There were rumors today of the possible demise of a couple of large Dallas law firms, and one of them gave me first lawyer job ever: Vial, Hamilton in Dallas.
Those days were mind numbing. I worked in the old Republic Bank building in downtown Dallas and, get this, I valet parked my car in the underground parking garage every day. Everyone wore expensive suits, ties, and shoes. "High tone" doesn't begin to describe it.
But I learned the concept of the billable hour. Every minute I worked on a client's file had to be documented so that the information could later be used to create a bill. We billed by the 1/10th of an hour - so if I began a research project I would jot down on a work slip the time I started and what time I stopped. Notes like "Start: 8:43 End: 9:11" were common. Every minute of every day had to be accounted for because we had a quota of how many hours we were required to bill every month. (And once a month a newsletter would be circulated around the office revealing how many hours each associate had billed the month before.) I have my faults, but I was extremely honest - I wouldn't cheat on my time slips. If a buddy called me in the middle of the day and we chatted for 18 minutes, I knew that I had lost .3 hours of billable time and that I would work 18 minutes later that day.
I wouldn't do that again for all the tea in China.
And since it doesn't matter much any more, here's a shocker: The year was 1986, and I was a 24 year old kid out of law school. My starting salary: $43,000 a year. That was obscene. (My job a couple of years earlier in undergraduate school was as a bank teller at around $5.00 an hour.) And if my salary back then offends you, you won't be happy to learn that first year associates in the big firms in Dallas are now getting $155,000 a year. And their lives are miserable.
These were some highlights of my first year (and my bosses really loved me):
- Bob Vial (the name partner) throwing a 13 page draft of an insurance coverage opinion I had written into the air as he dropped multiple GD bombs on me. I still remember the pages floating in the air and slowly landing all over the office.
- Bob Vial's secretary telling me to "sit your little ass in that chair and don't move" until Mr. Vial was ready to see me.
- Leigh Bartlett, my second boss, correcting a draft letter I had written in red pen with the notation "I don't intend to spend my Saturday afternoon correcting every sentence of your work."
- Mr. Vial and I driving back from a deposition together in his Mercedes when he decided to stop for lunch at Denny's. Freakin' Denny's!!!!! I still remember him telling the waitress that he wanted his french fries "extra, extra crispy."
at 8:12 PM