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Victoria Mole
24 December, 2008  
The crunch that ate Christmas

Vicki Mole explains how the Firm gets to grips with the crunch. The soy milk has gone from the tea room, and the yoga classes are cancelled. Now the partners seek to clutch any work that comes their way. Exciting strategies to avoid meagre billing

imageChristmas is upon us and the geese of the Firm have been frantically stuffing their meagre bills to convince the farmers of their relative festive plumpness.

‘Tis the flipside of Hansel and Gretel’s chicken bone – loudly attest to your busy importance, indispensability and fleshy billables, then furtively pad your time-recording so no one suspects your drip-feed of work is dwindling and your WIP shrinking quicker than Oprah.

The perceived lean, you see, are the first to go in a credit crunch.

So far the only human sacrifices have been the tea ladies. But the Firm isn’t one for express redundancies at the best of times, short of golden handshakes for felt-up secretaries.

Stealth is its modus operandi – deny Lean Goose billable and/or interesting work, seat Lean Goose next to noisiest and most nasal paralegal in the Firm, provide Lean Goose with menial repetitive tasks, write off all Lean Goose’s time for doing so, then sit back and wait for Lean Goose to resign/implode.

The mopping up is messy but it’s cheaper than a three month payout.

So the fear lingers. It isn’t the partners’ fault there is no work, nor is it the junior lawyers’.

Nevertheless, the partners’ solution is to have “quick chats” with each of the junior lawyers, and ask them to pull up their socks.

It’s a bit like like Mrs March ticking off her four girls for scoffing their Christmas bread and milk – it hardly fixes the problem of the missing turkey.

‘Tisn’t the only measure the Firm has taken.

There’s no more soy milk in the kitchen and weekly yoga has stopped.

The new taxi policy requires three partner signatures and a golden ring before you can catch a late night cab home.

The big Christmas party was cancelled (but luckily not the group lunch, group client lunch, women’s networking lunch, articled clerk’s lunch and people who ride to work lunch).

It hasn’t stopped a selection of book-moving and trolley-pushing holiday jobs being created for partners’ kids, nor has it convinced anyone over 50 that double-sided printing does not look “unprofessional”.

But I guess it’s a start.

The biggest shift at the Firm has been the increase in in-house turf fights.

In the land of student politics, the deepest rift was not between the Young Libs and Young Labor, but the two branches of the socialist party.

Similarly at the Firm, partners’ energy is not focused on nabbing other firms’ work or seducing new clients, but desperately seeking and clutching onto work already within the Firm.

Previously, the moment matters turned squabbly, they’d be booted down to Litigation.

Anything involving privacy or legislative drafting handballed to Government.

Dead people? Regardless who the client is, go straight to Estates, do not collect $200.

Now, partners cruise the networked document filing system for potential nibbles in others’ emails, and junior lawyers are digging out their uni notes for areas of law they thought they’d never touch again.

See you next year … ?



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