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Posts Tagged ‘Blackberry’

I’ve been talking to people – well, my people have been talking to people – about speaking engagements, radio shows, panels – celebrity stuff – the daily fodder of The People’s Therapist’s life of fame and glamour.

One group wants me to teach a workshop for young attorneys on “health and wellness.” Well, okay. Whatever. I can do that. How much?

They offered the same course in a different city last year, using another therapist-who-is-also-a-lawyer (I wasn’t aware others existed, but I’m not threatened.) To make things easy on myself, I asked how that other (lesser) therapist-cum-lawyer contrived to occupy her “workshop.”

“Oh, she gave them a list of pointers for ‘self-care’,” I was told. “You know, get enough sleep, exercise, eat right, that kind of thing.”

Piece of cake – except I’m not sure they need me to dispense said epiphanies. Richard Simmons manages to preach an identical gospel while everyone performs jumping jacks in lavender leotards.

No matter. Giving advice is what people expect therapists to do.

It’s like “sex therapy.” Remember “sex therapy”? Be honest: Did Ruth Westheimer ever teach you anything you didn’t already know? Yet you found it deeply, mysteriously satisfying each time she chirp-chortled that phrase – “with a firm greep on dee head of dee penis.” Tearing your attention from a tiny Israeli woman in her sixties discussing penises is like trying not to ogle a car wreck. Why fight the hunger?

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My client wasn’t getting enough sleep. I assumed it was insomnia, but that didn’t fit the bill. It wasn’t that she couldn’t sleep – it was that she wouldn’t sleep. She was staying up from 11 pm to 2 am, lying in bed – mostly, playing Angry Birds.

Those few hours were the only time she was left alone all day – no one from the firm called to assign her something awful to do or yell at her for something awful she’d done. To relinquish this sliver of “me time” – even for sleep – was out of the question.

Morning to night, she spent at the firm. Weekends didn’t exist, in any meaningful sense – they were workdays. Laundry went undone, as did other stuff, like getting her driver’s license renewed or her taxes filed. The only hours devoted to anything for herself were stolen from her sleep schedule, and spent slingshotting daredevil birds at sneering pigs (that’s an Angry Birds reference.)

She needed to vegetate. You need to vegetate, too. There’s only so much work anyone can do. That’s why you find yourself playing video games at 2 am instead of sleeping. You need to play and you need to sleep. You need both.

A medical resident told me law sounded worse than medicine. At least with medicine when you’re on-call, you’re on-call, and when you’re not, you’re not. With law, you’re always on call. Just because you’re asleep in bed doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be working.

Another lawyer client crawled home from the office recently after midnight, only to be awakened at 3 am by the alarm on her Blackberry. She turned it off, but noticed an email from a senior associate, still at his desk. She glanced at the email, but decided to ignore it – nothing critical – and deal with him in the morning.

She forgot his account was set up so he could see she’d opened the email.

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I was chuckling with a client the other day about the insanity of trying to please a partner with a piece of written work.

The trick, she said – I’ve heard this before – is to adopt the voice of the partner. That’s what he wants – something that sounds like him. It doesn’t matter if your style is better than his. He wants to hear himself.

My client can imitate the writing styles of five partners. That includes whatever quirks – run-on sentences, rudeness, biting sarcasm, unnecessary adjectives, circuitous explanations – capture that partner’s unique gift. It’s a piece of cake: assemble substance, add ventriloquy, and voila! – a happy partner.

She learned this trick after receiving mark-ups. Her heart would sink as she combed the scribble for a critical error. But there was never anything there – only her failure to clone.

This is an example of a more generalized phenomenon – partners, as a group, tend to be arrogant and narcissistic. They harbor absurd notions about their own abilities and tend not to notice anyone else’s right to exist.

Nothing new. But it’s interesting to ask why.

Law firms are abattoirs of self-esteem. If you think you might be a good, useful, capable person, give yourself a few weeks in the world of biglaw and you’ll come to realize you have no ability whatsoever, are in way over your head and were a fool to consider you might succeed at anything.

That’s the special magic of a law firm.

You are also entirely alone. Everyone else is flourishing. They’re doing fine. It’s only you. You are the problem.

How do they achieve this feat of psychic disassembly?

For starters, nary a kind word.

If you put dozens of pleasers in the same room, everyone tries to please everyone else. No one acknowledges he’s pleased. That’s not what pleasers do.

Everyone can’t try to impress. Someone has to be impressed. That person would do the hard work of thanking and praising the others – “You’re doing a great job. I appreciate your effort.”

You’ll never hear that sort of piffle at a law firm. In a world where everyone is starved for praise, no one has time to waste feeding anyone else’s confidence.

Two defenses, arrogance and narcissism, permit lawyers to survive in this hostile environment.

The simplest defense against self-doubt is arrogance. Inside you’re scared, so you pump yourself up for others to see.

The simplest defense against isolation is narcissism. You’re afraid no one wants to be with you, so you tune them out.

Arrogance always appears a bit comical because it’s so obvious. If you’re terrified you might not have what it takes, you put on a false bravado, but it doesn’t fool anyone. And once you’ve taken the leap into arrogance, you’re stuck – you have to maintain it, or risk humiliation.

Narcissism is more insidious, and less amusing. If you’re not receiving anything you need from anyone else, you shut them out – put up a mirror – and stare at a world that looks like you.

Maybe you must be an arrogant narcissist to make partner. That would certainly explain some things.

The downside is that you become an arrogant narcissist. The money’s good – but no one can stand you. You wind up correcting memos to sound like you wrote them. You don’t realize you’re doing it.

J.K. Rowling, in her Harry Potter series, presents a flawless portrait of a biglaw partner.

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