Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for December, 2010

There comes a time in every big law firm lawyer’s career when things take a turn for the deeply serious. After two or three years, someone turns to you and says “okay – you own this,” and suddenly you’re no longer a glorified secretary or paralegal or guy/gal Friday – you’re an actual lawyer.

That’s when most biglaw attorneys think seriously about fleeing for their lives.

For me, the moment of truth arrived after a meeting near the top floor of the skyscraper at 70 Pine Street in Lower Manhattan, one of New York City’s iconic spires.

Nowadays we all know AIG as a smoking crater owned by the US government, but back then it felt pretty good to get waived past the guard in their Art Deco lobby and take the special elevator all the way up to the executive suite, stroll into the boardroom and help myself to a cheese danish.

My job that morning, as I understood it, was to play the part of a little second year along for the ride. I was accompanying an of-counsel from S&C, who actually knew what was going on. I worked hard to look the part, act serious and important and try my best to figure out what they were talking about.

The meeting lasted a couple hours – something to do with deciding on a structure for a deal involving the purchase and simultaneous sale of some smaller companies in the insurance business. The guy doing most of the talking was Howie Smith, AIG’s CFO. I smiled and played along.

Afterwards, we admired the view out the window – eighty-five floors up – traded gossip about Hank Greenberg’s palatial mansion, and chatted with Howie Smith’s son, Mikey, who was visiting the office and wanted to become a lawyer. Then we stepped back into the fancy elevator for the ride back down.

As the doors closed, I felt a chill. The of-counsel handed me a heap of papers.

“Okay, she snapped. “You own this deal.”

I gaped at her, uncomprehending. Didn’t she realize I was a mere child? A babe in the woods? Totally unprepared for such weighty responsibilities?

“Uh…really?” I sputtered.

She was already gazing at the flashing lights indicating descending floors, unaware of my existence.

That was that. I was screwed.

I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.

It’s one thing to be a first or even a second year corporate attorney. Pretty much anyone can handle setting up closing tables and “running changes” and setting up meetings and “taking a stab” at drafting this or that. But then someone turns to you in an Art Deco elevator and hands over the whole mess.

Generally speaking, that’s your clue to run for the hills.

I know – you still have loans, and each and every paycheck is one more step towards freedom, but let’s get serious – you either are one of those people who can turn into a biglaw senior associate, or god forbid, a partner – or you’re not. You can’t fake it – and someone in a position of power is going to figure it out eventually.

I don’t know what the precise equivalent of that elevator ride is for litigators. Maybe it’s “owning this deposition” or “owning this brief.” I honestly have no idea. But you’ll know it when you see it. Whatever it is, if you’re not really one of them, and you’ve been faking to get by – well, that’s your clue to hit the highway.

Of course, it’s always possible you are one of them.

I knew a guy at Sullivan & Cromwell, a few years ahead of me, who clearly fit the bill. After our first day working together, it was apparent I was in for hell, but when he didn’t seem to need me at 7:30 pm, I slipped out of the office and made it home. I was walking my dog in a mood of mournful introspection when the cell phone rang. An icy trickle of sarcasm leaked from the receiver.

Yep, it was him.

“Umm…Will? You comin’ back?”

“Right away.”

And back I went. We stayed up the entire night while he ran around like a speed freak, mumbling to himself and ordering me to alter documents, print them out and fax the whole mess to Bahrain, London, Beverly Hills, Budapest, Paramus, wherever.

This was a fourth year associate, “running his own deal.”

Nowadays this guy’s a partner, and from the reports I’ve received, even at S&C he’s considered a little nuts.

For me, it was that night – and the long unbroken chain of nights like it that followed – that drove home the reality I’d never be someone who “ran my own deals.”

To become a senior associate, you have to drink a fair amount of Kool-Aid. It means taking the plunge – going in deep, and actually assuming responsibility for very very serious things. You turn into the person who calls terrified first-years and sarcastically tells them to get their asses back in for another all-nighter. You become the person who curses everyone else for being useless and not working hard enough. You become the guy faxing side agreements to Bahrain at 5 a.m.

