospects. If you are a guy, you are "Steve who understands these phones-- isn't that cool?" However, if female, you are "Susan who can operate the phones-- didn't she used to be a secretary?"
    (I know-- there is no justice in the world.) I speak from the experience of being the go-to person for emergency stain removal in the office. That became what I was known and admired for-- not the cases I'd won, plans I'd developed, or clients I'd won over. Nothing like hearing that the top man had a project for me, and learning it was a laundry problem. MUCH better to be the associate who can volunteer her own assistant: "let me call Joanne-- she has a knack for sorting these out, and I never HAVE had the patience for this system; it just doesn't think the way I do!" Note that this is not said in a panicked "MizScarlettMizScarlett-don'tknownothing'boutbirthingnobabies" voice but one that implies that you are one of "the guys" who can't waste their valuable time learning such things. I know it sounds ridiculous,and my own reaction is more egalitarian, but an "office fundraiser" for which you jump in and bake cookies, only to learn later that all the other attorneys jumped in and wrote checks, does not bode well for your promotion chances. Trust me on this one.
    wouldn't you rather be known as

  3. sorry-- that last line was to be edited out.

  4. >>There's a separation between my work feelings and my real feelings.

    I really really wish I had that skill. I am better than I was, but I have a looong way to go.

    I am really sure that you and partner will be able to laugh about the phone thing someday. Really.


  5. Don't sweat the hanging up on a partner thing. It happens, and in fact, I did the exact same thing this week.

    And I agree with Lisa. I've recently realized that I am a little too good and handling the details that the guys leave to their assistants. Which sometimes leaves me doing things that are more appropriately assigned to an assistant. I don't think it was a bad thing that I had to tell the partner, "I just haven't figured out the phone system, yet."

  6. If it makes you feel better, I hung up in the head of my group 3 times while trying to conference people in the first time. The head of my group is very scary too.... But let me tell you, it was a good way to learn how to use the phone system (after 2 years at the firm).

  7. LT, I immediately located our IT book and practiced both initiating a conference call and forcing JP to call me from his outside line so I could conference in my cell phone. I am now a conferencing expert.

    And Lisa, I totally agree with much of what you said. For the conferencing thing, partners do that all the time, which is actually why I've never learned. I'm the junior person, so I travel to their office, and then they make all the calls. Thus, in my office, it appears that conferencing and transferring skills mean you are important enough to make people come to your office for calls.

    On the plus side- I was up so late last night I got to watch some of the royal wedding coverage live!

  8. I have hung up on multiple people when attempting to transfer them. I've given up and now just give them the other number.
    Phone problems are universal. They have probably hung up on people too!

  9. LL, it's the same at my firm. Typically the partners do the conferencing, so after 2 years at the firm, I had no clue how to do it. Now, I do it fairly regularly, but learning how to do a conference call was not intuitive at all.

    For any junior associates reading these comments: practice your conference calling skills! LOL.

  10. Luckily (?) for me, my firm is the opposite. If the call is in the partner's office, the junior in the room will set up the conference call or conference people in, so I've been well-versed in such secretarial skills for a while. A 3rd year associate that I worked with in my first month at the firm warned me that since everyone assumes you know nothing substantive at first, the most important skills are: 1) setting up a conference call and 2) inviting people on outlook to meetings, as this is done all the time in transactional practice. She was right, and I'm so glad I had my assistant show me that week how to do both.

    That said, these things happen to everyone, and the fact that this is the first thing that has really flustered you at your job blows my mind. You are much better than I at staying calm and collected when busy and/or stressed!

  11. Oh can I relate to this as an associate. We know how to draft the most complicated materials, can explain the most recent cases but sometimes, when it comes down to the logistical office issues - we just need a little help once in a while. We will get better (I think?)

    Just yesterday I had a partner call me from home as she needed to file an emergency reply to a Statement of Defence. I drafted it, got her approval (which was complicated in itself as she was out of office and I had to read it to her etc. - what a mess)

    I went to serve it and, guess what, I realized I didn't know how to use the new fax machine. Yeah - I'm in my third year. I had to find the nearest clerk / associate in the area who all stared at me in disbelief but there was no time for explanation - the clock was ticking and it was nearly 5:00 pm and if the fax didn't go through we would be out of time.