Don’t call it a memo, call it a mission statement.
This afternoon, just before lunch, a secretary in the New York office of Bingham McCutchen decided to express her feelings about the recession to her law firm colleagues. All of them. All Bingham partners, counsel, associates, and staff, in every office, received this message to ponder over lunch:
In recent times we read and talk primarily of those who have lost their jobs. Those of us that remain employed, specifically for this content, in the field of “Corporate America”, are clinging so tightly to the stability and familiarity of ones’ employment that we are losing, in my opinion, an already underrated quality, CHARACTER (for some that may be assuming that they had any in the first place, and likely they are clueless to who they are).
Many years have passed now since I joined the legal profession. I can remember meeting a first year associate, and sinking into my chair when I realized I was older than my assignment. I have been truly fortunate during my many years. I have worked with ground-breaking woman and bright young associates who eventually became partner. I have experienced co-workers get married, have babies, even cried with them over loss of dear friends (R.I.P. Howie, Mike and sadly several others).
As I look around lately, I see nail biting and unshowered attorneys (more driven than ever), which is another great concern – the lack of recognition for the importance of Quality of Life. But that’s another story). In conversation with colleagues I hear in whispers “well, we have our jobs”. Some of these people, now unrecognizable to me, I have known for countless years. It is as if their zest is gone, overshadowed by their fears, desperate to justify their worth to the company. These were some of the brightest and most innovative people I have ever professionally known.
Good. Good. Keep typing. I am unarmed. Keep writing this email and take the Quinn Emanuel associate’s place by my side.
Crack open a beer and watch the train wreck continue after the jump.
Now, here’s the thing — like Jerry McGuire’s mission statement, the Bingham secretary is largely positive about the firm:
Before I go on, I need to say that I have enjoyed and mostly still enjoy working at Bingham. Through some early rough patches, and over mergers, there were times when I did not think I would stay. What has kept me from straying? You may say DUH, the economy – well that’s now. Let me digress for a moment. I am a fierce believer in competence, loyalty, integrity and values, truly to a fault. I have been told that I hold people to such high standards that I cannot handle it when they fall from grace (hey, it’s hard to be me). Why am I telling you this? It relates directly to why I have remained with Bingham for so long. The quality of the majority of Bingham’s people. CHARACTER.
But there are some things, some discreet things that you just don’t want to say over firm wide email:
So why had I been asking myself lately if I am the “non-Stepford employee”? Admittedly, I am not a natural conformist (maybe it’s the “Sag” in me). Perhaps, my time out on leave shielded me from this defensive personal change, or maybe (which would be typical of me) I had taken a SPE day when the alien pods arrived and snatched bodies.
I then became completely disturbed by this entire notion. Our category, the mid to upper-middle class, and the up, up and upper class who are still employed must be cataleptic. Otherwise, we would merely be shallow, self centered and slightly morally twisted.
I was not alive during some of humanities more troubled times, plagues, WWI, WWII, including the Holocaust or The Great Depression. What little I do know about these times has been from documentaries or stories told from elders who gathered for card games on cardboard boxes by candlelight. Stories that echoed the character of the people of those times. There was no pretense of the “greater good” but the actual desire. People were grateful for clean water and to break a simple loaf of bread.
Now in “these” trying times we whisper our fears while sitting over our three dollar lattes, on our high-speed computers, yapping on our cell phones and blackberries, watching hours of garbage television and reality shows, playing video games and exercising with our Wii, and feel sorry for ourselves because we eat sushi one less time per week.
Laboring coal workers and factory line workers in small towns rightfully “fear” the loss of their jobs. We are fortunate to have superior upper tier management and a stable company (and health benefits). Although what we do is of importance, in most cases and with only a few exceptions, please let us not take ourselves so seriously as to think that we are boldly impacting the greater good and positive evolution of the human race or the planet.
Something tells me that telling law firms partners not to take themselves too seriously isn’t going to go over too well.
Finally, mercifully, the secretary ends her rant:
So, although I am grateful for my job and middle class life, I realize that living daily in fear and conforming to play a Stepford role will not ensure either. Besides, I value and respect too many of the people at Bingham. I’ll stick with good old CHARACTER.
Umm … thoughts?
At least she probably won’t have to live in fear of losing her job any more.
In case you were wondering, Bingham McCutchen declined to comment for this story.
Update: Read about this secretary’s fate over here.
Earlier: Quinn Emanuel Associate Has Reservations About ‘Redskin’ Victory