Eventually, if lightning strikes – at least in the old days when lightning still struck – you turn into the partner who terrorizes everyone around you. You enter the heart of the beast.

But that probably won’t happen.

(more…)

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

An interesting question that touches on some basic Freudian theory:

I’ve been reading your blog for the past few months and I really enjoy it. I hope you can help with this problem that has completely stumped me.

Eight years ago I left an abusive relationship.  In general things are much better now, I don’t have nightmares anymore, and it doesn’t generally affect me on a day to day basis. Or so I thought.

I have a deep hatred for one of my coworkers that I was never really able to explain.  It suddenly occurred to me that he reminds me of my abusive ex.  That is, he reminds me of the way my abusive ex appears when you first meet him.  Friendly but in a really jokey way, a little awkward, a little self involved.  They’re like twins, on the surface. I try to tell myself that this does not mean he’s like my ex once you really get to know him, but it doesn’t help. I hate him. And now that I’ve realized why I hate him I only hate him more.

What can I do about this? I’d like to stop hating him but if I can’t do that, how do I handle it?

Thank you for your help,

S

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!

Check out The People’s Therapist’s new book.

Read Full Post »

I uttered those words for the first time back in 2001, over lunch.

I wasn’t putting myself down; I was setting myself free. This was transgression – admitting the whole legal “thing” wasn’t for me.

It’s what you’re never supposed to say, because it opens you up for slaughter. It’s throwing down your weapon, taking off the armor and walking away from the fight.

Go ahead – tear into me. I double-dare you.

It was a weird lunch. I was sitting with another former associate from Sullivan & Cromwell. We weren’t friends. I actually sort of hated him. For two years he did his best to bad-mouth me and let everyone know he was a better lawyer.

Now he wanted to do lunch.

That’s because he’d been laid off (you know, the “bad review” routine.) I’d left S&C six months before and done the impossible – gotten a real job outside law, as a marketing exec.

He said he wanted to discuss “careers outside the law.” Yeah. As soon as we sat down he started shooting the shit about our law firm days.

No way.

I felt sorry for him. He had a fiance and was clearly a mess. But I wasn’t about to play along with that bullshit.

I knew what would get his attention. When he paused from the stream of false bonhomie to catch his breath, I seized the opportunity.

“I suck at law.”

This produced a deer in the headlights face. I went on.

“I never belonged at that place. Who was I kidding? You were twice the lawyer I was.”

From his expression, I’d morphed into a winged goat in a tutu.

First rule at a law firm: Never admit vulnerability. Second rule: Conform. Third rule: Compete.

It felt like an accusation. I meant it that way. You were much more lawyer-ey than me. No, really. I insist. You were far and away the better lawyer. You are law, dude. You much much law. Me no law.

Me free.

No one gave a shit at my new job if I was a good lawyer. That’s because I wasn’t a lawyer.

I wanted to shout it from the rooftops. Rent a skywriter. Hire a blimp.

From the outside I look like a pretty good lawyer. Top 20% at NYU. Article in a journal. Sullivan & Cromwell.

Yeah, well I’m not. I suck at law.

Sorry.

I’m good at school, and law school is school. That doesn’t make me a lawyer.

Here are the facts:

I ignore details. I hate small print.

I’m not a “team player.” I hate working on stuff with other people.

Money and power bore me. Give me music, books and art.

I’m not confrontational. Put me in a room and we’ll all start getting along.

I can’t do all-nighters. At 10 pm I go to sleep.

Nothing is more boring than the Supreme Court. They mostly (5-4) hate gay people. I mostly (5-4) hate them.

Litigation terrifies me. It’s complicated and scary. Threaten to sue me, and you win. That’s it. Take whatever you want and go away.

I suck at law.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

This month on “The Alternative” with Terry LeGrand, we talked about staying conscious of the real impact of alcohol on our lives – especially at New Year’s Eve.

