When I summered at Shearman & Sterling back in the late ’90s, the partners had just voted on whether to install a gym in the building or create a formal dining room.
Needless to say, they went with the dining room.
It was strictly lawyers-only. At the center stood a buffet fit for a cruise ship, replete with heaping chafing dishes. On certain days, they even had a “prime rib station,” manned by a guy wearing a toque.
This was the golden trough. We fed with complete abandon – at least on days when we weren’t being whisked off to The Four Seasons by a partner pretending to remember our names.
The joke was that all summer associates at Shearman gained 15 pounds.
It wasn’t a joke. We did.
Almost overnight a relatively in-shape pack of law students morphed into a fresh, pudgy litter of big firm attorneys.
It’s no secret law firms ply you with food to address the fact that they’re denying you everything else.
You’re giving up a social life and working around the clock – but there’s a smorgasbord only steps away, and free cookies in the conference rooms! If it gets really late (which happens a lot), you can order anything you want – anything! – from the 75 take-out menus stuffed in your secretary’s desk drawer.
One late night at S&C, we decided to push the envelope. We all ordered take-out “surf-and-turf” platters. It was absurd – bleary-eyed associates tearing into steak and lobster tails with plastic forks and knives, sitting around a table cluttered with closing documents.
That was, admittedly, taking things to extremes. But eating at law firms is always something of a parody of a true dining experience. It amounts to exacting revenge for the fact of your presence there when you’d rather be somewhere else.
In my day, at least, the financial printers was the ultimate example of what we used to call “punitive billing.” They knew you resented spending your night in that place proofing offering documents, and the client was paying the bill. So they outfitted their proofing rooms like suites on a yacht, with menus elegantly bound between leather covers.
If you nodded in the direction of a printer employee at 1 am when he asked if he could get you anything, you’d probably end up with a $300 plate of sushi from the best joint in TriBeCa.
I know – it happened to me.
I stuffed myself until I felt ridiculous, then simply gave up. I hope somebody ate it.
Ultimately, lawyers eat their anger. They pig out at the client’s expense – or the law firm’s – because they hate the way they’re treated.
Ironically – and I know this because in the business world I dealt with outside counsel – clients resent how much their lawyers charge, and punish them by demanding insane deadlines and making them work nights and weekends.
The wheel of bad karma just keeps turning.
Born of that bad karma, the golden trough is filled with lame substitutes for the finer things in life – all the stuff you aren’t getting, like nights off to share with your family and friends.
If you stare into the golden trough long enough, you’ll fall in – and get fat. Then you’ll lose one of life’s truly fine luxuries – having a healthy, fit body you can feel proud of. That’s when the trough turns toxic.
I gained so much weight during my law firm years, I hardly recognized myself – and I wasn’t the only one. There were plenty of other pale, chubby lawyers with dandruff on their suits, who needed haircuts and generally didn’t seem to care what they looked like.
Let’s face it: your life is out of your control in most regards when you work at a big law firm. But they aren’t the one’s putting food in your mouth. You can wake up and address your anger consciously. Instead of stuffing yourself to take revenge on your oppressor, focus your anger on a more productive outlet.
Refuse the trough – and hit the gym.
In my final months at S&C, I stopped eating all that food just because it was there, weight-trained five days per week and lost 35 pounds.
Now, more than a decade later, I maintain the same regimen. If I feel weak, I remember that fat guy in the ill-fitting suit. Never again.
Don’t let them make you crazy – or fat. Refuse to be fed into submission. Turn your anger loose on the stairmaster. Picture the face of that smug partner as you pump out another rep.
They can keep you there all night, but they can’t turn you into a butterball. You can take your health, and your appearance back.
Nothing feels better than walking down the halls of a law firm feeling pumped and looking good. That partner can tear into your memo – but he’s a fat lump, and you’re looking gorgeous.
By all means, see a therapist, too. But endorphins are the best anti-depressant, and mind and body go together. Hiring a therapist is half the job. He’ll handle keeping your head in shape. But you also need a trainer, or an aerobics or yoga instructor or a sports coach – someone to work on the rest of your body.
Never say I should get healthy. Never say I need to get healthy. Never say I’ll definitely get healthy. (“Definitely” means “it’s never going to happen.”)
Say I want to get healthy.
To look good is to feel good.
[This piece is part of a series of columns created by The People’s Therapist in cooperation with AboveTheLaw.com. My thanks to ATL for their help with the creation of this series.]
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