January 26, 2011

"Lawyers turn vicious because they hate their jobs. They don’t want to be there."

"If you are stranded on a miserable island with the same people for a long time, eyeing one another as candidates for lunch, you begin to turn poisonous. Everything turns poisonous. You watch the damn penguin die, and you’re glad it’s not you. It starts to feel like a law firm."

That's the therapist speaking oddly enough. He sounds very angry.

32 comments:

lucid said...

I read through it. I didn't think he sounded angry. At the end, the part you quote, he was speaking partially in the voice of the patient/other person and partially in his own voice. That is, it was an empathic enactment of the position of the person whose situation he was describing.

shoutingthomas said...

He sounds angry?

Sounds like he knows law firms.

Isn't what he describes one of the reasons you don't work in a law firm any more?

Trooper York said...

""Lawyers turn vicious because they hate their jobs. They don’t want to be there.""


Turn vicious?

They are born vicious.

The only thing worse than a journalist is a lawyer.

Pastafarian said...

"Lawyers turn vicious because they hate their jobs."

This seems to muddle cause and effect to me.

Lawyers hate their jobs because they work with lawyers, who are vicious conniving unprincipled assholes.

Prosecutorial Indiscretion said...

I love my job. I get to help people who really need it, make the world a better place, work with other lawyers and agents who I genuinely adore and spend loads of time with outside of work, and get paid pretty well with great benefits and good job security on top of it. On top of it, the work itself is fascinating; there's a reason most of the legal tv shows are about criminal law, and I've had immense autonomy and responsibility from the get-go because there aren't enough bodies in the office to subject anyone to doc review and years of briefcase holding.

Miserable lawyers make their own misery when they choose to make material gain their highest aspiration. At OCI, they rush like lemmings for the big firms without paying attention to what's happened to all the people who went before them. They compete ruthlessly to get those jobs that make them so miserable. They chase the brass ring without any thought for what it means; they just know they want to come out ahead of the other guy. They go into law school with such vague thoughts about their future that they let themselves be molded by the existing institutions that recruit them into law firms. They let other people tell them what they should want because they have no idea. "Law school" as an idea and as a decision is - for most people - the apotheosis of the broken and vapid part of American higher education.

The linked article shows how this misery perpetuates itself; people make bad life decisions, realize they aren't who they want to be, and then decide to spread the misery rather than fix their own situations. The well-known spiritual toxicity of corporate law should send young people fleeing in terror; instead, they resign themselves nihilistically to plunge into their own tastefully-decorated hell.

At its heart, my job is to be a decent human being and to punish people who aren't decent human beings. Law firms, at least most of the firms I've encountered, appear to incentivize exactly the opposite behavior. I know for a fact there are exceptions, but I've seen firms take good people and make them worse people. I've yet to see a law firm make anybody a better person.

If young people don't know what they're getting into, they need to do more research. And if they do know but do it anyway, they deserve our pity and our help with finding new employment. But if they just want to stay in, get rich, and complain about how awful it all is, they are displaying the same lack of self-awareness and the same unwillingness to take responsibility for their lives that likely drove them to law school to begin with, and from there straight into the golden-fanged mouth of Big Law to begin the digestive process.

Ann Althouse said...

"Isn't what he describes one of the reasons you don't work in a law firm any more?"

Interestingly, I worked in the same law firm he did: Sullivan & Cromwell.

I left because I wanted to be a law professor. I was interested in ideas and not so much deals, fights, money, and clients. I'm more the serene, contemplative type and I like self-expression, not expression on behalf of a client's interests. These are just tastes of mine. I've got nothing against the people who like to be out there in the real world making things happen, trying to get things done. You have to know yourself and get into the line of work that suits you.

bagoh20 said...

I recently acquired a company. The process involved six months of legal work through planning, negotiation, documentation and execution. It was not at any point really needing of advanced education, just some experience with a few similar processes. It was either boring or contentious, but never fun.

