Law Students and Young Lawyers

The View From Under The Bus

So, here is the situation. I am closing a deal with a senior partner from one of Canada’s largest law firms. Let’s call him “Big Law Guy.”    

I am a senior partner myself, but with a medium-sized suburban law firm. By definition, he is supposed to be smarter than I am and his junior is supposed to be fortunate to be working for him instead of working with me.

We are at the closing meeting and I am checking the documents put forward for signature against the approved drafts. I check the first document. It is not what I expect to see. I check the second document. It is not right either. I tell Big Law Guy that it looks like the documents which he has put forward for signature are old drafts.

Big Law Guy confers with his junior lawyer, who presumably graduated at the top of his class and is no dummy. Junior apologizes for the confusion and heads out to make things right.

So far, so good. Mistakes happen. No harm done. Poor Junior is probably billing 2,000 hours a year and has not slept in a week. I am willing to bet that Big Law Guy has not done much on this file except for talking to the client and signing the accounts.

So here is where the story gets interesting. When Junior leaves the room, Big Law Guy turns to his client and apologetically says (and I am not making this up), “I am sorry about this. Junior is new to our firm and he is not very good.”

I was left wondering how Big Law Guy’s client reacted to this. If I were the client, I would have thought, “So, let me get this straight. I am paying one of the biggest firms in the country to handle this matter because you guys say that you are God’s gift to the legal profession. You have a junior lawyer who you do not think is very good working on my matter at $400.00 per hour, and you are charging me $750.00 an hour not to check his work.  And you have no problem throwing your colleague under the bus when something goes wrong. I am vexed.”

Lessons learned from this story:

  1. My junior lawyer learned that she would rather work with me than for back-stabbing Big Law Guy; and
  2. I learned that being a partner at a Big Law firm is no guarantee that you have class.

I am not sure if Junior learned anything, because I doubt that Big Law Guy provided him with any helpful feedback.

If I could have spoken to Junior, I would have told him:

  1. When you are working day and night, mistakes happen. That is okay.
  2. Get yourself better organized. It matters.
  3. If the partner you are working for is willing to throw you under the bus as soon as something goes wrong, you should be working with someone else.
  4. You can learn to improve your document management, but Big Law Guy cannot learn to be a decent human being. If you are stuck with this guy, it is time to move on.

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