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Posts Tagged ‘Harvard’

A law student client – already an MBA – said she needed convincing to drop out of her third-tier school.

I told her to calculate the return on investment for the final three semesters.

She crunched the numbers.

“Debit-wise, I’ve burned $80k in savings and I’m looking at another $100k of borrowed money. On the credit side, I might find a low-salary doc review gig.” She pretended to scratch notes. “So… big loans, interest payments, inadequate cash flow…opportunity cost of eighteen more wasted months learning legal mumbo-jumbo followed by the bar exam…”

“In other words…” I egged her on.

“I’d be totally screwed.” She affixed the cap on her pen. “Thanks. I’m convinced.”

I posed the question we were dancing around: “Why are we having this conversation?”

My client laid out the background: “My dad’s a lawyer. My mom’s a lawyer. My little brother’s taking his LSAT. This is what my family does. If I quit, I feel like I’m failing.”

She added: “It seems like it was different in my parents’ day.”

That’s because it was. A generation gap has opened in the legal world. On one side there are lawyers over-50, for whom law still looks like a safe, reliable ladder to the upper-middle-class. From the other side – where their kids are perched – law more closely resembles un ascenseur pour l’échafaud.

My client’s parents live in a time warp – a world trapped in a snow globe. Mom’s worked for 25 years as an in-house lawyer for a state college – safe, not terribly stressful (or interesting) work, with a decent salary, good hours and benefits. Dad’s worked for decades as general counsel for a local business. It’s no wonder that for them – and their generation – law still epitomizes a safe, low-stress career with good pay and benefits.

These over-50 types can’t imagine how bad it gets nowadays for someone calling himself an attorney. Their Weltanschauung doesn’t encompass windowless warehouses packed with contract lawyers logging 18-hour shifts of doc review for hourly wages, no benefits. Mom and Dad haven’t seen young partners at top firms getting de-equitized and struggling to snare in-house positions. If they knew that reality, they’d also realize their own sort of safe, steady work with benefits, a decent wage and reasonable hours constitutes a pipe dream for a kid graduating law school today.

Another client of mine – a 20-something from a decent school entering her third year in biglaw – summed up her reality thus:

“Really? I spent myself into life-long debt, endured hours of property law lectures, analyzed Erie problems on brutal exams, crammed for the bar…all so I could waste two years on doc review, then wait to get laid off (with the de rigueur bad review and zero career prospects) so someone younger and cheaper can take my seat? Really?”

If she’d studied computer science, or gotten an MBA or just quit school after college, she might have become a better-paid “e-discovery provider.” As a JD, it’s strictly “e-discovery peon.” In any case, five years from now a computer program will do doc review all by itself. As one client put it: “that’s when attorneys start living in cardboard boxes on the sidewalk.”

This isn’t your grandfather’s biglaw.

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It’s hard to generate sympathy for lawyers – especially when the group of people you’re milking for sympathy is other lawyers.

At first glance, that seems counter-intuitive. I’m writing about your fellow attorneys, after all, and they’re in miserable straits. I feel sorry for them. I want to help. But then, I’m a bleeding heart psychotherapist. I even felt sorry for them back when I was a lawyer, too – incontrovertible proof I was never “cut out” for the profession.

With lawyers, it’s not a question of “compassion fatigue” – they never show enough compassion to develop fatigue. It’s more like a birth defect – compassion deficiency.

My solution? The same trick Jerry Lewis used for his telethons. I’ll fabricate a poster child – a Jerry’s Kid – a cute, lovable little spokesperson for suffering, misunderstood, mistreated lawyers!

What would my Jerry’s Kid – ahem – Will’s Kid – look like?

Let’s call him Tim – Tiny Tim. (Cue violin music.) (Cue photo montage.)

Okay. Here’s the narration:

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I received an offer recently that I couldn’t refuse – an invitation from “legal search consultants.”

Headhunters!

They were having a convention and asked if I wanted to drop by, and, you know, say hi.

Vague images flitted through my mind – guys in suits dancing in a conga line wearing hats with silly horns.

I don’t often get invited to shindigs. I’m a therapist. Mostly, I visit my office, my dog and whoever’s sitting in the other chair. Or I sit at my desk and write columns. Ask me to a party? Hell yeah, I’m down. I’m all over it like a tall dog in a cheap suit. You looking to turn it out? Count me in.

I never say no to headhunters, conga lines and hats with silly horns.

So I went. And it was fun.

Here’s the newsflash about headhunters – they’re good peeps.

At very least, they’re more fun than lawyers. In fact, many of them were lawyers, but had to get out because they were too fun.

They can also teach you stuff you need to know – not just pointers on beer pong and naked Twister.

