My client’s concise estimate of her second year at a big law firm:
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.
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.
$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?
If you work at a large law firm, are you in any position to ask that question?
As The People’s Therapist, I’ve worked with people from all backgrounds and income levels. Yes, I’ve worked with folks who do sex work – from a woman who monetized the use of her feet for fetish parties, to a dominatrix who did quite well, thank you, spanking older, prosperous suburban gents, to a woman who danced go-go and worked a pole to earn a little cash – to the NYU student who “self-pleasured” in the company of that law partner.
Their response, for the most part, was “meh.” It’s a job. You show up, do whatever they want you to do – so long as it doesn’t violate your comfort zone – and get paid.
Karl Marx compared the bourgeois European wife of his time to a prostitute, because she was exploited as a means of production. She effectively traded her sexual, child-bearing and child-raising services for money, and was exploited by the capitalist as assuredly as one of his workers – or a prostitute.
Many of my big firm lawyer clients aren’t sure what they’re doing at the office or why they’re doing it. You keep showing up in the morning and keep leaving at night. Sometimes you aren’t doing much of anything. Other times you’re slaving away at a task you half-understand. People keep smiling and saying hello when they pass you in the hall – and that paycheck, the point of the exercise, keeps getting deposited in your bank account. As long as the firm keeps paying – heck, you’ll make phone calls, chase down research, prepare a closing table, do doc review…or whip quivering buttocks, dance on a pole, or murmur gentle exhortations while your toes are licked. What’s the difference? Who cares?
It does raise an issue: Are there lawyers who aren’t prostitutes?
I never shook off a strong regret surrounding my legal career – that I never learned how to practice law. You know – real law. Like when your friend calls because his cousin got arrested for a DUI. I have no idea what to do with a DUI. I wasn’t even a litigator – I was on the corporate side. I wouldn’t know where to start.
Here are some other things I know next to nothing about, other than in some vague, theoretical bar exam sense:
How to file for divorce.
How to close on a house.
How to write a will.
How to handle the legal necessities of a small business.
At this point, if a friend rang up with any legal question short of how to prepare for the closing of a multi-million dollar merger – or proof a securities offering – my advice would be useless.
There are lawyers out there who are not proletarian sex workers, right? Lawyers not owned by the capitalists. Lawyers who possess the means of production (as Uncle Karl would say.) Lawyers who crawl out of bondage and ascend to the petite bourgeoisie. Lawyers who “hang a shingle” and do real law. Lawyers who work for themselves.
They probably don’t earn much, and face their own struggles. But how glorious it seems! Close your eyes and dream for a moment of holding sole proprietorship of your own outfit, dictating hours, locating clients and cultivating relationships – not meeting a client once at a closing, but knowing that person, as a person, for real, from the start.
No more meaningless human resource fluff about “associate development” and “diversity.” You look in the mirror and ask yourself how you did today. No more “pulled into a deal.” You eat lunch with a human being and figure out what he needs, then you do it.
I have no idea if this is a Normal Rockwell fantasy hatched by my unconscious. Maybe the last lawyer to operate on those rules was Abraham Lincoln. The reality of working as a solo practitioner could be as exciting and profitable as waiting tables.
But it would be nice, at some level, to know practicing law isn’t simply about coming when some oddball partner with an exotic fetish happens to ring you up.
This piece is part of a series of columns presented by The People’s Therapist in cooperation with AboveTheLaw.com. My thanks to ATL for their help with the creation of this series.
If you enjoy these columns, please check out The People’s Therapist’s new book, Way Worse Than Being A Dentist: The Lawyer’s Quest for Meaning
I also heartily recommend my first book, an introduction to the concepts behind psychotherapy, Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy
(Both books are also available on bn.com and the Apple iBookstore.)