Advertisements
Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘partner’

b775975a44e3d7a4395cfdebcc7db7cdI just turned fifty, so I can tell you about old. Old isn’t merely the words “Mission: Impossible” conjuring memories of a show you watched as a kid in 1973 on a “color console tv set” the size of a freezer chest. Old transcends. Old abides. Old pushes through to not caring if everyone else’s memories zip directly to a movie with Tom Cruise hanging off a cliff. Old concedes Jean-Luc Picard a place in the pantheon beside Kirk and Spock, but remains firm in its belief Peter Graves and the miniature reel-to-reel tape player that self-destructed after five seconds were the height of awesome, Tom Cruise or no Tom Cruise. Old is about “values.” Old doesn’t haggle over this stuff.

What made the original Mission: Impossible show so much fun (other than its co-starring Martin Landau, which already made it fun) was the bizarrely improbable nature of the missions. They were supposed to be “impossible” to carry out, but in reality that was the least of the issues. The “mission” generally took place in some made-up Eastern European country with a name like “Vladistan” with a grey, oppressive capital city (“Vodkagrad” sounds good) and there was always an evil dictator holding a good, democratic leader guy captive in Vodkagrad (not that I remember details – I was seven years old, chomping a peanut butter and jelly sandwich during much of the action.) I mostly recall that a couple of the IMF (“Impossible Mission Force”) agents hung out in equipment rooms tapping phone lines and fiddling with electronic gadgets, glancing nervously at their watches, while the others (including Martin Landau!) wore disguises so convincing you only realized who they were when they peeled off plastic masks. How cool was that?

But my point – and I do (despite advancing age) have a point – is that I’ve recently, in my role of psychotherapist to the lawyers, been assigned “missions” by biglaw firms, requests for my services, that leave me feeling like Mr. Phelps watching wisps of smoke rise from the little reel-to-reel. I’m a publicity whore, like any author who ever sold a book (or tried to) and yes, I might be termed a whore-whore as well, in some respects, like any public speaker who ever pocketed a fee. Points conceded. But on those occasions when I’ve managed to get hired to speak at conferences and panels and industry events and even at law schools, everything has come off if not without a hitch, then at least without a major conflagration. Invite me over, serve me lunch, treat me nice, and I’m a total pro, no trouble at all.

Yet, somehow, when it’s a biglaw firm that comes calling for my services, everything goes all pear-shaped. If you don’t believe me, go ahead and be your own Mr. Phelps – check out a couple “impossible missions” that came my way recently, and decide for yourself whether you’d “choose to accept” them. I’m still scratching my head, long after the tape self-destructed. To wit:

Impossible Mission #1: Death 

(more…)

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

enhanced-buzz-13963-1374365048-27This one really happened – and it happened to yours truly (as opposed to the usual disguised anecdote loosely based on a factually altered tale from one or more carefully anonymized clients.)

One night, (or morning, or sometime between night and morning, since we were working an all-nighter) shortly after my arrival at Sullivan & Cromwell, a fairly senior partner at the firm took a moment to lean back in his desk chair and impart the following to little junior associate moi:

“You hang on by your fingertips, kid.” He raised his hands and bent his fingers, as if to demonstrate. “Till it starts to seem normal. Just dangle there and wonder how long you can last – or what happens if you let go.”

Apparently that was all he had to relate on the topic, as he snapped back to focus on reviewing a purchase agreement. I recall wondering if he, after (presumably) a zillion sleepless nights just like this one, felt as bleary-eyed, sweaty and slightly sick to his stomach as I did. I’ll never know the answer to that question. Maybe partners don’t need sleep – maybe that’s their secret.

I also recall wondering if this guy was exaggerating with that whole “dangling by your fingers” routine to impress me – or if he was a little bonkers. In retrospect I think he simply meant it.

Working in biglaw is a straight-forward exercise: You’re paid a lot of money to sit at a desk and work long hours. Someone provides the work, and you do it. That typically means arriving at around 10 am, working on something complicated, with a short break (maybe) for lunch, and then (maybe) for dinner, until about 10 or 11 pm, every day. You also sometimes work all night and sometimes weekends and sometimes all night on weekends.

To review: You arrive in the morning, you sit at a desk, you work until late night. Then you do it again the next day.

An additional factor is that the work is hard. Not rocket science hard, but not stuffing cotton into little bottles either. Initially, there’s a lot of “running changes,” “creating a chart,” “putting it into a table,” “checking cites,” and that sort of thing. Even that stuff can freak you out when nothing you give them is ever what they want and they keep handing you more. “Firm culture” can take getting used to, as well. A junior associate client of mine closed her office door one night, as was her habit, so she could break down and have a good cry, only to realize (through the paper thin walls) that someone else was also weeping, in the office next door. There’s nothing like feeling part of a team.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

gaslight_3 copyThe verb “to gaslight” comes from a 1938 stage play (which was then made into two movies, one starring Ingrid Bergman.) The plot is super-creepy, especially for 1938. In it, an evil husband tricks his young wife into believing she’s losing her mind by staging bizarre occurrences in their house, then pretending only she’s seeing and hearing them (yes, he’s after her money.) His favorite trick is dimming the gas lights in her room before clomping around upstairs or making strange sounds emanate from the walls. Soon she’s freaking out whenever the lights dim, expecting another bad trip. After each freak-out, once she’s good and melted down, he rushes to her aid, feigning concern.

