This blog is not intended to provide legal advice, legal services or legal anything else. Don't sue me. All I have is debt anyway.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Small Firm Life

Life in a small firm is much different from life in a mid-size or larger firm. Sometimes it's a really good thing. Like, a lack of bureaucracy. There's no time clock, no giant official handbook to memorize, no chain of command, and an overall lack of office politics, since it's, you know, just me and the boss. When I was a legal assistant at the last firm, it was full of bureaucracy. Our office manager was formerly the office manager of a very large firm, and implemented a lot of those type of policies into the firm. For instance, if we had to be out for any reason, there were official requests to be made, and coverage for our work group to be arranged. No attorney could go without a "go-to person" at any point for secretarial support. Because God help you if an attorney had to type something himself, particularly a partner. Shit, if it was a partner, it was a miracle if the attorney knew that magic box was actually called a computer. Then they did crazy shit like spend a ton of money on this software package to infiltrate Word with macros to create templates for all of our documents, because they were suddenly on this kick that all documents had to be completely uniform in style, personal preference be damned. Like a shit ton of money. It included an entire week of training for everyone, including associates, who were pissed as hell about that since they were slaves to the billable hour, the more senior associates blew it off completely and refused to use the software, and to top it all off, the firm had a very expensive contract involving tech support since the effing software never actually worked right. (By the time I returned as a summer associate, the software was gone.)

Anyway, but there are downsides to small firm life too. For instance, the lack of structure and organization. Not that my firm is horrifically disorganized, and I've certainly worked for larger firms that were much less organized, but I'm kinda OCD about electronic file organization, and obviously spoiled by past firms' organization of same. I'm used to being able to pull up any and all files created by our office for a particular case in a particular location on the server, organized by individual case. But they don't have any sort of system like that at my office. My paralegal was complaining today that she had to retype my discovery requests because she couldn't find the original file that the receptionist had created. That just baffles me. I also would be able to do more of my own typing, particularly when my paralegal is out, if I could just pull up an old pleading from a file, resave it and make changes. I made the suggestion that we start organizing documents that way on the server, but I kinda got the impression they didn't see the merit in it. Right now, they apparently organize them by document type. Like "Divorce Petition" and "Notice of Deposition." Only not all of the documents seem to make it into the appropriate folders. I dunno. I can't figure it out. It gives me a headache. The Boss stays as far away from the computer nonsense as possible, and I'm trying to update things and modernize things, such as using my laptop for presentations in mediation and trial, but it's hard to come in and change things when people are set in their ways. (I think) Paralegal likes me and is willing to adapt to some changes, but Receptionist nearly had a panic attack today when she was asked to go to lunch 15 minutes early because Paralegal had to leave, and there would be no one to answer phones or greet clients for 15 minutes. Strangeness. So yeah, I don't think sweeping changes will go over well. Even so, I have a few ideas for improvements on the way things are done, that I hope will prevent any more calendaring errors, and such. It's figuring out how to implement them without causing a commotion is the question.

Other downsides to Small Firm Life is that I don't really have coworkers. I think Paralegal and Receptionist see me as someone with some sort of authority over them and it's difficult to build an actual friendship with someone who sees you as their boss. Same with The Boss. I like him, I think he's pretty cool, but I don't think he'll go to lunch with me and chat about the awesomeness that there's going to be a fourth Torchwood series, as I would with my law school chums. So, there's no one to go to lunch with, gossip with, commiserate with. I dunno. It's a little lonely, aided by the fact that I have no real friends in the community, only a few acquaintances, and I haven't seen my friends in The City much at all when I'm home on the weekends and I miss them. At the same time, there's no one to compete with, no one undermining my work or trying to one-up me by sucking up to the boss and making me look bad. That's kinda nice. I've seen what goes on with women attorneys in larger firms, and there's a word for it: marginalization. Being the only associate means I don't get marginalized. I get to do the fun stuff. And of course all the boring stuff, but oh well. It's impossible to stop law from being tedious and boring no matter where you are, or what you practice. It is what it is.

Anyway, I think if we can add a little more structure to the computer filing system, I will be quite content. I enjoy the flexibility of being in a small firm and the more laid-back, casual atmosphere of it all. I'm enjoying the work: some of it very familiar (personal injury); some of it completely unfamiliar (domestic relations); and some of it I'm really excited about because I'm a tort nerd (dignitary and economic torts). It's a nice variety. I feel like things are clicking, and even when I'm in unfamiliar territory, it comes together. Except in family law, where I know absolutely nothing. But I'm learning! Excited that I'm supposed to be signed up on the public defender conflict list now, so I should be gettin' some criminals here soon. Sorry. Alleged criminals wrongfully accused of bogus crimes and having their civil rights violated. Exciting stuff!


Shelley said...

I have pretty much the same situation. I walked into an office with very, very little by way of organization and managed to implement upgrading everything to Mac, case management software, and a mostly uniform way of storing files. Boss went from zero computing knowledge to mostly knowing how to save a document as and type it himself (although god help anyone who doesn't give it to me first to proof read, because he isn't up on all the local formatting rules). We actually just got a scanner and started scanning everything that comes in, mail-wise! It's coming along nicely.

But it is awkward being the associate between the boss and the staff - I have no answers for you there. I haven't figured it out yet!

Cee said...

that's great that you are trying to get some organization! unorganized files are THE WORST and it's almost to the level of malpractice in my opinion.

I worked for a firm just like you describe. One boss. One secretary and one paralegal. I LOVED IT. But I have to say now that I work for a bigger firm, it would be hard to go back. I love going out to lunch with my coworkers and getting advice and guidance from them.

Anyway, go you for setting the ball rolling.

Flaim said...

We miss you too!


Rayne of Terror said...

you are learning a ton, even if the files are disorganized. there's always a trade off.

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