You can listen to the show here.  My segment starts about ten 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.  And be sure to check out Terry’s new show “Journey to Recovery” which deals specifically with substance abuse and recovery issues.

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

Thanks, Terry!  See you next month.

==========

Check out The People’s Therapist’s new book:  “Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy

Read Full Post »

One of my patients gets together sometimes for lunch with his ex.  It’s always awkward, he says, and a bit melancholy, but there’s something nice about it, too, and so it’s become a ritual.

This time she brought a piece of news – she’d met someone, and was getting married.

He was happy for her.  He knew that.  They’d been broken up for years, and were never really right together.  They’d dated for about seven months – she was the first person he’d seen after his wife died in a car accident.  Even when they were dating, he’d realized  she was probably too young for him and they had different interests and maybe he wasn’t ready and…well, it never really worked.

Yet, somehow, this news still hurt.

On the way home from the lunch he asked himself – Why?  Why does this hurt?

And then it came to him.

He pulled out his cellphone.

She was at her office, and seemed surprised.  He spoke to her frankly.

Listen,” he said. “I’m truly happy for you.  I mean that.”

“But…” she said, prompting him.

“But,” he hesitated.  “This sounds nuts, because we’re not together anymore, and we don’t want to be together anymore…but…I guess I just want to know I’m still your guy.”

He felt a little ridiculous, and wondered if she was going to hang up – but she didn’t.

“Oh, honey,” she said.  “Don’t worry.  You’re still my guy.  You’ll always be my guy.  That will never change.”

He felt tears welling up, and all he could think of to say was,”thanks.  I love you.”  And that was the call.

Now, in his session with me, he said he felt a little shaky, but okay.  It was as if she’d lifted a weight off his shoulders.  Their connection, whatever you wanted to call it, was still there after all this time.  Whatever she meant to him – and whatever he meant to her, still mattered.

Break ups are tough.  They are necessary sometimes, but they can leave you with a certain melancholy, an ambivalence.  There is always unfinished business in a relationship even when it’s run its course.

That was especially true for this guy because he’d lost his first wife suddenly, after only three years together.

“After my wife died,” he told me, “I vowed I’d never take for granted that I could talk to anyone whenever I wanted.  Of course, I’d give anything to talk to her again, but she’s not there.  So I talk things over with her in my mind – that’s all I’ve got.”

There are no easy answers when it comes to interacting with ex’s.  The relationship has run its course, and you both have a right to move on. Strong feelings may linger, and you might have to give each other some space.

That doesn’t mean you can’t be gentle.  Your ex is a person with whom you’ve invested a chunk of time – a person you have loved, who has loved you, and made you special in his life.  Some vestige of that bond is worth preserving, if you possibly can.

Of course, it’s toughest if the feelings remain strong.

One of my patients ran into her ex recently at a social function.  He told her he missed her, and she was surprised, when she looked in his eyes, to see an imploring look.  He meant it.  She knew, without asking, that he wanted to get back together, to give it another try.  But that was impossible.

It wasn’t that part of her didn’t want the same thing.  He was the one who had wanted to break up all those years ago, and she knew this was some kind of redemption – a chance to make him happy, and get that wish she’d clung to for so long.

But their time together was years ago – and she’d moved on.  She was in a new relationship.

She felt torn in two – one half in the past, wanting to give it another chance.  The other in the present, knowing it would never work.

And all along she was wondering if it was entirely in her head.  Maybe she was just reading something into his words, and his facial expression, that wasn’t there.

So they chatted about nothing, and then her ex turned to leave.  Nothing much was said.

She felt an ache for days afterward.

The next day she took out some old photos from their time together, and had a good cry.

She’d probably run into him again, one of these days.  And maybe he’ll have moved on, and maybe he’ll be in another relationship too, by then.

But there would still be that ache.

That’s the gift we receive for taking the risk of loving someone else.

Maybe he just wanted to know he was still her guy.

—————

Check out The People’s Therapist’s new book, “Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy

Read Full Post »

My client was a hard-boiled commercial litigator, a junior partner. “When you want a street fight, call me in,” was one of her mottos. She won cases. She made a lot of money. She kicked ass.

