That friendly back-and-forth reminded us of something else that seemed to come from the glands rather than the brain. It took the form of a long tit-for-tat that unfolded in Litigation's spring issue. A fairly senior partner, at a behemoth law firm, traded barbs with a then-current – and now-former – associate of the same gargantuan firm. They worked in the same office. One with fewer than 30 lawyers in it. Awkard.
These tidbits from "I Don't Feel Your Pain" and "Fire and Ice" will give you a sense of the glandular nature of the writing:
Partner: "[D]o realize that being an associate is not a journey of personal discovery".
Associate: "[T]here is no neutral arbiter in conflicts between associates and partners."
Partner: "The well-rounded life is . . . not something that you can engineer by the time you re 35."
Associate: "[P]artners make us feel that we are ingrates when we expect to have" a "personal life".
Partner: "If you don't want to make money, do public interest law."
Associate: "[W]hy do you treat us like imbeciles without a shred of common sense?"
Partner: "It's mind-boggling to me how many times I've heard associates whine pitifully about being jammed up, only to find out they billed 40 or so hours in a week an didn't work on weekends."
Associate: "If you want it done exactly your way, just do it."
Partner: "If you expect to be entertained, go to the movies."
Associate: "Every once in awhile, you might ask what we think."
Partner: "I want to be the partner you remember nostalgically when you're looking back on people who made a difference in your life."
Associate: "[I]f you treat us decently, why would we want to [steal your clients]?"
We. Could. Go. On.
But let us offer some thoughts about the eternal — and, one would guess, epic – struggle between partners and associates. It has to do with return on (human) capital. Thus:
First things first. An associate needs partner support. The partner has to have reasons to invest in the associate. No one wants to gamble on a loser.
How can the associate inform the partner of those reasons? By showing that the partner has gotten, and will keep getting, a nice return on her wager.
The reasons must include confidence that the associate will hand in superb work on time. If that doesn't happen, little else matters. The reasons should also include any other thing that will help assure the partner of a return on the bet you want her to lay down for you. These will usually include loyalty (to clients, the firm, and the partner), finding and discreetly fixing mistakes (especially hers!), solving problems other than mistakes, asking her advice, and getting along with peers and staff.
The partner ought to give the associate timely and candid feedback. He should grade the associate fairly — which means he must in fact read or watch the associate's output and pay attention to the associate's efforts to make the partner's bet worth his while.
The partner also wants the associate to invest in her, although we doubt many see things that way. An eager and happy associate can make the partner's work ever so much more useful, efficient, and fun.
Investing 101, people!