“I never thought I’d end up working as a contract attorney doing doc review in a windowless basement,” my client bemoaned. “But then I read that piece about the lawyer who’s working as a clerk at Walmart. At least I’ve still got it over him in terms of job prestige.”
Well, you know how obsessed lawyers are with job prestige.
There’s a phrase, “the Downward Drift,” that crops up in discussions of serious mental health diagnoses like schizophrenia, and/or chronic substance abuse. The idea is that you are afflicted with serious mental illness, or become addicted to a harmful substance, which in turn leads to a slow, inevitable slide downward in terms of social class. Before long, the wealthy, Upper East Side business executive suffering from schizophrenia and/or severe alcoholism finds himself jobless, friendless, and eventually even homeless, sleeping in shelters and begging for change.
Weirdly, the same phenomenon — the Downward Drift — affects people who acquire Juris Doctor degrees…
Here’s what you never hear anyone say at a Biglaw firm — followed by a discussion of why you never hear anyone say it.
Here we go…
Let’s work on this together. It’ll be more fun.
People write me all the time, complaining I’m too down on Biglaw. Nothing new there, but one guy, recently, expanded on the topic, adding that he works at a firm where everyone, so far as he knows, is happy — enjoying a rewarding career in a supportive, non-exploitative environment.
Perhaps you can see this coming: It turns out this guy owns the firm — and specializes in oral arguments before federal appellate courts. Prior to becoming managing partner, he attended top Ivy League schools.
By way of a reply, I opined: “Your experience might be considered atypical.”
Spectating upon the atom bomb ignition at the Trinity test site in New Mexico, Robert Oppenheimer was reminded of a scene from the Bhagavad-Gita — an encounter between the prince and Vishnu, the latter apparently in a cranky frame of mind. The scene culminates in Vishnu, who is attempting to persuade the prince to do his duty, assuming a multi-armed form and intoning:
I have become death, destroyer of worlds.
There are lawyers out there who remind me of Vishnu in his multi-armed form. No, they don’t sprout extra limbs, or destroy entire worlds. These Biglaw-inspired incarnations of Vishnu merely assume the form of senior female attorneys to become career-death, destroyer of junior associates.
Behold the Biglaw Vishnus! (And trust me, within their personal sphere of destruction they give the real thing a run for his money.)
For some people, a career in Biglaw can lead to some serious mental health issues. The odds are high that in some point in your life, you’ll wind up inside a therapist’s office to lament whatever ails you.
But for other people, a career in Biglaw can inspire a will to offer counsel — of the therapeutic variety — to people who’ve been worked to death. And who better to do so than someone who used to work for one of the most prestigious law firms in the world?
You, too, can land a job on the other side of the couch. It’s time to slip off those white shoes, and find out how you can make the transition…
It’s time to go back to 1972 or so and start the Women’s Liberation movement up all over again. We need it.
A client, who was sexually harassed at her old firm, tells me a new fear haunts her — that her “reputation” will be transported via gossip to wherever she goes next. I asked what that “reputation” would be — I mean, how do you get a reputation for being harassed by some clown at a law firm?
“Well, they might think I’m difficult, or unstable, or a trouble-maker,” she explained.
That makes me want to scream — particularly because she might be right: Some sort of reputation along those lines might stick to her, and it might get around at her new firm. When you’re a woman at a law firm — or a woman, period — there are times when it seems you just can’t win…
* A patent infringement suit filed over the “hairy visor.” The best idea for combatting hair loss since SNL’s Chia Head. [Lowering the Bar]
* The Hong Kong legal community is split over the continued donning of wigs. It’s nice how China allows them to think they have a choice on such matters. [Wall Street Journal]
* Crooks are decoding remote signals for keyless entry to cars and police are encouraging drivers to manually lock and unlock their cars. Screw that. I’m an American and a small risk of losing a car is not worth spending an extra 3 seconds unlocking a door like a schnook. [Legal Juice]
* Former U.S. Judge Paul G. Cassell called for a U.S. House of Representatives panel to ask the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn to explain why it “appears” to be engaging in “on-going violations of important federal crime victims’ statutes.” Jeez. You let a few tens of millions in white collar crime go unpunished and suddenly everyone’s jumping down your throat. [WiseLawNY]
* A sexual harassment suit can go forward against a supervisor who exposed himself to a subordinate. In his defense, she DID make the accusation that he “didn’t have any balls,” so she very technically asked for it. [Adjunct Law Prof Blog]
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 law students are annoying, then pre-law students are twice as annoying. There’s something about observing these lemmings scrabble their way into the maws of ruthless law schools, despite dire warnings and appeals to common sense, that just… gets under my skin.
