Go Ahead, Ask Me

The “Ask A  [Korean, Psychiatrist, Doctor, etc.]” trend seems to be peaking about now.  So I am thinking about changing the name of the blog to “Ask A Suicidal Lawyer.”  Or maybe “Ask A Legal Loser.”

So someone ask me something.  Anything.  I’m not going to give you my name, although anybody local’s probably got me pegged by now.  I don’t care much, but I’m not going to do your job for you either.  I won’t reveal privileged or confidential information.  Anything else, ask away.  Come on, law school applicants, students, and Lathem-ites: this is your opportunity to get the straight story from someone who knows how much your life is going to suck a few years from now.

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Another Lawyer Suicide. Wake Up!

http://abovethelaw.com/2010/07/reed-smith-partner-commits-suicide-in-chicago/#more-27662

Note that Reed Smith had recently named another lawyer to “co-chair” the department Mr. Dolin previously chaired solo.  This is, of course, a euphemism.  Mr. Dolin was no longer bringing in the numbers and was being gently shown the door.  Or maybe not that gently.   He worked in corporate and securities.  It’s not hard to puzzle out which way the numbers were trending and why. 

My condolences go out to Mr. Dolin’s family, and in linking to this article it is not my intention to demean this man or cause pain to his family.  But come on.  Lawyers are killing themselves, people.  The ABA is doing nothing, the states are doing nothing, the firms are most assuredly doing nothing.  The best it seems anyone is willing to do is prescribe.  Depressed?  Here, take some Soma.  Suicidal because your firm just told you to start looking despite the fifteen years of hard labor you’ve given them?  Take some Soma.  You’ve only been a partner for six months but the firm’s dumped all of its debt in your lap?  Take some Soma.

And properly Soma-tized I’m supposed to go out and speak to new bar admittees about the pleasures of practicing law; to high school kids about a career in the law; to MY kids about how wonderful mommy’s job is.  Well, I don’t want to anymore.  And apparently neither did he.

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Dear Big Name Litigator,

I enjoyed reading your recent article in the paper so much, I just couldn’t stop laughing.  Really. 

About how much I need to step up and do pro bono work.  Because it’s my responsibility, as an officer of the court, to reach out to people and help them.

What a joke.

For what it’s worth, I already do pro bono work.  I take on two or three cases a year, not that my firm gives a shit.  Whatever I don’t bill while I’m rescuing the needy needs to get made up, and pronto, or I will be sitting down with the budget gods to talk about a salary reduction.  But that’s not why I thought the article was so damn funny.

What’s funny to me is how you – and let’s be fair, lots of other lawyers and judges and other supposedly ethical people – are so quick to ignore your colleagues when they’re the ones who need the help.  When my old firm went bust in an orgy of horrendous publicity, where exactly were my colleagues at the bar?  Who exactly reached out to me?  Not the volunteer lawyer service, that’s for fucking sure.  And not you.

You want me to do pro bono work?  I mean actual work, as opposed to throwing money at the problem (as if I had money)?  Make it possible for me to practice law without wanting to kill myself on a regular basis.  Start with your buddies at the bar.  Ask them to care when associates and young partners go down in flames.  That would be a start.

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Antoinette Cosway and Me

Are trapped in a Sargasso Sea.

Can’t move on, can’t get out,

So that is what I blog about.

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I Have an Idea for a CLE program

I love that I can walk up and down the halls of my office and think about killing myself.  I smile my stupid smile at the nitwits and think about slitting my throat, like in M. Butterfly.  Oh yes, I love that. 

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To the Stranger in the Elevator – Thank You

For your kindness.  For seeing me cry and refusing to pretend that I wasn’t there.  For turning to someone you had never seen before and would likely never see again to tell me that you hoped my day would get better.  For reaching out and touching my arm in a gesture of simple human compassion. 

I was in the middle of a heated mediation conference.  My clients were difficult, the opposition was difficult.  My phone rang at the conference table and it was my secretary, calling to give me yet another piece of horrible news relating to the dissolution of my former law firm.  I tried everything to hold back the tears, didn’t do very well, hid in the ladies room for a while trying to get myself together because I didn’t want my clients to see me in such a state.  Finally slipped into the elevator to grab some fresh air outside.  Hoped to get away from the building without seeing anyone, but one floor down you joined me. 

Things haven’t gotten any better, I’m sad to say.  But the fact that some humanity remains in the world gives me reason to hope.  At least until the next disaster comes my way.