I often thought why would these people go through all it takes to become an attorney, just to end up doing this tedious, uncreative, unrewarding work. Then I got the bill.

It's still not what I would choose for a living, even if I got the credentials for free. I guess some people are just made for it, but that has got to be a much smaller number than how many are going for it. I suspect people pursue the accoutrements of being a lawyer more than the actual work.

Richard Dolan said...

"He sounds very angry."

He sounds more like someone who got lost in his animal-kingdom metaphors, and has talked himself into viewing senior associates at large law firms through the lens of victimology. He sounds a little bit like Mr. Rogers making a guest appearance on Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom.

These 'senior associates' are folks who have gone through university and law school, done well, know how to work hard and think through a problem by putting irrelevancies to the side. "Victim" isn't exactly the word that leaps to mind to describe their situation if they find themselves working in a firm that, on reflection, doesn't provide what they want.

edutcher said...

If he thinks he doesn't like his job, he should try working for the IRS.

Ann Althouse said...

I'm more the serene, contemplative type

You sound like Saint Martha.

Ann Althouse said...

One time, back when I was a student on Law Review, people were having a big conversation about how everyone there was Type A, when I walked into the room. Somebody pointed out that I wasn't and it was roundly agreed that I was the only non-Type A person there. I was a sojourner amongst the lawyers, and I always knew it. Since 1984, I've been an observer, from my remote outpost in Madison, Wisconsin. I'm the same way about politics. I think about politics and I write about it, but I'm the furthest thing from a politician.

Ann Althouse said...

"'I'm more the serene, contemplative type' You sound like Saint Martha."

I don't get that. My understanding of Martha is that she's the one that wanted Mary to help with the housework and Jesus told her that Mary had made the better choice in sitting and listening to him. How is Martha the contemplative one? Seems like it's the other way around.

bagoh20 said...

Having a baby without bothering with the sex part, giving birth in a barn where she just happened to be at the time, not wanting to clean up the house. This Mary woman was a type B for sure.

WV: geogyne

Saint Croix said...

I love my job. I get to help people who really need it, make the world a better place, work with other lawyers and agents who I genuinely adore and spend loads of time with outside of work, and get paid pretty well with great benefits and good job security on top of it.

When I was a prosecutor, in district court, trying 200 cases a day, something unjust would happen once a week. We had three judges, and they all had their quirks. All three were Republicans.

Judge #1 He once complained that somebody in the courtroom "stank" and had the bailiff go around sniffing everybody so he could throw them in jail for stinking.

This judge was always acquitting people he had no business acquitting. I got a guy on the stand to admit that he broke his ex-girlfriend's door down, with a hatchet, and then chopped her phone line in two when she tried to call the police. My witness, the victim, kept yelling, "Liar!" whenever he said anything on the stand. I kept telling her to please shut up. Nonetheless, I got the frickin defendant to admit, on the stand, that he broke her door down with a hatchet. And chopped the phone line so she couldn't call the police. And the judge acquitted this asshole. Of everything. I was so mad, I asked the judge why he acquitted. "I didn't like your witness." The defense attorney later confided in me that he couldn't believe that he had won. Yeah, no kidding. It was insane.

Judge #2: Was always fair when he was listening to the case. His one quirk was that if the defendant filed an appeal to go to superior court (which is an automatic right as everyone in our state has a right to a jury trial), this judge would jack his bail up to a really high amount, so that the poor guy had to sit in jail for months waiting for his case to be heard.

Judge #3. Always convicted. Always. Never saw her acquit anybody. Which is a whole different kind of stress. I mean, I had 200 cases a day. I was throwing cases up there when I had no idea what the facts were. I would find out the facts as we went through the case. If a policeman was involved, maybe the prosecution was fair. I would find out. If there was no policeman, that means some angry citizen filed a criminal complaint against some other citizen. And the magistrate heard all the facts. But magistrates in my state aren't even lawyers. So I'm throwing mystery cases up there, and finding out the facts along with everybody else. More then once I said, "holy crap, this is ridiculous," and I would dismiss my own case. I found out the hard way that if I let a questionable case go forward, the judge would convict. Always.

