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).
Remember Green Acres, that fish-out-of-water comedy wherein Eddie Albert drags Eva Gabor out to live on some tumbledown farm in the middle of nowhere? She’s a Park Avenue socialite, but he’s the husband and the penis-haver and it’s the 1960’s — so what he says, goes. If he’s jonesing for fresh air and farm living, she has no choice.
I don’t remember much more than the theme song and opening credits, but the concept — giving it all up, packing your bags and fleeing for the sticks, spouse (and maybe kids) in hand — resonates with my lawyer clients. Some are beginning to sound like aspiring Eddie Alberts.
I’d like to say there’s a great lawyer return to the land on the way — driven by a love for nature and the outdoors. To some extent that’s true. But mostly, it’s a product of desperation. The big themes are escaping Biglaw misery, seeking adventure, looking for a healthier lifestyle… and fleeing school loans. One client’s story weaves these themes into a magical tapestry of personal growth, spiritual awakening, and debt avoidance.
He was suffering modestly at a Biglaw firm in L.A. Then he got posted to an office in Asia, where he happened to speak the language. There he discovered how bad bad can be. The U.S. office dished out standard-issue Biglaw brutality. Nothing could have prepared him for the Asia office. The cruelties committed by the local staff and attorneys would make Hieronymus Bosch wince. In their laser-beam-like focus on punishing my client for speaking their language and attempting to work in their homeland, they achieved new plateau of sadism on a weekly basis. He developed insomnia, migraines, then panic attacks — and was fired a year later, without comment.
That’s when the Green Acres theme began playing in his head….
I’m not sure where he got the idea, but for whatever reason, he bought a 500-square-foot cabin in the middle of nowhere, snug against the 49th parallel. Then he wrote a blog about woodcarving. And that’s about all he did — that, and shovel snow.
Ten months later, he remembered the $150k he owed in school loans and back taxes from his Asian debacle, packed his bags, and caught a ride to New York City — and doc review. Foreign language doc review pays better than regular doc review, but it’s still doc review. Working with the burnt-out remnants of lawyers is refreshing after working with actual lawyers — and at first, it was amusing to get paid to peruse an Asian businessman’s emails to his mistress, then click “relevant,” “incriminating,” and “privileged.” But even assuming steady work, he didn’t see how he could pay off his loans within a decade.
His solution? Hitch a ride back to The Great White North — and his rustic cabin. There, he could find public defender work in the local courthouse — and wait tables. He calculated that $30k per year would be enough to cover food and fuel — but insufficient to attract the attention of his creditors. Not even a bank addicted to the lifeblood of youth can squeeze that blood from a stone. In his free time — which is most of the time, at this point — he wood-carves. For whatever reason, he finds that more exciting than doc review.
Voila. All you weeping, tooth-gnashing, garment-rending lawyers out there who constantly ask me — what can I do now? Here’s a solution. Green Acres is the place to be!