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, Way Worse Than Being A Dentist, is available on Amazon, as is his previous book, Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy (affiliate links).
When I launched The People’s Therapist, my intent was to get stuff off my chest — process a smidgen of psychic trauma. I’d write a column or two, exorcise the odd demon, piss off Sullivan & Cromwell, and call it a day.
It never occurred to me I’d be deluged with lawyers as clients.
It never, ever occurred to me I’d be deluged with partners as clients.
It never so much as crossed my mind they’d be so unhappy.
It turns out being a partner can be… not all that. For many of my clients, the job boils down to evil middle management.
Permit me to explain….
Biglaw associates resemble the low-level evil henchman in James Bond movies — those omnipresent guys in jumpsuits who all look the same and do what they’re told. They drive around evil headquarters in little golf carts, manipulate dials in the control room, shoot at James Bond (always missing) — then get shot themselves. Presumably — like Biglaw associates — they’re mostly in it for the money, rather than a genuine penchant for evil.
I felt like an impostor at S&C — only pretending to be a genuine low-level evil henchman. I was more like James Bond after he bonks the real low-level evil henchman on the head, then reemerges strolling through evil headquarters sporting that guy’s jumpsuit.
I was an impostor — trying to look like I drank the Kool-Aid, going through the motions. I wasn’t even a clandestine agent, battling evil, like 007. The plan to blow up the moon wasn’t my problem. I just wanted a way out of that crummy job — one not involving a fatal dunk in the evil piranha tank. Somewhere in that evil-lair-secreted-in-a-hollowed-out-volcano there had to be a door marked exit.
Most of the partners I work with are looking for the same thing. The difference is, as a partner, you’re not an impostor pretending to be a low-level evil henchman — you’re an impostor pretending to be evil middle management.
“Preposterous!” you sputter, outraged. “Partners never condescend to be middle anything! They crouch, smugly, at the pinnacle of the evil pyramid! With one wiggle of their evil little finger… they manipulate human life!”
It can look that way from the bottom rung, whence a partner appears as far removed from a low-level evil henchman as a junior associate from a positive bank balance.
From the vantage of the pyramid’s sub-sub-basement, all partners appear interchangeable — the unifying feature being their utter dissimilarity from anyone like you. A partner’s one of them — evil incarnate, possessing his own evil headquarters — his own creepy evil white cat (for stroking purposes) — and his own weird evil European accent (with which to mutter, “Come now, Mr. Bond…”) A partner doesn’t have to drink the Kool-Aid — an IV bag of the stuff dangles by his bedside.
If only that were true. After getting all up-close and personal with a bevy of partners, I’ve caught wind of a terrifying reality: All partners are not the same. Most are nothing more than evil middle managers.