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Posts Tagged ‘competition’

9987116d453904225ab5b80d3b4da749Isolation is a popular topic with my lawyer clients. There are so many varieties of biglaw loneliness I hardly know where to start explicating the phenomenon. One client summed up his particular variant:

“They stuck me on a matter that had gotten lost in the shuffle – some rainmaker too busy bringing in business neglected it, so we lost a critical preliminary motion. After that, everyone knew the case was hopeless, and since I was low man on the totem pole, it became mine. Now everything that’s already gone wrong is officially my fault, and no one’s around to help – as in, if you ask for ideas, you hear crickets. I sit in my office, staring at documents, unable to motivate. A calendar on my wall at home has hundreds of tiny boxes I check off each day until November 12th, 2018. That’s when I pay off my last loan – my final day in law.”

To add to the festive ambience, this guy’s firm is in the midst of endless renovations, which they’re taking in stages, floor by floor. Some floors are left mostly-renovated, others barely-renovated, and the stragglers still untouched. My client was assigned to a half-renovated half-floor, nearly empty except for some staff attorneys who toil down the hall in an un-renovated former conference room.

It’s creepy. And according to firm gossip, theirs is one of those “sick buildings” where the ductwork is clogged with black mold or toxic dust or something insalubrious, especially on the as-yet-not-renovated floors. Those could be unfounded rumors. Or not. He hunches beneath fluorescent lights and stained acoustic ceiling panels, trying to breath through his nose.

Law firms are lonely places by design, or at least biglaw firms are, since they’re typically located on multiple floors of sterile glass towers. One partner client was assigned to her office renovation committee. The new philosophy, she says, encourages walls of glass, to bring light in and cheer the place up. So now, as a biglaw attorney, you work in a fish bowl, with everyone looking in as you pretend to review something while surreptitiously playing Candy Crush, or merely ride out an anxiety attack. In a “modern” glass-walled law office, lawyers retreat to the bathroom if they need to cry.

A relatively recent factor contributing to biglaw alienation derives from the fact that biglaw firms aren’t really “firms” anymore – they’re closer to conglomerates or loose federations.

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I uttered those words for the first time back in 2001, over lunch.

I wasn’t putting myself down; I was setting myself free. This was transgression – admitting the whole legal “thing” wasn’t for me.

It’s what you’re never supposed to say, because it opens you up for slaughter. It’s throwing down your weapon, taking off the armor and walking away from the fight.

Go ahead – tear into me. I double-dare you.

It was a weird lunch. I was sitting with another former associate from Sullivan & Cromwell. We weren’t friends. I actually sort of hated him. For two years he did his best to bad-mouth me and let everyone know he was a better lawyer.

Now he wanted to do lunch.

That’s because he’d been laid off (you know, the “bad review” routine.) I’d left S&C six months before and done the impossible – gotten a real job outside law, as a marketing exec.

He said he wanted to discuss “careers outside the law.” Yeah. As soon as we sat down he started shooting the shit about our law firm days.

No way.

I felt sorry for him. He had a fiance and was clearly a mess. But I wasn’t about to play along with that bullshit.

I knew what would get his attention. When he paused from the stream of false bonhomie to catch his breath, I seized the opportunity.

“I suck at law.”

This produced a deer in the headlights face. I went on.

“I never belonged at that place. Who was I kidding? You were twice the lawyer I was.”

From his expression, I’d morphed into a winged goat in a tutu.

First rule at a law firm: Never admit vulnerability. Second rule: Conform. Third rule: Compete.

It felt like an accusation. I meant it that way. You were much more lawyer-ey than me. No, really. I insist. You were far and away the better lawyer. You are law, dude. You much much law. Me no law.

Me free.

No one gave a shit at my new job if I was a good lawyer. That’s because I wasn’t a lawyer.

I wanted to shout it from the rooftops. Rent a skywriter. Hire a blimp.

From the outside I look like a pretty good lawyer. Top 20% at NYU. Article in a journal. Sullivan & Cromwell.

Yeah, well I’m not. I suck at law.

Sorry.

I’m good at school, and law school is school. That doesn’t make me a lawyer.

Here are the facts:

I ignore details. I hate small print.

I’m not a “team player.” I hate working on stuff with other people.

Money and power bore me. Give me music, books and art.

I’m not confrontational. Put me in a room and we’ll all start getting along.

I can’t do all-nighters. At 10 pm I go to sleep.

Nothing is more boring than the Supreme Court. They mostly (5-4) hate gay people. I mostly (5-4) hate them.

Litigation terrifies me. It’s complicated and scary. Threaten to sue me, and you win. That’s it. Take whatever you want and go away.

I suck at law.

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This week’s question is from Laure, in Canada.  She writes:

Thank you for blogging about the various issues raised during your therapy sessions, I find it most interesting to read and learn from! I particularly appreciate your insight on lawyer patients, as I I will soon be entering law school, and all of your comments on trust (trusting others at the law firm, trusting one’s therapist and one’s partner, for example).

I was wondering if you could please develop and give examples on how to apply your advice given during your interview with Above the law (February 11, 2010) :

“I’d tell them to maintain a “self boundary” – a sort of emotional insulation from the toxic environment of law firms. There is work, and there is you, and there is a firm boundary between the two. You can do what is asked of you, and tolerate some brutal treatment at the office, but that toxicity doesn’t enter your soul; it doesn’t get in where it shouldn’t be, where you dwell, with the child that you were, the vulnerable you that needs love and care and appreciation.”

How would a law student go about shutting out the toxic environment and competitiveness of law school?

And here is my answer:

To submit a question to Ask The People’s Therapist, please email it as text or a video to: wmeyerhofer@aquietroom.com

If I answer your question on the site, you’ll win a free session of psychotherapy with The People’s Therapist!

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