On top of this, I couldn't eat in restaurants. I got a philly sub in a restaurant, and the owner of the place was a DWI. I opened my sandwich to see if he spit in my food.

And the stairs in the courthouse smelled of urine and vomit.

Criminal law, you see people at their worst. They are really unhappy. And nobody wants to be there. The cops don't want to be there, the witnesses don't want to be there, the defendants really don't want to be there. And if you screw up, you've screwed up somebody's life in a really bad way.

This was misdemeanor stuff, where everybody got probation. Except the poor suckers who really want to appeal their case and who are unlucky enough to have judge #2.

It was insane stress, really. I didn't realize how stressful it was until I had some distance from it. And the worst part is that as you go up the ladder, the crimes are more serious. Rapes, murders, stuff with children. No thanks.

You pretty much have to remove the "doubt" gene from your psyche to do that job at all.

edutcher said...

Ann Althouse said...

"'I'm more the serene, contemplative type'

You sound like Saint Martha."


I don't get that. My understanding of Martha is that she's the one that wanted Mary to help with the housework and Jesus told her that Mary had made the better choice in sitting and listening to him. How is Martha the contemplative one? Seems like it's the other way around.


You're right, but that was in Bethany where they first met Christ. I think the assessment is based on their later lives after conversion. One lived in a cave in France and one evangelized. Can't remember which (this was from Theology class at Villanova 40 years ago; tried to look it up online, but couldn't find anything), but, somehow, Martha stuck with me as the contemplative one.

The only reason I didn't jump at Magdalene was her former, uh, reputation in some circles. I'd hate for you to think I was casting aspersions.

If somebody knows for sure, I will be happy to stand corrected, if that's the case.

t-man said...

Of all the sites run – or formerly run – by Breaking Media, only one regularly triggers comments that might have been written during a break from sewing a dress made of human skin.

I have to say that he paints a pretty accurate portrait of ATL commenters.

t-man said...

Back to reality.
The competition that the author describes is equally true in any large organization. Really, now many middle managers love their work?

The law, particularly litigation, does attract aggressive people, though. Litigators (1) have to be aggressive on behalf of their clients; and (2) face aggression from their opponents every day.

G Joubert said...

I was interested in ideas and not so much deals, fights, money, and clients. I'm more the serene, contemplative type and I like self-expression, not expression on behalf of a client's interests.

I practiced law for 16 years. Never for a large firm though, mostly in a small firm (4-10 lawyers) and a few years as as a solo practitioner. One thing they never prepare you for in law school is the ever present contentiousness. Every time the phone rings and just about every piece of mail you get, it's always contentious to one degree or another. The worst of all to deal with were other lawyers, and that's what lawyers mostly do: interact with one another. It wears on you, and after awhile it does things to you. I too left law to teach, not law school, but at a small private college. It's a much more appealing environment and more personally rewarding too.

bagoh20 said...

Isn't a less lethal form of gladiators. That WOULD be draining, and the ancient gladiators at least got some respect, according to the movie.

PaulV said...

The problem with criminal law is you hang with crooks. Same as lawyers who lobby politicians.

WV: pratate

A lawyer's pratae is full of crooks

dont tread 2012 said...

"_________" turn vicious because they hate their jobs. They don't want to be there. (insert occupation as applicable).

Could this be also said about sanitation workers?

The parallels are staggering.

wv - hitelda

Ann Althouse said...

Thanks for the Martha update.

Eric said...

If you are stranded on a miserable island with the same people for a long time, eyeing one another as candidates for lunch, you begin to turn poisonous.

That's why I quit playing poker seriously.

DADvocate said...

Didn't sound angry to me either. Can't lawyers take criticism?

Viciousness in a lawyer can be fine when it's directed towards an opponent in a adversarial case and it serves the best purpose of the attorney's client. The kind of stuff the therapist describes goes on many places, but because of the partnership structure of big law firms is often more lethal.

