When I launched The People’s Therapist, my intent was to get stuff off my chest — process a smidgen of psychic trauma. I’d write a column or two, exorcise the odd demon, piss off Sullivan & Cromwell, and call it a day.
It never occurred to me I’d be deluged with lawyers as clients.
“I study. Then I study some more. Then I go to sleep. Then I get up and study again. It’s the same for everyone.”
At least, I proposed, the subject matter was interesting.
She demurred. “Yeah, I guess… but — really? I mean… Property law? Contracts? Torts?”
Her demurrer was sustained. She had a point.
Maybe it’s your turn to demur. The subject matter of law school — law itself — not interesting!?? That’s unthinkable. It has to be the school’s fault — my client must be attending some fourth-tier degree mill, with subpar teaching, and a dull-witted student body….
A visit to my office has evolved into something akin to the road to Lourdes. Pilgrims arrive red-eyed and defeated, faces etched with misery, searching for a way out of a trap.
The standard story is some variant of the following: You are either out of work or loathe your work. You have $180k in loans. You have either no income or an impermanent income paid to you in exchange for any joy life might offer. You see no hope.
Let me spell out the critical element here: You are one hundred and eighty thousand dollars in debt.
Just to fully drive the point home: that’s bankruptcy-proof debt.
You’ve yelled at your parents, but it’s not really their fault. You’ve wept and wailed and gotten drunk and stoned and consumed a scrip of Xanax. You’ve tried sleeping and pretending you don’t have to wake up.
Then comes the pilgrimage. Perhaps I can heal with a laying on of hands….
At Barnes & Noble, where I once worked as a marketing exec, we bandied about the phrase “aspirational purchase” to portray a small, but profitable segment of our sales.
Aspirational purchase meant you bought the book not because you were going to read it, but because you aspired to read it. You might even convince yourself you were going to — but in all likelihood, it would serve as a pretentious coffee table tchotchke, an impressive (if un-cracked) spine on a decorative bookshelf, or a useful device to prop up a little kid’s butt so he could reach the cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving.
An aspirational purchase is intended to impress — you want to be seen buying it. It tends to be something conservative as well. And long. And difficult. “War and Peace” is the classic aspirational purchase, but you might also pick up something with a political message that makes you look wise and open-minded, like “The Satanic Verses” (which, for the record, I actually read.) (No, I’ve never plumbed War and Peace. However, I embrace the fact that plenty of you certainly have read it, and yes, loved it and desire for me to acknowledge you’ve read it and how much you loved it — to which I reply, in advance, how very nice for you.)
A law student client — already an MBA — said she needed convincing to drop out of her third-tier school.
I told her to calculate the return on investment for the final three semesters.
She crunched the numbers.
“Debit-wise, I’ve burned $80k in savings and I’m looking at another $100k of borrowed money. On the credit side, I might find a low-salary doc review gig.” She pretended to scratch notes. “So… big loans, interest payments, inadequate cash flow…opportunity cost of 18 more wasted months learning legal mumbo-jumbo followed by the bar exam…”
“In other words…” I egged her on.
“I’d be totally screwed.” She affixed the cap on her pen. “Thanks. I’m convinced.”
I posed the question we were dancing around: “Why are we having this conversation?”
Atul Gawande is a medical superstar -– a surgeon at Harvard who’s also a New Yorker magazine writer, and the author of several books. His latest push is for doctors to use checklists to prevent common mistakes during surgery. A scary percentage of the time, it turns out, things grow overwhelmingly complicated in an operating room and a nurse or an anesthesiologist, or a resident (or whoever) gets distracted and forgets to do something basic -– like confirm there’s extra blood in the fridge, or plug that little hose into the machine that keeps you breathing.
It happens. People forget things. Best to err on the safe side, and use a checklist.
The idea comes from aircraft pilots. It turns out they use checklists for absolutely everything — a pilot literally can’t step into a plane without a checklist. Pre-take-off, take-off, pre-landing, landing, and every possible contingency that might happen in-between is assigned a checklist. That’s because when you’re a pilot and you forget something, well… it can be a problem. Kind of like a surgeon.
Over the weekend, Mark Oppenheimer wrote an interesting New York Times piece about the Sixth Circuit’s recent ruling in Ward v. Polite (PDF). In that case, Judge Jeffrey Sutton — noted feeder judge, judicial hottie, and possible SCOTUS nominee in a Republican administration — handed a (partial) victory to Julea Ward, an evangelical Christian who sued various teachers and administrators at Eastern Michigan University, where she had been studying counseling.
