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Archive for January 13th, 2016

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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