In law, if you’re making big money, you’re working for the bad guys. That’s the sad truth.
I’m not talking about defending vicious criminals. I mean tougher cases – like representing the 1% of the world who own everything.
Deep in the recesses of big law, you might not realize who you’re working for. From where you’re standing, your boss is the firm. Juniors report to seniors. Seniors report to partners. Partners report to God.
In reality, up, over the partner’s head, there’s someone called “the client” – a possessor of vast wealth. Normal people don’t hire biglaw – the owners-of-everything do, and they don’t get uber-rich being nice. Things only get worse when they’re dealing with lawyers.
If and when you actually meet “the client,” you might feel like an Imperial Stormtrooper aboard the Death Star:
Lord Vader? Great to meet you, Sir. Yes, absolutely, the torture chamber is under control. Yes sir, we just checked the planetary death ray this morning. One hundred percent ready to go. My pleasure, Sir.
Then the client walks away, and you play that same argument in your head: You have one hundred and seventy grand in school loans. They’re going to blow the planet up anyway. You’re not torturing anyone personally.
Some lawyers learn to embrace the evil – to “go with it.” I knew a guy in law school who left to work for a firm that did nothing – NOTHING – but defend Big Tobacco. We ribbed him about it. In fact, we regarded him as a stinking pile of vomit. His response was to chain-smoke and brag about money. He disappeared to a hateful red state to work black voodoo, and by now he’s no doubt worth millions. Loathed by millions, too.
My first taste of evil came early at Sullivan & Cromwell. It was a deal for Goldman Sachs with an amusing codename: “Project Rolex.” At the closing I finally encountered the client – and the wry humor of i-bankers: He wore the largest gold wristwatch ever made.
I developed a fascination with Mr. Rolex. His name was all over documents I’d been staring at for weeks. The deal – a securitization of mortgages on a package of investment properties in the Mid-West – suburban strip malls and cheap hotels on interstates – was worth half a billion dollars. As I generated documents, I took guesses at his net worth. If it wasn’t a billion, it was darn close. A guy who met Bill Gates at a technology convention wrote a piece admitting all he could think about while they shook hands was “$500 per second. $500 per second. $500 per second.” Same thing with this client: I couldn’t believe how much money he had.
After weeks of late nights, the partner asked me to arrange catering for the closing. The choice was the standard Sullivan & Cromwell breakfast with rolls and bagels or the “deluxe” breakfast, with lox. For Mr. Rolex, I pulled out the stops and ordered deluxe.
He stormed into the room the next morning, sporting a cowboy hat, cowboy boots and the giant gleaming timepiece. I was awestruck.
But Mr. Rolex was not in a good mood. He turned to the partner:
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