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Archive for June, 2011

LGBT people confront widespread hatred, yet each year take new strides towards equality. What’s the secret?

“Straight allies” – a concept every lawyer needs to understand.

As an LGBT person, you face a stark reality – there aren’t many of us. It might not seem like it, but we’re a tiny minority. And it’s a myth we recruit straight people to be gay – we would, but it’s impossible.

“Straight allies” are the folks who aren’t LGBT but – because they’re caring, patient, loving, open-minded and plain decent – they help LGBT people persevere in the struggle for equal rights.

What’s this got to do with lawyers?

You need some allies, too – allies who aren’t lawyers. It’s key to your survival.

Look around – all you see, probably, is lawyers – lawyers and more lawyers. That’s because you spend 90% of your waking hours at a law firm, where that’s all there is to see.

At some point in your day, or your week, or maybe your month, you’re going to have to see someone who isn’t a lawyer. And that person is going to have to put up with you. It may be your spouse, your romantic interest, your buddy from college or a member of your family.

That’s your non-lawyer ally. And you know deep in your heart it’s not a fun job. Whoever he is, he’s putting up with a lot – helping you keep it together.

One of my clients complained to me that he regrets coming back from work every night and grumping at his wife. I reminded him she might not be savoring the experience either. But it went further than that. The following week she blew up at him and gave him an earful of what being a non-lawyer ally is like.

Based on that earful – and other earfuls like it – here are a few tips for getting along with your non-lawyer allies:

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My client’s concise estimate of her second year at a big law firm:

“Meh.”

For months, the “career” consisted of 1/3 idleness, 1/3 word-processing, and 1/3 pointless research. That morphed over time into “managing” doc review, which morphed into doing doc review, which translated into odious hours staring at odious documents on a computer and clicking “responsive/relevant” “privileged” or some euphemism for “embarrassing.” According to rumors at her firm, there’s juicy stuff squirreled away in electronic nooks and crannies – most notoriously, emails from execs hiring hookers. To date, my client’s experience of “doing doc review” has matched the edge of your seat excitement of watching drywall compound discharge moisture.

“There are days I want to scream, ‘Who are we fooling?!’” she remonstrated. (Granted, there wasn’t much use remonstrating with me, since I’m her therapist.  Sometimes you just need to remonstrate – to demonstrate you can remonstrate.) “This isn’t a career – it isn’t even a job. It’s a joke. Every day I think about quitting.”

But she doesn’t.

Why?

The $160k per year.

Money changes things. Especially when your school loans top $200k.

Another client, from a while back – an NYU undergrad – was introduced to an older gentleman at a gay bar. This éminence grise offered a proposition. A partner at a major law firm, he possessed quantities of money, and an apartment on Park Avenue. They devised an arrangement. Each week, my client would ride the subway up to Park Avenue, undress in this guy’s living room, and, then… ahem …“stimulate himself to climax”…in the presence of said partner.

Why?

$400 in cash. Usually with a nice tip.

If the partner called, he showed up, no questions asked. You could say there was something in this arrangement that piqued my client’s entrepreneurial spirit. Or you could say it paid the rent.

Did he feel like a prostitute?

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My client wasn’t getting enough sleep. I assumed it was insomnia, but that didn’t fit the bill. It wasn’t that she couldn’t sleep – it was that she wouldn’t sleep. She was staying up from 11 pm to 2 am, lying in bed – mostly, playing Angry Birds.

Those few hours were the only time she was left alone all day – no one from the firm called to assign her something awful to do or yell at her for something awful she’d done. To relinquish this sliver of “me time” – even for sleep – was out of the question.

Morning to night, she spent at the firm. Weekends didn’t exist, in any meaningful sense – they were workdays. Laundry went undone, as did other stuff, like getting her driver’s license renewed or her taxes filed. The only hours devoted to anything for herself were stolen from her sleep schedule, and spent slingshotting daredevil birds at sneering pigs (that’s an Angry Birds reference.)

She needed to vegetate. You need to vegetate, too. There’s only so much work anyone can do. That’s why you find yourself playing video games at 2 am instead of sleeping. You need to play and you need to sleep. You need both.

A medical resident told me law sounded worse than medicine. At least with medicine when you’re on-call, you’re on-call, and when you’re not, you’re not. With law, you’re always on call. Just because you’re asleep in bed doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be working.

Another lawyer client crawled home from the office recently after midnight, only to be awakened at 3 am by the alarm on her Blackberry. She turned it off, but noticed an email from a senior associate, still at his desk. She glanced at the email, but decided to ignore it – nothing critical – and deal with him in the morning.

She forgot his account was set up so he could see she’d opened the email.

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There’s slow at the office. Then there’s moribund. Like, stick a fork in it, parrot in the Monty Python skit, no longer viable, kaput, over and out, flat-lining…dead dead dead.

Like you haven’t recorded a billable hour in weeks. Like you show up at 10:30 am, slide your Kindle under your computer monitor and try to look busy while you read John LeCarre novels. Then leave at 6 pm – or whenever the coast is clear and you think you can get away with it.

We all know having nothing to do at a big law firm is better than being busy. Being busy is really, really bad.

When you’re really busy, you know you will have to quit soon because you can’t bear it, and when the loans get sufficiently below $100k that will be your cue to say fuck it, I need out.

But when you’re totally dead at the office, you think…hmmm…might as well wait on the bailing out and keep those delightful loan-reducing paychecks coming in, right?

No one ever leaves because it’s too slow. You wait it out. Pay off loans. And wait. And do nothing. And wonder if the partners are noticing – or whether they somehow don’t realize you haven’t billed an hour since 1971.

One of my clients was deep in a Kurt Vonnegut novel when a partner dropped by his office.

“Your billables are a little low this month,” the partner intoned.

My client threw on his “sincere face” – a complex intermingling of dignified concern at the immediate reality presented to him in the here and now and a more generalized melancholy at the state of the world as a whole, with emphasis on the wider suffering that exists everywhere – suffering he himself is helpless to address.

“Yes, it has been a bit quiet. I’m doing what I can to make myself helpful wherever I can, but…” He let his voice trail off, helpfully.

The partner frowned, apparently in deep thought.

“I’ll let the Banking Group know. They’ll be contacting you.”

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