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Archive for January, 2016

enhanced-buzz-13963-1374365048-27This one really happened – and it happened to yours truly (as opposed to the usual disguised anecdote loosely based on a factually altered tale from one or more carefully anonymized clients.)

One night, (or morning, or sometime between night and morning, since we were working an all-nighter) shortly after my arrival at Sullivan & Cromwell, a fairly senior partner at the firm took a moment to lean back in his desk chair and impart the following to little junior associate moi:

“You hang on by your fingertips, kid.” He raised his hands and bent his fingers, as if to demonstrate. “Till it starts to seem normal. Just dangle there and wonder how long you can last – or what happens if you let go.”

Apparently that was all he had to relate on the topic, as he snapped back to focus on reviewing a purchase agreement. I recall wondering if he, after (presumably) a zillion sleepless nights just like this one, felt as bleary-eyed, sweaty and slightly sick to his stomach as I did. I’ll never know the answer to that question. Maybe partners don’t need sleep – maybe that’s their secret.

I also recall wondering if this guy was exaggerating with that whole “dangling by your fingers” routine to impress me – or if he was a little bonkers. In retrospect I think he simply meant it.

Working in biglaw is a straight-forward exercise: You’re paid a lot of money to sit at a desk and work long hours. Someone provides the work, and you do it. That typically means arriving at around 10 am, working on something complicated, with a short break (maybe) for lunch, and then (maybe) for dinner, until about 10 or 11 pm, every day. You also sometimes work all night and sometimes weekends and sometimes all night on weekends.

To review: You arrive in the morning, you sit at a desk, you work until late night. Then you do it again the next day.

An additional factor is that the work is hard. Not rocket science hard, but not stuffing cotton into little bottles either. Initially, there’s a lot of “running changes,” “creating a chart,” “putting it into a table,” “checking cites,” and that sort of thing. Even that stuff can freak you out when nothing you give them is ever what they want and they keep handing you more. “Firm culture” can take getting used to, as well. A junior associate client of mine closed her office door one night, as was her habit, so she could break down and have a good cry, only to realize (through the paper thin walls) that someone else was also weeping, in the office next door. There’s nothing like feeling part of a team.

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IMG_7201If, like everyone else, you’re an obsessive fan of the legendary underground humor magazine, Hausfrau, then you were perhaps extra-psyched this week when the latest issue, #9, was released and guess who was on the cover, in the guise of my alter ego, psychoanalyst extraordinaire “Franz Woyzeck,” accompanied by a celebrity known only by a single name, the notorious “Pico” (a.k.a. Anthony Gallegos.)

I am honored beyond words.

To grab an issue while it’s hot, and read the world’s most famous and amusing serialized photo saga, “The Pharmacologists,” (and lots of other good stuff, including “Force by Forcewest,” a comic book mashup of Hitchcock’s cinematic masterpiece and Star Wars (trust me on this one, it’s insanely amusing)) please visit www.hausfraumag.com.

Many thanks to reclusive cult leader cum “founder, editor” Stephen Kosloff, and his team of funny folks for writing me into the madness that is Hausfrau.
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Please check out The People’s Therapist’s legendary best-seller about the sad state of the legal profession: Way Worse Than Being a Dentist: The Lawyer’s Quest for Meaning

 

 

And now there’s a new Sequel: Still Way Worse Than Being a Dentist: (The Sequel)

 

My first book is an unusual (and useful) introduction to the concepts underlying psychotherapy:Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy

 

 

 

 

I’ve also written a comic novel about a psychotherapist who falls

in love with a blue alien from outer space. I guarantee pure reading pleasure: Bad Therapist: A Romance

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Coming Out

6a00d83451aec269e201b8d1519196970cI was bracing myself for a session with this client. She was in a tough spot, and my job wasn’t easy – letting her vent, offering some support and, in essence, trying to counteract the toxic atmosphere of her big-city law firm.

It was bad. She was a sixth year senior litigation associate, and they were preparing to go to trial in a few months. The partner had announced “no more shore leave,” his clever way of making it known there were to be no more days off, not even evenings or weekends, nothing, not one day. My client was expected to work from morning to evening every day, seven days per week, until the trial, which might not happen (given the usual unpredictable delays) for several weeks or months. She’d already been working her “normal” schedule of twelve hour days, six-days per week, for a year or more. This was that final step on a slippery slope from horrific to unendurable. She’d begun referring to her firm during our sessions as “the veal pen.”

Today’s session (in part since she was trapped at her office) was via Skype. When the computer started ringing, I took a deep breath, and prepared for the worst.

To my surprise, she was smiling.

“Guess what!?!?”

Anything short of winning Powerball seemed inadequate.

“I quit!! Oh my God – I can’t believe it. I’m so happy!”

It turned out she was still working at the firm – she’d given them six weeks’ notice – and it was only a leave of absence, since they’d talked her out of actually quitting. In fact, she’d probably just take three or four months off, then return as a part-timer (lawyer-speak for a forty-hour week.)

But I couldn’t help being struck by the sheer joy on her face, the flip-the-switch effect of shifting in a moment from abject despair to soaring ecstasy. It felt like a dam had at long last burst, and she was free at last – free to be herself, to say something she’d been sitting on for a long time, that she wanted out, that this wasn’t her, that this wasn’t what she wanted for herself.

A surprising aspect of this interaction was the degree to which my client’s response reminded me of similar reactions I’d seen with gay clients coming out of the closet. It seemed unexpected, but there it was. I used to work with a lot of gay folks (I still see a fair number) and I’ve dealt with quite a few coming-out experiences over the years and, well, one of these things reminded me of the other.

On its face, the comparison seems absurd. What does quitting a law firm have in common with coming out as a gay person? But the deeper I looked, the more the analogy made sense, and when I’ve mentioned it to other people, especially lawyer clients unhappy in their careers, they’ve agreed it rings truer than you might think.

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