Biglaw, Contract Attorneys, Small Law Firms, Solo Practitioners, Television

How Bad Is Life In A Law Firm? A Sitcom Tries To Answer That Question

When portraying lawyers, television tends to stay away from the horrors of Biglaw. The good versus evil of the criminal justice system tends to get more play; there is more inherent drama when freedom is on the line (and who can resist the ubiquitous chung CHUNG). If any other types of lawyers are represented, it skews toward do-gooders making emotional pleas in court as champion of the underdog or smarmy corporate lawyers finding the loopholes for the rich. But the hard-working cogs that actually make the legal industry churn along go unrecognized.

So what happens when a network sitcom tries to take on Biglaw?

During a recent document review project, the powers that be tried to block all internet access. They did this by blocking all websites, save the version of Relativity we were using, on Internet Explorer. Unfortunately for my productivity, Chrome was also loaded on the computer with no similar blocks.

In completely related news, I recently came across the pilot episode of NBC’s Working the Engles.

When we first meet Jenna Engles, played by the adorable Kacey Rohl, she is leading the decidedly unglamourous life of a law firm junior associate. She has an unreasonable boss who is both demanding and belittling. She and a colleague are envious of a co-worker’s 167 billable hour week. And when she leaves work to attend a to a non-life-threatening family crisis, her job is threatened by said unreasonable boss. It is so bad that even a bystander with a head of half-straightened, half-frizzy hair knows that Jenna’s life sucks.

Sure, a lot of the specifics are overblown in the way that broad spectrum network sitcoms tend to be. There is even a scene where an associate is actually dancing like a trained poodle for the entertainment of a partner. But there are also things that ring true for Biglaw survivors. The sense of desperation when asked to perform tasks beyond their experience, the sinking feeling that all of your time is being sucked into this job that you not-so-secretly hate, and the dawning realization that your life is spiraling away from you.

For those of you who are interested in seeing how your job is turned into a caricature by NBC over the long term…  well, you aren’t in luck. About halfway through the pilot, Jenna quits Biglaw in epic fashion, exposing the chronic overbilling of a partner on her way out the door, in order to run her family’s struggling law firm (and no, that doesn’t count as a spoiler — it is the entire premise of the television show). But it is kinda satisfying to see the reality of Biglaw life twisted into shorthand for a miserable, on-the-brink-of-losing-it existence. If you’re into that kind of thing.

The remainder of the season will focus on Jenna learning the ropes as a solo practitioner with the help of her oh-so-wacky family (who are also apparently partners/owners in the practice, even though none of them are lawyers, ethics be damned). This, of course, veers much closer to the sort of typical tv lawyer fare, as the wide-eyed Jenna will likely be very earnest in her attempts to help the little guy (foreshadowed clumsily by the fact that the firm is struggling because her late father took on too many pro bono cases).

But it is still fun to see remnants of Biglaw life in the pilot episode.


Alex Rich is a T14 grad and Biglaw refugee who has worked as a contract attorney for the last 7 years… and counting.  If you have a story about the underbelly of the legal world known as contract work, email Alex at alexrichesq@gmail.com and be sure to follow Alex on Twitter @AlexRichEsq

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