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I Am Dorian Gray

I think that there is nothing more horrifying than realizing that while you were busy taking care of clients, you forgot to look out for yourself.  Doctor, heal thyself.  Lawyer, defend thyself.  And I committed malpractice.  There is no way around it. 

I trusted my former business partners.  I stupidly signed off on loans and guarantees because I was drunk with new partner-itis.  I was an absolutely dense little patsy and now I am paying the price for my naivete.   Maybe I will be able to resolve all of this without resorting to Chapter 7, but I kind of doubt it.  People around me are exhorting me to sue my former partners.  All I want to do is throw up, all of the time. 

The face that lawyers present to the world at large is a Dorian Gray face.  It says that we are strong, competent, wise, cunning, fair, just, articulate, kind, compassionate, or whatever else we think we need to appear to be to win our case and collect our fee.  But in the attic of the soul the real face lies, and it is not so reassuring.  In reality we are frightened, angry, depressed, lonely, psychotic, narcissistic, insecure, naive, too loyal, too grasping.  The portrait never matches the face.  

Behind my Dorian Gray face I am apparently incompetent and stupid.  I wonder what my clients would think if they knew how badly I mangled this whole partnership thing.  I would never have allowed a client to sign the documents I blithely signed.  But I trusted and got screwed.  This is an old, old story.  Law firms have been cheating young lawyers for centuries.   

I think I am going to have to sue my former partners.  The lawsuit will undoubtedly make the local legal paper.  I dread this.  I wish to God this would all go way.  I wish I had never worked at the damn place.

I wake up in the morning consumed with hatred and anger, and I go to sleep at night feeling the same way.  Something is going to have to give.

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You Can Take My Dignity, But You Can’t Have My Rationality

I know that I am depressed.  I fully admit that.  People piss me off when they tell me my feelings aren’t rational.

I am completely rational. 

I spend hours day after day pounding out meaningless letters, reading meaningless cases, speaking with clients so sunk in desperation that I feel like a social worker.  Meanwhile, when CNN reported on the recent execution of a man in Utah (by firing squad), one of the commentors pointed out that the man had “only killed a lawyer” and should be declared a hero. 

Last year I took on a pro bono case and helped a decorated veteran of the war in Iraq save his home.  He never thanked me. 

When I walk into work in the morning no one notices.  Not even my secretary cares, she’s too busy making greeting cards with craft paper or some such dumb thing.  I have to grovel and plead to get a simple pleading typed.  But if my monthly bills aren’t in within twenty-four hours of the moment I get them for review, no fewer than three different representatives of the powers that be come down on me like hydrogen bombs. 

Wouldn’t anyone be depressed under these circumstances? 

There are no other jobs, so don’t suggest that I look for one, and it wouldn’t matter anyway.  I am a litigator.  My skill set does not transfer well to in house jobs, and I don’t work for the right kind of law firm.  I lack prestige.  Lots of people in my local bar know me, even like and respect me, but I don’t know the sorts of people who hire for Westinghouse’s legal department. 

There’s the bench.  Assuming I am willing to become a political junkie and start actually going to the fundraising barbeques and crab feasts I get invited to, I could probably swing that within the next ten years or so.  Assuming I stay alive that long.  Lately I’ve been having chest pains.  I actually hope I have a heart attack.  I don’t want to die, but I would like someone, anyone, to sit up and take notice.  

What ever happened to that judge out West who got caught masturbating under his robes?   

I gave up my dignity the first time a case made me cry, driving away from a hearing wherein the judge treated me like dog shit.  He eventually turned his back to me in the middle of my argument.  I kept talking, and to my credit, held back till I got to the car.  I’m sure one or more of my colleagues saw me driving away, sobbing.  I’ve stopped caring about all that.

But please don’t tell me my depression is not rational.  To be happy under these circumstances is to be irrational.  I choose truth.

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A Punch to the Gut

Last week I spent a few days at the state bar convention.  It was nice.  We all put on our happy, “you are my friend” faces and shook hands and laughed and drank too much.  And who am I kidding?  For the most part, these people are my friends.  The first class assholes generally don’t go to bar conventions.

When I left this warm and fuzzy law cocoon it was to find a bitterly worded motion on my chair.  Some numb nuts lawyer whose case is dying before his eyes is lashing out in a last ditch effort to score some money.  This is a motion he will not win, I know that, because both the law and the facts are on my side.  So you would think that I’d be fine with this.

