Billable Hours, Boutique Law Firms, Deaths, Litigators, My Job Is Murder

My Job Is Murder: Of Fainting and Failing

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Ed. note: Welcome to ATL’s first foray into serial fiction. “My Job Is Murder,” a mystery set in a D.C. appellate boutique, will appear one chapter at a time, M-W-F, over the next few weeks. Prior installments appear here; please read them first.
The author, a former appellate lawyer, wishes to emphasize that any resemblance to any actual person, living or dead, is purely coincidental. Except for the geeky stuff. Appellate lawyers really are that geeky.
Susanna Dokupil can be reached by email at or on Facebook.

Back at the office, Tyler reached for his case file. A yellow Post-It note on top read “Drinks at 5 p.m. Solstice. K.”
Tyler instantly e-mailed Katarina one word: Yes.
Then he noticed an e-mail from the managing partner announcing cuts in the recruiting budget. No reimbursements for associate lunches with summers. The firm has, however, negotiated a deal with Solstice such that all recruiting meals eaten there and paid for by corporate credit card are still fully reimbursable up to $7.00 per person. Tyler groaned audibly. Having to eat well-presented-yet-unflavored food every day was his personal hell.
An e-mail from Katarina appeared! His heart pounded as he read her reply: “?” He read it again and mentally administered severe self-flagellation for a divination attempt gone badly awry! Tyler wished vainly for a time reversal spell to recall that e-mail. Seeing none, he instead replied, “What is the answer to which the question is ‘dinner tonight?'” He crossed his fingers.

Another e-mail from the managing partner popped up. He quickly translated the Corporatica and gathered that due to certain economic conditions, associate bonuses would no longer be paid in lockstep. Indeed, certain associates would no longer be paid at all. On behalf of Ken Thrax.
K. Ken. Drinks at 5 p.m. with Ken. Drinks with Ken so that Ken could have the No-Billables-No-Bonus talk . . . or worse. Tyler’s experience-point differential with his classmates bode ill for his chances of surviving the grim reaper’s pruning scythe if MakoProphet had layoffs. His billables were not the highest — about 2000/year. Tyler had no interest in making partner, and he had thought it impossible to get fired before he had met his financial goals. Tyler wondered now if he had miscalculated in using the extra 300-400 hours per year to write academic articles, hoping to get one picked up by a law review that professorial hiring committees at top-tier institutions would respect. He cringed. As much as Tyler hated his job, he hated the idea of having no job and no money even more. But was it already too late? In this climate, no one was safe. Especially not a third-year associate with mediocre billables.
At 4:45, Tyler grabbed his jacket and raced out of his office to meet his fate. As he reached the entrance to Solstice, he felt a slight dizziness … and fainted.
Tyler awoke, surrounded by strangers. “He’s awake!” one lady said. “What’s the time?” he asked. “5:30,” a tall man answered. Tyler sprang to his feet and went into the restaurant. He saw no one he recognized. He had missed his meeting with Ken Thrax. If it had been Ken. But if it hadn’t, who was it?
“Are you all right?” asked another man. “Sure, I’m fine,” Tyler answered. But he didn’t feel fine. He had a splitting headache. He left as quickly as he could. He hated having drawn attention to himself in such an abnormal fashion, and he considered offering a plausible explanation, but he hated answering nosy questions even more than he hated people’s judgment about his abnormalities, so he excused himself and headed for the elevator.
He checked his BlackBerry, dreading an e-mail from Ken. Nothing from the managing partner. But, Katarina had accepted his dinner invitation. He raced up to her office to discuss details.
As the elevator opened, Tyler heard an ear-splitting shriek. Tyler ran toward it and joined the gathering crowd peering into the door of Ken Thrax’s office. Ken Thrax was dead, slumped over his desk.
Well, Tyler thought morbidly, at least it wouldn’t matter that he missed drinks.
Susanna Dokupil is a former appellate lawyer who abandoned regular employment in favor of raising four kids. She can be reached by email at or on Facebook.
Earlier: Prior installments of My Job Is Murder

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