It seems like a lifetime before she catches on – but she does. Things click as she (more or less) walks in on him rattling chains in the attic.

Law firms gaslight young lawyers – they create a world where nothing makes sense, then studiously pretend it does. You should catch on, too. You’re probably not the one who’s crazy.

Here’s how it works:

When you first get to the firm, it feels like summering all over again. Work is slow, and when assignments come, they’re low-priority research for marketing or pro bono. Here and there, you get a week of mindless doc review, which actually comes as a relief, since it’s easy and counts as billable hours. Mostly, you’re sitting at your desk, reading blogs. Your officemate is present half the time, not present half the time, but he doesn’t seem eager to explain what he’s up to any of the time, so you follow his lead and attempt to look serious and busy and involved in something, whatever that might be. You begin to wonder if there’s something wrong, but since you haven’t had a chance to do anything yet, it seems unlikely it’s something you’ve done. You build up the resolve to ask around and check if everyone else is dead, too – but they look busy enough, sitting at their desks, determinedly staring at their computers, so you chicken out. Just calm down, do what they’re doing – pretend there’s work. A week later, you pass the bar. You still haven’t really done anything, but it’s a step forward, right?

(more…)

Read Full Post »

daffyIf you’re a lawyer appearing at my doorstep, and you work in biglaw, there’s a good chance you’re seeking a way out. You don’t know what you want to do next, but the status quo is insupportable. That’s the standard set-up.

If you’re a lawyer appearing at my doorstep and you work in biglaw, we’ll likely talk about the challenges ahead. Trapped in the bathysphere of biglaw, it’s hard to see out let alone get out. You’ve heard rumors about human beings who enjoy their jobs. In your experience, big firm attorneys loathe their chosen profession the way other people breathe air.

If you’re a lawyer appearing at my doorstep, and you work in biglaw, we’ll probably talk about a sideways shuffle I call the “crab-walk.” You can’t transfer from a big law firm directly to a tolerable work environment in one leap – the chasm between biglaw and anywhere anyone would want to be is too great. Crab-walking is the next best thing, based on the indisputable principle that a tiny step in the direction of somewhere else amounts to an improvement. Take a reduced schedule at your current firm (if such a thing exists in theory or practice.)  Give a “kinder, gentler” mid-law shop a shake. Go in-house at a bank. Dial for dollars as a headhunter. Switch to consulting and live in a hotel in Indianapolis all week writing reports recommending the firing of middle managers. Get a sales and support position at WestLaw teaching summers to concoct search terms. Small crab-walk-y steps remove you one centimeter at a time from where you are right now. That, by definition, is good.

If you’re a lawyer appearing at my doorstep and you work in biglaw, you probably want out, and have since your first taste of the Kool-Aid. You need to hear you’re not crazy or alone, and that there are others who long for a job without constant anxiety attacks, where Sunday nights aren’t a horror show, where a partner won’t tell you without a trace of irony to “go ahead and take the weekend off,” where it isn’t considered an easy night to get home at 11 pm.

These generalities hold true for about 96% of the lawyers appearing at my doorstep who work in biglaw. They do not, however, apply to everyone.

I don’t want to exaggerate the phenomenon, but there are folks who actually “fit in” in biglaw. They actually like it there. These are the “odd ducks,” and from time to time some of them also appear at my door.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

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.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

“A” wrote in with the following question:

I wanted to know your thoughts on the imbalance in power relationships at law firms.

My boyfriend, J,works for a partner in a firm. They’ve worked together on and off for 5 years. The partner was an associate when J joined as a trainee. They’ve been ‘friends’ but the friendship is not balanced. There’s an increasing tendency for the personal and professional relationship to blend, and not in a good way.
The partner will abuse his ability to prevent certain social situations from happening by increasing J’s work load. If we don’t agree to socialize on the weekend with him and his wife then the partner can make life difficult as well. He has a very controlling and dominating nature, and will often send emails which are childish and aggressive to J if he doesn’t get his way.

My question is … Is it ever appropriate to have a personal relationship with anyone who is in a position of power over you?

I find that it is not, and as a by stander in this merry-go round of their relationship with one another find that I am a helpless player who gets dragged in from time to time, but is unable to stand up and defend herself because, according to J, ‘he’s a partner and it’ll make work more complicated for me if we upset him.’

Also how to extract ourselves from this? J is in the process of applying for a new position elsewhere, but he still intimates that in the future he’ll want to continue being friends with this partner. Is this some kind of negative symbiotic relationship, whose negative side he cannot recognize because he’s been in it for so long?

And here’s 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!

Read Full Post »

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.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Read Full Post »