Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Down the Rabbit Hole: On not knowing the answer, ever.

The frustrating thing about being a summer associate is that you are constantly two steps behind everyone around you. The experience combines all of the uncertainty of 1L year with the soul crushing "what if I don't get a job" terror of 2L year, wrapped up in a big shiny package. Some people like to portray summer at The Firm as a glamorous, exciting experience. The same people apparently don't remember the accompanying state of torpor and confusion that comes with all of those free lunches.

I got assigned a memo for one of the most senior partners in The Firm this week. Lest you've deluded yourself into thinking, Internet, that I am capable and high-achieving, a disclosure: he told me to "come see him" because his daughter is enrolling at my alma mater, and he wanted to know where to go for lunch when he visits.

(Never fear: one of these days, The Firm will collectively gasp in awe at my capabilities, and not my knowledge of greasy spoons. Today is not that day.)

Anyway: some people age into their partnerships gracefully, with leadership and poise, taking young associates under their wings as they go. Some people come into partnership with guns blazing, flinging Federal Reporters and curse words through their office door at the least provocation (Litigation, I'm looking at you). And some people meander into partnership in what appears to be a complete professional anomaly, sowing befuddlement and perplexity in their wake.

I think you can guess which one Senior Partner TwoLeftShoes is.

On Monday morning, I came in for my assignment. Senior Partner TwoLeftShoes showed me pictures of his daughter, asked my feelings on in-flight meals (what? I know), and began mumbling things about the case. The combination of his obtuseness (cultivated through many, many years of obfuscating and Never Being Wrong) and my legal obliviousness created a perfect storm of absurdity, right there in his office. He was speaking French, I was speaking Japanese, and nobody knew what was going on.

It was a mess, best served by an (unincriminating) example: Have you read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy? (insert gratuitious book/radio play plug here) One of the main characters is Arthur Dent, a man who, after Earth has been destroyed, ends up on all sorts of unfortunate adventures hitchhiking across the universe. The books, which were originally radio plays, are full of wry British humor- absurdist scifi, perhaps? It's no Twelfth Night, but it is a lot of fun.

Anyway. The conversation below, taken from Life, The Universe, and Everything, is a conversation between the clueless Arthur and his experienced co-adventurer, Ford Prefect. It is also a rough approximation of how my conversation with Senior Partner TwoLeftShoes went:

"I have detected," Ford said, "disturbances in the wash." [...]
"The wash?" said Arthur.
"The space-time wash," said Ford. [...]
Arthur nodded, and then cleared his throat. "Are we talking about," he asked cautiously, "some sort of Vogon laundromat, or what are we talking about?"
"Eddies," said Ford, "in the space-time continuum."
"Ah," nodded Arthur, "is he? Is he?" He pushed his hands into the pocket of his dressing gown and looked knowledgeably into the distance.
"What?" said Ford.
"Er, who," said Arthur, "is Eddy, then, exactly, then?"
"There!" said Ford, shooting out his arm. "There, behind that sofa!"
Arthur looked. Much to his surprise, there was a velvet paisley-covered Chesterfield sofa in the field in front of them. He boggled intelligently at it. Shrewd questions sprang into his mind.
"Why," he said, "is there a sofa in that field?"
"I told you!" shouted Ford, leaping to his feet. "Eddies in the space-time continuum!"
"And this is his sofa, is it?" asked Arthur, struggling to his feet and, he hoped, though not very optimistically, to his senses.

Hilariously, I thought I understood what the man was saying. I boggled intelligently at Senior Partner TwoLeftShoes for a while on Monday, and then went back to my office, to delve into the world of legal Chesterfield sofas. It was ugly out there. Several hours later, I fooled myself into thinking I had an answer for him, and returned.

I was clearly delusional.

After I presented my findings (apparently basic legal knowledge Senior Partner TwoLeftShoes already had), Senior Partner TLS looked at me expectantly, like perhaps, somewhere in my befuddled mind, I had the real answer. Silly Senior Partner TLS. I didn't even have the real question.

Once we hammered that out (spoiler: no part of the real question actually came up in conversation #1, this was still very much my fault), it was back to the drawing board for me. Again. I think I have an answer for him now, but it could just be that I've got the wrong question again.

Words of Wisdom, my 1L and pre-L friends: be prepared for many, many trips to the drawing board. Learning to live in the real world is tough. Just ask Eddie.


Silly Little Law Student said...

I've been there. It sucks when your superior brain dumps their project to you, you nod in understanding because at the time it makes sense. But then you go out to do research, and realize you have no idea wtf Superior wanted you to find out.

You may feel like an ass, but at the end of the conversation repeat back what you think the research question is to your superior, to make sure you've got it. Or say something like "so what is the ultimate issue you need me to research?"

I learned that the hard way one semester. Brain dumps for weeks and then feeling like I was groping around in the dark for answers to questions I wasn't even sure I had correct.

Good luck with the rest of your summer!

Butterflyfish said...

that is one of my favorite passages from HH. I love this post. I have had that conversation with a senior partner.

All rights reserved to my snotty and generally self-deprecating writing. And if your comments bother me, I'll delete them. That's right, pumpkin.
...How dreary—to be—Somebody!
How public—like a Frog—
To tell one's name—the livelong June—
To an admiring Bog!
-- Emily Dickinson