Tuesday, January 31, 2012

It turns out that 12.5% of power is not all that much power. (I Get Paid For Doing This)

About two years ago, it was decided at our office that all the lawyers would have their own individual printers in their offices, something which benefitted me greatly except that ultimately it benefitted me not at all and now serves as a daily, if not hourly, reminder of the limits of my power.

I type my own work. I always have, since the time I was a clerk at the law firm where I pretended to work and where I met Sweetie, who was a legal secretary at that firm. Sweetie and I did not work together, as such. She was a legal secretary with real responsibilities, and I was a clerk who was supposed to do things like research but who actually spent more time trying to figure out ways to talk to Sweetie than doing anything else. Some might say that was an inappropriate choice for a young soon-to-be-lawyer just starting out, and would point to the fact that I was later fired by that firm ("let go", actually) as proof of that, but to them I'd point out that now I'm a partner in a law firm and married to Sweetie, which is win-win for me and at best a break-even for everyone else involved.

Back then, I tried my hand at dictating a complaint, which you'd think would be a natural for me, but I messed it up terribly and was told that the secretaries thought it was funny, and I never want to be inadvertently funny, so I gave up dictating and wrote it off as something old people did last century, lumping it in to the same category as "watching CBS" and "not texting."

So now I type my own stuff and I had to share a printer with other lawyers for a while which caused problems because the paper was always running out and nobody was willing to replace it and also people would walk off with stuff you printed mixed in, or I would walk off with stuff they printed mixed in, and in general the whole thing hit a level of inefficiency that really belied the $265 per hour we charge people to not fill our own paper trays.

So our office manager got everyone their own printer, and that would have been great, except that she also decided that everyone would have their own letterhead, so now all the lawyers have official firm letterhead that also says "From the Desk Of" that lawyer, a minor addition that was not strictly necessary given that when I write a letter on letterhead I sign my name, so putting from the desk of at the top is only necessary for those people who are too impatient to read to the bottom to see in my firm sent them this particular letter, or who perhaps are too busy to read every letter they get and must make a quick decision on which letters to read based on whose desk that particular letter emanated from.

That in turn would have been fine, but for two things: First, we hired more lawyers, and second, printers break, especially when you have crummy printers.

So the new lawyers we added did not have their own personal printers, but they did have their own personal letterhead, which meant that they had to share the big printer only now it was at least 70% less efficient because we could not just put letterhead in there, we had to have personalized letterhead, so all these junior lawyers, when they had to print a letter, would type it up, and then walk out to the printer, put their letterhead into the tray, walk back, print their letter, and then go back up and get it, all the while hoping that they were able to do that before someone else hit print and used up their piece of letterhead printing, say, that day's Dilbert to post in the breakroom.

(Dilbert has almost no relevance to working at our firm, but still gets posted because it's a federal law that office workers must make jokes about their office. I have on my wall a sign that says "I can't be fired Slaves have to be sold!" that my dad gave me, and it's only half true: I can't be fired because I own 12.5% of everything here, but I'm hardly a slave because few slaves get to spend their time blogging about being slaves and listening to The Captain by Guster on their computer. I imagine. I don't know any slaves.)

I mostly ignored the inefficiency of all that because only 12.5% of the inefficiency directly affected me, and also because my particular area of practice rarely intersects what the other 33 people in my firm do, which has resulted in most of the firm not knowing what, exactly, it is I do all day, a situation that resulted in some consternation when I became a partner, and also, as I found out, led to rumors that I'm a germophobe because I never eat the breakfast treats people bring in.

But then my printer broke, and I had to take part in the printer scramble and put my letterhead out there to be used when I, too, would walk down the hall to the printer to load my letterhead in and then go back to print my letter and then go back up to get my letter, which should have at least had some aerobic benefits but didn't.

For a while, I amused myself with this by telling myself that eventually our office manager, who actually works for me, or at least 12.5% of her works for all of me, would respond to my repeated emails ("Can you get me a new printer?") with something other than her usual response ("Have you tried liquid air? And checked the toner?")(both of which are ridiculous questions because I don't have access to liquid air or whatever it she was talking about and I don't have the time or energy to go walking around our firm looking for it, and also because the toner is likely not the problem when a printer will print 1/3 of a letter and then jam up while continuing to suck paper into its maw, mangling sheet after sheet of letterhead while making groaning noises.)

And I also amused myself by trying to prove one of my employees wrong; this particular lawyer told me that there is no way that I could ever hit print on my letter and then make it out to the printer to put letterhead in before that letter would print, which I took as a personal challenge the exact same way I take not actually doing anything productive all day as a personal challenge, and I've spent some time trying various permutations of printing to show him I can do what he said is impossible.

