Will Meyerhofer

Ed. note: This post is by Will Meyerhofer, a former Sullivan & Cromwell attorney turned psychotherapist. He holds degrees from Harvard, NYU Law, and The Hunter College School of Social Work, and he blogs at The People’s Therapist. His new book, Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy, is available on Amazon (affiliate link).

I was kidding around with some of the guys at my gym, tossing around the question – would you fight Mike Tyson for $3 million?

One of them joked – I think he heard this on Howard Stern – that he’d fellate Mike Tyson for $3 million. He could spend the first $1 million on mouthwash and retire on the rest.

Then another guy spoke up, a sometime professional heavyweight boxer. (I’m not making this up, he really has boxed, for big money, not too long ago – and has plans to do so again.)

“It’s not worth it. Mike would destroy you. There would be no retirement.”

He went on to explain what he meant. He knew from experience – this guy had been in the ring. You’d have more than bruises – you’d have concussions, brain injuries, damaged bones and joints. You’d never be the same – and it wouldn’t be worth it. You’re better off not having $3 million but appreciating the finer things, like being able to walk and talk and think.

I saw his point.

Biglaw is also not worth it, even for big money. That’s because it, too, destroys you – just like Iron Mike…

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Not Worth It”

Ed. note: This post is by Will Meyerhofer, a former Sullivan & Cromwell attorney turned psychotherapist. He holds degrees from Harvard, NYU Law, and The Hunter College School of Social Work, and he blogs at The People’s Therapist. His new book, Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy, is available on Amazon.

I asked a client how things were going at work – or not-going. She’s a junior at a big firm where it’s been dead slow for the whole year she’s been there and partners are starting to flee.

“Not horrible,” she said.

That’s a not-uncommon sentiment from to people in her position. As a junior, you’re asking for not-much. You’ve realized law school was a mistake – and the thought of your loans makes you queasy. If you get through the day without being criticized or given some god-awful assignment, you can go home and try to sleep. That’s a good day.

Not-horrible means not-unbearable, even if you hate what you’re doing, see no way out and cry alone in your office.

Not-horrible is not-unemployed. Better to not-complain.

One junior associate client has a corporate headhunter friend, who asked him to write something down and commit it to memory:

“There. Are. No. Jobs.”

Okay. Got it?

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Not Horrible”

Ed. note: This post is by Will Meyerhofer, a former Sullivan & Cromwell attorney turned psychotherapist. He holds degrees from Harvard, NYU Law, and The Hunter College School of Social Work, and he blogs at The People’s Therapist. His new book, Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy, is available on Amazon.

I receive a steady stream of disaffected lawyers who want to change careers. They come to me for “the answer.”

The question is: “How do I get out of law and do something different?”

What gets under my skin is the expectation this is going to be easy. It isn’t.

Remaining in law and looking for something better poses challenges. You realize by now you can’t call a headhunter and go to a “lifestyle firm” — they only exist in the imaginations of fee-hungry “staffing professionals.” Hyphenated jobs, like “environmental-law” or “entertainment-law,” are misnomers. Choose anything fun and attach the word “law” to it — “food-law,” “sex-law” — and it’s still law.

More realistic “remain-in-law” solutions, like an in-house position or a government job, are hard to find because everyone’s thought of them. You can get there with sufficient determination — but it’s tough, and I can’t make it not-tough. No one can….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “I Demand the Answer”

Ed. note: This post is by Will Meyerhofer, a former Sullivan & Cromwell attorney turned psychotherapist. He holds degrees from Harvard, NYU Law, and The Hunter College School of Social Work, and he blogs at The People’s Therapist. His new book, Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy, is available on Amazon.

There’s a terrific opening scene in Stephen King’s novel, Pet Sematary.

I don’t read a lot of Stephen King novels. That’s not because I dismiss his skill as a writer. It’s because they scare the hell out of me.

In this one, the main character is a young doctor. He’s on his first day at a hospital when a college kid is rushed into the ER. The kid was hit by a car, so he’s all smashed up, his neck broken, blood all over the place, one eyeball hanging out — whatever. Just as the doctor is concluding he’s dead, an arm shoots out, grabs the doctor by the collar, and the dead kid stares at him (with his working eyeball.)

“Stay away from the Pet Cemetery!” he intones.

In a flash, it’s over. The kid is stone cold, and the doctor wonders if he was hallucinating.

The suggestion to stay away from the pet cemetery, however, is a sensible one. Like most sensible suggestions, it goes entirely unheeded. I don’t want to give away the ending (and I only read the first 20 pages because I got scared), but I suspect that if he stays away from the pet cemetery, flesh-eating zombies won’t become an issue.

But he doesn’t listen! Lawyers are the same way. They just don’t listen!

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Stay Away From the Pet Cemetery”

Ed. note: This post is by Will Meyerhofer, a former Sullivan & Cromwell attorney turned psychotherapist. He holds degrees from Harvard, NYU Law, and The Hunter College School of Social Work, and he blogs at The People’s Therapist. His new book, Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy, is available on Amazon.

My client was sitting at her desk, drafting a complicated, rushed memo. The topic was an obscure derivative. She’d worked all weekend, then come in again early. Her head hurt. It was due at 5 p.m. She could barely focus and was feeling panicked. It was 4 p.m.

The phone rang. Not thinking, she picked up and barked her last name, sharply, like the partner she worked for did.

“Jones.”

