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2.27.2007

The First Thing Lets Do Is Kill All The . . . .


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."

6 comments:

Kingfish said...

Good story. I guess your boss never made partner if she took Saturdays off.

Anonymous said...

So Barry - why doesn't some attorney oversight group police such activities. Your description of Vial indicates he lives up to his name of being vile. And don't fool yourself, the small town good-ole-boy, you-scratch-my-back-and-i'll-scratch-yours lawyer gustapo around Decatur may have different tactics but they are just as corrupt and abusive.

They just do it with a Baptist twist. If they claim to be Christians (as most of them do - it's good for business afterall), I could definitely understand someone's outright denial of Christianity based on these lawyers as models of Christianity.

Gleemonex said...

And the funny thing is, when you divide that $155K by the hours those poor bastards spend working, it's not much better than the admin's salary at Initech. Plus there are the $100K-plus law school loans all of them are staggering under ...

There is no amount of money that could convince me to be an associate in a big law firm. None. My previous job was chock-full of ex-big-firm-associates, and they'd all get an identical look of dread, fear, and utter disgust on their faces whenever they spoke of their previous gigs ... the horror! The horror!

Anonymous said...

Gleemonex -- I think your right, instead of loathing attorneys because they are parasites on society, we should feel sorry for the little bastards as they reak havoc and drive their $80K sportscars --- sell your BS elsewhere. You are one how could you consider yourself any voice of reason in evaluating the band of thieves if you are, in fact, one of the thieves.

Gleemonex said...

Anon 1:02 -- although like all liberal arts graduates, I did consider law school at one time (it's a requirement of graduation, I'm pretty sure), I am not in fact a member of the legal profession. I was just pointing out the fact that that $155K doesn't taste quite as juicy when you're still in your office at 6:017 a.m., going over the 43rd draft of a document for the senior partner who dumped it on you (and who will scream in your face about it later), and hoping you can make time today to cancel your 2-day trip to your sister's wedding because another pressing matter has come up, for another senior partner ...

But let's do tar all members of said profession with the same blackened and ugly brush! Generalizations are fun!

Don't know what happened in your life to make you so bitter towards all holders of the J.D., but with that attitude, I hope you never need one yourself ...

Anonymous said...

well said, gleemonex. That anon contributor seems very bitter. So sad to have such a gloomy outlook.