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Posts Tagged ‘Sullivan & Cromwell’

24DB-PEARSON-master675The People’s Therapist just got profiled in The Financial Times (with a couple other therapists.)

To read the full article, click here.  (Yes, I know, it’s behind a pay wall…but go ahead and subscribe, it’s worth it to read The Financial Times!)  The headline of the piece is “Care from lawyers turned therapists”  and the sub-headline is “Behind a polished exterior can be anxiety, say those who listen to the angst of legal professionals.”

Many thanks to the lovely Emma Jacobs, and Annabel Cook, in London, and the estimable Pascal Perich, in New York City, who took that smashing photo of me with my senior colleague, Simon Dachshund.

Alas, I’ve had to take down my delightful screenshot of the article…the charming Barbara Volkar of the FT’s syndication sales department emailed me, and apparently it violates copyright to reproduce it.  Posting a legally sanctioned reproduction of the article would cost literally thousands of dollars.  And that’s why this post appears a bit truncated.

Sigh…damned lawyers.

Oh poop – here’s a teeny tiny screenshot, just so you can see what it looks like.  It’s hardly even legible.  Let ’em sue me!  They’ll have to tear this moment of glory (a profile in the FT!) from my cold, dead online fingers.

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…and here’s what it looked like in print (again, really teeny, to fend off the copyright police…)

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Please check out The People’s Therapist’s legendary best-seller about the sad state of the legal profession: Way Worse Than Being a Dentist: The Lawyer’s Quest for Meaning

 

 

And now there’s a new Sequel: Still Way Worse Than Being a Dentist: (The Sequel)

 

My first book is an unusual (and useful) introduction to the concepts underlying psychotherapy:Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy

 

 

 

 

I’ve also written a comic novel about a psychotherapist who falls

in love with a blue alien from outer space. I guarantee pure reading pleasure: Bad Therapist: A Romance

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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.

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King-Kandy-1306451680I recently attended a conference at a law school – a pretty good law school – and they invited me to appear on a panel and paid for my transportation and even offered a hotel (if I needed one, which it turns out I didn’t, but still…nice.)

I am a psychotherapist, which means, under ordinary circumstances, I never go anywhere, let alone on anything resembling a “business trip.” Instead, I sit in my office and listen to someone else talk. Whether that someone else is sitting on a chair in front of me, or in a chair in Australia via Skype on my computer screen, there I sit, listening, in my office, in the morning and in the afternoon, and in the evening, too. If I didn’t work out at the gym four times per week, I’d probably go all soft and pudgy and endomorphic and begin to assume (like many of my peers, who shall go nameless) the contours of the chair I sit in. Which is to say I’d look like a pear. It turns out there are two kinds of therapists – those who make the effort to step outside their offices and get some exercise, and those who look like pears.

But I digress. And regress. Which is okay in psychotherapy – free association and all – but I was talking about this conference at the pretty good law school.

The conference’s first discussion panel – which I wasn’t invited to be on, for reasons which will become obvious – was titled “An In-Depth Look at Firm Life.” (Well, actually, this was a conference for Asian Pacific American law students, so it was titled “Peering Through the Glass Ceiling: An In-Depth Look at Firm Life for Minorities” but being Asian Pacific American seemed a minor consideration compared to dealing with biglaw, even at a conference for Asian Pacific American law students.)

I wasn’t on that panel – I was on the one about Mental Health and lawyers (once again, Asian Pacific American mental health and lawyers, but whatever – I’m married to a Chinese-American and I love my Asian Pacific American fans and their mental health and their lawyers.)

What struck me, at least in retrospect, about the classy panel – the one I wasn’t on – was who was on it. Just for reference, my panel – the one about going nuts – was staffed with a research psychologist, two psychiatrists, a psychotherapist (me) and a guy who runs a recovery/support center for lawyers. Two or three of us were lawyers, but mostly incidentally. There was also a third, afternoon panel at the conference about Asian Pacific Americans being a “model minority.” That afternoon panel was populated with academics (no lawyers at all, so far as I could tell) and so things predictably took a highfalutin, theoretical turn – more like college than law school.

Only the panel purportedly concerning the actual reality of law firm life was stocked with 100% lawyers. Clearly, there was to be no fooling around with non-lawyer riffraff for them. The breakdown among the lawyers on this panel was interesting, too (for reasons I’ll disclose shortly.) First, all five of them were lawyers at biglaw firms, with the exception of one former biglaw lawyer who is now a corporate counsel at a humongous, famous, fancy-pants software company. Two panelists were partners at humongous, fancy-pants biglaw firms. There was also a senior associate at another biglaw firm, but she’d clerked for two federal judges and looked like she meant business; she was clearly not planning to be a mere senior associate for much longer – at least, if she had any say in the matter. And there was a lone junior associate, who looked slightly terrified, but she was at a top biglaw firm. Slightly terrified or not, she looked like she was dead set on going places, too.

So? Nothing wrong with that panel, right? Here were a bunch of success stories – Asian Pacific American lawyers in top jobs, reaping the success that comes with hard work. And they said all the stuff you’d expect them to say – advice on getting ahead and racing to the top, stuff like seeking out mentors, checking in to make sure you’re delivering what they want and…well, a lot of stuff about working hard and achieving success like they did. That’s hard to argue with.

