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).
To judge by the accoutrements of “the profession,” lawyers, as a group, maintain an inflated self-image. They think they’re all that. It’s easy to get sucked into this mindset – especially fresh out of law school. Perhaps, when you’re not “thinking like a lawyer,” you’ve spent a few minutes admiring the little “Esq.” printed after your name on an envelope from school or a law firm — or some company in Parsippany trying to sell you a genuine mahogany and brass pen holder featuring a statue of “blind justice” for only $59.99 with free shipping.
Back when I passed the bar, I was offered the option by New York State to purchase a printed document – “suitable for hanging” – to memorialize the event. I figured what the heck and blew the twenty-five bucks. The “parchment” arrived in a cardboard tube, and it was huge – like a royal proclamation. I felt ridiculous, rolled it back up and stuck it in a closet, where it remains.
It’s hard to imagine accountants (who usually make more than lawyers), or bankers (who always make more than lawyers) laying on the pretension to quite the degree lawyers take for granted…
My father was a physician, and in his early days, he fell for the professional ostentation thing, too. After he graduated from medical school, he ordered “MD” plates for his car. Sure enough, the next time he took the rusty old Mercury Marquis in for a repair, the mechanics charged him double. That was enough – he sent back the plates.
At least doctors are highly regarded in our society. My father was a psychiatrist, not a brain surgeon, but there was grudging respect for the fact of his MD. If you were in a car accident or had a heart attack on a plane, theoretically my dad could save your life. That meant something.
With lawyers, self-esteem outpaces public acclaim. That’s because, for the most part, non-lawyers view lawyers as worthless parasites – or at least, as existing on the more worthless, parasitical end of the esteem spectrum.
I’ll never forget the time I asked a Wall Street-er what he actually thought about lawyers.
I’d received the nudge from Sullivan & Cromwell, which meant I had six months to find another job. A headhunter somehow set me up with an interview to be a bond trader at JP Morgan.
I considered the whole idea misguided – I was a lawyer from one of the top firms in the world, and far above working as a trader. I thought of bond traders as slick goombahs with Staten Island accents shouting into a phone all day. I was an attorney, with a degree from Hahvard. I showed up at Morgan as a courtesy to the headhunter. I radiated disdain.