Finis.

I think it’s time. I’ve got two trials coming up next month and once those are done I’m pretty much down to my last file. I don’t think I can afford to wait anymore on new work. It doesn’t look like it’s coming any time soon.

I can’t pretend like this is unexpected. I knew when I left my old firm that it was a Hail Mary pass. My choice was to stay and definitely go under or bolt and possibly go under. So I took my shot and didn’t make it. Boo hoo.

My new firm hasn’t lost any money on me. That haven’t really made any either, but at least it’s been a break even proposition. They’re not forcing me out the door – yet. They’d probably give me another six months. But then they would be losing money on me and I don’t really want to be responsible for that. I’m not willing to take advantage of other people’s generosity the way others have taken advantage of mine.

So the question is, what now? I guess I could look into an associate job someplace. That will be excrutiatingly humiliating, and I’m not sure it would even work politically. I would probably be perceived as being too big a personality for that, and rightfully so I guess. I wouldn’t hire someone like me. Too much head butting involved, no matter how well intentioned everybody is.

I could try to move to a captive. One of the local ones was hiring a few weeks ago. I should have applied. A few weeks ago I was still hoping for the best, though.

I could look into contract lawyering. Nice, huh. I’ve been practicing for thirteen years, I’ve tried fifteen jury trials, God knows how many bench trials. I’ve deposed some of the foremost physicians in the country. I’ve been the president of two bar associations and a while back I was asked to address the new crop of bar admittees at their swearing in ceremony. Contract lawyering.

But I don’t know what else to do. If I had the energy I would try to chronicle all this, what the recession hath wrought, because I’m sure I’m not the only one. I suspect there are a lot of us out there floundering, getting sucked into chasms and dying slow anonymous deaths. Is that a sense of entitlement talking? I don’t think so.

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The Albatross Around My Neck . . .

Is beginning to smell.

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

Sigh.

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On Loose Ends and E&O Liabilities . . .

My former law firm has officially lifted its leg and pissed all over me. I found out that my appearance is in a federal case that one of my partners – the one who has barricaded herself in her house and refuses to answer emails or telephone calls, even from the bar association of which she is currently president – had been handling. I use the word “handling” loosely, since apparently the reason why her new partnership didn’t work out is that she fucked up everything she touched from day one and has likely created all sorts of potential liabilities for the firm. Which no longer bears her name. Sigh. Sorry, I got caught in a little Schadenfreude there.

The problem is, no one knows where this file is and the former partner’s new firm has taken no steps to notify the client about what is going on. So I want off this train, pronto. Shit, it’s federal court, people. Someone actually reads the pleadings.

I called the Chapter 7 trustee for Old Law Firm. He tells me there are some files at the old office, and that he is abandoning them. Okaaaaay. I go to old office space. The landlord tells me it is going to shred the files there so it can re-lease the space. There are shelves full of files, many of them old Will files marked “Do Not Destroy.” What the fuck is going on here? Unfortunately (fortunately!) I departed Old Law Firm before it gave its last death rattle, though, so I’m not sure I even have authority to look at these things.

Many calls to ethics hotlines later, and I still don’t have an answer. Meanwhile, Former Partners from Old Law Firm seem to be diddling themselves or each other. The one upside: one of the morons left his framed admissions certificate at Old Law Firm. I comfort myself to sleep at night with visions of that thing hitting the shredder. It makes a lovely sound.

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Hold On Tight, Here We Go

Lunch with my MP (managing partner, not Member of Parliament) went much as planned.  I am not on track for the year.  The firm is subsidizing me.  I need to get my numbers up.  I need to get more work. 

And I will do that how?

I’m not a domestic or DUI lawyer, so it’s not like I can advertise in the Pennysaver.  I could call clients and beg for work, but realistically if they’re not being sued they don’t want to hear from me.  Unless Toyota decides that I am their go to products liability gal I think I’m in a heap of trouble.  And off we go. 

I am making a conscientious effort to stop complaining about how everyone has done me wrong and start thinking about what I can do to get out of this mess.  But I am not sure that there is anything.  I think that I am at the mercy of the market.  I am a commodity.  Unfortunately when my firm died I lost access to the people who could have advised me best.  (Telling them I hope Hitler butt fucks them in hell didn’t help, either).

At a bar function last night (my “coming out” party as the incoming president), I shook hands and laughed and drank Chardonnay out of a plastic cup.  One of my colleagues recently departed his firm and is worried he may have lost some of his clients in the midst of the move.  His old firm found out that he was leaving before he had announced and locked him out of everything.  My advice to everyone:  keep a copy of your calendar, your contacts, whatever you need to practice as a lawyer, in your house at all times.  You just never know when the door is going to be locked against you.

