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Tuesday, May 13, 2003


Where Do Your Time and Money Go?


Most people coming out of law school are uninformed about the hidden obligations that go along with being a lawyer. These obligations, new lawyers should know, will significantly strain your calendars and wallets. These matters should be factored in when calculating your salary and billable-hour responsibilities.

1. First of all, you can expect that 20 to 30 percent of your time will be taken up with pro bono activities. And I’m not talking about the pro bono work for worthy causes that you were told about during your interview with The Firm. I’m talking about the free-of-charge legal work you will perform on behalf of family members, distant family members, friends, friends of friends, and friends of distant family members. Also, expect to get a steady supply of assignments from co-workers—and their friends. Within days of being sworn in, you will hear from these people, all of whom will assume that you know the answers to their legal questions. Unfortunately, their issues never seem to involve easy answers. Nor do they ever seem to involve retainer agreements.

2. Be prepared to watch a good 10 to 20 percent of your income go toward the purchase of cookies, candy, raffle tickets and the like sold by secretaries, paralegals and other lawyers who will come to you on behalf of their favorite charities. And remember, you must buy more than one of whatever they are selling. When you are told that "Jim in the mailroom bought three of these," the implication is that you should buy at least twice as many. Buying just one—or none—will make you the topic of discussion in The Firm’s lunchroom.

3. A certain percentage of your time will be spent listening to the same stale lawyer jokes over and over and over again. I can even tell you which jokes. First, there’s the one about what you call a group of lawyers chained together on the bottom of the ocean. Then there’s the one about the lawyer at St. Peter’s gate. When the lawyer complains that it is not yet his time, he is told that according to his timesheets ... you know the punch line. Worse than the jokes themselves is the further obligation to pretend like you’re hearing them for the first time. Ironically, the most common tellers of these jokes are the people mentioned above who come to you for free legal advice. Presumably, they think the jokes take the place of what you usually charge for your services.

4. You will be obligated to attend a whole array of social gatherings that you’d really rather miss. Depending on the firm you work at, this can amount to as much as one-third of your time. These events range from office cocktail parties, pool parties for the summer associates, ball games with clients and baby showers for your secretary. One good thing about the baby showers, however, is that you can give the kid those same items you purchased from co-workers. Infants love Girl Scout thin mint cookies!

When all is said and done, you will have two to three hours a day of your time left and about half of your salary.

How will you manage? I’ll answer that question in two of my upcoming columns. One is entitled "Weekending at The Firm." The other is "How to Become a Millionaire Using Your Law Firm’s Fax Machine."

You can contact the Rodent at TheRodent@aol.com.

©2003 ABA Journal

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