Last year, St. Martin’s Press published The Partner Track, the debut novel of lawyer Helen Wan. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, I praised the book for being engaging, suspenseful, and — unlike so many legal novels — realistic. The paperback edition of The Partner Track became available last week.
I enjoy fiction about lawyers, as both a reader and writer — my own firstnovel comes out in a few weeks — and I’m deeply interested in how other writers work. So I interviewed Helen Wan about her book, her approach to writing, and how she managed to write a novel while holding down a demanding job as an in-house lawyer for Time Warner. I also asked for her advice on how women and minority lawyers can succeed in Biglaw.
Here’s a (lightly edited and condensed) write-up of our conversation.
Despite surveys showing that being a law firm associate is the unhappiest job in America, we know a fair number of happy lawyers. We don’t tend to write about them very much — we like our stories to have a little more bite or edge around here — but there is such a thing as a happy lawyer (affiliate link).
Still, there’s no denying that the stereotype of the miserable lawyer has some truth to it — and that, after a while, some of these lawyers leave the legal profession. Most people who go to medical school end up practicing medicine for the long haul; many people who go to law school end up doing something different after a while.
If you’re thinking of leaving the law, what should you do?
Dr. N. Robert Riordan is a graduate of NYU School of Law and a former U.S. securities attorney for London- and Sydney-based Herbert Smith Freehills. After 10 years of practice in New York, London and Rome, he made the switch from corporate law to private practice as a clinical psychologist. Dr. Riordan now acts as a therapist to dozens of NYC attorneys. The following is the second of a two-part interview with Dr. Riordan. (You can read the first part here.)
ATL: In addition to professionals like attorneys, whom do you see in your private practice?
The remainder of my practice focuses on couples. I work with two distinct types of couples. First, I see couples whose romantic relationships are in crisis. The goal here is to improve their bond to one another. I happen to see many couples where both parties are professionals, and, most often, each member of the couple is struggling to balance personal and professional demands.
ATL: I would imagine that couples come to treatment for a variety of reasons.
I work with many couples whose connection to one another has been strained by things like demanding careers, childrearing, or an unexpected financial hardship. These couples are looking to recapture the connection that originally brought them together and to start working as a partnership again. Also I work with a handful of couples who are facing specific challenges, like infidelity or the loss of a child.
ATL: Has your training as an attorney prepared you for the conflicts that presumably arise in couples’ therapy?
Dr. N. Robert Riordan is a graduate of NYU School of Law and a former U.S. securities attorney for London- and Sydney-based Herbert Smith Freehills. After 10 years of practice in New York, London and Rome, he made the switch from corporate law to private practice as a clinical psychologist. Dr. Riordan now acts as a therapist to dozens of NYC attorneys. The following is the first of a two-part interview with Dr. Riordan.
ATL: The most obvious question first – why the switch from law to clinical psychology?
The short answer is: I grew up. I went to law school when I was 21 years old, and I went with the belief that a law degree would serve me well no matter what I ultimately opted to do in my professional life. I never intended to practice securities law for a decade, but the work was interesting and I was given the opportunity to live in some fascinating places. In time, and with the help of a therapist, I discovered my true professional interests.
ATL: Did you set out to work with attorneys when you started your private practice?
Throughout graduate school, because I was older and a former attorney, I was assigned to work with many professionals as clients. While I have a diverse array of clients, the majority are doctors, lawyers and bankers. We speak the same language.
ATL: Our readers will want to know why attorneys are seeking therapy. Can you discuss this topic?
Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, Casey Berman of Leave Law Behind discusses how perfectionism can be a barrier to leaving an unhappy career in the law.
Leave Law Behind is a blog and community to help unhappy and dissatisfied attorneys find ways to leave the law behind and create new career paths for themselves. It’s an active community that comments on blog posts, emails me each week, and interacts with each other.
It also contains a huge amount of self-admitted perfectionists, myself included.