I suspect I have about a year to get my career back in order.  Is that long enough?  The recession has had an unprecedented effect on the legal community, not that anyone wants to admit that.  You talk to your colleagues and they tell you they’re pulling their hair out, they’re so busy.  But I have friends at several major carriers who tell me their panel counsel are calling looking for work, any work.  Lawyers are an insecure bunch.  We need everyone to believe that we are up to our eyeballs in work. 

And my former partner?  The one who put together a deal that didn’t include me?  It didn’t work out.  I feel bad for her and I left her a message on her cell.  She hasn’t called me back and she is avoiding all of her friends and colleagues.  The way this business chews people up is unconscionable. 

I have been asked to serve as a mentor to a new bar admittee.  I think I am a poor choice for that endeavor.

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If You Want to be Happy, Practice Compassion. – The Dalai Lama

I would like to thank those who’ve read my blog recently, and especially those who’ve had such kind words for me.  The fact that people have read my story is very healing on some level.  I have been so angry over the past year, in large part because everyone seems to expect me to suffer in silence; buck up; chin up; whatever.  It’s crappy enough that my career is teetering on the edge of disaster, but to be expected to paste on a smile and make small talk about the weather at bar events and in courthouse hallways seems to me to be manifestly unfair.

I’ve known several people who have been diagnosed with cancer.  The one universal thing they tell me is that they hate it when people either fawn all over them (ohhhh, you poooor, poooor dear, what can we dooooo?) or pretend like nothing is happening.  What has happened to me is not cancer and I don’t mean to insult anyone who’s ever had it, but I have come to understand that sentiment.  I’m not sure if this is something that is unique to the practice of law or if it’s business in general.  Personally I think people going through hell should be able to talk about it within reason without being labelled a kook or a flake. 

I have been feeling better lately, which is probably why I haven’t been posting as often.  I have returned to my meditation practice, something I did in the past but had let slide during the past few years.  I have accepted a couple of pro bono cases because I would rather keep busy and I believe in compassion.  After all of this, I believe in compassion.  I have a job, and I recognize that a lot of people don’t, or are worse off in other ways.  Still, I haven’t gotten a new assignment in months and that is very worrisome.  My clients assure me that they are all with me but things are slow.  I hear rumors that things are slow everywhere, but it is hard to confirm that because lawyers like to talk about how busy they are.   

Maybe I just won’t make it in private practice.  I was a very young partner when my firm fell apart, and I didn’t have a huge book to begin with.  Maybe the economic collapse coupled with the high profile death of my old firm is too much.  There are always lawyers who take a downward path.  You watch them over a period of five or six years go from partner at one firm to senior associate or counsel at another; then maybe they hang out a shingle; then a year or so later they go to a captive.  Or they just disappear and you have to assume that they’ve moved away or left the practice of law entirely.  That seems like a fate worse than death to me.  I don’t want to be the topic of a “whatever happened to” conversation five years from now.   I’m afraid that I am on that path.  I know I am a better lawyer than the lawyers I have seen do that before, but it all comes down to business, doesn’t it?  So I don’t know.

I’m having lunch with the managing partner this Friday.  I hope that it will be a constructive meeting.  One thing I will say about my new firm: you know what you are getting with these people.  They are interested in the bottom line.  They will be perfectly polite about it, but you know what it is they want and what is going to happen if you don’t deliver.  I’m glad because at least I know where I stand.  I would choose this any day over a group of people who come to your house for parties and ask about your children and give you Christmas gifts while they’re plotting to screw you.  I think I’m even beginning to let go of that anger, though.  I got a pleading on Friday from one of my former partners involved in the increasingly nasty post-firm break up litigation and I didn’t even melt down when I read it. 

So, we will see how things go.  Thank you again for your kindnesses.  It means and meant a great deal to me.  I am going to try to pay it forward.

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No, I’m Not Dead Yet

Just thinking about it all the time.

A collections agency person called me several times at work today.  He made sure to let the receptionist know why he was calling.  He represents the good people at Sallie Mae who haven’t been paid in a while.  He basically called me a deadbeat. 

I lost a significant amount of money when my old firm went under and I’m still on the hook for the firm’s debts, one of which is a doozy.  And I’ve had all sorts of other personal issues for the past, oh, ten years, not least of which was my husband’s extended period of unemployment after 9/11.  I’m financially fucked.  But I’m a deadbeat.  And I sit at work and try not to cry and hope the closed door will keep my managing partner out, since I know he’s been looking for me to schedule a lunch meeting.  Like I don’t know what that’s about. 

I was in trial last week.  I did a good job, I got a defense verdict, and my client was thrilled.  I went to law school because I actually wanted to be a lawyer and I was and am good at it.  I never wanted to be rich.   I was willing to work hard and I did and I still do. I could care less if I ever drive a Mercedes.  And yet all around me I see these asswipes printing money and they’re not even good lawyers.  They just got luckier than me. 

