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Archive for November, 2010

You can order it on Amazon.  It’s also available on bn.com.

Drop by my office and I’ll sell you one in person, signed and personalized.

You can even purchase it as an ebook for the Kindle or the Nook or iPad .

Thank you, everyone, for your support of this project.

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There comes a time as a lawyer when you split in two – an angel and a devil.

The angel wants to do well – as I never tire of explaining, lawyers are pleasers. You want to make partner, earn a million bucks and be the best attorney in the world. To the angel, the firm is like your high school football team – go Skadden! Rah rah rah!!

The devil, on the other hand, would burn the place to the ground while he toasted marshmallows and sang campfire songs.

The irony is that it’s the law firm itself that turns little angels into devils – just by telling you that’s who you are.

A junior partner at a big firm told me how they did it to him. Two senior partners marched into his office and announced he was slacking off and taking advantage of the firm. It was a mistake, they told him, to make him partner.

In reality, this guy was a pleaser’s pleaser. He worked his ass off to make partner, and talked in all sincerity about his “gratitude to the firm for that honor.” He was as rah-rah as it got.

Unfortunately, none of that meant anything, because the economy sucked, and he wasn’t bringing in billables. According to firm logic, that meant he wasn’t trying, he didn’t care – he was a bad guy.

By the end of his grilling, all he wanted to do was slack off and go home.

They’d done it – turned an angel into the freeloading devil they told him he was.

A few weeks later, he’s still having trouble finding his groove, and feels tempted to fudge his hours, pad his expenses, and kick off early. It seems reasonable, all of a sudden, to glance at a document and hand it off to an associate to review instead of staying that extra couple hours at the office.

There are few things quite as frustrating as having someone question whether you are acting in good faith. It’s like one of those Hitchcock movies where they collar the wrong guy for a crime he didn’t commit and no one believes him when he insists he’s innocent.

Law firms do it all the time.

At Sullivan & Cromwell, it got to feeling like a roller coaster. I arrived at the firm fresh-faced and innocent, totally committed to doing my best. I know how absurdly naïve it sounds now, but I really did think I had a chance of making partner.

You couldn’t get more angel than me. I spent three years earning A’s in law school, pleasing professors, drinking the Kool-Aid, writing a journal article, drinking more Kool-Aid, talking about my commitment to “the profession” – all the while whipping up molten Kool-Aid gateau served with mint-rosemary Kool-Aid coulis.

Come to think of it, maybe that’s why I’m so bitter now – why lawyers are all bitter – because we bought in utterly at the start of things. We really were angels.

It’s a long, hard fall to the shadowland of Hades.

My expectations for Sullivan & Cromwell were ridiculous, in retrospect. I perceived the partners to be wise, caring mentors who would guide me to “excellence.” I bragged to everyone I met about where I worked, employing words like “collegial” to describe my vision of the firm. No kidding – “collegial.”

My plunge to the land of shadows only truly arrived when they ignored all that and accused me of being a slacker. It was their telling me I didn’t take my work seriously that somehow made it a reality.

There’s something about working your ass off only to be told you’re a slacker that actually turns you into a slacker. Suddenly padding your hours and avoiding work become the prime objective. Let the other little junior – Mr. Eagerness – handle things for a change.

A few days later, I’d snap out of it and remember why I was at S&C. It was the best, most prestigious law firm in the world! I wanted to make partner! I was going to make them happy, do my absolute best, and be a success!

Then I’d get stomped on by some senior associate telling me I didn’t even seem to care…and the process would begin again.

At some point, you go numb. (Even lawyers have their limits.)

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This month on “The Alternative” with Terry LeGrand, we talked about surviving the holiday season as an LGBT person, especially if you’re feeling alone and maybe a little blue.

You can listen to the show here.  My segment starts about eleven minutes in, but as always, it’s worth sticking around for the whole show.

To find out more about Terry and “The Alternative” on LA Talk Radio, check out Terry’s website and the show’s website.

If you enjoy his show, you can become a Terry LeGrand “fan” on Facebook here.

Thanks, Terry!  See you next month.

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Here’s an interesting letter that arrived unsigned:

I need help addressing a situation with a friend.

About 8 years ago, her dad passed away suddenly, and she continues to miss and mourn her dad.  We’ve been friends for about 6 years and for as long as I’ve known her, she’s always been… down.  There are parts that are more obvious or easier for me to understand — for example, she gets very sad around Father’s Day and her dad’s birthday.

Then there are parts that are just what I’ve experienced as her general outlook on life.  She always finds something to be sad about.  For example, she had complained about her job and coworkers and the long commute that was a strain on her social life.  Then she applied to and got a new job that will shrink her commute from 2 hours to 20 minutes each way.  I was so excited for her and called to congratulate her.  But she had already switched gears.  She spoke about how she’ll miss her coworkers and the familiarity of her old job, and how the new job has a more formal dress code.

That’s just an example.  And I’m finding it increasingly difficult to interact with her without being affected (or angered or frustrated) by her pessimistic outlook, which she sometimes applies to good news that I share.  I’ve suspected that her father’s death underlies her melancholy and have suggested several times that she seeks counseling, but she’s dismissed that suggestion.

Her down-ness has made me less inclined to talk with her.  She expresses a lot of appreciation for my friendship and often tells me that I lift her spirits and am a ray of sunshine to her.  But I don’t think she knows how much effort it takes, or how she’s often like a gray cloud to me.  How do I express this to her in a way that won’t make her more sad or down?  Should I?

Thanks.

And here’s my answer:

To submit a question to Ask The People’s Therapist, please email it as text or a video to: wmeyerhofer@aquietroom.com

If I answer your question on the site, you’ll win a free session of psychotherapy with The People’s Therapist!