You see, while it is rare, every so often I may make a mistake and include a typo in my writing. No matter how many times I review and re-read my posts, sometimes there is a small grammatical error or some other type of inconsistency. In my most recent instance, I saw the typo for the first time right after I hit “Send” on the email newsletter … and published it on Facebook … and tweeted it on Twitter. It was repeated as people forwarded the post along and retweeted. Some readers even emailed me directly to let me know it was there.
My mistake was out there and there was nothing I could do about it.
Ed note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, Marc Luber challenges Jim Saksa’s Slate article, “You Can Do Anything With A Law Degree,” with several viable career alternatives for JDs.
After law school, I took an unpaid internship. When I got my first music industry job in Los Angeles, I was severely underpaid. I sometimes wondered if the job required a high school degree, let alone a law degree. If you asked me then, I would have told you that a J.D. is a joke and that you should stay away from law school at all costs.
Ladies, you’re very busy. Billable hours come first, and you have no social life to speak of. If only there were a service that would allow you to rent some male companionship for less than your hourly rate.
Don’t worry, because one of your former colleagues out in the trenches has got your back. She started a business to bring lonely women “handsome, smart, and talented men on demand” — it’s like Seamless, but with a penis.
Who is this wonderful woman and which Biglaw firm does she hail from?
Earlier this week, Jim Saksa wrote a piece in Slate entitled “You Can Do Anything With A Law Degree,” where he argued that you can’t do everything with a law degree despite the propaganda of the law school-industrial complex. Apparently he didn’t realize you could herd sheep. All in all, it was a great addition to the growing pushback to the lie that it’s a good idea to blow six figures on a legal education even if you aren’t committed to a life at least tangentially in the law and you get into a microwave law school.
It’s already generated some ridiculous defensive blowback. One carefully constructed rebuttal to the Slate piece, attempting to rehabilitate the “law degree as fashionable accessory” argument, looks on its face like a serious challenge. It’s not….
Ed. note: The Asia Chronicles column is authored by Kinney Recruiting. Kinney has made more placements of U.S. associates, counsels and partners in Asia than any other recruiting firm in each of the past seven years. You can reach them by email: email@example.com.
Things have changed recently in Korea – a few of our US and UK client firms are looking, very selectively, for a lateral US associate hire. Until just recently, there was not much hiring like this going on in Korea, since US and UK firms started opening offices there. We have already placed two US associates in Korea in the past month at top firms. Most of the hiring partners we work with in Korea do not actively work with other recruiters.
If you are a Korean fluent US associate in London, New York or another major US market, 2nd to 6th year, at a top 20 firm, with cap markets or M&A focus (or mix), or project finance background, and you are interested in lateraling to Korea to a top US or UK firm, please feel free to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. Our head of Asia, Evan Jowers, was just in Korea recently, and Evan and Robert Kinney will be in Korea in a few weeks. We are in the process of helping several firms open new offices in Korea (a number of which are interviewing our partner level candidates) and also helping existing offices there fill openings.
Professor Joel P. Trachtman has developed a unique, practical guide to help lawyers analyze, argue, and write effectively.
The Tools of Argument: How the Best Lawyers Think, Argue, and Win is a highly readable 200-page book, available for about $10 in paperback or e-book. Chapters focus on foundational principles in legal argument: procedure, interpretation of contracts and statutes, use of evidence, and more. The material covered is taught only implicitly in law school. Yet, when up-and-coming attorneys master these straightforward tools, they will think and argue like the best lawyers.
For most attorneys, time spent managing the books is a necessary evil at best. Yet it is undeniably a crucial aspect of running a successful practice. With that in mind, we invite you to view or download a free webinar by Above the Law and our friends at Clio to learn how to better manage your finances.
Take this opportunity to learn what it takes to streamline your accounting and get the most out of your time. The webinar agenda:
● The basics of accounting for lawyers.
● How legal accounting differs from regular accounting.
● Report and reconciliation issues surrounding trust accounts.
● How to pick and integrate the best accounting tools for your practice.
● Steps to prepare your tax return for your firm’s income.
Do not miss this crucial chance to optimize your accounting practices. Save time and get back to billing!