It was her ninety-two-year-old grandmother.

“How are you, Sweetheart?”

My client couldn’t stop crying.

“All she did was ask how I was,” she told me. “That’s all it took. I fell apart.”

When you enter the world of Biglaw, you pass through a ritual of initiation – LSAT, law school, bar exam, interviews.

Then you enter the bubble…

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Don’t Forget”

Ed. note: This post is by Will Meyerhofer, a former Sullivan & Cromwell attorney turned psychotherapist. He holds degrees from Harvard, NYU Law, and The Hunter College School of Social Work, and he blogs at The People’s Therapist. His new book, Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy, is available on Amazon.

I’ve always been awestruck by tax lawyers. They are the dudes.

As a transactional attorney, you can’t make a move without a tax guy. M&A is based on IRS consequences. It’s the tax guy who hands you a chart with boxes and arrows, holding companies and off-shore limited partnerships buying and selling and re-selling and issuing and repurchasing and spinning off. Everything starts there.

Tax lawyers do stuff no one else would attempt. They swagger out the door at 5 pm.

“Don’t start with me. I’m in tax.”

Way back when, I took an advanced tax course in law school – to see if I could roll with the gangstas. I even took it the wrong semester, so instead of JD students, it was tax LLMs snickering at my desperation. I received my lowest grade ever. I also discovered tax law is like higher mathematics: there is no big picture. Tax is not intuitive or guided by overarching principle; it’s a mess of staggering, intimidating complication.

What I’ve come to realize lately, as a therapist working with tax lawyers, is that these seemingly unapproachable superstars are human. And being “the expert” can exact a toll….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Better Get an Expert”

Ed. note: This post is by Will Meyerhofer, a former Sullivan & Cromwell attorney turned psychotherapist. He holds degrees from Harvard, NYU Law, and The Hunter College School of Social Work, and he blogs at The People’s Therapist. His new book, Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy, is available on Amazon.

I did a podcast a while back with the ABA Journal. The topic was “work/life balance.” You can listen to it here.

It was a weird experience – like living on another planet.

I was the sole male. The other panelists and the moderator were women. That’s fine, but somehow, faced with the topic of “work/life balance,” everyone turned into Gloria Steinem circa 1971.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a shrill, strident feminist committed to full equality for women, and I have no beef with Gloria Steinem.

But how is work/life balance in the legal world strictly a gender issue? Women are admitted to law schools, and graduate from them, like men. They go to the same law firms, make the same money and take the same abuse…

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Work/Life Whatever and Ten Missing Minutes of Tape”

Ed. note: This post is by Will Meyerhofer, a former Sullivan & Cromwell attorney turned psychotherapist. He holds degrees from Harvard, NYU Law, and The Hunter College School of Social Work, and he blogs at The People’s Therapist. His new book, Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy, is available on Amazon.

There comes a time in every big law firm lawyer’s career when things take a turn for the deeply serious. After two or three years, someone turns to you and says, “Okay – you own this” — and suddenly you’re no longer a glorified secretary or paralegal or guy/gal Friday, you’re an actual lawyer.

That’s when most Biglaw attorneys think seriously about fleeing for their lives.

For me, the moment of truth arrived after a meeting near the top floor of the skyscraper at 70 Pine Street in Lower Manhattan, one of New York City’s iconic spires…

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “You Own This”

Now that you’ve figured out what to give your secretary this holiday season, what about the lawyers in your life? Many of you have friends or family members who are lawyers or law students, and if you haven’t done so already, you need to get them — forgive the expression — Christmas presents (or holiday gifts, if you prefer).

Lawyerly types can be tough to shop for. As we’ve previously discussed, lawyers aren’t great about giving gratitude, and they’re often very critical — so your gifts might not be warmly received. Also, many lawyers earn good incomes, meaning that when they actually need or want something, they often just go out and buy it themselves (or let their firm to buy it for them — e.g., the iPad).

So what should you get for the lawyers in your life this holiday season? We have some suggestions….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “The Twelve Books of Christmas (2010)”

Ed. note: This post is by Will Meyerhofer, a former Sullivan & Cromwell attorney turned psychotherapist. He holds degrees from Harvard, NYU Law, and The Hunter College School of Social Work, and he blogs at The People’s Therapist. His new book, Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy, is available on Amazon.

I uttered those words for the first time back in 2001, over lunch.

I wasn’t putting myself down; I was setting myself free. This was transgression – admitting the whole legal “thing” wasn’t for me. It’s what you’re never supposed to say, because it opens you up for slaughter. It’s throwing down your weapon, taking off the armor and walking away from the fight. (Go ahead – tear into me. I double-dare you.)

It was a weird lunch. I was sitting with another former associate from Sullivan & Cromwell. We weren’t friends. I actually sort of hated him. For two years he did his best to bad-mouth me and let everyone know he was a better lawyer.

Now he wanted to do lunch. That’s because he’d been laid off (you know, the “bad review” routine.) I’d left S&C six months before and done the impossible — gotten a real job outside law, as a marketing exec.

He said he wanted to discuss “careers outside the law.” Yeah. As soon as we sat down he started shooting the shit about our law firm days. No way.

I felt sorry for him. He had a fiance and was clearly a mess. But I wasn’t about to play along with that bullshit. I knew what would get his attention. When he paused from the stream of false bonhomie to catch his breath, I seized the opportunity.

“I suck at law.”

This produced a deer in the headlights face…

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