LAST WORD: You will work again. Really
Lexpert, June 2008
There be some gloomy days on Bay Street, especially among corporate types. “We don’t do deals anymore,” one of them tells me droopily. “We just talk about the deals we’ve done.”
“It’s not like we’re not doing anything,” another one says, anxiously. Can’t say you’re not busy. Admitting that you’re not busy, if you’re a Bay Street lawyer, is admitting that 1) the firm put you out to pasture 2) times are so bad you’re going to have to refinance, and possibly sell, your third Ferrari. In retrospect, years later, when the phone’s ringing off the hook and there aren’t enough hours in the day to juggle all the deals you’re doing, then you can admit that you had your spouse repeatedly call the office to ensure that the telephone was still working… cause nary a client seemed to know the number anymore.
Right. It’s not like they’re not doing anything. But, compared to what they were doing in 2007—and even 2006—they ain’t doing much. And they’re depressed. Be kind to them when you pass them by in your halls or bump into them sipping an oversize no-fat soy green tea latte at the nearest Starbucks, taking yet another coffee break to distract themselves from their non-buzzing Blackberry.
It’s funny, you know. They’ve been through this before. Repeatedly. After the salad days comes a lull, a slow-down, a—dare I say it?—a slump. But they forget. The phone doesn’t ring as much, the Blackberry doesn’t buzz at all, and the second assistant you finally convinced the Executive Committee you absolutely had to have in order to fully service your clients during this demanding, busy period… well, he’s got nothing to do. (Neither does the first, but she’s been through the cycle before, so she’s getting caught up on the filing and printing up neat little labels for all the binders of closings past.) And the lawyer… the lawyer wonders if he will ever work again.
He forgets that six months ago, he was secretly praying for a slow down. The pace was frenetic. He was exhausted. He woke up dreaming—not of a recession, because that would be corporate treason—but of a teeny, tiny lull between deals. So he could take off to… Hawaii? Portugal? Somewhere sunny and laidback and relaxing, where the cellular service sucked and the Blackberry was unreliable. Somewhere where he could rest. Really rest.
You’re resting now, baby. Can you enjoy it?
Nah, didn’t think so. I get ya, totally. The only thing worse than too much work is not enough work, and when there’s not enough work, well, it’s easy to think you will never work again. Take another sip of your caffeinated poison of choice, take a deep breath, and listen:
You will work again (at some point). Deals will come again (eventually). Something will fill the lull (hopefully). Your billables will return to their respectable, “I could almost be working in New York” status (probably). You will once again see your name in the press as a dealmaker extraordinaire (conceivably).
The markets are cyclical (usually). Slumps always end (presumably). Good times will come again (likely). And when they do, you’ll forget, in no time, that you’ve ever felt like this (that one, I guarantee).
You know why you’re really so jumpy? In your heart of hearts, you know that you will work again (eventually). But you know what this kind of slow down means. Your partners and colleagues have time on their hands too. For the last couple of years, they’ve been going gangbusters too, all too busy to do the thing that lawyers (inevitably) do when things slow down. You know what I mean.
Navel-gazing. When clients aren’t clamouring for YOUR FULL ATTENTION RIGHT NOW! (please), a law firm’s attention turns… inside. To its internal structures. Internal politics. Internal in-fighting. Incestuous intra-firm issues that, frankly, most of the time are best left ignored.
Yeah… that one I can’t help you with. There’s no antidote. It will happen. Managing partner heads will fall (some already have), departments will be reorganized, formerly tolerated or even appreciated colleagues will get their walking papers, firm superstars will jump ship in the vain hope that the internal politicking and navel-gazing is greener on the other side.
It will be hell.
But hey, after it’s over—you will work again (feasibly).
Marzena Czarnecka is a Calgary-based freelance writer and regulator contributor to Lexpert. She (eerily, wearily) remembers writing something very similar to this back in 2002…