And of course I’m not.  Every time one of these things crosses my desk it feels like a punch in the stomach.  Or the groin, except women really don’t get punched there except by horrible psychopaths.  Which this guy may well be, but I digress. 

The thing is, I don’t feel this way about every motion, even ones I’m sure I’m going to lose.  There is a dignity in losing with honor, going down with a fight, etc. etc.  I can do that. 

It’s the down dirty, fuck you bitch kind of motions that knock the wind out of me.  Motions that accuse me of hiding or destroying evidence (would never do), lying (would never do), playing games (do sometimes, but only where justified and provoked), or being a bad lawyer (I’m not, at least I don’t think so).  Now, if there really are grounds for believing that an officer of the court has committed spoliation (destroying evidence) or has suborned perjury, the motion needs to be filed if only to preserve the integrity of the system.  Again, I understand that.  The thing is, I have never given one of my opponents the slightest grounds to make such suggestions about me. 

I am beginning to understand that these motions are flowing my way because I am dealing with mean lawyer-dwarves who cannot reach as far as my head, so they aim for my knees.  With insults, complaints, insinuations, and general nastiness.  I am just so sick of it.

And I am sick of the judges who tolerate this crap.  The motions come before them, they pay lip service to civility and encourage everybody to play nice.  Nobody gets punished and everyone lives to bark another day.  No one is learning any lessons here. 

There was a well-publicized case a few years back in which a male lawyer smarmily called a female lawyer “babe” at a deposition.  The case itself was icky and had to do with someone giving someone else a sexually transmitted disease.  Truth be told, though, I can’t say I think the “babe” thing was all that bad.  Not in retrospect.  It’s gotten so much worse in the trenches, I wish to God someone would call me “babe”. 

There is really only one way out of this quandary.  I will need to build myself such a high dollar, sophisticated practice that I can hob nob at the bar with lawyers “of quality.”  But as I indicated in an earlier post, it’s not easy to build a practice like that unless you’re already a person “of quality”, and I didn’t grow up in the right neighborhood for that.  So, Court of Appeals, currently considering mandatory continuing legal education, what say you to that?  Is CLE going to save me from dealing with the evil dregs?  Nope. 

From an economics perspective the problem is that there are too many lawyers.  Too many people who were admitted to highly priced law schools and who can now barely afford their student loans.  Too many people who feel compelled to accept every miserable case that walks in the door because they really can’t afford to turn anybody away.  Too many people who need to squeeze five hundred bucks out of nonsense in a Sunday hat.  These lawyers, who have been backed into a corner, are the ones who come out swinging. 

And sometimes land a few.

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Ativan, How Do I Love Thee?

Let me count the ways. 

Is there a non-sociopathic lawyer who doesn’t take an anti-anxietal?  I know, I know, the more important question is are there non-sociopathic lawyers?  There are.  See my Stupid Happiness Project post. 

Everyone I know is taking something, as am I.  What sort of pathetic fucking job has a pharmaceutical for a prerequisite?  And I’m not some misbegotten waif who got lost on the way to estates and tax.  Courtrooms don’t scare me.  Crowds of people don’t scare me.  I speak in public all the time these days and hardly ever bother to prepare beforehand anymore. 

I’m just so sick of being under attack.  ALL THE TIME.  When I became a litigator I was prepared for the adversary system.  I was not prepared for life in a law firm.  Law firms are populated by the evil, the malicious, the power hungry, the narcissistic, the delusional, the addicted, and the mice.  If you are a mouse you are dead meat and you might as well take a legal aid job now.  I mean now, stop reading, go apply, now.

The rest of the categories are self-explanatory with the exception of the delusional, of which there are two sub-types.  The first kind is the truly delusional person.  Sadly, he believes that despite the fact that he now weighs more than he can claim in receiveables, everything is fine.  It’s not fine, of course, and as soon as the rest of the partners can figure out how, the delusional partner will be bumped to emeritus or just fired with as little pomp and circumstance as possible.

Then there is the second category of delusional, the kind that includes most lawyers not otherwise classified by the DSM IV.  They are delusional because they turn blind eyes to their partners (who are stealing, or drugging, or fucking, or whatever else they can get away with on firm time); their associates (who are doing much of the same, but at lower hourly rates); the judiciary (which is doing something when it can be roused from its otherwise peaceful slumber); politicians (no parenthetical needed); and their families (who don’t understand why daddy or mommy is SO ANGRY all the time). 

The delusional take Ativan or Xanax or Oxycontin.  And then we close our eyes.

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