Thursday, January 14, 2010

Even if You Win, You Lose

Anyone who reads this blog knows that Above the Law it isn't. That is, Esq. Never tends to focus on life on the wrong side of the legal industry train tracks rather than the world where associates get annual bonuses worth more than my car and would never dream of purchasing a suit off the rack from Goodwill.

No, usually we focus less on attorneys whose large corporate clients allow them to own nice downtown condos and more on "attorneys" whose court referred clients help them pay to heat their vans/homes parked down by the river.

Today, however, let's take a look at those who have "made it" in the legal profession. No, this isn't a sour grapes post. I'm not sure if working 90 hours a week performing associate level grunt work is exactly my thing. I do, however, know that actually having a job that's affords me a modicum of dignity while earning a salary that may give me a shot at paying off my debt some time before the sun implodes most certainly is "my thing".

Besides, I fully accept what I've been told a number of times: Those T-14 kids who reflexively understood that the LSAT passage about Harriet Tubman was a "whimsical analysis of an iconoclastic figure from Antebellum American history" are clearly our superiors. We're really quite impressed by you guys - honest.

Nonetheless, is a legal career that doesn't require one to click a mouse in a windowless basement like a retarded chimp really all that it's cracked up to be?

I'm actually not going to dedicate this post to the insane hours big firm attorneys need to work or the dry nature of most of their tasks (reading over SEC documents, etc.). I'm also not going to pick on the court room aspect of a successful practice - hauling oneself from court to court and dealing with obnoxious and annoying clients.

Instead, let me turn to an organization called Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers. For those of you unaware of this organization, it's essentially a support group (found in most states) for the multitude of attorneys each year who fall under the sway of the bottle, pills, or seriously consider offing themselves (probably much to the glee of the lawyer-joke spewing populace).

Congratulations, everyone, we've selected a field which not only requires three years at overpriced, fraudulent "trade" schools and taking on more debt than the Democratic Republic of the Congo but that also likely ends with a trip to the Betty Ford Clinic.

What? You think this is just an isolated group that caters to a small segment of the profession? Perhaps you can then point me to "Systems Administrators Concerned for Systems Administrators"? Can you explain to me why every law school orientation I've heard about has a presentation by a representative from LCL before students even have their first classes? How come the freakin' number to their hotline is on the back of my Bar ID card?!

I still remember the poor schlub who was responsible for the presentation at my orientation session. I assume he had to further shame himself by sharing his story with us as part of his community service plea agreement. Apparently, the stress of law firm life had led him to become such an addict that he had resorted to drinking mouthwash!

You see - the long hours, demanding and arrogant firm partners, absurd clients, stressful court sessions, insufferable colleagues, and everything else adds up to a create a career that isn't too fun. In fact, it's so "not fun" that it drives an inordinate number of our "brothers of the bar" to depression, substance abuse, and even suicide.

I don't recall thinking, "Gee, I really think I'd like to join a profession where after driving myself deep into the red to face bleak job prospects, I'll also have the elevated chance of my family finding my body in a near catatonic state after sucking down a bottle of Listerine all night."

Yet, here we are.


  1. Well said.

    I am sure the dentists are happy lawyers passed them on the suicide rate charts a few years back.

  2. Cleary, none of you are cut out for the law. Being a good lawyer *requires* having a Christ complex. And by that I mean that you embrace the fate of sacrificing your own humanity for the sake of saving others.

    That's one of the biggest reasons I went to law school. For God's sake, I must be the only attorney on earth who actually saw "..And Justice for All" before I went to law school.

    Am I an alcoholic womanizer who is hurtling at light speed towards being 100% incapable of having real relationships with others? Probably.

    Do I spend my days deciding the fate of people and protecting the very fabric of civilization? Yes.

    Is that a fair trade?

    Well, whenever I'm confused I ask myself, What Would Jesus Do?

  3. Okay...and we have our first entry for the "Weirdest Comment of 2010"

  4. Thanks for inspiring me to take a Leave of Absence from law school in the face of warnings by my Academic Dean that I will be out there helpless with my master’s degree.

