It always begins innocently enough. “You’re coming with me to court,” the partner says to the associate. The associate, of course, cannot believe his good fortune. But then the partner completes his thought. “I need someone to carry my briefcase.”
Can you blame the associate for being confused? The partner is heading towards the elevator with empty hands, and the briefcase is sitting on the floor. Should the associate pick it up? He’s not sure. Though he received good marks at his last review for being a “team player,” he’s never thought of himself as a pack mule. What a dilemma! Figuring he has no choice, he picks up the briefcase and dashes for the elevator.
And that’s how it happens. That’s how a proud and well-respected associate can be changed as quickly as a gunshot into the lawyer-who-carries-another-lawyer’s-briefcase.
Should we pity the poor associate? To be sure, he could have told the partner no. Had he done it, the partner might have come to his senses, blushed slightly, and apologized for treating the associate as his personal valet. But the associate didn’t object, and he picked up the briefcase, and now his career will take a different path. Having carried the briefcase, it won’t be long before he’s assigned to buy a birthday present for the partner’s wife. The week after that, he’ll be ordered to take the partner’s shoes to be resoled. Before the month is out, the associate will either be cleaning the law firm’s toilets or supervising a two-year document review in Omaha.
Will any good come from this sad tale? Perhaps. At some point, the lawyer-who-carries-another-lawyer’s-briefcase will shake off the stigma of having carried another lawyer’s briefcase. By this time, he’ll probably be a partner himself. And one day, completely without warning, he’ll face a second test of his moral character. He’ll be rushing off to court. In his hand, he’ll be clutching a briefcase. There’ll be a moment’s hesitation as he turns to his associate. He’ll clear his throat, begin to say something . . .
Will he hand the briefcase to his associate? It’s impossible to say. For the sake of the profession, let’s pray the answer is no.[Like this post? It's one of many included in my book How to Feed a Lawyer (And Other Irreverent Oberservations from the Legal Underground). Details here.]
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