Behold three key lessons acquired whilst getting down with my bad self in the company of legal search consultant party animals…

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After Steve Spierer invited me to be a guest on his radio show on Talk Radio One, he told me we’d probably do a 30-minute segment.  Then he added a caveat:  “If we’re really on fire, we could go the full forty-five.”

Apparently we achieved ignition, because we ran the full forty-five.  Steve’s a terrific host, and kept things moving with perceptive, challenging questions.  He also arranged  for a caller – Matt, a young first-year lawyer at a top-100 firm.  It was a first – the People’s Therapist live on the air with one of the sort of people he’s always writing about, talking about what he’s always writing about.  A moment of truth.

To hear the show, click here.

For the show’s website, click here.

Steve’s a fascinating guy – a real estate lawyer with decades of experience, who also hosts a radio show about books and authors, issues of personal growth and – sound like the People’s Therapist? – the law.  I couldn’t have asked for a better match between interviewer and interviewee.

For more information on Steve and his show, click here.

I’m on for the first forty-five minutes, but stick around for the final fifteen, where Steve provides his listeners a savvy take on trends in the real estate market. His opinions might not be what you’re expecting, but he knows what he’s talking about and he leaves you thinking.

Thanks for having me on the show, Steve – and thank you, Matt, for calling in and keeping The People’s Therapist on his toes.

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If you enjoy The People’s Therapist, check out his new book!

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I am happy to admit I do not know what lies at the farthest reaches of outer space, I do not know what happens after I die, and I do not know how long my relationship with my partner will last.

No one knows these things.  They are unknowable.

You might feel uncomfortable with these sorts of unknowns.  Uncertainty might make you anxious.  Infinity without end, your own mortality and the prospect of breaking up are scary – they challenge your sense of stability.  The child inside you still craves stability, even if the adult accepts it is only an illusion.

For better or worse, nothing is more common in this world than infinity, decay and entropy.  They are the building blocks of a universe that consists largely of vast stretches of emptiness with, here and there, some dust floating around.

A good parent behaves a bit like a con man, tricking a child into accepting a made-up world unreflective of the universe around him.  A child’s ideal world is a fantasy – small, secure and numbingly repetitious.  He goes to sleep at the same time every day and wakes up at the same time every day.  Meals are always the same, and at the same time, too.  Friendly imaginary characters like muppets and  cuddly purple dinosaurs are provided to reassure him things are okay.

As an adult, that type of environment would feel stifling.  Leaving things unknown – and occasionally surprising – can be more fun.  In part, that means accepting that expectations drawn from the reality of our daily lives might not be generalizable to the world as a whole.

For example, we live out our lives stuck to a round ball of rock by a mysterious force known as gravity.  If we keep traveling in any direction, we end up back where we began.  Just like your childhood neighborhood, that reality might feel safe and normal.  But simply because the Earth is designed that way doesn’t mean the universe is – space may well continue on forever.  Yes – without end.  Forever.

Same thing with death.  As a child, you got used to waking up each day and seeing the same friendly faces.  But as you get older you realize that situation isn’t permanent – people die, and you will too.

You can cling to the familiar childhood notion of waking up and starting a new day each morning by adopting primitive imaginary belief systems like reincarnation, or a heavenly paradise.  You can reproduce the familiar trope of a loving family with a strong parent figure through the invention of a god or goddess or a whole pantheon of imaginary deities.  These comforting, commonplace notions might permit you to evade the concept of a permanent ending for your life.

It’s more satisfying, and more fun, I think, to admit you don’t know what happens next.

One of my fond memories of attending Harvard University was studying with Stephen Jay Gould, the brilliant paleontologist.  Gould’s specialty was blowing his students’ minds by reminding them that their assumptions might not be generalizable to every situation.  He gave a lecture on how things would look if you were only a quarter inch – or 40 feet – tall.  My assumption – like a child’s – was that things would be pretty much the way they are now, except I’d be smaller or I’d be larger – essentially I’d be looking up at stuff or gazing down at it, but that would be that.

Gould explained that at 1/4 inch tall, gravity would no longer be an issue – you could probably jump from a great height and ride the breeze…but you might get your foot trapped in the surface tension of a puddle.

At 40 feet tall, your bones would be unable to support your body weight, which would be measurable in tons, and you would instantly collapse from the effect of gravity upon your mass.  You would be well-advised to take to the seas, like a blue whale, in order to survive.

Things look different, depending on circumstances.  As an adult, they are far more complex – and interesting – than they were when you were very young.

As a child, relationships were supposed to last forever.  Mommy and Daddy – the two relationships that mattered above all else – were necessary for your survival, and you took it as a matter of faith that they had to be there or you would perish.

But as an adult, you begin to understand that the universe might have no end, that all life must draw to a close – and that a partner is only a companion for as long as you – and he – decide to stay together.

An adult’s world needn’t be child-proofed.  It can be a bracing – and liberating – experience to see things as they really are instead of how we expect or wish them to be.

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