Don’t fake it

How-to make work when there's nothing to do
How-to make work when there's nothing to do

bar codeDear Sandra,
Nobody wants to admit it, but it is really slow right now. My only assignment is a long-term (make-work) project for a partner who is on vacation until September. I’m bored. Any good tips for pulling off face time convincingly?
— R
estless LawBoy

I feel your pain, LawBoy. It’s the associate’s eternal dilemma — feeling uneasy and insecure when you’re not busy enough, and bitterly resentful when you’re too busy. But I’m afraid I don’t believe in face time. Sitting at your desk like some puppet all summer would be a monumental opportunity lost. Use this downtime to educate yourself and to network.

I remember an associate at my old firm who was a master at face time. When he left for the day, he kept his office light on, a suit jacket permanently draped over his chair, a coffee mug and wallet (with nothing in it) next to his keyboard at all times and a court case about cows as a screen saver which he used as a decoy in case someone looked at his computer. He never missed a Friday bar. The partners loved him…until someone squealed about his day trading side-business. Don’t shed a tear: he didn’t need the money. Woody Allen had it wrong: 90 percent of life is not just showing up. Something beyond mere physical presence is required to be successful at work.

Educate yourself about the firm. It’s an excellent way to demonstrate your enthusiasm and curiosity to the brass. Plus, since you’ll be squandering what little remains of your youth there, you might as well get invested. Study an area of practice unknown to you that is important to the firm, so that you can ask intelligent questions when you do get on a deal or project.

The relationships you build now are the foundation for a powerful professional network in the future. It is entirely expected that you will engage in responsible drinking and debauchery during your junior years. Why disappoint people? Get to know your peer group; you never know where these people will end up. Go for coffee with colleagues. Volunteer for the associate social committee. Test the open door policy. Set an objective to have lunch with at least five influential partners at the firm by summer’s end. Firms love (sigh) “team players” — as long as you talk about the positive. (Asking the managing partner about why the firm’s revenues were down 25 percent in the last quarter, for example, is a career-limiting move.)

LawBoy, I challenge you to redefine your idea of work. Your job encompasses much more than performing discreet tasks on client files. Networking within the firm to build relationships, boosting your knowledge of the firm and increasing your technical knowledge are also part of your job. Who has time for face time when there is so much to do?

You industrious lawyer, you!
How to turn a slothful summer into the most productive of your career. Booyah!


  • Familiarize yourself with the firm’s top ten cases or transactions in its last fiscal period.
  • Find out what “fiscal period” means.
  • Get on the invitation list for practice group meetings (it’s OK: no one will notice you).
  • Volunteer to research or co-author articles.
  • Spearhead a firm-sponsored community volunteering initiative.
  • Work out. Now is the time to take off the articling 10.
  • Leave early-ish, if you have completed at least three of the above during the day.


  • Roll in at 10 am every morning. It just looks bad.
  • Spend the day leisurely browsing the web. Two hours max!
  • Use Facebook or other social networking sites. The minute you log on, a partner will walk into your office. It’s a law of the universe.
  • Keep your door closed all the time.
  • Procrastinate on doing that make-work project: at least it’s work.
  • Complain that you have nothing to do. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.
  • Nap at your desk. The managing partner will walk in just as you start drooling. It’s another law of the universe.

Sandra Rosier is a tax advisor in Toronto.

Illustration by Bob Hambly