Have you ever thought that your law professor was a sadistic bastard? Have you ever felt like the prosecutor across the table was an emotional black hole? Would it freak you out if you turned out to be clinically right?
We’ve talked a lot about mental health recently, from panic buttons to Asperger’s (or autism spectrum disorder, if you prefer). But today we’ve come across a truly chilling article from a law professor who admits that she’s a sociopath and writes about how law is the perfect field for people like her.
I’m turning the snark meter way down on this post because, well, I don’t want to be murdered…
Note the UPDATE at the end of this post concerning the professor’s possible identity.
The sociopathtic attorney is apparently barred somewhere in California. She’s a law professor and has been a prosecutor and an associate of some kind. She also teaches Sunday school at a Mormon Church, because apparently “[t]he Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a sociopath’s dream.”
The woman has decided to keep herself anonymous — for somewhat obvious reasons — and I’m not particularly interested in figuring out where she works. She says that she’s non-violent and has never physically hurt anybody (not that she’s never thought about it), but I don’t exactly want to test her (or him; sometimes anonymous authors mix their gender up).
In fact, I’m only posting about it because she says stuff like this:
I loved getting high marks in school; it meant I could get away with things other students couldn’t. When I was young, what thrilled me was the risk of figuring out just how little I could study and still pull off the A. It was the same for being an attorney. During the California bar exam, people were crying from the stress. The convention center where the exam took place looked like a disaster relief center; people made desperate attempts to recall everything they had memorized over the prior eight weeks—weeks that I spent vacationing in Mexico. Despite being woefully ill-prepared by many standards, I was able to maintain calm and focus enough to maximize the knowledge I did have. I passed while others failed.
Regardless of my laziness and general lack of interest, I was actually a great lawyer when I was trying. At one point, I worked as a prosecutor in the misdemeanor department of the district attorney’s office. My sociopathic traits make me a particularly excellent trial lawyer. I’m cool under pressure. I feel no guilt or compunction, which is handy in such a dirty business. Misdemeanor prosecutors almost always have to walk into a trial with cases they’ve never worked on before. All you can do is bluff and hope that you’ll be able to scramble through it. The thing with sociopaths is that we are largely unaffected by fear. Besides, the nature of the crime is of no moral concern to me; I am interested only in winning the legal game.
Whatever buddy, you don’t have to be crazy to be only interested in winning the legal game. “Needing money” works just as well.
There’s also this lovely story about working at a law firm:
When I was at one law firm, I was assigned to work for a senior associate named Jane. I was based in one of the firm’s satellite offices, so I saw her once every few weeks. In law firms, you are supposed to treat your senior associate as if she is the ultimate authority, and Jane took this hierarchy seriously. You could tell that she never enjoyed such power in any other social sphere. Her pale skin mottled with age, poor diet, and middling hygiene was evidence of a lifetime spent outside the social elite. She wanted to wear her power well, but she was clumsy with it — heavy-handed in certain circumstances and a pushover in others. She was an entertaining blend of power and self-doubt.
I was not her best associate, and Jane believed that I was undeserving of all that I had accomplished. She put much effort into dressing appropriately, while I wore flip-flops and T-shirts at every semi-reasonable opportunity. While she billed as many hours as humanly possible, I exploited the nonexistent vacation policy by taking three-day weekends and weeks-long holidays.
Later, she describes breaking this senior associate down in a way that is almost Cartman-esque.
Mind you, I don’t know if I believe all of these stories. I don’t know if I’ve ever met a sociopath, but I’ve certainly met a lot of people who were “off” in some way who had an outsized belief in their effects on people. Then again, when “not” having an effect on people means that you lose focus before you kill them, maybe the occasional delusion of grandeur is just fine:
In explaining their horrible actions, people often say that they “just snapped.” I know that feeling. I stood there for a moment, letting my rage reach that decision-making part of my brain, and I suddenly became filled with a sense of calm purpose. I blinked my eyes and set my jaw. I started following him. Adrenaline started flowing; my mouth tasted metallic. I fought to keep my peripheral vision in focus, hyperaware of everything around me, trying to predict the movement of the crowd. I was hoping that he would walk into a deserted hallway where I would find him alone. I felt so sure of myself, so focused on this one thing I had to do. An image sprang to mind: my hands wrapped around his neck, my thumbs digging deep into his throat, his life slipping away under my unrelenting grasp. How right that would feel. But I know I had been caught in a megalomaniacal fantasy. And in the end it didn’t matter; I lost sight of him.
She doesn’t tell any stories about teaching law students, but I can’t imagine that she’s the kind of professor you want to go to complaining about a B-minus.
People who don’t feel remorse when their actions cause suffering scare me. Be they “sociopaths,” “the NRA” or “Joakim Noah,” feeling bad when you cause suffering is one of those prerequisites to the social contract.
I would certainly not want a sociopath on my law school faculty or in my firm. But you can’t punish people for what they might do or how they could be feeling. If this lady had outed herself and said what school she teaches at, it’s not like she could or should be fired. People would just have to deal and try not to totally freak out when she gave them what she calls her “predator stare.”
That said, man, wouldn’t law school and the practice of law be better if it was a place where sociopaths don’t thrive? She has a whole section subtitled “Why Trial Law Is a Sociopath’s Fancy.” That’s not good. Does it have to be that way? Couldn’t war be a sociopath’s fancy and trial law be more like an “inefficient use” of a sociopath’s talents?
In any event, don’t murder me. I like living. I hope giving law students C’s is enough like strangling the life out of a man’s body that you don’t get bored or anything.
UPDATE (5/17/2013): Here’s additional information about the possible identity of the sociopath law professor.
Confessions of a Sociopath [Psychology Today]