In Big Firm World, inflated associate salaries have exacerbated the pressure to perform, leaving many Cogs scared to ask simple questions for fear that a partner, client or senior associate may determine the questioner is a moron and totally unworthy of a paycheck.
Fear not! I am here for you. I have compiled a list of "stupid questions," some of which I have, at one time or another, been asked (or wanted to ask), some of which have been e-mailed to me over the years and most of which -- hey, I'm nothin' but honest, right? -- I am just making up. For your convenience, I'm also including the answers I've gleaned from my time inside the machine.
But I am a lawyer, so there's a caveat. Although Big Firms are, inherently, similar in many ways, these answers may be utterly inappropriate for your firm. Please proceed with caution and use the judgment for which clients are paying you $250 or more per hour.
Dear Snark: My best friend and co-worker is turning 30, and my fellow Cogs and I are taking her out for lunch at Murphy's in Atlanta's Virginia-Highland neighborhood. Is it OK for us to order a bottle of champagne to celebrate, even though it is a workday? We'll only have a glass each.
Please don't spoil my fun,
Cog No. 409
Dear Cog No. 409: Don't blame me for spoiling your fun, but adult beverages at lunchtime on a school day are allowed only in limited circumstances. The birthday celebration for some little Cog is not one of them.
However, if firm management throws a retirement luncheon for their biggest rainmaker and brings in a champagne fountain to complement the roasted duck, feel free to have one glass before returning to your office.
I know -- no fun. And confusing. Basically, if the firm is providing the adult beverages at the lunch hour, you can partake -- but just a little. The good news is that this rule could change. If one day you become the firm's biggest rainmaker, you can sip Kentucky bourbon at lunch -- or during conference calls -- and the firm will gladly restock your corner-office liquor cabinet as long as you keep bringing in the cash!
Dear Snark: Should I use my firm e-mail for personal correspondence? It is just so much easier to have it all in one place. Does the Firm read my e-mails? Or am I paranoid?
Dear Little Brother: You are not paranoid. Big Brother is very likely, to some degree, to monitor your e-mails. You may think the Firm has better things to do -- and it may. But it is my belief, founded on pure speculation, that there is a team of IT guys in a back room somewhere whose sole purpose is to screen your e-mails and to assess whether you are a "risk."
Your witty missive to your pals about the bachelor party for Bruce that included the phrases "last hoorah," "win enough coin to quit this gig" and "fun fun fun" -- among other things not suitable for this audience -- may get you busted. Just as you are heading out the door on your way to Sin City, a partner will swing by and drop an "emergency" in your lap that requires cancellation of said "fun fun fun."
Coincidence? You be the judge. Better discreet than busted.
Dear Snark: I have been working closely with a junior partner on a major asset transfer and have realized she is my soulmate. I think she feels the passion, too. Should I just plant a big wet smooch on her or confess my undying love after the closing?
Longingly awaiting a response,
Dear Smitten: No. No. No. This is not your soulmate. This "passion" also is known as high stress levels causing instantaneous bonding -- nothing more, nothing less. Think Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves in "Speed." Take away the speeding bus/major time-sensitive, million-dollar deal, and she is just a boring partner who shares your love of fish tacos and acid jazz. Resist the urge to kiss, hug or cry on her shoulders, or you could face years of awkward hallway greetings.
Dear Snark: In a youthful drunken moment, I thought it would be a good idea to permanently brand my undergraduate mascot -- a large black grizzly bear with a Mohawk -- on my calf. This tattoo is now a little scary-looking, as the muscular definition in said calf has passed its prime, and, well, the grizzly bear is extending his middle finger.
I am scheduled to play golf with my practice team leader this weekend, and it is supposed to be 95 degrees. Should I wear shorts or hide grizzly under some moisture-wicking slacks?
Thanks for your help,
Dear Grizzly: Tough call. Although "body art" and tattoos have become commonplace in our society, Big Law is still old school. Good thing you elected to place grizzly on your calf rather than your face -- way to exercise some discretion.
I say go with the pants. You could have a cool practice group leader who thinks your tattoo story is hilarious and decides you are a "wild man" who could go far. But more likely, this tattoo will cause fellow Cogs and partners to question your judgment and to wonder aloud, "Doesn't he get paid enough to have that thing removed?"
Dear Snark: My offer letter said I have four weeks of paid vacation time each year, but no one around here seems to go on vacation. Was there a typo in my letter? I have already booked a weeklong bike tour of the Sonoma Valley with my new boyfriend. Should I cancel?
Wine ... Oh?
Dear Wine ... Oh? Yeah, vacation. Firms are all a little different on how vacation time is handled. My guess is that there was no typo on your offer letter. Most firms throw in many weeks of vacation because they know you will never take them. The bottom line is how many hours you bill. If you can cram enough hours into the rest of the year, feel free to go on your trip.
Well, actually, it is not quite that easy. You also should check all of the deadlines in the matters you are working on to see if one falls anywhere near your planned trip. If they don't now, they likely will move -- and fall smack-dab in the middle of the tour de vin. I suggest you start looking for reinforcements now.
The death of your career will be the day the client has a crisis while you are sipping chardonnay and the partner is left back at the office to try to manage the crisis alone. Bad news. You must line up a fellow Cog so that when you get the call from the partner saying, "How am I supposed to write this letter without you?" you can say, "No fear, Cog No. 298 has agreed to enter your edits!"
However, I strongly recommend refundable tickets.
All right, Cogs, that's the advice for today. If none of these stupid questions matched your query set, I'd advise that you find your own firm-specific resource. But if you have no such luck, feel free to write me, and I will do my best to help.
I recommend that you do so when you are not tippling during work hours and via your personal e-mail account -- to avoid any IT "issues."
Do you have dirt to dish? Do you have a column idea? Or do you just need to vent in six-minute increments? E-mail The Snark at firstname.lastname@example.org.