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Festina lente: taking appropriate action during the wait for an offer


Octavius Augustus Caesar was the first and "real" Augustus, the first heir of Julius Caesar, and some say the first true emperor of Rome. It is easy after the fact to see the amazing prowess, endurance and wit the man had, and it is easy to think of his reign, like that of every other wildly successful monarch, as inevitable. He had, however, a very shaky start.

Named as Julius' heir and assuming his position at the tender age of 18, Augustus (Gaius, then) had no money, no connections, no power and no family to fall back on. Worse, he had very, very powerful enemies.

Someone to Listen To

You may remember Marc Anthony was running around claiming the '"throne" for himself. At any rate, it all worked out, obviously. It helped to have the greatest orator of all time take up his cause (Cicero) and it helped to be completely ruthless (siding with the Senate as he did at need against Antony, then, when more powerful, switching alliances and "purging" the Senate of the traitors to Julius). Either way, I believe Augustus and his brilliant success sufficiently makes his case as someone to listen to for advice.

World's Greatest Aphorism

And Augustus was all for aphorisms, most of which he coined himself. My favorite? Festina lente. Now, many of you have heard this one, roughly translated "hurry slowly." But there is more, far more, to it than mere irony. The point is, of course, that one must have plans and move as direcctly toward their fulfillment as possible. And, of course, one must have the determination, patience and "stick-to-it-ive-ness" to take the long view when necessary--switching alliances when convenient, professing loyalty the next, and taking direct and perhaps ungentlemanly action when prudent. (You can see how this philosophy might appeal to a headhunter).

Gloss on the Phrase

More importantly, however, is a further nuance to the injunction. "Lente" also carried with it the connotation of "toughness," "durability," "flexibility" and "suppleness." It makes me think of trying to put a nail through stucco--the hammer just bounces back at you. Thus "festina lente" is an encouragement not to just be "deliberate" (which attorneys often use as an excuse to simply "bide their time" and take no action) but also to be tough, to be tenacious, to be able to bend with the wind.

Bringing it Home

And thus I finally come to my point: One must take action where one's actions will count. Simply to strike without knowledge of where to place the hammer is fruitless at best, possibly injurious (you can hit your own hand) and even fatal (if the hammer bounces back into your face). This is particularly true when dealing with transition between law firms. (Yes, I realize this is not a particularly graceful segue).

Right Thinking

At any rate, firms have their own pace, their own way of making decisions. In other words, they make decisions about bringing on new attorneys at in their own sweet time regardless but not heedless of the consequences. Firms are completely aware that taking too much time will mean that some fantastic candidates will simply move on and look for new positions. But even in a tight labor market (which we indeed have and will continue to have), firms know that eventually they will find the fish in that great sea that will fit within their framework, and that will put up with their impossibly opaque and glacier-slow decision-making processes.

Strategic Mind

Thus, my moral for dealing with a firm after the interviews are done, the conflicts statements are written up and the offer is yet to be seen: Relax! The firm will either act or it will not. In the meantime, keep looking for more possibilities. There is no one perfect firm for you and simply "willing" for that "perfect" firm to act is pointless.

Rather, demonstrate the strategic mind that Augustus had: Find your target, move in towards it, but do not hesitate to take the mountain-trail-like switch-backs sometimes necessary to move in a straight line.


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