The Bizzle

"Saving your ass since 1999"

Are you holding out for a hero?

Sleep. Eat. Work. Eat. Sleep. Eat. Work. Eat. Sleep. Eat. Work. Sleep. Repeat until fade…

Like my placeholder says, I’ve been trapped under a mountain of work. I didn’t have a proper day off for a month, so no time for blogging or socialising or, y’know, life.

There’s all sorts of reasons for it. The enormo-contract is still rumbling on, for a start: the negotiation that refuses to die. My team hasn’t been at full-strength. There’s a lot of activity in the outsourcing market at the moment.

But most of these factors affect other parts of the business as well. And, as hard as my peers in other functions work, they’re still telling me about their lovely weekend trips with the family.

So maybe this is a lawyer thing. We all work too hard, right? Clients demand it, and we’ve got to meet those billing targets and get ahead in the race for partnership.

Except that this doesn’t apply to me. I don’t time record, my clients would prefer that I didn’t do a good job (one for another time, that), and there’s no partnership race for the in house lawyer. Hell, I don’t even have the excuse of a residual private practice work ethic – I’ve only ever worked in house.

So what’s my problem?

Well, one thing that’s common between private practice and in house work is that the lawyers are only involved because they have to be. We’re a necessary evil, but (in the eyes of many of our clients) an evil nonetheless.

I know, I know, we add value. But the truth is that our clients want us to do the boring lawyer stuff as quickly and as unobtrusively as possible. Like spin doctors, lawyers mustn’t become the story.

So the one thing that a lawyer can’t do is hold things up (well, not important things anyway). If that means working late nights and weekends, then that’s what has to happen.

But there’s another, more shameful side to this culture of overwork. One that we don’t like to talk about, but we all know is there. It’s time for me to take the first step on the painful road to recovery, and admit that I have a problem.

My name is Legal Bizzle, and I’m a hero.

Not a real hero, obviously. There’s essentially zero social value in my work, and I’ve never knowingly saved anyone from drowning. I’m not sure that I’ve ever even helped an old lady across the street.

But if we’ve been given two days to review and comment on a 400 page document? No need to give up your weekend – the Bizzle’s got it covered.

Or if our proposal looks like it’s been written as a Year 7 classroom project? Embarrassment avoided – the Bizzle will spend his evening rewriting and reformatting it.

Being a hero means always being there to save the day. It means being the person who steps up to sort out other people’s disasters, or to do the stuff that’s just too much like hard work when the pubs are open and the sun is shining.

Don’t we all secretly feel this way? Don’t we love feeling like the one competent and committed person in an office of dilettante mediocrities? Don’t we want to be the person who our colleagues turn to when the chips are down, the one who keeps on going when everyone else has wilted under the pressure?

Others might put their families first, or their health or their sanity. We lawyers man up and grind it out, getting the job done while those who just don’t care enough bleat about work-life balance and domestic obligations.

Other people call this being a martyr. That’s because our commitment makes them feel guilty, so they disparage and mock it. We don’t care, because they don’t know what it’s like to feel this special.

Don’t think that’s you? Next time you spend your Sunday morning correcting the grammar in someone else’s document so it’s fit to go to your client, think on. Next time you say “I’ve got this covered” when the other side sends revised documents 12 hours before the big negotiation, ask yourself why that gives you a kick.

And then admit it to yourself: you’re a lawyer, and you’re a hero.

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3 responses to “Are you holding out for a hero?

  1. London_eagle May 3, 2011 at 11:23 pm

    When I instruct external counsel, I expect them to behave properly in terms of work allocation, and therefore billing. I don’t pay partner rates for someone conducting a simple company search, for example, and I apply the same principles to the work I do in-house. Megacorp gets a monthly bill (i.e. pays my salary) and that budget needs to be spent in the most effective way. Nowadays I throw back the “Year 7” proposals with a strong recommendation that they should be reviewed in detail for grammar and style (etc.) before publication. From a blunt business perspective, a PR/comms person’s time is cheaper than mine, so it makes commercial sense to allocate the work to them. At budget time it’s also easier for that department to make the case for an extra body, if needed, than it would be for us. It helps that we actually have a PR department, of course.

    From a more personal perspective, what Megacorp buys is some of my time, not my entire life. If I wanted to work ridiculous hours, I’d be making ridiculous amounts of money in private practice. Ultimately, I’m cost-effective: Megacorp gets a lot more from me than it would get by outsourcing. A lot more. Also, I work hard and I resent people who don’t. I don’t see it as my role to shield everyone else from the basic requirements of efficiency and productivity by covering for their shortcomings – and as a shareholder, I’d rather not encourage a culture of laziness.

    I’m an in-house lawyer, but I’m too mean to be a heroine.

  2. Nicky Richmond May 5, 2011 at 6:52 pm

    I read that with interest and it reminded me of myself in an earlier incarnation. I remember checking my diary and seeing that I had been in at least one day every weekend for over a year. No-one ever tells lawyers to work less hard do they? I don’t understand why overwork has become the norm. Is it an avoidance activity? Some of the most “successful” lawyers I know were also the most screwed up – it’s often the need for external validation. I won’t kill myself over it. Don’t get me wrong, a deadline is a deadline and I will answer emails all time of day or night I just happen to really believe (and it has taken years to get to this point) that my free time is precious. I do get a kick when I do the impossible, we all do- but we make rods for our own backs and the impossible becomes the norm. Ok I’m done now!

  3. Pingback: When bonuses go bad:why my clients don’t want me to do a good job « The Bizzle

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