It’s sort of amazing what qualifies you to receive praise in law. I’ve realized it’s more of an individual sport than an actual profession. When you’re a newly installed BigFirm drone, you believe words like “partnership” and “teamwork” mean something. What a fraud that is. It’s never about building camaraderie, it’s about the kill.
This is a realization I assume all lawyers have at some point, but when you’re SmallLaw/boutique material like me, it hits you between the eyes a lot sooner. America values lawyers out of ignorance. The same reason it does politicians. But, in reality, lawyers are bottom feeders. A gang of Pavlov-ian dogs ready to capitalize on any signal of a moneymaking opportunity that we can brand as an injustice.
There is no getting around it: I need to quit my job. I have been at the same law firm for almost four years—from summer associate when I was a third-year law student to today. I started working here fulltime six days after the bar exam. I’m approaching my four-year anniversary, and I am scared to death I will be here another four.
I know many of you have terrible bosses. And I am not saying that mine is the Antichrist, but what I am saying is that he’s in the running. He’s a truly bad man. And I make less than half of what most of you do working for him.
Philalawyer last week raised an interesting point—or at least put the truth in print: Lawyers lie. There’s a place in this profession for bad behavior. If I had a lot of money and someone was extorting me, I can imagine a scenario where I would hire my boss to kick someone’s ass and pull every trick in the book to “win,” which basically means that I would pay him 110% of what I was going to have to pay the extortionist, but at least I would feel okay about it. However, that 110% piece of mind would come at the expense of my boss working some serious angles, but in the end, not really breaking a sweat. (And that’s saying a lot, given the fact he schvitzes walking from the men’s room to his office.)
I, on the other hand, cannot live with the idea that I provide no value to my clients. I am too smart and too educated to be a bagman or an intellectual bully. It does not make me feel good to ruin other peoples’ lives.
The other day I was on the phone with opposing counsel in a collections case. A guy borrowed $3M from my client and invested it in loan pools at FDIC auctions of failed banks, but he told my guy it was for a “family emergency.” Anyway, the other guy is being a typical litigation a-hole. He pushed and postured—and I lost it. Before you know it, I’m giving him a tongue lashing of epic proportions. I go off, I yell, I scream, I behave like a child. I hate myself for enjoying it.
After the call, my boss runs into my office with a smile on his face.
I was at a bachelor party last weekend and I caught myself giving advice about how to cheat on your taxes while randomly asking people B.S. hypotheticals about whether or not you can enforce a contract to hide assets from a third party. At the time, I liked to think I was funny. Now I know that I wasn’t.
I’m giving in to the new-age idea that I’m embarking on a journey and am going to seek out a different path, a change. The high I feel from doing great legal work titrated with my nasty pit of despair from my surroundings leaves me feeling too acidic. Looking at my boss’s mug day after day wears a man down. I get that my options are limited. And believe me, I’ve far from abandoning my cynicism and turning this into a “time to heal the world” campaign. I’m just down on it right now.
An impressive impasse I recently found my way out of was alcohol. It’s odd that one day I woke up and had a healthy, instinctual response to an addictive, quite-helpful drug, but I stopped drinking. A lawyer who doesn’t drink?!? Sure. Let’s give it a whirl.
All I know is that I realized the cycle was boring. More than one night of killing half a bottle of vodka to put myself to sleep and waking up with no memory of the Lost episode I watched the night before really freaked me out. Nothing that pushes you toward alcoholism is worth any amount of money—but it’s definitely not worth it when you get paid my salary. If I was a fourth-year paying my dues at a Big Firm in an effort to pay off an ivory tower, I could cope by using clear spirits long enough to pad my resume and bide time til I jump ship a few years down the road. But that’s not the case.
I like working hard. When I get an appeal to write or a research assignment that calls for hours and hours of research, I am happy as a clam. On the other hand, brainstorming ways to have my cake and eat it too—or figuring out way to get more than what is fair is just not cool. All I want is for people to be fair to each other. The minute a lawyer goes further than that, he’s as bad as the jerks who screw people over in the first place.
There are plenty of good lawyers in the world, and plenty of them work in big and small firms. I am not jealous of the money or the support staffs or the street cred. I wouldn’t mind working at a small firm for the rest of my life. But what I am jealous of is working with other people that you would be proud to know.