At The End Of The Day: 9/17/2008

While we don’t think this is gloating, the fact that there have been close to 12,000 hits on a blog that is barely two-days old says something.  And what does it say?  And to whom does it speak?

First, what it says is that Biglaw, especially firms that are struggling to get by or hauling themselves out as a potential spouse to another firm – pockmarks and all – should ignore their support staff at their own peril.  What Heller lacked was direct and honest communication with its support staff.

We understand the nature of a merger.  Hell, many of us at Heller have worked on merger agreements and the like.  Do you think we just typed away and didn’t read them? And we know the role of confidentiality in these talks.  And that the first act in a possible merger is a document between the two parties which basically says this: “Let’s walk by each other in the hallway.  But if anyone asks, I didn’t see you and you didn’t see me.”

But there has to be a way of honestly communicating with your staff how they will be impacted by any merger, successful or otherwise, any mass exodus of shareholders and attorneys, any possibility of splitting the firm in two between East and West Coasts, or even any possibility of dissolution.

What started less than two days ago as a place to gather the troops and to learn how to get into those lifeboats (if we could find them) and to make sure we took care of ourselves as well as our co-workers, seems to be hitting a nerve.  A raw, wind-battered, salty-air-in-the-wound nerve.

And the traffic verifies that.  Your cruise director suspects that it is more than Heller support staff making visits.  Sure, visitors check on us from time to time, see how we are doing etc.  But they also help themselves to the links, the forms, the ideas and the comments.  And it’s all good.

Why?  Because Heller people are just that way.  I know, I know.  Many of the snarky, sophmoric comments at places such as Abovethelaw make fun of our “culture,” our “crunchy granola-ness,” and our “hippy drippy outlook.”  But if it weren’t for an overarching culture of being able to help your co-workers, being concerned about the attorneys for whom you worked, mourning the premature deaths of your managers (I still miss Joan . . .), and wanting to come to work each day, we probably would have left when the S.S. Heller was still afloat.  In our cabana wear as we ventured off to other ports of call.

But we didn’t.  We’re still here for the time being until you hear otherwise but we are still holding those drills, packing up what we need just in case, and in general being watchful and waiting.  While we wait and hope for an orderly evacuation, we have this blog.  And so do all visitors, Heller denizen or not.

Over and out.



5 Responses to “At The End Of The Day: 9/17/2008”

  1. 1 Anonymous 17 September 2008 at 4:08 pm

    Not employed at Heller, but worked at various BigLaw SF firms for many years (not now). I can empathize with the staff situation; we are usually the last to learn the facts, and lucky to get some advance notice. (Keep your resume updated.)
    At a previous firm, we did know ahead of time what was happening. Along with a few others, I remained until the doors closed, having some loyalty to my senior partners, while others were jumping ship.
    This did not serve me well, though I felt it was the right thing to do at the time.
    My overall experience has shown… first “look out for #1,” as most others are doing exactly that. Some comments to your article follow:

    “Can I actually get a job?” MORE DIFFICULT IN THIS ECONOMY!!
    “A job that I’ll like?” GOOD LUCK –YOU MAY DECIDE NOT TO CARE!

    “Do I want to work for law firms?”
    (Isn’t that a daily question? LOL) YES, LOL!!

    “Have I had the opportunity to gain new skills? Can I be competitive with other applicants?” HOPEFULLY!

    Best wishes to All !

  2. 2 hellerdrone 17 September 2008 at 5:06 pm

    Anon – yes the truth is harsh but thanks for sharing it. I have to say that from the reports I am getting from my colleagues, managers are having meetings with their staff and saying things that you are saying – namely there is no shame in looking out for #1. As long as we maintain client and internal support levels and we don’t do anything stupid or destructive. Right now, what more could I ask for?

    Thanks again for your advice.


  3. 3 Jayne Loughry 17 September 2008 at 10:15 pm

    Dear Heller Folks,

    As a Brobeck survivor, I’m so very sorry to read about the troubles at your firm.

    If you’ve been to the BrobeckInfo site linked elsewhere in this blog, you might recognize my name. After Brobeck was rammed into the ice berg and destroyed, I got involved in trying to help Brobeck employees with the aftermath. So I do have a pretty good idea of what you’re feeling right now.