I tried, for example, printing the envelopes first, as we all don't have our 0wn personal envelopes yet; it's not, apparently, necessary to announce who drafted the letter before someone opens it, so the critical time, in our office manager's mind, to reveal the drafter of a letter is just after opening it but just before beginning the substantive portion of that letter.

That didn't work: our printer spits envelopes out like... I'm at a loss for a simile. If you can imagine a machine that prints envelopes very quickly, our printer is almost exactly like that.

Then I tried printing other items first: if I had a brief and a cover letter, I'd print the brief, print the letter, and then rush out to put the letterhead in, but I found out all that did was make some random page of the brief print on letterhead and my letter printed on regular paper. I would have to wait until the brief was done, then quickly insert the letterhead before the printer sucked that last page to print the letter, and that frankly was more effort than I was going to put into it.

Then, two weeks ago, I got my new printer! It was sitting in its large box on my desk and it arrived in the same week in which I was getting ready for a big trial and a small trial and also I had about ten zillion other things to do because while I'm blogging it's not like the law just stops (as much as I wish it would.)

So I didn't have time to put together my new printer, which will take some time because I'm not exactly the tech support type, and also, if I do something that we can't bill a client for, the effect on our firm is that we lose $265 per hour for time I spend, which isn't the worse thing in the world except that we have people who we pay just to be here and they don't bill the clients for anything, and those people are, ostensibly, here to support the people who bring in the money (e.g., me.)

So I asked one of those people, the guy whose job it is to deliver mail and make copies and otherwise do busy work and tasks, if he would, at some point that week two weeks ago, install my printer.

Keep in mind how I was raised, which is thusly: When a boss or person in a position of authority asks if you would mind doing something, that person is just being polite by asking; you are being told to do that thing.

And this guy, who I'll call "This Guy," took it kind of that way: he said sure, and then at the end of the week two weeks ago when I noticed that my printer was still in its box on the table where I'd moved it to because I need my desk for the purpose of emitting letters, I mentioned it politely to This Guy, who said:

"Oh, yeah. I'm not very good with tech stuff so I asked [our office manager] to help and she said she would, so we're going to do it soon."
"Soon" being, apparently "not soon," as the printer is now sitting, out of sight, under my desk, and was not even opened until I opened it this morning, determined to just put it in because I'm tired of walking out to print my letters which now falsely claim they come from my desk because the printer isn't on my desk at all, but as soon as I opened it I got a phone call and one thing has led to another and now it's 12:34 p.m. and the printer is opened but in its box.

Our office manager, meanwhile, has not responded to my emails, and This Guy, who is very busy looking up information about the New Orleans Saints and the Blue Man Group on his computer at his desk, has several times told me that he's still not very good with "tech stuff."

I could have, I suppose, used the time I used to write this (twenty minutes, not counting going to get a cup of coffee from the break room) to put in the printer, but now it seems like a matter of principle, my own principles mostly kicking in only when I don't want to do something, but having not insisted that This Guy get himself educated in the fine art of opening a printer and plugging it into my computer, I also now, as a relatively new and only 12.5% boss, am unsure what to do. My initial plan (fire the office manager and this guy, hire two new people who will understand what it means when I "ask" them if they would mind doing their jobs) is unlikely to get approval from my partners, whose printers are working just fine. And Plan B, which is to mention again that if he gets a chance to put in the printer, that'd be great, seems a bit Lundbergian, not to mention ineffective.

In the meantime, I have to get back to work, because while I cannot be fired, I can be disbarred if I don't get this brief done, and there's a line at the printer.

UPDATE: Immediately after finishing this, I took my letter out to This Guy, whose job includes mailing letters, and we had this exchange:

Me: Hey, do you think you and [our office manager] could get around to putting that printer in this week, if you get a chance?

This Guy: Oh. I thought you took care of that.

Me: Nope. It's not hooked up.

This Guy: I didn't see it in your office.

Me: [thinking: That should have been a clue that I did not 'take care of that'] It's down under the edge of my desk. Where I put it until it's installed.

This Guy: Oh. Yeah. I'll try and get to that.

He had Facebook up on his computer.


Grumpy Bulldog, Secret Agent said...

Hurm, I wonder how this epic power struggle will turn out? You should go tell The Guy to check out your blog today.

Liquid air is this canister that sprays condensed air to clean stuff out of printers or keyboards and such. According to "Burn Notice" you can also turn it upside down and it'll freeze locks and stuff.

Michael Offutt, Tebow Cult Initiate said...

Is your blog becoming one huge advertisement? I see a scrolling banner, a blinky thing... interesting.

Andrew Leon said...

This Guy, at least, sounds like he needs a new job.
Too bad you can't do anything about the office manager.