She was having issues with a second year associate.

At first, they got along. The associate was bright, and wanted to impress. The problem was deeper. As the partner put it bluntly: “She just isn’t cut out for this place.”

Yeah. That old line. But now I was sitting with the partner who was saying it, nodding my head in agreement.

Here was the situation:

The associate grew up working class – a smart big fish in a small pond. She expected to compete and win, like she always had. Her aim at the firm was to show everyone she was the smartest one there. So she worked endless hours, volunteered advice before she was asked, and chatted about French films at lunch.

The partner hated her. It felt like a competition instead of a working relationship. She complained the associate didn’t “understand her place in the pecking order” and failed to show respect by deferring to the partner’s experience. A street fighter didn’t waste time competing with a kid to write an erudite brief – she could mop the floor with her in a courtroom.

Things came to a head when the partner reviewed a document with obvious typos and sent an email to the associate, saying – hey, did anyone check this thing before it went out?

She got back a half dozen outraged paragraphs: The partner never appreciated the associate’s work or the long hours she was putting in; she was arrogant and inconsiderate; she had no idea how to manage others; she didn’t know as much law as she thought. It concluded with a threat: if the partner didn’t want to work with her, she’d be happy to work with someone else.

The partner wasn’t sure what to do. The email was inappropriate and if anyone else saw it, would go over (as they say in Mississippi) like a fart in church. This wasn’t how things were done. Not at her firm.

The partner asked me what I thought.

The best plan seemed to be a gentle but firm nudge. Remind the associate she’d done good work, and that her abilities and dedication were appreciated, but make it clear the email was inappropriate. We talked over various approaches, and what needed to be said.

The partner kept reminding me it didn’t matter how many hours you worked, if you were sending stuff out to clients with obvious typos. She had a point. The associate needed to understand that wasn’t acceptable. The big message, in her mind, was make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Something else itched at her, too – the associate needed to stop taking this kind of thing personally – to buck up, and get on with the job.

Even as we talked over the partner’s response, I realized there was a bigger problem: these two people don’t like one another, and that associate doesn’t belong at that firm.

I know my client – we’ve worked together for months. I understand her side of things. But I see a lot of myself in the associate, too, and her predicament feels all too familiar.

Sometimes I feel like I’m standing in the middle, seeing both sides.

The partner is a pro. She grew up with a father who was a wealthy Big Law managing partner, and she thrives on the slightly frat boy-ish, hazing aspect of the commercial litigation world. She suffered through being a junior associate herself, but caught another partner’s eye early on, and earned her stripes. In her view, if you don’t like going for the jugular – a good dirty brawl – then you don’t belong there. The firm is a club, and she’s in that club, and she likes it that way.

Is she perfectly happy in her career? No. The grueling hours mean her personal life is, as she puts it, “a work in progress.” That mostly translates into abortive flings with other attorneys (some at her firm) and drunken hook-ups she typically regrets. She isn’t thrilled about being single, has mostly given up on kids and isn’t even sure she wants a family. But she loves her work, and if she has to spend too much time at a job, this is where she wants to do it. She has her Upper West Side two-bedroom, and her cat, and she takes nice vacations – active stuff, like skiing or horseback riding with tour groups of other wealthy, single women. She dotes on her nieces.

I never met the associate, but I could fill in the blanks from what the partner told me. She lives with her unemployed PhD boyfriend in a tiny apartment in Brooklyn, and is carrying both their school loans. He seems resentful that she’s never around, and they hardly ever have sex anymore. She hates the firm, but has no choice since jobs are hard to come by and they both have debt. She tells herself she has to succeed at this job, and she does everything they ask, including putting in brutal hours – but nothing seems to work. She does a lot that’s right, and never hears a kind word – but if she makes a stupid mistake from sheer exhaustion, she never hears the end of it. Lately, after arriving home at 11 pm feeling like a zombie, she wonders if she can force herself to return the next morning for another round of abuse.

(more…)

Read Full Post »