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Posts Tagged ‘doc review’

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“I never thought I’d end up working as a contract attorney doing doc review in a windowless basement,” my client bemoaned. “But then I read that piece about the lawyer who’s working as a clerk at WalMart. At least I’ve still got it over him in terms of job prestige.”

Well, you know how obsessed lawyers are with job prestige.

There’s a phrase, “The Downward Drift,” that crops up in discussions of serious mental health diagnoses like schizophrenia, and/or chronic substance abuse. The idea is that you are afflicted with serious mental illness, or become addicted to a harmful substance, which in turn leads to a slow, inevitable slide downward in terms of social class. Before long, the wealthy, Upper East Side business executive suffering from schizophrenia and/or severe alcoholism finds himself jobless, friendless and eventually even homeless, sleeping in shelters and begging for change.

Weirdly, the same phenomenon – the Downward Drift – affects people who acquire Juris Doctor degrees. It sort of makes sense, since – at least nowadays, with people like me bellowing jeremiads on every street corner, it would be evidence of utter madness – textbook psychosis, perhaps – for anyone to head in the direction of law school, at least unless that law school is one of the top three in the country and someone else is footing the bill. But try to persuade a kid with a high LSAT score not to apply to law school – it’s nearly as tough as persuading a kid who’s gotten into a “top-500” (or whatever) law school into not attending (especially if he’s “won” one of those risible $20,000 so-called “scholarships” they hand out like pushers showering crack vials on newbie users.) If that task sounds Herculean (or Sisyphean), try talking a kid who’s blown $80,000 on his first year of law school out of “finishing up” the other two (useless) years – even if he’s hated every moment of the experience so far. This is where the parallel with addiction comes in because I guarantee you it’s no easier than convincing a chronic alcoholic that ten martinis is really enough. Even my own much-vaunted powers of persuasion come up short at that juncture. Because it’s impossible. An addict will keep drinking and drugging until he passes out face down in a puddle on the sidewalk. And a law student will blow that additional $160,000 to finish those two more pointless years. It’s a sure thing – just like zombies like eating flesh, the sun likes rising in the morning and Pat Robertson likes blaming bad weather on the homosexual agenda.

So how does the “Downward Drift” work, at least for lawyers?

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Remember Green Acres, that fish-out-of-water comedy wherein Eddie Albert drags Eva Gabor out to live on some tumbledown farm in the middle of nowhere? She’s a Park Avenue socialite, but he’s the husband and the penis-haver and it’s the 1960’s – so what he says, goes. If he’s jonesing for fresh air and farm living, she has no choice.

I don’t remember much more than the theme song and opening credits, but the concept – giving it all up, packing your bags and fleeing for the sticks, spouse (and maybe kids) in hand – resonates with my lawyer clients. Some are beginning to sound like aspiring Eddie Alberts.

I’d like to say there’s a great lawyer return to the land on the way – driven by a love for nature and the outdoors. To some extent that’s true. But mostly, it’s a product of desperation. The big themes are escaping biglaw misery, seeking adventure, looking for a healthier lifestyle… and fleeing school loans.
One client’s story weaves these themes into a magical tapestry of personal growth, spiritual awakening and debt avoidance.

He was suffering modestly at a big law firm in L.A. Then he got posted to an office in Asia, where he happened to speak the language. There he discovered how bad bad can be. The US office dished out standard-issue biglaw brutality. Nothing could have prepared him for the Asia office. The cruelties committed by the local staff and attorneys would make Hieronymus Bosch wince. In their laser-beam-like focus on punishing my client for speaking their language and attempting to work in their homeland, they achieved new plateaux of sadism on a weekly basis. He developed insomnia, migraines, then panic attacks – and was fired a year later, without comment.

That’s when the Green Acres theme began playing in his head.

I’m not sure where he got the idea, but for whatever reason, he bought a 500 square foot cabin in the middle of nowhere, snug against the 49th parallel. Then he wrote a blog about woodcarving. And that’s about all he did – that, and shovel snow.

