Proctor : August 2019
59 PROCTOR | August 2019 Our snazzy threads And their important role in ’70s law firm culture We hear a lot of talk these days about culture in workplaces, including law firms. That represents a big change from my day, when no one would have referred to a law firm as a ‘workplace’. ‘Culture’ had a different meaning back then, in that culture was basically something partners had and articled clerks did not. That was unless you counted the bacterial colonies living on the one suit the articled clerk had purchased second-hand from a Lifeline shop. Some – and I refer here to the bacteria, not the articled clerks – had developed quite advanced societies with art, technology and digital watches, which were quite impressive back then. Had any articled clerk been able to afford dry-cleaning, it would have counted as genocide. Fortunately no articled clerk would have expended capital on cleaning a suit, especially since nobody ever noticed articled clerks and many of us probably could have walked around naked without causing any comment from the partners. However, you should not think that we were grubs (we were, but you should not think that), or that we made no effort in the suit- maintenance discipline. For example – and I am not making this up – one of my friends once ironed his suit, because it had been in storage and we had a formal event to attend on short notice. Another of my friends avoided the problem by purchasing a new (he worked at a big firm) suit that was trendy at the time, and which was coloured silver (yes, silver). Neither bacteria nor dirt would cling to his suit, which he claimed was because it was made of revolutionary material, possibly from the Apollo space program. The rest of us believed his suit remained clean because bacteria had far too much taste to live on it. Also, it was hard to believe that NASA would have created anything that hideous and ever let it out; it would have been locked in the hangar in Area 51 with the dead aliens from Roswell, engines that run on water and Elvis. The other disincentive to dry-cleaning our suits was that the cost of the dry-cleaning almost always outweighed the cost of a second-hand suit from Lifeline, Vinnies or those strange mutant things called ‘op shops’. Op shops sold an eclectic range of products that were not found in other shops, largely because other shops would not sell items that were, technically, rubbish. I don’t mean rubbish in that the items were unappealing – for example, “Man, that new Adam Sandler film is rubbish.” (You might want to write that comment down, it is extremely versatile and can be used on all Adam Sandler films, including future ones.) I mean the items were rubbish in the sense that they were the sorts of things not even accepted at the local dump. This ought to give you some idea of just how snazzy our threads were (‘threads’ is a cool ’70s word for clothes; if you don’t believe me, check out any episode of The Brady Bunch, although I point out that I offer up The Brady Bunch as proof of being from the ’70s, not proof of being cool). Anyway, back to the point, which was culture (go back and check; I’ll wait). These days, culture involves a whole bunch of nebulous things such as wellness, team-building exercises, peace, love and, one suspects, the occasional use of the sorts of controlled substances my clients were always claiming to have been put in their fridge by a mate. Also, it has become OK to sit at your desk with your eyes closed, breathing deeply; these days this is called ‘mindfulness’, although back in my day it was called ‘sleeping on the job’. Had we been aware of the very positive effects of sleeping in the office back then, much unpleasantness could have been avoided. Workplace culture can be damaged by many things, and I do not speak here of Christmas parties, although they certainly carry their own risks. I speak of the dangers of not having a Workplace Card Protocol. This is something every workplace should have, to ensure that the process of sneakily signing a welcome/happy birthday/sorry about your nasal polyp/farewell card can proceed smoothly, and without asking the person who is actually receiving the card to sign/donate money/“aren’t you glad that lazy dweeb is going?” Workplace Card Protocol No backsies – once you have been given the card, it is your job to find someone who has not signed it and give it to them; you cannot give it back to the person who gave it to you. Keep your message short – taking up a quarter of the card carefully describing the day you and the recipient turned up to work wearing identical felt jackets with leather elbow patches is inappropriate for all kinds of reasons. In every workplace there is one hilarious person who writes their message upside down – don’t be that person. If you have an undeclared love for the person leaving, this is not the time to let them know, especially if they are (a) married to a UFC champion, and (b) just going on a two-week honeymoon. Know why they are going – writing ‘Congrats! You deserve this!’ on the card of someone who is going to jail for seven years for fraud will only upset them, and they are about to meet a bunch of people who hurt other people for money. Do not use the term ‘Congrats!’. If you cannot pick the card recipient out of a line-up in three guesses, do not sign the card. Proposing this simple protocol will ensure that card-signing time will be free of chaos and disharmony, at least for you, because after that you will never be asked to sign a card again. BY SHANE BUDDEN SUBURBAN COWBOY © Shane Budden 2019. Shane Budden is a Queensland Law Society ethics solicitor.