The 5.30 pm rocket: Law firms and the outdated culture of keeping you chained to the office desk
Here we go! The other day, I logged off from work just before 5.30 pm; for the first time in a long time. I’m such a rebel.
In the distant past when we used to work in offices, one of my partners used to call people who left work on time “5.30 rockets!”. It was accompanied by a disapproving shake of the head. The irony is that he was the laziest git going. But as the managing partner of the office, we had to listen to his rants, laugh at his jokes, and enjoy other kinds of awkward boss stuff. He was forever giving people abuse for slacking off or leaving early. His office was right by the main entrance so he could see people coming and going throughout the day. However, he would often disappear from the office around 4 pm. Hard at work at a high stakes contractual negotiation meeting no doubt (although his calendar would be none the wiser). If he wasn’t such a duplicitous dick about timekeeping, I would have called him a #BloodyLegend! for skiving off early occasionally.
Amusingly, Karma is an unforgiving mistress. That managing partner finally got the sack for basically being lazy. He was not a team player and pissed off the higher-ups at the firm. He was also on shaky ground as soon as his client billings dipped. In most law firms, you can generally get away with being a fairly objectional partner if your billings are solid. However, what goes up, must come done. As soon as you show signs of weakness, the long knives come out. You will find yourself cold, alone and on the pavement, cardboard box in-hand and vanish quicker than Vanilla Ice’s music career.
But there is a wider issue at play. Most law firms want to see “bums on seats” well into the evening. They want their lawyers chained to their office desks for hours on end. In my view, this is completely misguided and often counterproductive. I have heard tales of associates at certain firms, leaving for the day with subterfuge that would give James Bond a run for his money. From the associates who would leave their PC on, their jacket on the chair or briefcase by the desk to create the illusion that they are still hard at work but have popped out of…