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Posts Tagged ‘Gil Cornblum’

I raced downstairs to break the news: I’m leaving. I got a new, non-legal job at a major online book-seller.

The reception at the firm gym wasn’t what I expected. My favorite trainer looked pensive, mumbled “good for you, man,” then gave me a half-hearted fist bump. The other two trainers, both women, exchanged looks. One grimaced, and quipped to the other, “see, I told you – the nice ones always leave.” She caught my glance, and turned serious. “Hey, it’s good news. We’ll miss you, that’s all.”

The nice ones always leave.

My client ran into this phenomenon recently. She’s a first year, assigned to a major case with two senior associates. The partner’s missing in action, so she and the two seniors are running the show.

The good news is the seniors are great guys – and, as a result, she’s been one of the few not-unhappy lawyers I’ve seen all year.

“They’re just plain nice,” she told me. “The hours suck, the work itself is kind of boring, but nothing’s that bad if you’re working with people you like. Sometimes, we even have fun.”

One guy was super thoughtful, and bent over backwards to take time to explain things and create a sense of teamwork. The other was a bit of a kook, with a goofy sense of humor and a light-hearted way of defusing crises.

Then, Monday last week, the firm distributed bonuses. On Tuesday the first senior associate gave his notice. On Wednesday the other said he’s leaving, too.

Neither of the seniors said why they were taking off. Maybe it was the demanding, ungrateful client – maybe the partner, who never acknowledged their hard work. Maybe they were just burnt out in general.

As a result of their departure, an office that used to be fun has turned grim. It’s like watching a friendly college dorm turn overnight into der Führerbunker. The partner is melting down. He pulled in another senior associate, an anal-retentive who doesn’t know what he’s doing. People are hiding in their offices. The atmosphere among the paralegals is funereal. Even the contract attorneys look more depressed than usual, if that’s possible.

“It’s a shit storm,” my client said. “And from my perspective, a lose-lose proposition. The partner’s overwhelmed, the new senior is clueless and I don’t know whether to try to help – and get yelled at – or lay low and hide – and get yelled at.”

There’s no winning, and it’s no fun.

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Last October, a law school placement director friend of mine forwarded me an email with a juicy piece of big law gossip. A former associate at Sullivan & Cromwell had offed himself. He was 39.

The body was discovered beneath a highway bridge in Toronto. A few days earlier, it was revealed that since the mid-90’s, he and a co-conspirator made ten million dollars on an insider trading scheme. He’d stolen insider information from S&C, arriving early in the morning to dig through waste baskets, rifle partners’ desks and employ temporary word-processor codes to break into the computer system.

“You can’t make this shit up,” was my friend’s comment. “Wasn’t he from around your time?”

It took a minute to locate the face. Gil Cornblum. Jewish, a bit pudgy, with big round glasses. Gil, in that ridiculous little office two doors down from mine.

What was Gil like? Mild-mannered, pleasant, always smiling.

I should have known something was wrong.

The pieces fit together.

Gil kept weird hours. He used to chuckle that he liked to get in early so he didn’t have to stay late. It turned out he was in at 5 am, combing the firm for insider tips.

The lavish wedding, too. A mutual friend was invited up to Canada to watch Gil tie the knot, and was blown away.

As people do in these situations, I stopped for a moment to contemplate Gil’s death. His body was discovered at the bottom of a highway bridge. He was still breathing, according to the bits of news I found online.

So far as I could tell, that meant portly, lovable Gil Cornblum threw himself off a bridge on a Canadian highway in the middle of the night and lay on the bottom – of what? A rocky riverbed? – shattered and dying.

Suicide amounts to punishing whoever is supposed to take care of you because you feel their care is inadequate.

Certainly, the care we all received at S&C was inadequate, and we committed suicide a little each day just by staying there and putting ourselves through that abuse as our lives passed us by. Our slow suicide manifested in other ways as well. Most of us mistreated ourselves by neglecting our health, letting our friendships die off, ignoring our families, our hobbies, our lives.

Maybe insider trading was Gil’s grand suicidal gesture, his protest against the abuse he received. He put his entire life on the line, knowing he might well be caught, end up in jail and lose everything. He was playing Russian roulette, and maybe he knew he’d kill himself if he got caught.

And all for what? Money.

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