Saturday, May 19, 2007

Out of Office Assistant

I am currently out of the office.

I will be on leave for a long time.

I hope that you don't get too envious of my holiday while you continue to work in a BCF.

I will be back in July.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

coffee and panties

Kate and I share a terrace house in Fitzroy, just off Brunswick Street. Kate is a morning person. I am not. This morning, I heard the door to my room open but I couldn't move. It was only when I felt the steam from a cup of coffee hit my nose that I pulled off my eye mask (necessary to block out the sun which comes through the window above my bed) and sat up.

"Morning sunshine" said Kate.


"Big day today, up and at em!"

"Yeah I know, I'm coming".

Kate was in her running gear. No doubt just back from a run, she bounced off to shower as I contemplated removing the doona and lifting one foot after the other off my bed and onto the floor.

There have been whispers round the office for some time that Uncle has been in negotiation with another BCF and that a merger is pending. Kate obviously has inside information about this which she is bursting to share but hasn't. There is meant to be a big announcement tomorrow and my money is on the merger as the big news.
I've never quite understood the concept of two big law firms merging. Why don't they just keep operating separately, create more work and generate higher fees through competition with each other then keep all the profits to themselves? But I'm not a partner and I am sure you get access to some secret file with answers to all these questions when you get made a partner.

Today is a big day because I have to file the affidavit I was working on late the other night. Judge Z is managing the case - a protracted piece of litigation dealing with helicopters.

Today is the day that I play our client's trump card.

A morning coffee from the coffee cart outside the building and I'm on my way. Affidavit? Phone? Williams Civil Procedure? Yes, yes, yes.

The Federal Court in Melbourne is a modern building. It's all glass and shiny surfaces and multicoloured poles. The court listings are electronic so once I've passed through security I check the televisions on the wall and see that I am listed with Judge Z at 10am, along with 300 million other people. It's going to be a long day. I go to the court and list my appearance with the tipstaff and wait. His Honour comes on the bench. He is in a bad mood, presumably because the list is long. He is impervious to my charm today and lists me last. I let the tipstaff know and sneak out of the court room and down to Healey's lane for a coffee and a glance at some trashy magazines while I wait.

I'm half way through my second coffee for the day and entirely consumed by the question of whether Britney's career is over because she forgot to put panties on before she left the house again and the sun is warming my back and I feel good - confident about the case - when I feel a tap on my shoulder.

"Trixie Allan". I turn and look behind me. It's Ben.

"Working hard as usual." Ben always has a sarcastic quip up his sleeve.

"Just reading up on current affairs," I say, pointing to the magazine. "You must be familiar with these sorts of matters" my finger is pointing to the picture of Britney getting out of a car (with her crotch blacked out so that you can't tell she is not wearing underwear). "Wasn't she your last girlfriend?" I ask, with a straight face.

"It's not my fault she's so heart broken without me that she forgets to get dressed before she leaves the house." I want to wipe the cheeky grin right off his perfectly tanned face but can't think of a comeback quite fast enough.

"Are you back at BCF now?" he asks.

"Yes, they're lucky to have me actually, the CLC didn't want to let me go. But all good things must come to an end."

"Who'd have thought your Uncle would have been so lucky to recruit you, with no corporate experience?"

"He is lucky. Now I can cream you in corporate litigation as well as petty crime." Ha, take that.

"I look forward to it". And then he winked at me. I hate men who wink at me.

Fortunately, the reminder on my phone beeped, "I have to get back to court".

"Don't mess it up too spectacularly" and he raised a hand to wave. I waved back and then as I turned to walk back up Lonsdale Street to the court, realised he wasn't waving at me, but at a leggy blonde, in very unprofessional work attire, who was waving back, huge smile on her face, and shaking her mane of long hair down her back in slow motion.

I hate women like that, it takes the cause back about ten years. That's why men like Ben love them. They probably don't wear panties.

And it's not even lunch time yet...

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

it's a new look

Yes folks, I've gone for a new look on the blog today. Unlike many BCFs, I am keen to ensure that my decor never gets old or tired. I've toned down the pink in an effort to create something a bit less fluoro and more classic, timeless.

Why is it that so many BCFs are so hopeless when it comes to decor?

The decor says 'I'm bright
but the lawyers are brighter'
the foyer floor is white
and the walls even whiter.

One floor is orange
another is watermelon
the fluorescent colours make me
want to start spelling

My name very slowly
for the people inside
in case they've been blinded
brain washed or died.

The fuschia coloured kitchen
looks just like heaven
and the 'break-out' areas
a place you'd each lunch in

But only if you're
colour blind or stupid or kooky
or funny inside and
irrevocably spooky.

Or if you've never been
queasy, sick or unwell
might you eat your lunch
in 'break-out' area hell.

Maybe if you're blind and
can't see the 'quotes'
you would stay in for lunch,
take off your coat.

Sometimes on a Wednesday
as the sun is setting
I think about decor
and who should be vetting

The colour scheme palettes
and quotes from above
perhaps Tonia Toddman?
She'd create some BCF love...

tuesday nights

I have just finished a pro-bono secondment. I think this why my Uncle (the BCF partner) brought me into the firm. Re-vamp the pro-bono program he said - we want people to know we care (so they don't think that all the money goes straight to his wife's BMW).

I was over the moon, great human rights work AND a corporate salary, almost an unheard of combination in Melbourne. I'm sure the fact that my uncle is a partner went quite some way to helping me get the job but I do actually have some experience in the area and, mostly, I think I did a pretty good job.

I say mostly because there were two things that may have reduced the overall impact I had as advocate for Melbourne's under privileged.

One, I shagged Paul, the graduate, in a moment of drunken man-hating in the first week (I know it doesn't make total sense to shag a man if you hate all men but this was a moment of cruelness only years of unsuccessful interactions with men could have brought on). I had not, however, considered the fact that we would have to work together every day for the next six months and that I would be his boss.