But here’s the issue with that panel. The thing that stuck in my craw. The problem (if there was one) – which only dawned me in retrospect: They were only telling us the good news.

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munchkins3-lgReaders of my blog express surprise when they discover that all my clients aren’t lawyers – indeed, a small but sizable percentage of my clientele consists of ordinary civilians, non-combatants, plain folk who have nothing whatsoever to do with law. But the people surprised by this situation are mostly biglaw lawyers – and what really surprises them is not that I work with non-lawyers, but that I work with non-lawyers employed in biglaw – secretaries, law librarians, human resources folks, paralegals and so on. In other words, what surprises them is that I work with those people, those other people.

You know…the Little People.

Before you pile, on accusing me of snobbery, let me point out that I’m the one who’s treating these card-carrying members of the hoi polloi, and often for sliding fees. Let’s also admit that a rigid social hierarchy exists at law firms – in fact, a very rigid social hierarchy, something akin to the caste system under the Raj.

At Shearman & Sterling, where I summered one year, and at Sullivan & Cromwell, where I worked after blowing off Shearman & Sterling because it wasn’t (sniff sniff) quite up to snuff (yes, that’s a social hierarchy, too), I distinctly remember encountering what were referred to as “attorney dining rooms.” These were private dining rooms – partners and associates only. The very existence of these exclusive (as in, everyone except lawyers was excluded) dining chambers sent something of a…uh…message. The lawyers at the firm didn’t require separate water fountains, but message-wise, the effect was along the same lines.

Granted, back in the days when I worked in biglaw, partners arrived at the office in horse-drawn broughams and sported top hats and tails. I fondly remember Old Caesar, the darkie who toiled cheerfully in the S&C stables, and Irish Polly, the scullery drab – and who could forget wee Pip, the cripple foundling lad who maintained the fire in my office, always stoking it high with coal on a cold winter’s morning to earn his ha’penny and an affectionate pat on his cinder-begrimed cap as he hobbled off on his homemade crutches. Those were merry times.

But I shouldn’t permit misty nostalgia for another era to distract from my serious message: No kidding, there really were dining rooms reserved for the lawyers (and for all I know, there still are) and the message around them was clear: No Little People allowed.

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I had the pleasure of sitting down for an interview last week with Spencer Mazyck, of Bloomberg Law, at their studio in Midtown.  I’m happy to report Spencer is the nicest guy in the world and this was the most fun I’ve ever had.

The discussion was far-ranging.  I’m used to talking about the state of the legal profession, but Spencer asked me about my life, my loves – and just about everything else.

Here’s the interview:

Please check out The People’s Therapist’s legendary best-seller about the sad state of the legal profession: Way Worse Than Being a Dentist: The Lawyer’s Quest for Meaning

My first book is an unusual (and useful) introduction to the concepts underlying psychotherapy: Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy

My new book is a comic novel about a psychotherapist who falls in love with a blue alien from outer space. I guarantee pure reading pleasure: Bad Therapist: A Romance

(In addition to Amazon.com, my books are also available on bn.com and the Apple iBookstore.)

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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.

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Someone posted the following astonishing comment in response to one of my columns a few months back:

“I’ve never worked in a biglaw firm, but what happens if an associate just says no, I am busy this weekend, or no, I am on vacation that week, so I won’t be able to do that project. Do you immediately get fired? If that’s true, then you must not really have much to offer to the firm in the first place. In a situation where the associate had some real value to offer to the firm, I do not see why the firm would fire someone for that. Am I hopelessly naive?”

Go ahead – laugh. Get it out of your system. You know perfectly well your guffaws wear thin, right about when that twinge of poignancy creeps in. You, too, once mulled the notion of rising above the fray – going all Bartleby the Scrivener and muttering “I’d prefer not to” when asked – oops, I mean told – to work and work and work and work and work.

This “pure fool” of a comment-writer has raised a troubling issue (and that, by the way, was a combined Parsifal and Magic Mountain reference…this will be one of those classy columns larded with literary allusions.) Cower behind your carapace of cynicism, but sooner or later you’ll admit you weren’t always like this. You weren’t always a broken, cynical wreck who jumps at the slightest command. You used to be Bartleby The Scrivener, too. You imagined you were valued as a unique, complex individual. You imagined you held some sway over your own existence – some “preferences.”

I know it’s no fun trying to remember the stuff you read in college, but please attempt to keep up. Even if you weren’t an undergraduate English major, you might recall that the narrator of “Bartleby the Scrivener” was called “The Lawyer.” That’s right: “The Lawyer.” The whole thing takes place in a law firm! And remember what a scrivener did? It was the worst job in the firm – probably one of the worst jobs of all time. You sat at a desk copying legal documents – handwriting them – for hours. Reminiscent of doc review, or due diligence, or “running changes” – scrivening was mindless and, if you kept at it for too long, guaranteed to drive you bat-shit. You – and everyone else – would obviously “prefer not to.”

And yet, somehow or other, our narrator – “The Lawyer” (i.e., a partner at the firm) – is astonished when Bartleby, after being asked politely to scriven something, even more politely states in return: “I’d prefer not to.” The Lawyer explains his astonishment at Bartleby’s resistance by pointing out how he, as a partner – even in 1853! – possesses a “natural expectancy of instant compliance.”

You know all about that, right? The “natural expectancy of instant compliance”? Sure you do.

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