Image: Dimitri Vervitsiotis / Photographer's Choice RF
Hey, BFF! In case you haven't figured this out yet, friendship in a Biglaw setting is a complicated concept.
Sure, making friends with co-workers and colleagues is essential to having a healthy work life -- especially when you are spending most of your waking hours in their company. And the summer program and high-school-like class structure give you an instant social group.
Still, you must beware. Having too many friends, or the wrong friends, can halt your upward ambitions as a Cog in the machine.
But I'll start with the positives. Having friends at the office gives you an outlet to confirm your suspicions that the partner down the hall has recently added a hairpiece to his wardrobe. Friends also can be handy sounding boards after you've been told your writing is no better than a third-grader's. Your pals at the office also may be a great source for lunchtime recaps of last night's playoff highlights. But Biglaw friendships are not all fun and games.
The first drawback of Biglaw Buddies is the high percentage chance that one of your pals is going to get the Biglaw Blues before you. Say, for example, you and your two best buds stuck together through law school and a couple of summer internships, only to all wind up together at MegaLaw LLP. Cool, dude!
But during your weekly lunches, one of your buddies stops being so lighthearted and starts, gradually, to insert an ever-increasingly depressing Firm Fact into every lunch:
"Dudes, apparently it isn't cool to leave the office early to play on the firm's basketball team. Jimmy in corporate was told, 'That's just for summer associates. You're expected to act like a real lawyer now.' Who knew?"
"Dudes, my summer mentor who has been at the firm for eight years was just told he would never make partner and that they were phasing out his practice area. Dang. He just bought a new house."
"Dudes, this work is B-O-R-I-N-G. I would rather stab my eyeballs with a dull pencil than read another draft indemnification agreement. Seriously. This is nothing like 'Ally McBeal.'"
Maybe all of these depressing things are true (and, um, they often are), but if you had not been spending your lunch hours with Mr. Bad News, you might have been billing so many hours that you wouldn't have had time to realize this for some time to come. Truly, ignorance is bliss.
GUNNER GAL PAL
Even worse than a work pal who is always down on Cogdom is a perky pal who loves her job and works like a machine -- making you feel like a total loser for not keeping pace.
"Yes! I just got staffed on the biggest deal of the year and will have to blow off my family vacation to proofread draft agreements all weekend. Score! I am going to bill a record number of hours again this month. I think I may get Biggest Biller for my group at the annual firm luncheon. This job is so exciting!"
These work "friends" make you feel inadequate and question your skills and ambitions. "Should I want to work on weekends?" "Should I love a Big Deal more than my Momma?" "Should I have gone into government work?"
Besides, even if your pals are not downers or gunners, they could distract you from your ability to succeed as a Cog. Casual office chatter about the baseball game, last night's episode of "Lost" or your new baby girl is simply not billable. And if you are not billing, you might as well not be at work. Those little partial-hour increments spent laughing about YouTube videos of some dude juggling add up fast.
These little breaks may get you through the day if you keep them limited. But if you are too friendly, and not selective, you could have all kinds of random drop-bys that suck hours off your billing time.
"Man, what up? I went to a crazy bachelor party this weekend. Let me give you the play-by-play." Every minute that guy talks at you is another minute you can't leave to go to the gym, grab a beer or go to sleep. I'm just saying.
Worst still is the office pal who is a little too engaging. Something about her eyes just make the billable hours fly by. You could finish that memo, but instead, you are exchanging cutesy e-mails: "Stop it. You are so silly. LOL. Want to grab a beer ... ;)" Office flirtations and romances are fine but can kill your billables, not to mention lead to all sorts of trouble if you aren't both single and in the same class year.
THE LONG GOODBYE
Having lots of friends at work also may lead to what can feel like an endless round of painful goodbyes. Statistically, you may start with 20 of your closest pals from the summer of '08, but that number will whittle down faster than you can say, "Farewell Happy Hour," as your buds switch firms, go back to grad school, change careers or get married and move to Albuquerque. And that can get a wee bit depressing.
I know -- I am such a downer. But really, I'm looking out for you. It can be an emotionally scary event to watch a fellow Cog fade from glory or just up and quit. But when that Cog is your pal, the departure adds unneeded stress.
I'm not saying no friends at work. Just be wary and choose wisely.
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.