I know life is not fair.  Blah blah blah.  I’ve read Harold Kushner.  I get it.  The way I see it, I can paste a smile on my face and be a patsy, be brave as the ship goes down, and THINK POSITIVELY.  Or I can be truthful about the fact that this just sucks.  Which do you think I am going with?

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Belle Jar

I think the time comes when you have to admit to yourself that the invitations have gone out and you didn’t get one.  You will not be the belle of the ball.  You’re not even going to the ball.

That to me is the tragedy of America.  You can work hard.  You can be smart and decent.  And you still may not make it.  There aren’t enough dance cards to go around.  So what do you tell the Horatio Algers out there?  Why should we break our backs just to win a lottery ticket?  I’d rather invest my time and effort into an endeavor with a predictable return. 

I don’t know what I am going to do.  I am just lost.  I don’t know who I should be right now and I don’t know how I can go on facing my colleagues at the bar.  I can’t even put one foot in front of the other anymore.  I wish I could go to bed and stay there.

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I’m Almost Out of Ativan

And I don’t have a refill.  Getting more will probably necessitate some serious groveling and pleading at the feet of my shrink, who is currently on vacation anyway.  So I will need to start managing my stress the old-fashioned way.  With booze. 

I have discovered Limoncello.  Set aside the fact that the shit is tasty and smells really good, it’s thirty percent alcohol.  It makes a lovely addition to my morning tea.  It looks like lemonade and smells like lemonade.  I haven’t tried the old booze in a soda can trick yet at work, but maybe I will give it a shot. 

Ah, the practice of law.  Producing addicts and drunks for centuries, and you still think we’re uncool.

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Survival of the Saddest

I believe that depression is an evolutionary artifact.  Perhaps hundreds of years ago, the men and women most likely to survive were the ones who could effectively shut down in response to environmental stressors. 

So when plague was rampant, the people who responded with grim stoicism survived.  I don’t mean that apathy made them more resistant to disease, just that they were less likely to panic or become hysterical and do foolish things that did expose them to risk.  When governments were tyranical, depression was healthy.  It kept you from doing something dumb like rebelling.  Depression is the armadillo of Darwinian psychology.

Lately I am almost happy – to the extent that it is possible for me to be happy – that I am depressed.  (Yogi Berra would probably appreciate that last sentence.)  It feels like a warm safe fog around me.  So long as the sunlight stays out I don’t have to see the devastation.  I am stasis in darkness.  I just don’t have the guts to put my head in the oven.

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Mr. Updike’s Sacred State

I spent my morning preparing a claim to file in my old law firm’s bankruptcy.  Well, that’s not wholly accurate.  I had trouble getting myself out of bed, because really, what’s the point, anyway, and then I sat in the office coffee lounge for an hour or so trying to work up the nerve to check my voicemail.  And then I started on the claim form. 

It is interesting to see your whole career and everything it stood for, your chances of success and happiness, your friendships, all reduced to one page with little boxes to be typed in.  The sum of all my efforts, all the pain and heartache I devoted to keeping the damn place alive, is worth less than what many people earn in a year.   I won’t get it, but I feel that I am entitled to some compensation for all the hours I spent sitting in my old partner’s office, listening to her bitch and complain about how badly everyone was treating her, including, apparently me.  Listening to her insult me for not being politically sophisticated enough (although, with all due respect, it wasn’t me at the helm when the place went under).  Then she cobbled together for herself the deal she wanted and screwed me over.  Yay friendship.  Nobody wants to foreclose on her house, I bet.

People ask me why I don’t just file bankruptcy myself and be done with all of this.  I’m not ready to do that yet, I guess for many reasons that I’m not prepared to tell you.  But the main reason, which is probably not a good one but I cling to it nonetheless, is that I am so fucking mad.  When I take a shower in the morning I think about what those assholes did.  I think about it while I drive to work.  I can’t stop crying.  I can’t stop wanting to stand in their front yards and scream at them to make fucking eye contact with me.  See me.  See what your greed and stupidity and incompetence and laziness has done.  And if I file for bankruptcy there won’t really be a chance to hold any of them accountable.  I’ll list my contingent claim as an “asset”, although I can’t imagine some Chapter 7 trustee is going to want to pursue it, and it’ll go away when the discharge comes.  I’m not ready to let go of my claim yet.  I feel like it’s the only thing that makes me visible.  It’s the only thing about me that they have to acknowledge.

I recognize that I have to start putting this behind me and get on with my life, but that’s hard when every other day I get some new piece of horrible information about the firm’s bankruptcy.  Two days ago my managing partner wanted to sit down and discuss my productivity, so that’s a good sign.  (Wink wink).  I am convinced that I have no prospects, no future, and I am so tired.

I just wish to God people would stop behaving as though none of this is happening.

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