Sometimes I just know that I’ve been practicing solo too long. One reason? I’ve completely forgotten how to converse in “partner-ese,” that obscure language used between partners and associates where associates must read between lines, jump through hoops and do everything else short of just asking direct and time saving questions.
Consider these encounters described in From Appealing to Scary: The Zen of Partner Contact (Sharon Brooks, law.com 6/22/05). In the first, an associate is called into the partner’s office with a request to research whether a claim for breach of contract could be brought in a certain state. At that point, horror of horrors, the associate asked if there was a written record of negotiations for the contract so that he could research the issue more effectively. Apparently, a substantive request for context for a research assignment which is ultimately fact dependent (one would think that issues like where negotiations took place or in what state they were initiated would be relevant to a question about jurisdiction for the suit) is a fatal faux pas in partner-ese. Instead, associates should only respond with simple questions regarding when the assignment is due or the appropriate format for submission.
Another associate not fluent in partner-ese also embarrassed herself by having the gall to share her knowlege about a legal research topic that the partner assigned and which she’d happened to have researched for a moot court case during law school. The associate’s mistake here: she did not realize that the partner himself had argued the seminal case on this issue and further, that the law had changed. How awful to share your knowledge only to face correction by the partner! And worse, think of the the time that the associate saved (and all those foregone billables) by being corrected on the spot, instead of spending several hours getting up to speed on a matter that the partner already knows about!
Honestly, I had to read this article several times to figure out that it was serious and not intended in jest. No wonder associates are so unhappy at law firms. In addition to long hours on dreary, mundane projects, they have to master an absurd new language which doesn’t facilitate communication and interaction but instead, hinders it.