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Posts Tagged ‘biglaw firms’

There’s no getting out of it: This is a column discussing a syndrome in which lawyers (I suspect mostly women lawyers) sometimes cry on the job in what are arguably inappropriate situations, and the often negative (and avoidable) fallout that results. 

Maybe I shouldn’t post this one. It’ll only get me into trouble. But what the heck – I’m here to talk about what I see and hear happening in the world of law, and darn it, this falls under that heading.

So here goes nothing:

My client had done what a lot of lawyers wind up doing at some point in their careers – tried to get herself fired.

That’s a phenomenon I see all the time in biglaw – the unconscious attempt to get yourself fired thing. You can’t rationally convince yourself to quit, but the irrational part of you knows it isn’t about to let you stay, either. So, in therapist speak, you “act out on unexamined feelings.” That manifests itself in stuff like complaining about your job a bit too loudly in places that are a bit too public. Or coming in late. Or not coming in. Or just acting weird at the office without owning the fact that people are going to notice and some of them aren’t going to like it.

I urge lawyers, if they have reached that point of no return (the place where you really cannot come back and work at your firm for one more day without losing your shit) then please, go ahead and own it, and make the decision to leave in a conscious way. It’s best to reframe all aspects of your life as conscious choices, including your career, and put your decision process into words someplace safe (like a psychotherapist’s office) so you can take back your autonomy and be the actor in your own life, instead of acting out on unconscious, unexplored emotions.

You’re allowed to quit. There will be consequences, especially if you don’t have another job lined up, or are saddled with a heap of school debt. But everything in life involves a cost/benefit calculus; this is just another one of those things.

The person who most needs to know what’s going on with you, so she can deal with it, is your boss. That way, instead of wondering what the heck is going on with that associate acting like a lunatic, she can process the news that you want out and, maybe even work together with you to find a solution.

My client freely admitted she’d been broadcasting her discontent to a lot of people – other associates, secretaries, paralegals, word processors, librarians, doc reviewers, you name it. In fact, if you were with her for more than a few moments, you probably heard how miserable she was, along with a stream of complaints and criticism about her firm.

Sure enough, a partner she worked with eventually took her aside and said, “I’ve been hearing you’re unhappy. Why don’t we set up a time to talk?” They agreed my client would come by her office the next morning.

And that’s when my client called me. 

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(it’s a secret)

I had a ball a few weeks ago recording a podcast with the delightful Kimberly Rice, of KLA Marketing. You can hear the results here.

We talked about my background, including my strange journey from biglaw to psychotherapy, then mulled over the experiences of lawyers nowadays in a variety of settings and pondered the future of the profession.

It’s a far-ranging conversation, and a lively and fun one. Thanks, Kimberly!

Kimberly Rice

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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

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

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

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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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My client said her firm had, more or less, a checklist of what they wanted in a lawyer they made partner. And she had knocked herself out checking off every last damn item.

  • Helped with firm marketing efforts (including hundreds of non-billable hours)? Check.
  • Worked with a variety of partners in various areas, including powerful group leaders and major rainmakers? Check.
  • Logged long hours – and billed those hours – including nights and weekends, producing top-quality written work that was universally praised? Check.
  • Cultivated positive relationships with existing clients, who produced enthusiastic feedback about her work? Check.
  • Worked on important matters in a variety of roles, including stuff like taking part in trials and depositions and handling matters relating to complicated, highly regulated industries? Check.
  • Brought in her own clients and began developing a meaningful book of business? Check.
  • Tackled meaningful pro bono work? Check.
  • Participated in events with summer associates and recruitment efforts? Check.
  • Supervised and mentored juniors and ran large teams on big cases? Check.
  • Anything else you can think of? Check.

Other folks in her class, even junior partners at her firm, considered her promotion, at least to of counsel, to be a given. As one put it, “if not you, then who? You’re the dream associate, a superstar.”

The logic was simple: They have to promote someone, and if it’s anything even vaguely resembling the meritocracy they claim it is, she had to be that someone.

