Ed. note: This post has been updated from the original version. Please see below.
The only thing worse than being tied to your BlackBerry at all hours is missing something important because you were not tied to your BlackBerry the hour you were needed.
Wait, this just in. There is something worse than missing a crucial request because you weren’t checking your BlackBerry. That would be when the partner you are working for emails all of the firm’s associates reminding them to compulsively check their BlackBerries because of your mistake.
Welcome to the world of a Quinn Emanuel associate. The associate apparently didn’t send a fax because he hadn’t been checking emails after business hours. QE partner Bill Urquhart decided to use the incident as a teaching moment for the entire firm….
Here is Urquhart’s message:
From: A William Urquhart.
Time: 9:21 a.m.
Re: CHECK YOU EMAILS OFTEN [sic]
Now more than ever there are many talented lawyers and law firms competing for our business. Doing really good legal work is not enough. Clients expect that and well they should given what we charge for our services You must all realize that we are in a service business. In this day and age of faxes, emails, internet, etc. clients expect you to be accessible 24\7. Of course, that is something of an exaggeration — but not much.
LESSON NUMBER ONE: You should check your emails early and often. That not only means when you are in the office, it also means after you leave the office as well. Unless you have very good reason not to (for example when you are asleep, in court or in a tunnel), you should be checking your emails every hour. One of the last things you should do before you retire for the night is to check your email. That is why we give you blackberries. I can assure you that all of our clients expect you to be checking your emails often. I am not asking you to do something we do not do ourselves. I can assure you that John Quinn, Peter Calamari, Mike Carlinsky, Faith Gay, Fred Lorig, etc. all check their emails often.
Yesterday I was working with a relatively new associate on a project which both he and I knew was a rush. It was for a relatively new client whom we were trying to impress. The associate did a nice job under pressure. Before I left the office at about 7:30 I sent an email to this associate asking him to perform a task — fax a draft letter for review and comment. I assumed the task was done. Turns out the associate left the office and did not check his emails until this morning. I assumed the task had been completed. It had not been. In this case it was no harm no foul, but I think we can all imagine scenarios when this could be a disaster.
CORRECTION: The original version of this post had a line in the blockquote that was not in the Urquhart email. (It was actually commentary on the email from a source.) That line has been removed. I apologize for posting an incorrect version of the email.
Urquhart’s message is harsh. But is it fair?
Biglaw associates, the next time a family member or spouse asks you why you have to check your BlackBerry all the time, even for the fleeting hours that you are not at work, feel free to send them Urquhart’s email. The next time some law student starts talking about work-life balance and you want to strangle him, send him Urquhart’s email instead.
But don’t forget that this email works to your benefit as well. The next time some happy hippie types call you overpaid and undeserving of your high salary, send them Urquhart’s email and ask them if they have any conception of what working hard even means. The next time some person claims that you have an entitlement complex, send them Urquhart’s email. And the next time you’re in Vegas, laughing at “the poors” waiting to get a seat at the five dollar blackjack table, send yourself Urquhart’s email.
Because, in a way, Bill Urquhart’s email summarizes everything you really need to know about the life of a Biglaw associate. Partners expect you to be on call. In exchange, you get paid a lot of money.
As long as you keep accepting the paycheck, the firm owns your time. All of it, whenever they want it. You made a deal. Urquhart’s just reminding you of your end of the bargain.
Was Urquhart’s email fair, or foul? Take our poll below.