Two, Ben (we'll just call him 'Ben' to preserve his anonymity). Ben was the bane of my existence. He had been the lawyer there before me. He works for another BCF that also claims to do good for the community by seconding lawyers to pro bono organisations. He was perfect. So perfect, apparently, that it's hard for anyone to match up. If you throw Ben into a dominantly female community legal centre, any woman that follows has no chance.

He is shmick. He has brilliant suits and fantastically tanned skin that suggests outdoorsiness without solarium. He has great eyes that sparkle a bit. And he is a good lawyer. I have appeared against him in court a couple of times and his charm is tangible. Female magistrates find him impossible to resist and he is renowned for getting great results for his clients.

I think Ben will haunt me wherever I go.

The secondment finished about a week ago and now I'm back at BCF full-time. There are a lot of things I like about corporate gorgeousness. My shoes match my handbag. My debt is paid off. There is a flash name-plate on my office door that says: "Trixie Allan - Senior Associate". I'm here, on the seventeenth floor at 9pm on a Tuesday night, eating my favourite Moroccan lamb with cous cous and re-drafting an affidavit. And I don't feel alone. There are at least seven other occupied offices. And that feels good.

top 5 glam-town

At D & H I gathered a lot of faux confidence and learnt to manipulate my troll-boss-from-hell into giving me the work I wanted. Then, when the time was right I slept with the enemy and sold my soul to corporate gorgeousness. Kate and I are cousins. Which means her Dad is my Uncle. Her Dad is managing partner of the BCF where I now work. He used to be the antithesis of everything I believed was important about being a lawyer.

But when he dangled a huge corporate salary in front of me for the four hundredth time and Kate smiled and said "it really is a great place to work - we do good pro bono work you know", my conscience hid behind the dollar signs and my debt accepted the money.

Which kind of means that by sleeping with the enemy I slept with my Uncle. Lucky it's a metaphor.

And you know, there are some great things about going top five, glam-town law firm. I have much nicer suits now. I have an incredible view of the city from my Collins St window office. If I'm here after 6.30pm the firm caterers bring me dinner. My favourite is the Moroccan lamb with cous cous - low GI means good energy into the wee hours when working on a fascinating commercial dispute.

Monday, May 14, 2007

i love being a lawyer

it's like a warm fuzzy hug every monday morning

Ode to the BCF

Oh big city firm, oh big city firm
My heart is all a flutter
Like all dysfunctional relationships
My self-respect is in the gutter

I'm anxious and stressed
I don't sleep much at night
My billable targets
Are so far from sight

My files are disordered
My motivation low
My clothes do not adhere
To the dress code you know

When I see a partner
Walk past my desk
I pretend to work
It's like doing a test

It's only on Sundays
Early in the morning
That I can relax
And ignore the warnings

Some eggs and the paper
Maybe a nice cuddle
And I can escape
The big city firm bubble

Friday, May 11, 2007

the big 3

There are few concepts that you grasp quickly as a young lawyer. Those you do stay fixed in your mind forever.

Confidence, infidelity and manipulation are my top three. Kate says hers are hard work, dedication and longevity. I think that's bollocks. She had an easy ride because her Dad is a partner and she was guaranteed a job straight out of university. He would have gold plated her silver spoon to make the transition easier for her.

Not that I'm jealous. I could have had a spoon. But I chose to fight. And it is a battleground out there. A highly competitive, vicious front line. You struggle to get a job, any job, just a foot in a door. And when you do it's never ending. Billable hours, client relationship management, tenders, schmoozing, Friday night drinks, corporate triathlons and secondments.

I've been admitted for three years now. I started with D & H as a graduate. I lost my youthful naivety to petty crime and conveyancing in the Western suburbs and Broadmeadows Magistrates' Court.

It was great work. I love the rush of being in a court room. The pounding of your heart in your throat as you stand up, the feeling that every sweat gland in your body has opened up and you are trying to keep afloat in a tidal wave of your own perspiration. The sense of achievement when you get a single mother who has lied on welfare payment forms to help feed her kids a community based order rather than jail time. The smug accomplishment when you manage to grind an arrogant jerk into the chair at the other end of the bar table. And the warm golden light that beams down on you from the bench with the words, "yes Ms Allan, I agree" or "I find for the defendant".

It was doing this work that I discovered the top three things I think are necessary to be a lawyer.

Confidence: you have to sound like you know what you are talking about even if you don't. A client doesn't pay you to say, "I don't know". A client comes to you for counsel, representation and solutions. No one wants a nervous kindergarten kid trying to argue for them against the coolest kid in year six. Being a lawyer is a bit like dating and if you need to, fake it, fake it, fake it.

Infidelity: By this I don't mean promiscuity. A law degree in 2006 is what an Arts degree was in 1976. The generalist degree everyone's parents encourages them to complete to "get a ticket". All the smarter, more creative people are doing something else after two or three years and what's left are those who wish they were able to do something smarter or more creative. This means that there are lots of jobs. Fidelity to yourself and your annual income, not your employer, is what is required. Don't be afraid to sleep with the enemy (metaphorically, not literally) to get a pay rise. I did.

Manipulation: This used to be persuasion, but I think persuasion was too gentle a concept to really capture what I mean. And manipulation is perhaps slightly too strong. But I do want a hint of malevolence, a willingness to use ideas and connections to achieve an end. For example, if your boss is a nasty-troll-from-hell you might compliment them on something small because you know they will snap it up like a Chihuahua with a doggie biscuit. That compliment means they like you more, they are less nasty and everyone is much happier. But you didn't mean it. That's what I mean by manipulation. Orchestrating change for the better.