    Like you, and for the sake of all Heller employees, clients and vendors, I fervently hope that Heller does not dissolve. If it does, however, I hope the Heller management and its rank & file partners act responsibly and honorably toward all their employees.

    Nevertheless, I believe you’re right to prepare yourselves for the possibility of the worst happening. Many like to think the despicable behavior of the Brobeck partners was an anomaly, that what happened at Brobeck couldn’t happen anywhere else, but I’m not so sure about that. Each firm likes to tout its own special culture, but I believe the similarities among big law firms far outweigh the differences, and I believe it is possible that what happened at Brobeck could well happen anywhere in biglawland, including Heller.

    With that in mind, I want to share some tips with you so that — if the worst does happen — things might be a bit easier for you than they were for us. These are things that I wish we had known or done at the beginning. The tips are sort of like earthquake preparedness kit: good to have on hand, even though we all hope you’ll never have to use any of it.

    1. Make sure you have originals or copies of ALL documents related to your employment in a safe place Don’t assume you’d be able to get the documentation or information you might need after the firm tanked. What kind of documents? Anything that confirms and/or describes your status, compensation, and benefits of any kind. Some things will be specific to you, some will be more general. For example, we had a devil of a time finding copies of the staff and associate bonus plans and stock investment funds. And, if for some reason you’re not already doing it, take home your pay stubs. If it’s not on each pay stub/advice, confirm and keep track of your current accrued vacation/PTO. Have all the details, including contact info, about your 401K. If you’re a contract employee or any special bonus/compensation has been promised you, keep a copy of the proof at home. Don’t delay in submitting expense reimbursement forms, and until you’re reimbursed be sure to keep copies of the forms and receipt(s) at home. If a document might in any way help you prove the terms of your employment and/or what you’re owed or entitled to receive, you want it. It’s impossible to list everything that might be needed, so when in doubt copy it and take it home (or if it’s an e-document, flip it to your personal email account).

    2. Similarly, keep copies of any memos or emails management sends you about what’s going on at/with the firm. I don’t know how likely it is, but it is possible you will be lied to or given promises that won’t be kept. You might need to prove that.

    3. If the worst comes, being able to communicate with each other will incredibly important. Copy whatever employee rosters you can and start gathering contact info or building email rings now. The more of your fellow employees you can reach, the better off you all will be.

    4. Take deep breaths and try to stay calm. I know this is hard when uncertainty is swirling around you, but the calmer you are the better you can take care of yourself and make good decisions. Don’t automatically believe every rosy outlook from management or partners, but also don’t automatically believe every scary rumor you hear. Use this blog or whatever other means you have to share information and try to ferret out the truth.

    5. I’ll continue to hope the Heller partners prove me wrong, nevertheless I think you should be prepared to accept the possibility that if Heller begins to sink the partners for whom you have worked so hard and to whom you have been so loyal will act like weasels and will put their self-interest ahead of any concern for your well-being. My point here is not to diss the Heller partners, but to warn you of the dangers of putting too much (perhaps any) trust in partners. In all likelihood, the partners would band together and do what’s best for themselves, regardless of how much it might harm the employees. So, if the worst does come, don’t waste time waiting for the partners to help you, to make things right, to solve your problems. Instead, do what they do: band together and do what’s best for you the employees. The partners might abandon you, but you’re not alone and you’re not powerless. You’ve got strength in your numbers. If you make the effort to help each other, to share information, to work together, and to be kind to one another you can all get through this. We did, and that’s how we did it.

    I hope what I’ve written here is of some help to you. Moreso, I hope Heller stabilizes and “the worst” never comes to any of you.

    Best wishes to you all, Jayne

  4. 4 Akiva 18 September 2008 at 7:31 am

    Funny, I’m sitting here as an associate at a firm that might find itself in Heller’s position not too far down the road, turning down offer after offer to jump ship, because of exactly the same “culture” issues you’re talking about. All I can say is good luck – to all of us.

  1. 1 Comments from an Esteemed Brobeckian « Heller Highwater Trackback on 18 September 2008 at 1:02 am
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". . . sitting on our butts is not going to help us either. Maybe by climbing out of here, we can save ourselves. If you've got any sense, you'll come along with us."

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