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, Bad Therapist: A Romance, is available on Amazon, as are his previous books, Way Worse Than Being A Dentist and Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy (affiliate links).
If you’re a lawyer appearing at my doorstep, and you work in Biglaw, there’s a good chance you’re seeking a way out. You don’t know what you want to do next, but the status quo is insupportable. That’s the standard set-up.
If you’re a lawyer appearing at my doorstep, and you work in Biglaw, we’ll likely talk about the challenges ahead. Trapped in the bathysphere of Biglaw, it’s hard to see out, let alone get out. You’ve heard rumors about human beings who enjoy their jobs. In your experience, big firm attorneys loathe their chosen profession the way other people breathe air….
If you’re a lawyer appearing at my doorstep, and you work in Biglaw, we’ll probably talk about a sideways shuffle I call the “crab-walk.” You can’t transfer from a Biglaw firm directly to a tolerable work environment in one leap — the chasm between Biglaw and anywhere anyone would want to be is too great. Crab-walking is the next best thing, based on the indisputable principle that a tiny step in the direction of somewhere else amounts to an improvement. Take a reduced schedule at your current firm. Give a “kinder, gentler” mid-law shop a shake. Go in-house at a bank. Dial for dollars as a headhunter. Switch to consulting and live in a hotel in Indianapolis all week writing reports recommending the firing of middle managers. Get a sales and support position at Westlaw teaching summers to concoct search terms. Small crab-walk-y steps remove you one centimeter at a time from where you are right now. That, by definition, is good.
If you’re a lawyer appearing at my doorstep, and you work in Biglaw, you probably want out, and have since your first taste of the Kool-Aid. You need to hear you’re not crazy or alone, and that there are others who long for a job without constant anxiety attacks, where Sunday nights aren’t a horror show, where a partner won’t tell you without a trace of irony to “go ahead and take the weekend off,” where it isn’t considered an easy night to get home at 11 p.m.
These generalities hold true for about 96% of the lawyers appearing at my doorstep who work in Biglaw. They do not, however, apply to everyone.
I don’t want to exaggerate the phenomenon, but there are folks who actually “fit in” in Biglaw. They actually like it there. These are the “odd ducks,” and from time to time, some of them also appear at my door.