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With all due respect? Surviving Club Mid

Every Issue

Cite as: (2005) 79(11) LIJ, p. 86

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I want to talk to you about the pitfalls and advantages of working in the medium-sized firm.

Medium firms almost universally market themselves as “progressive”, which usually means that they no longer whip the articled clerks on the weekends and during Lent, unless they did something really terrible, such as parking in the partner’s favourite parking space or wearing a short-sleeved shirt to work.

Of course, partners at medium firms want clients and potential staff (defined as solicitors with their own personal clients, preferably BHP or Coca-Cola/Amatil) to think that “progressive” means that they do not fit the stereotype of stuffy, out-of-touch rich persons with the same people skills as Prince Charles. Unfortunately, this is a difficult stereotype for them to shake, because they are always complaining about the cost of cleaning commoners from the grilles of their new Mercedes.

Regrettably, this can end up affecting you, because in an effort to show how “progressive” and down-right “hip” they are, medium firms will embrace every New Age lunatic theory that comes down the pipe (and yes, that includes “quality assurance”).

Inevitably, you will find yourself at some kind of “team building” retreat, where you will climb ropes and navigate obstacles, learning skills that are invaluable in almost all areas of life, as long as your life consists of one long Survivor episode.

Another problem with medium firms is that many of them are fairly keen on becoming large firms, in the same way that the Coyote is fairly keen on catching the Road Runner. This is bad, because most of them think that the way to realise their ambitions is to encourage staff to work long hours, using the same methods that the Spanish Inquisition used to encourage confessions of heresy.

Actually, the methods are even worse than that, because partners at firms like these have been to motivational seminars where they have been told the best way to motivate staff is to repeat meaningless phrases that would not be out of place in a Sylvester Stallone movie, or – God help you – show you the Stallone movie itself.

Thus you will find yourself being told to “go the distance”, “give 110 per cent”, and “take no prisoners”, so that when the “chips are down” you will “come through in the clutch” and be the “last man standing”.

Of course, the only thing worse than a medium firm on the way up is a medium firm on the way down. These are often firms which boomed in the 80s, probably due to the fact that you could charge the GDP of a reasonably large country for one cottage conveyance.

Unfortunately, by the late 80s it became clear that Paul Keating had been running the economy on his MasterCard, the plan being to sell Tasmania to make the repayments; when no one wanted the place, the economy went down the gurgler, taking many firms with it.

Such firms should be avoided, because everyone is looking for a job somewhere else, and there is a chance that the person who hired you will leave before you start, most likely taking the firm’s biggest client with them. You can spot a firm in this position by looking for the following tell-tale signs:

  • During your interview, the partners mention that the firm is entering an “exciting period of diversification”. This is code for “we don’t have any clients, and we are looking for some”.
  • Even worse, they say the firm is enjoying a “welcome period of stability”, which means “we don’t have any clients, and we aren’t looking for some”.
  • The names of the partners are written on the firm letterhead in pencil.

OK, that’s enough on mid-sized firms for this month.

SHANE BUDDEN is a legal officer with the Queensland Building Services Authority. This column first appeared in the Queensland journal Proctor.

Miss Demeanour’s guide to life, love, law – and disorder

Dear Miss Demeanour
I have a girlfriend who I love, and a great job as a senior associate, but to be honest, I miss being a single student sometimes. I would love to spend a few weeks living that life again. How can I get away with this and keep my relationship and job?

Dear Teenage Wannabe,
Easy! Put yourself into voluntary administration. A nominated representative will step in and maintain the routine of your life while you check out for a bit and do whatever you want. Don’t worry, they are not permitted under the Voluntary Administration (Persons) Act 1958 to do anything binding, so you won’t come back from your little holiday to find yourself engaged to be married, or worse, with a reputation for billing 15 hours a day.

Have a life/love/law problem? Contact “Miss Demeanour” C/- She will be more than happy to give you the benefit of her advice.


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