Face Time

I’ve got better things to do than be in the office right now.

Last week we shared with you 7 Ways To Kill Time While Working At A Law Firm. It was a slightly tongue-in-cheek post, a subtle send-up of “listicles” like 10 Reasons To Leave Biglaw.

But as it turns out, as reflected in our traffic stats and in various messages sent directly to us, people actually want to learn about methods for staying (or looking) busy while they put in their law-firm face time. Does this mean work is slow? All these unused billable hours don’t bode well for bonus expectations this year.

Anyway, here you go: 7 more ways to kill time while working at a law firm….

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Tied up in the office? You might as well make the most of it.

As the old saying goes, time is money. And in the land of law firms, where the billable hour is king, the saying is literally true. The pressure to churn that bill, baby rack up thousands and thousands of hours is one of the toughest aspects of legal practice. It drives lawyers towards drink and away from their families. (See reasons #7 and #8 of the 10 Reasons To Leave Biglaw.)

But what if you have the opposite problem? In some ways, not having enough in terms of billable hours is worse than having too much. If you’re billing, say, 75 hours a month as an associate, you could find yourself in the breadline before too long. (Partners have more leeway, but even they are hungry for hours nowadays.)

If you’re stuck in the office with nothing to do — and this applies not just to lawyers but to support staff, who are getting laid off partly because there’s not enough for them to do — how should you pass the hours? Here are seven suggestions….

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Last week, I wrote about face time considerations for associates. In Biglaw, face time is important for partners as well, albeit in a different way, with a significant exception for “pure” service partners.

Service partners are like associates when it comes to face time, with one major difference. In contrast to the often large constituency that associates need to please, your typical service partner needs to focus more exclusively on the specific rainmakers who provide them their work. That is why you will frequently find a service partner who is dependent on a particular rainmaker trailing that rainmaker around the office like a faithful Lab trailing a treat-bearing little kid. Or never leaving until the rainmaker leaves for the day. Vacations? Either timed to the rainmaker’s vacation, or planned with the idea that one would be perfectly accessible should the rainmaker call. Most of the time, this behavior by service partners happens naturally. When you have limited sources of work, it is folly not to stay close by those sources on a constant basis.

As important as face time is for senior and mid-level partners, it is even more important for junior partners….

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Shave, get dressed, grab your gadgets (firm-issued Blackberry, personal phone, tablet, etc.,) and head out the door. Car, train, ferry, subway — whatever it takes to get you to the office. Log into your computer, connect your phone for a charge, and head down the hall for a cup of coffee from the pantry. Throw out “good morning” as you pass people along the way. Grab your coffee, sneak a look at the vending machine, decide against starting your day with an 800-calorie cinnamon-glazed “bun,” and head back to your office. Dive into your morning inbox triage, and hope no one bothers you until your first conference call in 30 minutes. Congratulations on making it in for your next day in Biglaw’s Class A splendor.

Eight to fourteen hours later (depending on your seniority, amount of work, and level of domestic tranquility), it is time to pack up. To do it again the next day. You may not be happy with how things are going for you career-wise, and you may get jealous when your tech-sector friends brag about their 5:30 p.m. “after-work” pedicure and pastis-tasting session, but at least you were present at work for the day.

Face time is a concept that has gotten more media attention than it probably deserves. But let’s give it a little more….

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Tom Wallerstein

“I am having a root canal this morning, so I’ll be working from home.”

Some attorneys use the expression “working from home” to mean that they are mostly taking the day off for one reason or another. In other words, they really mean that they are “not working.”

Other times, “working from home” really means “I’m still working, just not in the office.” I might do this, for example, to avoid a long commute or because I can better tackle my project at home, perhaps because my home will offer fewer distractions.

Assuming that “working from home” means that you still are working, albeit in a different physical location, should a firm care when or whether an attorney comes into the office, provided nothing time-sensitive needs to be accomplished that day?

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Tom Wallerstein

Historically, to succeed in Biglaw, associates were expected to be conspicuously present not only during the workday, but at night and on weekends as well. Meeting this expectation is generally referred to as putting in “face time.”

Face time has negative connotations. An associate puts in face time so that he will be perceived to be working as hard, or harder, than his colleagues. The implication is that the time spent at the office is strictly for show, as opposed to serving any bona fide purpose. Some attorneys are especially resentful of face-time requirements because they believe their value is easily and objectively reflected in their billable hours.

Associates, however, are now rejoicing that the face time requirement is lessened thanks to the rise of virtual offices, telecommuting, and other non-traditional remote working arrangements. Finally, binders full of women are able to hurry home to cook dinner without suffering from disparate pay or partnership prospects.

But is that really true? Is face time less important than it used to be?

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