    Hey, what software did you use to create that animation? It rules.

  5. Great news! I'm glad you didn't listen to that money grubbing dean.

    I used this site:

    Unfortunately, the voices the computer generates aren't always clear, but it's pretty good, free software.

  6. I am trying to gauge my probability of landing a good job within the next six months: Graduated from a TT in top 10%, worked at regional large firm for the last 7 years, I am not making partner and will probably be laid off in the next 2 to 3 months. I graduated with $110K in debt, paid it all off and now have about $270 in cash (including untaxed capital gains and 401K). I am not married and have no debts (no car, no credit cards, only a lease obligation). I live in a top 10 population city and have "practiced" general corporate law. What is my probability of landing a job in the next 6 months in this environment? Should I leave law now? A partner suggested I get my LLM which I laughed at. I hated the law, but the money was too good to pass up.

  7. Yeah, that's precisely WHY I don't envy anyone in that area. They can keep all that BS. I'll stick to my path & the mindset of "desperate times call for desperate measures."

  8. Christ Complex guy - As a friendly suggestion and not an attack, you may want to spend a little time talking to someone. I have seen enough lawyers climb the ego path to learn that it only leads to a cliff. Talking to someone could really help restore a sense of balance and perspective.

    As for the point of the article, Esq. Never highlights an important part of the practice that should be brought to the attention of those thinking about joining it. The mental strain of practice is just huge - and that mental strain just builds on itself. I have had colleagues kill themselves, have themselves committed, and just plain drop dead - sometimes even in their 20s. Alcoholism is still around, but more people are probably abusing prescription drugs - and depression is pretty much endemic.

    There are certain personalities that are more at risk than others, but the constant stress wears at just about everyone. Also, when the stress of the job is supplemented by personal stress due to divorce, death, or illness, it becomes especially difficult to resist.

  9. Friday night I dealed a charity blackjack casino night. I thought I was going to get at most $50. Three and a half hours later after dealing to a bunch of happy country music including jewel and some american idol guy, we all queued up and happily received $100.

    Say on an uncontested divorce I'd work the same amount and receive $500. I'd have to spend 200 in advertising and 200 in office and bar expenditures. So I'd be making the same per hour. As well as the work would drag on for months and months at best.

    The same day I've got an old case about to go to trial in two week. There's discovery outstanding from 4 years ago asking to identify experts. I get supplementation from ealier in the week. There's an explicit duty to "seasonably" supplement discovery related to experts in the civil procedure rules here.

    WTF?! While it's nice to have a reminder law practice is for losers, I'm constantly amazed by the bizarre preschool horseshit that never works, but can just ruin an otherwise pleasant weekend.

    Okay I'll admit it, my footsies hurt before I drifted off to sleep friday night. But I'm not still stewing on it.

  10. >Great news! I'm glad you didn't listen to that money grubbing dean.

    Thanks for your kind encouragement. Maybe I’ll write an Xtranormal movie about meeting with him.

    I had been a second career 1L who had done some stuff in journalism before all the newspapers and magazines went out of business. So I am sort of once bitten, twice shy about how once-reliable career paths can suddenly get the shaft.

    I told the Assistant Academic Dean I was leaving to re-evaluate whether the big picture was worth it. I cited the school’s 30 percent tuition increase and my concern about the jobs market. I only really wanted a low-paying public interest job somewhere, but the potential debt load was soaring beyond what I had originally calculated.

    The dean was clearly practiced in rattling off a sales shpiel, which he did: “I know the figures out there are alarming. But if you had read some of the analyses I have been reading, there are some signs it will completely turn around by 2012.”

    Our tuition, of course, pays for the school to employ so many deans. When my dad went to law school, there was only one of them and not this giant bureaucracy.

    So obviously the dean could be right about being out there on my own with a lightweight master’s. And I may end up working the envelope counter at Staples. I’m hoping, though, that I can figure out something else where I won’t be $160,000 in debt.

    Fight the power.

  11. Wrapping one's car around a tree is looking pretty attractive right now.


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