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Introducing a new Legal Agony Advice column

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26 January 2017 12:26

Law is a tricky career - filled with egotists, politicians, incompetents, experts, fantasists and psychopaths, it's a minefield which needs care and experience to make it through alive. In this blog I will distill and share the knowledge of young and old, naive and cunning, trusting and cynical, for the benefit of my fellow lawyers seeking to tip toe through that dangerzone. Please submit your questions and conundrums as comments on this article and I'll do my best to respond.

This week, the "capacity meeting".

“Every week my team meets to discuss how busy we are.   I’m not busy and don’t want to be.  How do I avoid getting more work?”

These meetings are usually an ego trip for the partner who has the power to deny a minion a night out with her friends or can reward their favourites and give a shitty job to someone else.

So how to avoid the trap:

"Keep it Simple": As out of sight IS out of mind, the simplest way is not to go to the meeting.  If you’re not there it’s almost certain you won’t be given anything.

If however you have to be there, then you need other tactics. "The Whirlwind”:  Arrive in a fluster with a big bundle of files.  Sit halfway round the circle, opposite the partner.  There’s always a load of chit chat and bullshitting about new clients and prospects, alongside getting cups of tea etc, to occupy the first ten minutes, so there’s time to make your presence felt with some comments showing that you would have done things better and how busy you are.  Then, once you reach the stage of going round the group to see who has any capacity, get ready for your move.  Just before the question reaches you, jump up and say you have to leave - shake the files - maybe drop a few pages from the top of your bundle - and scarper before anyone can ask what’s up.  Maybe set an alarm on your mobile.  Following an exit like that no one can give you any more work and even if the partner checks up on the reason for your departure, just say it was a new prospect who is at concept phase and it's going to be a slow burner. But huge.  MASSIVE. “The Pregnant Pause”:  Be slow in replying and someone will jump in to fill in the silence (this also works in interviews). “The Rainmaker”:  Say you have no capacity due to some non-specific client development project you are working on with another department.  Being “cross departmental” means there is no way to measure the efficacy or even existence of this activity. It also raises your profile within your team, as they think you have a firm wide profile rather than department wide (or even only team wide).  Get a friend in another team to book a meeting room and talk about what university friends you would invite for a lunch.  Make sure you minute it. Send an email to marketing asking for the process for approval of a budget for a project.  Never progress from that point.

You can apply all of these in rotation.  If you add those to all the times the meeting is cancelled due to low attendance or the partner being on holiday or being at a VERY IMPORTANT MEETING then these stratagem will be good for about 4 years - then you can move firm.



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anonymous user
26/01/2017 17:13
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Okay. How do I avoid being given work I don't want, while at the same time clinging on to old fashioned, outdated notions like not being completely dishonest?
anonymous user
27/01/2017 01:19
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If you're trying to avoid work you don't want, rather than all work, proactively seek out work you do want and/or work from partners who aren't a-holes. Then you can turn down work you don't want on the grounds you are too busy with the work you did want.
anonymous user
27/01/2017 14:23
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You may wish to try to keep these posts realistic, or make them actually funny. Striking somewhere in the middle is pointless.

Also, the reality is that if you want to avoid being given work, then do bad work. At my firm, partners basically ignore people's capacity worksheets. They will always give their work to the associates they deem the best. Meaning if you are good, you get slammed. If you're average to bad, then you have an easy 9 to 5 life but should probably start planning for life in a few years.
anonymous user
01/02/2017 11:48
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Problem of a "friend": not out at work, mainly because supervising partner in dept is a raging homophobe. Partner is too powerful within dept to be dismissed (brings in mad dolla). He also dresses up his homophobia as (awful) gags etc, managing to appear to hover on right side of the 'I'm just an un-PC buffoon' line. Main thing is if my friend comes out the closet, he fears partner will subtly manage him out, turn off deal tap etc. Solution?