Here’s a concise summary of the facts, from the opening to Judge Sutton’s opinion (which is wonderfully clear; he’s great at explaining complex legal issues to large lay audiences; see also his Obamacare opinion):
When the university asked Ward to counsel a gay client, Ward asked her faculty supervisor either to refer the client to another student or to permit her to begin counseling and make a referral if the counseling session turned to relationship issues. The faculty supervisor referred the client. The university commenced a disciplinary hearing into Ward’s referral request and eventually expelled her from the program. Ward sued the university defendants under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
Ward claimed that her expulsion violated her free speech and free exercise rights. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the university, but the Sixth Circuit reversed. At the same time, the Sixth Circuit held that Ward wasn’t entitled to summary judgment in her favor either: “At this stage of the case and on this record, neither side deserves to win as a matter of law.” So perhaps we’ll end up with a trial.
Who’s in the right here, Ward or the university? Let’s discuss….
It’s hard to conjure up bad stuff to say about clerking. It’s an honor, and an all-expense-paid ticket on an exclusive legal gravy train. If you’re lucky enough to clerk for a federal district or circuit court judge, you can rest assured you’re looking good and feeling good.
You might even shoot the moon and sing with the Supremes. In that case, you’re good to go: You’ll never have to practice actual law again. You can sign up now to teach a seminar on “Law and Interpretive Dance” at Yale or attend sumptuous international human rights conferences hosted by African dictators. Life is good at the top. Imagine the stimulation of interacting one-on-one with the mind of a Clarence Thomas (and acquiring access to his porn collection.) You could be the clerk who builds an ironclad case striking down universal access to healthcare — or witness the day Justice T opens his mouth to speak during oral argument….
At some point you have to get out of here. The question is when – and whither.
A vacation might help, if you could achieve the impossible and take one. My client pulled off a week – seven whole days! – at a Caribbean resort. She flew off to paradise, only to return feeling like a condemned prisoner.
“It made things worse,” she lamented. “Now I remember the outside world.”
Sometimes it’s better to live without that distraction….
The holiday season is upon us, and yet again, you have no idea what to get for the fickle lawyer in your life. We’re here to help. Even if your bonus check hasn’t arrived yet, any one of the gifts we’ve highlighted here could be a worthy substitute until your employer decides to make it rain.
We’ve got an eclectic selection for you to choose from, so settle in by that stack of documents yet to be reviewed and dig in…
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 six years. You can reach them by email: email@example.com.
We currently have a very exciting and rare type of in-house opening in China at one of the world’s leading internet and social media companies. Our client is looking for an IP Transactional / TMT / Licensing attorney with 2 to 6 years experience. The new hire will be based in Shenzhen or Shanghai. Mandarin is not required (deal documentation will be in English) but is preferred. A solid reason to be in China and a commitment to that market is required of course. This new hire will likely be US qualified (but could also be qualified in UK or other jurisdictions) and with experience and training at a top law firm’s IP transactional / TMT practice and could be currently at a law firm or in-house. Qualified candidates currently Asia based, Europe based or US based will be considered. The new hire’s supervisors in this technology transactions in-house team are very well regarded US trained IP transactional lawyers, with substantial experience at Silicon Valley firms. The culture and atmosphere in this in-house group and the company in general is entrepreneurial, team oriented, and the work is cutting edge, even for a cutting edge industry. The upside of being in an important strategic in-house position in this fast growing and world leading internet company is of the “sky is the limit” variety. Its a very exciting place to be in China for a rising IP transactional lawyer in our opinion, for many reasons beyond the basic info we can share here in this ad / post. This is a special A+ opportunity.
If your firm is in ‘go’ mode when it comes to recruiting lateral partners with loyal clients, then take this quiz to see how well you measure up. Keep track of your ‘yes’ and ‘no’ responses.
1. Does your firm have a clearly defined strategy of practice groups that are priorities of growth for your office? Nothing gets done by random chance, but with a clear vision for the future. Identify the top practice areas for which you wish to add lateral partners. Seek input from practice group leaders and get specifics on needs, outcomes, and ideal target profiles.
2. In addition to clarifying your firm’s growth strategy, are you still open to the hire of a partner outside of your plan? I’ve made several placements that fit this category. The partner’s practice was not within the strategic growth plan of my client, but once the two parties started talking with each other, we all saw how it could indeed be a seamless fit. Be open to “Opportunistic Hires.” You never know where your next producing partner might come from, so you have to be open to it. I will be the first to admit that there is a quirky element of randomness in recruiting.
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