But no, as you might be guessing, that’s not how things worked out. They promoted no one.
After a year, or two or (really) many years of “making the partnership sprint,” the firm told her she wasn’t up for anything – not partner, not of counsel, not senior attorney, nothing. At her review, she was informed she could remain at the firm, as an associate, for as long as she wanted. That’s what they were offering, in gratitude for years of devoted labor – more of the same.

Oh, and there was one more thing: They needed her to work late that night on an important, complicated filing due the next morning. (No, I’m not making that up.)

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King-Kandy-1306451680I recently attended a conference at a law school – a pretty good law school – and they invited me to appear on a panel and paid for my transportation and even offered a hotel (if I needed one, which it turns out I didn’t, but still…nice.)

I am a psychotherapist, which means, under ordinary circumstances, I never go anywhere, let alone on anything resembling a “business trip.” Instead, I sit in my office and listen to someone else talk. Whether that someone else is sitting on a chair in front of me, or in a chair in Australia via Skype on my computer screen, there I sit, listening, in my office, in the morning and in the afternoon, and in the evening, too. If I didn’t work out at the gym four times per week, I’d probably go all soft and pudgy and endomorphic and begin to assume (like many of my peers, who shall go nameless) the contours of the chair I sit in. Which is to say I’d look like a pear. It turns out there are two kinds of therapists – those who make the effort to step outside their offices and get some exercise, and those who look like pears.

But I digress. And regress. Which is okay in psychotherapy – free association and all – but I was talking about this conference at the pretty good law school.

The conference’s first discussion panel – which I wasn’t invited to be on, for reasons which will become obvious – was titled “An In-Depth Look at Firm Life.” (Well, actually, this was a conference for Asian Pacific American law students, so it was titled “Peering Through the Glass Ceiling: An In-Depth Look at Firm Life for Minorities” but being Asian Pacific American seemed a minor consideration compared to dealing with biglaw, even at a conference for Asian Pacific American law students.)

I wasn’t on that panel – I was on the one about Mental Health and lawyers (once again, Asian Pacific American mental health and lawyers, but whatever – I’m married to a Chinese-American and I love my Asian Pacific American fans and their mental health and their lawyers.)

What struck me, at least in retrospect, about the classy panel – the one I wasn’t on – was who was on it. Just for reference, my panel – the one about going nuts – was staffed with a research psychologist, two psychiatrists, a psychotherapist (me) and a guy who runs a recovery/support center for lawyers. Two or three of us were lawyers, but mostly incidentally. There was also a third, afternoon panel at the conference about Asian Pacific Americans being a “model minority.” That afternoon panel was populated with academics (no lawyers at all, so far as I could tell) and so things predictably took a highfalutin, theoretical turn – more like college than law school.

Only the panel purportedly concerning the actual reality of law firm life was stocked with 100% lawyers. Clearly, there was to be no fooling around with non-lawyer riffraff for them. The breakdown among the lawyers on this panel was interesting, too (for reasons I’ll disclose shortly.) First, all five of them were lawyers at biglaw firms, with the exception of one former biglaw lawyer who is now a corporate counsel at a humongous, famous, fancy-pants software company. Two panelists were partners at humongous, fancy-pants biglaw firms. There was also a senior associate at another biglaw firm, but she’d clerked for two federal judges and looked like she meant business; she was clearly not planning to be a mere senior associate for much longer – at least, if she had any say in the matter. And there was a lone junior associate, who looked slightly terrified, but she was at a top biglaw firm. Slightly terrified or not, she looked like she was dead set on going places, too.

So? Nothing wrong with that panel, right? Here were a bunch of success stories – Asian Pacific American lawyers in top jobs, reaping the success that comes with hard work. And they said all the stuff you’d expect them to say – advice on getting ahead and racing to the top, stuff like seeking out mentors, checking in to make sure you’re delivering what they want and…well, a lot of stuff about working hard and achieving success like they did. That’s hard to argue with.

But here’s the issue with that panel. The thing that stuck in my craw. The problem (if there was one) – which only dawned me in retrospect: They were only telling us the good news.

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