Ten months later he remembered the $150k he owed in school loans and back taxes from his Asian debacle, packed his bags and caught a ride to New York City – and doc review. Foreign language doc review pays better than regular doc review, but it’s still doc review. Working with the burnt-out remnants of lawyers is refreshing after working with actual lawyers – and at first it was amusing to get paid to peruse an Asian businessman’s emails to his mistress, then click “relevant” “incriminating” and “privileged.” But even assuming steady work, he didn’t see how he could pay off his loans within a decade.

His solution? Hitch a ride back to The Great White North – and his rustic cabin. There, he could find public defender work in the local courthouse – and wait tables. He calculated that $30k per year would be enough to cover food and fuel – but insufficient to attract the attention of his creditors. Not even a bank addicted to the lifeblood of youth can squeeze that blood from a stone. In his free time – which is most of the time, at this point – he wood-carves. For whatever reason, he finds that more exciting than doc review.

Voila. All you weeping, tooth-gnashing, garment-rending lawyers out there who constantly ask me – what can I do now? Here’s a solution. Green Acres is the place to be!

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As The People’s Therapist, my door is always open. I don’t turn away poor clients.

“Pay whatever you can afford,” I tell them.

Naturally, they get what they pay for. If I’m a little sleepy, or staring at the clock – who are they to complain? Come to think of it, why do we have to talk about them all the time anyway…

Just kidding.

But let’s be real – are things any different with the the high-fidelity first-class traveling set than they are with folks flying “comfort class”? I ask myself that question a lot. I do it to stay honest.

For one thing, my wealthy clients – mostly partners at big firms – pay a lot more, which means they literally pay my rent. That means something. Therapy can feel conspiratorial, too – you tell your therapist everything. So when I’m on duty in the Platinum Elite Lounge, I’m aware I’m also pow-wowing with a supremely powerful boss making life-shattering decisions affecting my clients on the other end of the socioeconomic spectrum.

But I have to be everyone’s therapist. That’s my job. I’m consciously working two sides of a divide.

The following is not an unusual scenario: I spend fifty minutes with a JD two years out of law school who’s making $25 per hour doing doc review – all to eke out monthly payments on a $170k financial carcinoma euphemistically termed a “school loan.” Five minutes later, in the same chair, I face a senior partner who brings in $2.8 million every twelve months. I witness abrupt social discordance at least once a week. Welcome to my world.

One of my wealthiest clients, a hypothetical composite who claims half of a large law firm as a personal asset, explained to me an especially profitable element of his firm’s business:

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My client’s concise estimate of her second year at a big law firm:

“Meh.”

For months, the “career” consisted of 1/3 idleness, 1/3 word-processing, and 1/3 pointless research. That morphed over time into “managing” doc review, which morphed into doing doc review, which translated into odious hours staring at odious documents on a computer and clicking “responsive/relevant” “privileged” or some euphemism for “embarrassing.” According to rumors at her firm, there’s juicy stuff squirreled away in electronic nooks and crannies – most notoriously, emails from execs hiring hookers. To date, my client’s experience of “doing doc review” has matched the edge of your seat excitement of watching drywall compound discharge moisture.

“There are days I want to scream, ‘Who are we fooling?!’” she remonstrated. (Granted, there wasn’t much use remonstrating with me, since I’m her therapist.  Sometimes you just need to remonstrate – to demonstrate you can remonstrate.) “This isn’t a career – it isn’t even a job. It’s a joke. Every day I think about quitting.”

But she doesn’t.

Why?

The $160k per year.

Money changes things. Especially when your school loans top $200k.

Another client, from a while back – an NYU undergrad – was introduced to an older gentleman at a gay bar. This éminence grise offered a proposition. A partner at a major law firm, he possessed quantities of money, and an apartment on Park Avenue. They devised an arrangement. Each week, my client would ride the subway up to Park Avenue, undress in this guy’s living room, and, then… ahem …“stimulate himself to climax”…in the presence of said partner.

Why?

$400 in cash. Usually with a nice tip.

If the partner called, he showed up, no questions asked. You could say there was something in this arrangement that piqued my client’s entrepreneurial spirit. Or you could say it paid the rent.

Did he feel like a prostitute?

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