Ed. note: This post is by Will Meyerhofer, a former Sullivan & Cromwell attorney turned psychotherapist. He holds degrees from Harvard, NYU Law, and The Hunter College School of Social Work, and he blogs at The People’s Therapist. His new book, Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy, is available on Amazon (affiliate link).
I was kidding around with some of the guys at my gym, tossing around the question – would you fight Mike Tyson for $3 million?
One of them joked – I think he heard this on Howard Stern – that he’d fellate Mike Tyson for $3 million. He could spend the first $1 million on mouthwash and retire on the rest.
Then another guy spoke up, a sometime professional heavyweight boxer. (I’m not making this up, he really has boxed, for big money, not too long ago – and has plans to do so again.)
“It’s not worth it. Mike would destroy you. There would be no retirement.”
He went on to explain what he meant. He knew from experience – this guy had been in the ring. You’d have more than bruises – you’d have concussions, brain injuries, damaged bones and joints. You’d never be the same – and it wouldn’t be worth it. You’re better off not having $3 million but appreciating the finer things, like being able to walk and talk and think.
I saw his point.
Biglaw is also not worth it, even for big money. That’s because it, too, destroys you – just like Iron Mike…
A lawyer client, a fifth-year at a big firm on the West Coast, mused to me the other day, “This job wouldn’t be so bad if I didn’t end up crying alone in my office so much.”
“You mean, it wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t suck?”
“Yeah,” she said. “That’s pretty much it. Imagine doing this for ordinary money. No one would consider doing this for ordinary money.”
No one would consider fighting Mike Tyson for ordinary money, either. And it’s not worth it for $3 million. Big law isn’t even worth it for $160k a year.
Don’t believe it? Allow me to elaborate.
The process begins with sleep deprivation – plain, simple sleep deprivation. Not sleeping. Staying up all night and facing sarcasm if you plan to take the following day off.
One of my clients brought a pillow into work, so she could put her face down on her desk and sleep for an hour at a time. Her officemate saw her, and told her what a good idea it was. Then she brought in a pillow, too. Only at a law firm.
You might not think sleep deprivation is a big deal. Hell, you’re a machine. You don’t need sleep. All-nighters? No sweat.
Sleep deprivation is like binge drinking. There’s a machismo around staying up all night, night after night – like doing ten shots of tequila. You’re tough. Not a problem.
Later, as you puke your guts out and pray for sweet release, you realize you were being an idiot.
Read a few scientific studies on sleep deprivation and you will understand it fries your brain and leaves you an emotional wreck. You can’t think straight, your immune system crashes, you fall apart. As one of my senior associate clients put it, “I thought I was unflappable when I got here. I’m flapped.”
Naturally, if you aren’t sleeping, you’re also not having a life. So relationships dissolve, friendships fade, your pet starts living with your parents. And you start thinking about boinking that guy from the antitrust group, even if he isn’t much to look at.
Okay. So why is there sleep deprivation at big law firms?