Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Lords and Serfs

Bess said it in comments and I had that Eureka! moment. That's perfect, it sums up my working life and so many other things. It also makes me think of, what was that game in Bridget Jones? Tarts and Vicars? I'm not sure who the tarts are in the Lords and Serfs equation - are you a tart if you have money thrown at you for breathing, like Paris Hilton, or if you put out work for those who have money, like a hardworking street whore? I'm not sure. I think I'm the tart/hardworking ho, but I know I'm the serf. Working your way up the paralegal food chain is a PhD in serfdom. A baby associate is making as much as you are with your many years of experience, and this infant who can't find the courthouse will be talking down to you in three years, if he isn't already. That's the surefire way to spot an asshole lawyer - how s/he is with Staff. I've known all kinds in my time, because I'm Old. Too old for the paralegal crap, which is why I have to keep moving along the path I'm on now.

A few years ago, The Lawyer Formerly Known As Boss was asked to speak to a first-year law school class on being a lawyer - because he's stand-up comic funny and smart. And he asked me to contribute gems of wisdom to the babies for his standup routine, and I said that they should find the kindliest legal secretary and smartest paralegal in the firm and attach themselves like baby ducklings, follow them around, and humbly ask them to share how things work. Because, contrary to their charmingly cocky beliefs, law school did not prepare baby lawyers at all to practice law. Law school taught them to research, and maybe to write (but that's not a given, trust me) and if they're really lucky, to think like lawyers, but it didn't teach them to do anything really useful, because the real world doesn't work like law school. How to navigate the unwritten rules of the real world is learned on the job, and the partners exploiting your baby lawyer ass don't really care if you learn which fork to use or not, if you don't learn your table manners they'll get rid of you. The staff can make or break you, depending on how you are with them, so Be Sweet, like your Mama taught you. That was my contribution. He knocked 'em dead with his presentation and they wanted him to come back and address every incoming class. I took satisfaction in speaking my piece through him, like Cyrano de Paralegal, and then quit that shitty job.

My very smart paralegal friend J is back in school getting a Masters in HR, because she is tired of teaching baby lawyers how to draft a coherent pleading. And now I just reminded myself why I can't return to law firm life. Because I'd be one of the Crusty Old Paralegals now, and I think my crust is too thick and I'm too bitchy. And tired. Let's not forget tired - and too tired, not to mention too broke, for grad school at this point.

My working attitude got a bit better today, I can't even say why. Maybe because I looked at the insane array of diverse, unrelated and complicated problems, oh, I'm sorry, we are supposed to call them "challenges" in Dilbertspeak, in front of me and realized that there was simply no way anyone could fix it all, and stopped worrying about whether I could do all of it, and narrowed my focus on doing a little of it. I can do a little of it. I am going to focus my energy on making a functional working environment for the department, putting systems in place, etc. I can't fix everything that is going crazy, but goddammit, I can get the admin to organize paper in a useful way. Then I'll move on to the next thing. I can't do all of it, I can only do what I can do without killing myself, because I am not about to die for this fucking job. And I say that to myself all day. It applies to everything in life.


carlarey said...

Words to live by. www.carlarey.com/wip

carlarey said...

I in no way meant to imply that my web address is the motto of a well balanced life. The husband was yammering away as I typed, causing me to enter that on the wrong line.

zippiknits said...

"That's the surefire way to spot an asshole lawyer - how s/he is with Staff." What you say applies to many bosses/Kings/Dictator types who would physically torture Staff if they could only get away with it.

And I like how you say, "I am not going to die for this fucking job." Good! You really could write that book you know.

Also, Congratulations on even thinking about doing 300 miles by labor day. It's more than most have done. =o)

Dudley in the clean sheets is so darling. Glad he found you, C...There is nothing like a doggie friend to take the edge off a nasty day at work.

sallyjo said...

I think I need a weekend like yours. How much for an invite to meet Cousin C?