The following brief vignette is a work of fiction. It was cut from a longer work that’s still in progress (and has been for a long, long time, though it's now at the point that I'm cutting with abandon). The firm of Ellison & James is fictional. The unnamed narrator—the “I” and “me” of the vignette—is also fictional. I’m publishing this little piece on my blog for no special reason other than the beast demands to be fed . . . Evan Schaeffer
All the large law firms touted their commitment to pro bono work. And why not? It was good for the image of the firm, good for the firm’s lawyers to think of themselves as giving back to the community. At Ellison & James, the requirement that young lawyers work on pro bono assignments was sacrosanct. There were ways around the pro bono work, but these were not spoken of, even with office doors closed, and especially not to new associates. If you tried to use an assignment for a paying client to bail on your pro bono obligations, you would get a response like this. “Absolutely not, Mr. Junior Associate. The poor person you are helping expects exactly the sort of representation we give to our largest clients. You will just have to work a little late tonight. What sort of pro bono case are you working on? Landlord tenant, you say? An eviction? Court in the morning? Well take care of that one first—because we can’t have one of the firm’s clients getting evicted!—and then turn to my new assignment, which involves responding to this summary judgment motion. I expect you to polish it off in five or six hours overnight. I’ll see you back here in the morning when you return from court.”
This little lecture would be delivered at around, say, 6 p.m., just about the time your new wife was arriving home from work and starting to cook dinner. (You cooked dinner on the weekends.)
Such was the life of Mr. Junior Associate. It would have been verboten to point out to Mr. Partner that the type of representation the firm’s largest clients expected was something far different than what the pro bono client was receiving. The firm’s best clients got the best advice their money could buy from partners with years of experience. If you were one of the firm’s best clients, your projects were staffed by layers of associates, some researching, some writing, some reviewing, who would hand in their work to the junior partners upstairs, who would tear it apart and put it back together and then pass it off for some final review by a team of old dinosaurs who’d brought the client to the firm thirty years before. Meanwhile, the client whose eviction was being handled pro bono was being represented by a recent law school graduate who was more than a little hamstrung by the fact that in law school, no one had taught him how to practice law. And he still didn’t know. So he’d find the Oracle, a helpful associate named Hank Garland, who’d be leaning back with his feet on his desk with his dipping cup in front of his lower lip, ready to receive his next overflow of tobacco juice.