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….
In a land that is right here and in a time that is right now, a technology has arisen so powerful that it can replace basic human document review. Is it time to bow down before our new robot overlords?
First, here’s a little story about me: my life in the legal world began as a paralegal. My first case was a GIANT patent infringement case that was already six years old and had involved as many as five companies, multiple US courts, the ITC and an international standards committee. I knew nothing about any of this.
On my first day, my supervisor (a paralegal with at least eight other cases driving her crazy) sat me down in front of a Concordance database with a 100,000+ patents and patent file histories. “Code these,” she said. I learned that “coding”, for the purposes of this exercise, meant manually typing the inventor’s name, the title of the patent, the assignee, the file date, and other objective data for each document. I worked on that project – and only that project – for at least the first six months of my job. After a week or so, time began to blur.
What I know, in retrospect and with absolutely certainty, is that as time began to blur, so did my judgment. So did my attention to detail. If you could tell me that I did not make at least one mistake a day – one inconsistent spelling, one reversed day and month, one incorrectly spaced title – I frankly would need to see your evidence. I would not believe it. The human mind is trainable but it is not a machine.
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We currently have a number of active openings for associate roles at US and UK firms in HK / China, Singapore and two new in-house openings. As always, please feel free to reach out to us at email@example.com in order to get details of current openings in Asia, as well as to discuss the Asia markets in general and what we expect for openings later this year. Our Evan Jowers and Robert Kinney will be in Beijing the week of March 25 and Evan Jowers will be in Hong Kong the week of April 1, if you would like to meet them in person.
The US associate openings we have in law firms are in the usual areas of M&A, cap markets, FCPA / white collar litigation, finance, and project finance. The most urgent of our top tier (top 15 US or magic circle) law firm openings in Asia (among many other firm openings that we have in Asia) are as follows:
• 2nd to 5th year mandarin fluent M&A associates needed in Beijing and Hong Kong at several firms;
• Korean fluent 2nd to 4th year cap markets associate needed in Hong Kong;
• 2nd to 5th year Japanese fluent M&A associates needed in Tokyo;
• 4th to 6th year mandarin fluent cap markets associate needed in Hong Kong;
• 2nd to 4th year M&A / cap markets mix associate needed in Singapore.
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