Even after so much effort has been expended for their benefit — i.e., which part of “Way Worse Than Being a Dentist” didn’t you understand? — these piteous creatures patiently queue up for their punishment, hungry to “learn to think like a lawyer.” If your resolve weakens, and pity prevails over contempt, you might mistakenly engage one in conversation. For your trouble, you’ll receive an earful of a clueless pipsqueak’s master plan to save the world. Because — you hadn’t heard? — that’s why he’s going to law school: The betterment of humanity.
Because that’s what the world so desperately needs: Another lawyer….
Someone posted the following astonishing comment in response to one of my columns a few months back:
“I’ve never worked in a Biglaw firm, but what happens if an associate just says no, I am busy this weekend, or no, I am on vacation that week, so I won’t be able to do that project. Do you immediately get fired? If that’s true, then you must not really have much to offer to the firm in the first place. In a situation where the associate had some real value to offer to the firm, I do not see why the firm would fire someone for that. Am I hopelessly naive?”
Go ahead — laugh. Get it out of your system. You know perfectly well your guffaws wear thin, right about when that twinge of poignancy creeps in. You, too, once mulled the notion of rising above the fray — going all Bartleby the Scrivener and muttering, “I’d prefer not to,” when asked — oops, I mean told — to work and work and work and work and work….
I participated recently in a panel discussion at a conference, speaking with other lawyer/blogger types in front of an audience consisting largely of people from law firms and law schools. After we finished, I did the decent thing and sat and listened to the panel that followed mine. I happened to choose an empty seat next to a woman who introduced herself to me later as a dean at a law school, in charge of career placement, or whatever the euphemism is for trying to find students non-existent jobs. The law school was a small one — yes, one of those dreaded “third tier” places.
She confronted me afterwards. “I guess I’m the bad guy, huh?”
I was startled by her candor, but I knew what she meant. This was one of those people from a third tier law school — the greedy cynical fraudsters signing kids up for worthless degrees, then leaving them high and dry, unemployed and deeply in debt.
Despite her participation in crimes against humanity, I had to admit she didn’t seem so bad, in person.
Then I snapped back to my senses — and went on the attack, assuming my sacred role as The People’s burning spear of vengeance….
Ms. JD is hosting their 2nd annual cocktail benefit to raise money for the Global Education Fund. The event will be held on August 21, 2014 at 111 Minna in San Francisco. Our goal is to raise $20,000 to fund the legal educations of four dedicated law students in Uganda who count on our support to continue their studies at Makerere University during the 2014-15 academic year.
The Global Education Fund enable womens in developing countries to pursue legal educations who otherwise would not have access to further education. According to the World Bank, investment in education for girls has one of the highest rates of return to promote development. In Uganda, more than 45% of women over the age of 25 have no schooling at all, and men are more than twice as likely as women to have access to higher education. Together, we can work to end educational inequality. For more information about the program, please visit http://ms-jd.org/programs/global-education-fund/
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
We at Kinney Asia have made a number of FCPA / White Collar US associate placements in Hong Kong / China thus far in 2014. Most of such placements have been commercial litigation associates from major US markets, fluent in Mandarin, switching to FCPA / White Collar litigation. Some have already had FCPA experience, but those are difficult candidates for firms to find (this will change in coming years as US firms are now promoting FCPA / White Collar to their 2L summers who are fluent in Mandarin and have an interest in transferring to China at some point).
Legal Week quoted Kinney’s Head of Asia, Evan Jowers, extensively in the following relevant article here.
There is a new trend in the market, though, where mid-level transactional US associates, fluent in spoken Mandarin and written Chinese, are interviewing for and in some cases landing junior FCPA / White Collar spots in Hong Kong / China at very top tier US firms.
When the LexisNexis Cloud Technology Survey results were reported earlier this year, it showed that attorneys were starting to peer less skeptically into the future, and slowly but surely leaning more toward all the benefits the law cloud has to offer.
Because let’s face it, plenty of attorneys are perhaps a bit too comfortable with their “system” of practice management, which may or may not include neon highlighters, sticky notes, dog-eared file folders, and a word processing program that was last updated when the term “raise the roof” was still de rigueur.