Well well, it’s Wednesday and once again I neglected to post jack on Monday. I’m a bad person. But I’m a busy person this time of year as cases keep piling up for low dollar amounts and the office is churning files to try and get things done. So it makes some sense I’ve missed a couple of posts here, among the other things that I have to do on a daily and weekly basis, and sometimes even a monthly basis, to keep a roof over the head and food in the fridge. Ain’t life a bitch?
So this week a few things happened that made me think: firms, especially big firms, really tend to take advantage of that “new associate” smell, don’t they? The new associate smell is sort of like the new car smell, except instead of rich leather and factory goodness, it’s a whiff of desperation mixed with a heavy dose of what pure anxiety and worry would smell like if it was distilled into a scent and called Eau de Associate. New associates are, by and large, the brand new bitches in a stable of abusive pimps known as the Senior Partners. And unlike Tony, the pimp with a heart of gold that cares for all of his “employees” and takes good care of them, thank you very much Daddy, law partners have absolutely no attachment to their associates when the fat gets in the frying pan.
Don’t believe me? File a meritorious and likely to succeed motion to sanction opposing counsel at some big firm and see who shows up. It sure as shit ain’t gonna be Mr. Senior Partner in his $2,000 handmade suit that’s been strutting his shit around the courtroom and depositions for the past several months. It’s going to be some harried looking kid, fresh-faced but quickly developing the thousand yard “oh shit” stare, that wanders in trailing behind their client. They’ll look like they’re about to wet themselves and soak straight through the off-the-rack Joseph A. Banks suit that they bought on sale (or that they bought a few months prior when they graduated law school). They’ll be wholly unfamiliar to you, and to the judge, and likely will have forgotten to do minor things like entering their appearance on the case. Everyone in the room, except the poor kid shuffling around in their far-too-optimistic litigation bag, will taste the tinge of blood in the air.
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the sacrificial lamb.
What is a “sacrificial lamb” you may ask if you’re some poor, bewildered first year associate or law student with no experience in the ways of the world?
Well, let me put it this way: lawyers, and especially older lawyers, are a vain group of assholes. We don’t think this song is about us, motherfuckers, we know this song is about us. Every song is about us. Specifically us. That’s how goddamn vain we are.
And you know what really kills a lawyer’s chill and self-esteem when they’ve been in practice a while? Having a judge drag your ass over the coals in open court, on the record, where everyone can fucking see it happen and talk about it later. So what do those of us with big bluster, bigger paychecks, and skin so thin you could read a goddamn book through it do when the court sends out an order that reads “Get your ass in here and explain yourself?”
If we can, we find some dumbass kid who can’t say no, and we send them in our place. Oh sure, there’ll be a decent reason sometimes, like a doctor’s appointment, a family emergency, a scheduling conflict, etc. But really the whole reason we’re doing this shit once the veil is lifted and the charade is ended is so we can point to Dipshit Junior, Esq., and say “Look, they’re new and stupid. This is their fault. Blame them.”
This is exclusively reserved for when a partner doesn’t want to deal with the fall out of a shitty situation. And if you don’t believe me, go take a look at the epic transcript from September of 2016 when, in the case Cohen v. Facebook, Inc., a United States District Judge lit into a first year associate because 1) the position of the firm was likely to piss off the judge mightily and 2) they sent a first year associate to argue a position to a federal district judge from a firm with over one thousand attorneys.
Don’t want to read it? Let me give you the part that should warm the goddamn cockles of your heart, oh Baby Lawyer:
THE COURT: Fifteen hundred people. How many of
them are partners in litigation? You don’t even know, there
are so many. It’s not a good start, you can tell your exalted
partners over there, that they put you here and I’ve got to
lecture you. I want to lecture them.
I’ve been a lawyer for 41 years and I’ve been a
judge or 16 years and I’m not having this discussion with you.
I’m going to set another date for a pre-motion
conference and you better be sure that a partner of your law
firm shows up here.
See what that was, guys? That was a judge both accepting the sacrifice of a first year associate and berating the law firm for engaging in the ritualistic sacrifice of a first year associate.
…Never forget, just because the judge definitely knows what they’re doing it doesn’t mean they won’t bathe in your blood while they call for more.
It’s simply a rite of passage at some point, especially in larger firms. The higher-ups don’t want to bother themselves with a motion or a hearing, especially one that they’re prepped to lose and lose bad. So somebody is offered up like “To Kill A Mockingbird” met “The Lottery.” Everyone who has ever worked on a case with a senior partner, and especially a case with a senior partner who insists on fucking up something or playing hard ball, has experienced the withering stare of the judge. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a sympathetic opposing counsel who won’t take every chance they get to land a swift kick in the privates on the record.
Rarely will you be that lucky though.
But what about after the sacrificial lamb is done? This is the only sacrifice in the world where you have to mop up your own blood, remove the shit that has been dropped down your neck, and stitch your head back on to get on with the day. You’re going to have to go back to the office and face the partner that handed the hearing off to you at the last minute, then apprise them of the outcome. It will not be pleasant, unless you have a good partner.
Because a good partner knows exactly what they fucking did and why they did it, and they won’t be hard on you. They’ll say “Yeah, that’s about what we expected to happen. Draft a memo up so we can shoot it over to the client to let them know,” and that’ll be the end of it.
But a shitty partner? A shitty partner, despite knowing what they did and why, will immediately begin the berating of you: to you directly, to the staff, to the other partners, and to the client. Congratulations, young one, you have moved from “sacrificial lamb” to “scapegoat” really goddamn quickly. Why? Because the client is paying a lot of money for the firm’s representation, and this lets the partner save face by not admitting it was a fuck-up higher-up that caused the outcome. Instead they can say “this dipshit associate fucked it up, and we’re sorry, but this thing happens sometimes…now let’s see what we can do to handle it.”
In either case, remember that this shit is a right of passage. Your boss is never going to admit that the case was unwinnable, because he or she is a vain motherfucker from the very beginning and knew exactly what they were doing. They slathered your ass with honey and sent you in among the bears, telling you it was the Hundred Acre Woods and ignoring the fact that it’s the goddamn Coliseum and you’re the day’s entertainment. Maybe after the fact they suck it up and admit that it was”a hard argument,” the closest you’ll ever come to getting someone to admit a position is unwinnable. But you know what? You’ll need to suck it up too, buttercup. Because this is law, and this is how that shit goes. Until you’re developed enough as an attorney to stand on your own two feet, you’re a goddamn shield for those above you.
Now I need you to run down to court and handle this hearing for me. It’s a real simple motion to compel, and we’ve just been ignoring their discovery requests for two years. Should be a piece of cake. I have a throat-singing concert, or I’d handle it myself.