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Archive for May, 2012

Remember Green Acres, that fish-out-of-water comedy wherein Eddie Albert drags Eva Gabor out to live on some tumbledown farm in the middle of nowhere? She’s a Park Avenue socialite, but he’s the husband and the penis-haver and it’s the 1960’s – so what he says, goes. If he’s jonesing for fresh air and farm living, she has no choice.

I don’t remember much more than the theme song and opening credits, but the concept – giving it all up, packing your bags and fleeing for the sticks, spouse (and maybe kids) in hand – resonates with my lawyer clients. Some are beginning to sound like aspiring Eddie Alberts.

I’d like to say there’s a great lawyer return to the land on the way – driven by a love for nature and the outdoors. To some extent that’s true. But mostly, it’s a product of desperation. The big themes are escaping biglaw misery, seeking adventure, looking for a healthier lifestyle… and fleeing school loans.
One client’s story weaves these themes into a magical tapestry of personal growth, spiritual awakening and debt avoidance.

He was suffering modestly at a big law firm in L.A. Then he got posted to an office in Asia, where he happened to speak the language. There he discovered how bad bad can be. The US office dished out standard-issue biglaw brutality. Nothing could have prepared him for the Asia office. The cruelties committed by the local staff and attorneys would make Hieronymus Bosch wince. In their laser-beam-like focus on punishing my client for speaking their language and attempting to work in their homeland, they achieved new plateaux of sadism on a weekly basis. He developed insomnia, migraines, then panic attacks – and was fired a year later, without comment.

That’s when the Green Acres theme began playing in his head.

I’m not sure where he got the idea, but for whatever reason, he bought a 500 square foot cabin in the middle of nowhere, snug against the 49th parallel. Then he wrote a blog about woodcarving. And that’s about all he did – that, and shovel snow.

Ten months later he remembered the $150k he owed in school loans and back taxes from his Asian debacle, packed his bags and caught a ride to New York City – and doc review. Foreign language doc review pays better than regular doc review, but it’s still doc review. Working with the burnt-out remnants of lawyers is refreshing after working with actual lawyers – and at first it was amusing to get paid to peruse an Asian businessman’s emails to his mistress, then click “relevant” “incriminating” and “privileged.” But even assuming steady work, he didn’t see how he could pay off his loans within a decade.

His solution? Hitch a ride back to The Great White North – and his rustic cabin. There, he could find public defender work in the local courthouse – and wait tables. He calculated that $30k per year would be enough to cover food and fuel – but insufficient to attract the attention of his creditors. Not even a bank addicted to the lifeblood of youth can squeeze that blood from a stone. In his free time – which is most of the time, at this point – he wood-carves. For whatever reason, he finds that more exciting than doc review.

Voila. All you weeping, tooth-gnashing, garment-rending lawyers out there who constantly ask me – what can I do now? Here’s a solution. Green Acres is the place to be!

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When I launched The People’s Therapist, my intent was to get stuff off my chest – process a smidgen of psychic trauma. I’d write a column or two, exorcise the odd demon, piss off Sullivan & Cromwell and call it a day.

It never occurred to me I’d be deluged with lawyers as clients.

It never, ever occurred to me I’d be deluged with partners as clients.

It never so much as crossed my mind they’d be so unhappy.

It turns out being a partner can be…not all that. For many of my clients, the job boils down to evil middle management.

Permit me to explain.

Biglaw associates resemble the low-level evil henchman in James Bond movies – those omnipresent guys in jumpsuits who all look the same and do what they’re told. They drive around evil headquarters in little golf carts, manipulate dials in the control room, shoot at James Bond (always missing) – then get shot themselves. Presumably – like biglaw associates – they’re mostly in it for the money, rather than a genuine penchant for evil.

I felt like an impostor at S&C – only pretending to be a genuine low-level evil henchman. I was more like James Bond after he bonks the real low-level evil henchman on the head, then reemerges strolling through evil headquarters sporting that guy’s jumpsuit.

I was an impostor – trying to look like I drank the Kool-Aid, going through the motions. I wasn’t even a clandestine agent, battling evil, like 007. The plan to blow up the moon wasn’t my problem. I just wanted a way out of that crummy job – one not involving a fatal dunk in the evil piranha tank. Somewhere in that evil-lair-secreted-in-a-hollowed-out-volcano there had to be a door marked exit.

Most of the partners I work with are looking for the same thing. The difference is, as a partner, you’re not an impostor pretending to be a low-level evil henchman – you’re an impostor pretending to be evil middle management.

“Preposterous!” you sputter, outraged. “Partners never condescend to be middle anything! They crouch, smugly, at the pinnacle of the evil pyramid! With one wiggle of their evil little finger…they manipulate human life!”

It can look that way from the bottom rung, whence a partner appears as far removed from a low-level evil henchman as a junior associate from a positive bank balance.

From the vantage of the pyramid’s sub-sub-basement, all partners appear interchangeable – the unifying feature being their utter dissimilarity from anyone like you. A partner’s one of them – evil incarnate, possessing his own evil headquarters – his own creepy evil white cat (for stroking purposes) – and his own weird evil European accent (with which to mutter, “Come now, Mr. Bond…”) A partner doesn’t have to drink the Kool-Aid – an iv bag of the stuff dangles by his bedside.

If only that were true. After getting all up-close and personal with a bevy of partners, I’ve caught wind of a terrifying reality: All partners are not the same. Most are nothing more than evil middle managers.

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