I am in the middle of reading The Everything Store, Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon and I was just compelled to post. The thing about working for any organization is that it is designed to exploit you until you drop. You quit and then they will just find someone else to replace you, no big deal. You pack up your things and it will be as though you were never even there.
I am not even 150 pages in, and there are two points that have already reached out and slapped me in the face. The first point was that when Bezos began the company, he expected everyone to work constantly, sacrificing everything else to build the company. If it is your company, that definitely makes sense. If you are just working in a company, you are a fool to let yourself get exploited like this. Killing yourself to make someone else richer is not what life is. The days where loyalty and hard work are rewarded are long over. I believe the official name of the department is Human Resources, but we should just call it Central Office of Exploitation. The moment you quit running at 8 mph on the treadmill is the moment you get replaced. The book even explicitly states that if anyone had the gall to hint at a work/life balance they wouldn’t get hired.
On page 101 we have a direct quote: “Then the steely-eyed founder replaced them with a new and more experienced group of believers. Watching the company move on without them gave these employees a gnawing sensation, as if their child had left home and moved in with another family. But in the end, as Bezos made abundantly clear to Shel Kaphan, Amazon had only one true parent.”
This is how every law firm feels about its employees too, folks. This struck a chord with me because I remember all too well how it stung when I realized that I had given my heart and soul to an organization who did not care about me the way that I cared about them. In particular, I remember sitting across the desk from a named partner (and my direct supervisor) and he brought up the word “sacrifice.” I told him in no uncertain terms that my days of sacrifice were over. I was not prepared to make personal sacrifices for someone else’s company anymore. No additional bonus money or overtime pay was in it for me, so there was no point in it. He didn’t get it. He needed me to work 60 hours a week, that was all he cared about.
I remember another conversation with a partner at a different law firm. This guy looked me in the eyes and said “You can have all the overtime you want. I want to see how hard you can work.” I tried that out, and when I compared my paychecks, I was dismayed to find that after just ten hours of overtime I was actually working at way less than my hourly wage after the taxes got through with me! I went to the bathroom and vomited after I thought about what all those hours really meant. I figured I had generated an additional $2,000 for the firm in billings and got to keep a whopping $16.00 an hour for my trouble. It makes me sick to this day.
When you sit back and think about how you sacrificed your personal health, your relationships, and even your very spiritual growth to help a law firm generate thousands of dollars only so you could pretty much just afford to treat yourself to one nice meal on Saturday night, I’m sorry but that tends to make me feel like a real asshole. I would rather sit home and have a few friends over for burgers instead of the scrap money.
And in small towns, they conspire to cap your salaries, you know. I was told as much by Mr. Overtime before I got hired. He named the other two big firms in town and told me to “Check them out, I’m sure they won’t give you a better offer. You think we don’t talk to each other?” These men sit around the bar at their golf club and make gentlemen’s agreements that they won’t pay their paralegals more than $55,000 a year so that no one can leave and do better elsewhere (as best I can gather). The lawyers will tell you that “the market is bad,” and then drive off in their $120,000 Porsche. The market is bad because the top dogs in town conspired to keep the market bad, and there will always be someone new to exploit for hard work in exchange for peanuts.
My greatest wish for paralegals (and all employees, actually), is that everyone quit being an employee. We all need to leave and take our skills away and work as independent contractors for an actual living (and fair wage according to our skill sets) for other individuals who value what we have to offer. Because the organizations sure as hell don’t value us. And they never will.