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For the record, a law degree is not “versatile.” Being a lawyer amounts to a strike against you if you ever decide to pursue another career.

So why do people keep insisting it’s an “extremely versatile degree”?

A bunch of reasons.

Law schools are in it for the money. Teaching law doesn’t cost much, but they charge a fortune – made possible by not-dischargable-in-bankruptcy loans. That makes each law school a massive cash cow for the rest of the university. Money flowing from the law school pays the heating bill for the not-so-profitable Department of Neo-Structuralist Linguistics.

Law students play along with the “extremely versatile degree” farce to justify the three years of their life and the ungodly pile of cash they’re blowing on a degree they’re not interested in and know nothing about. This myth is also intended to calm down parents. You need a story to explain why you don’t have a job, but that it’s somehow okay.

No one else cares. And that’s chiefly why this old canard still has some life left in it.

Time to put it out of its misery.

Why is a law degree not versatile?

Let me count the ways.

For one thing, it costs about $180k. Anything that leaves you two hundred grand in a hole is not increasing your “versatility” – it’s trapping you in hell.

For another thing, studying arcane legal doctrine for three years (a purely arbitrary number) leaves you with no translatable skills. The arcane legal doctrine you learn in law school isn’t even useful at a law firm, let alone anywhere else.

And let’s talk about the “skills” a lawyer “hones” in his “profession.”

A litigator is about the worst thing you can be if you want to do anything else. Why? Let’s examine the skills you “master” as a litigator.

Pumping up billables. Dragging out discovery. Dreaming up and laboriously penning pointless motions to create delay. Behaving in an oddly aggressive and hostile manner at meetings that end in a standstill. Organizing complicated information into folders, and folders of folders and labeling everything and organizing that into lists, and lists of lists, then billing for it by the hour. Researching recondite issues and writing memos you’re not even sure you understand. Wrapping your head around Byzantine procedural rules and forum and jurisdictional niceties and arbitrary court filing deadlines, all so you can trip up the other side with needless delay and expense.

Okay. Now translate those skills into the real world, where people make products and sell useful services.

See my point?

If you’re on the corporate side, at least you get to watch business people do their thing before you spend the night typing it up. That’s why corporate partners are considered more valuable at firms when it comes time to recruit. Corporate guys hang out with business people, so they bring a “book of business” (i.e., customers) with them. A litigator doesn’t even have clients, just cases, which might (God forbid) end some day. A litigation partner without a live case is dead wood awaiting pruning. Sorry.

Of course, the actual “stuff” of corporate law could drive you mad. Studying securities law is like learning the rules to the most boring, complicated board game ever invented. All you want to do is quit playing and go home.

But there’s a bigger, broader problem with switching careers when you have the letters JD after your name: people hate lawyers.

Why do they hate lawyers? A bunch of reasons.

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This week on a special Halloween edition of “The Alternative” with Terry LeGrand, we talked about kinky sex, and how your therapist has to be able to accept your tastes in bed, if you’re going to work successfully together.

You can listen to the show here.  My segment starts about eleven minutes in, but as always, it’s worth sticking around for the whole show.

To find out more about Terry and “The Alternative” on LA Talk Radio, check out Terry’s website and the show’s website.

If you enjoy his show, you can become a Terry LeGrand “fan” on Facebook here.

Thanks, Terry!  See you next month.

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Balancing law and anything else

I took part in a “spirited conversation” about working in the law last week on an ABA podcast.

You can listen to it here.  I come into the conversation after about 9 minutes.

The official discussion topic was “work/life balance”…but given the current situation for most attorneys, I found myself “expanding” the topic a bit to deal with the reality of law firm hell.

Anyway – I hope you’ll give it a listen.

My thanks to the ABA Journal, and to our moderator, Stephanie Francis Ward, for setting up this podcast and inviting me to participate.

Here are the folks who were on the podcast.

Guests:

Stephanie Kimbro Stephanie Kimbro, MA, JD, has operated a Web-based virtual law office in North Carolina since 2006 and delivers estate planning and small-business law to clients online. She is the recipient of the 2009 ABA Keane Award for Excellence in eLawyering and the author of Virtual Law Practice: How to Deliver Legal Services Online, ABA/LPM publishing 2010. In addition to her law practice and writing, she is the proud and busy mother of two young children.
Will Meyerhofer Will Meyerhofer, JD, LMSW, is a psychotherapist in private practice in New York City. He holds degrees from Harvard, New York University School of Law and The Hunter College School of Social Work. Meyerhofer is a licensed and registered master of social work in New York state. His private practice website is A Quiet Room. He is the author of a blog, The People’s Therapist, reflecting a psychotherapist’s take on the world around us, and he writes a weekly column, “In-house Counseling” for the blog Above the Law. His new book, Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy, will be available this month.
Jacquelyn Slotkin Jacquelyn Slotkin is professor of law and director of the LLM program for foreign lawyers at California Western School of Law. She is a former legal research and writing professor and the legal skills program director at California Western. Before returning to teaching 23 years ago, Slotkin spent five years in private practice. She has studied women since the 1970s beginning with her doctoral research on role conflict among college-educated women. Her first book, It’s Harder in Heels: Essays by Women Lawyers Achieving Work-Life Balance, written and edited with her lawyer-daughter, was published in late 2007. Their second book, Sharing the Pants: Essays on Work-Life Balance by Men Married to Lawyers was published in December 2009.
Joan C. Williams Joan C. Williams is a professor at University of California Hastings College of the Law, in San Francisco. A large part of her research focuses on gender, class, and work-family issues. She’s also founding director of the Center for WorkLife Law and is the co-founder of the center’s Project for Attorney Retention.

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