Do lawyers hater their jobs? I don't know many attorneys that work in large firms. My sister and her daughter, attorneys both, work in government. They're only vicious if you're a criminal. That's good.

Bender said...

Re: Mary and Martha

First, one cannot make any hard and fast characterizations about either one -- like most people, they are quite a bit more complex than that.

It is true that, in one episode, Martha was more concerned with worldly things, but when Jesus arrives after the death of her brother Lazarus, it is Martha who goes out to greet Him, while Mary remains behind. Moreover, it is Martha who then outwardly professes her belief in the resurrection and that Jesus is "the Messiah, the Son of God" (which practically no one else, besides Simon (Peter) had openly stated) (John 11:24-27). To make such a profession of faith would necessarily imply a certain amount of contemplation on her part.

Meanwhile, it is believed by some that Mary of Bethany, sister of Martha and Lazarus, is the same Mary known as Mary Magdelene. Now, Mary Magdelene was fairly active among the disciples, going far beyond the contemplative life. In addition, given that scripture says that she was "a sinner," there is another (disputed) theory that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute prior to meeting Jesus, which, if true, probably does not lend itself to a contemplative life.

In short, both Mary and Martha had their own contemplative aspects, as well as their active and practical aspects.

There is further a story, more legend than tradition, that they both went to France, where they both are said to have withdrawn into seclusion.

As for the crap that is in The Da Vinci Code about Mary Magdalene -- it is crap, even though there are those foolish enough to believe such crap.

Freeman Hunt said...

The part that made no sense to me:

Why all the worry about whether or not to warn the 8th year? What good would that do? Why not just ask the partner?

"What's your problem with so-and-so? I think you're being unfair to her."

I thought high priced lawyers were supposed to be tough, and yet questioning the boss privately to his face isn't even an option?

Sullivan & Cromwell should hire people who aren't such wimps.

William said...

My understanding of Disneyland is that you pay money to enter and Mickey Mouse tries to give you a rewarding time. My understanding of work is that they pay you to enter and you try to give your Mickey Mouse boss a rewarding experience.....There are many children of the haute bourgeoise who think that work should be some kind of life fulfilling experience. I suppose it's theoretically possible, but such an expectation is more likely to lead to profound disappointment than otherwise. I have a vague theory that that's the motive force behind the Bill Ayers of this world. If everyone would just accept the fact that work sucks, they would all be better off.

Saint Croix said...

As for the crap that is in The Da Vinci Code about Mary Magdalene -- it is crap, even though there are those foolish enough to believe such crap.

The "Da Vinci" is kind of a clue.

It's like referring to Jesus as "Nazareth."

Saint Croix said...

If everyone would just accept the fact that work sucks, they would all be better off.

For a minority of people, work is really, really cool.

Saint Croix said...

For instance, if you can make a living as an artist, you are pretty damn happy.

My cousin was an engineer, he quit to go to France and study on how to be a chef. He loves it. It's his life.

I used to be a lawyer. I quit to be a filmmaker. I love it. It's amazing. Unfortunately I'm really poor. But I love it.

Jeff Bezos is a billionaire and he's still happy about his work.

I think stock-pickers love their jobs. Warren Buffet loves what he does.

People who start their own companies. You start your own company, you pick what you want to do and you do it. And you better like it because it's going to be your life.

I think professors really like what they do.

People who work with kids really like working with kids.

My vet loves animals. You can tell. She's happy and perky.

The jobs that make people unhappy are the jobs you do for money, to put food on the table and a roof over your head. That's a noble thing and I'm not knocking the sacrifice. But it's a lie to say that everybody hates what they do. They don't. Some people are really happy at work.

William said...

The biographies of most artists do not make for happy reading. A wish to escape one's innate ugliness is the force behind the wish to create beauty. Vets get bitten and their job entails a certain amount of poop policing. And the GI bill doesn't cover their complete tuition. Professors get to expound their brilliant insights to receptive nods and then read the tormented form in which such insights are returned on exam papers. And the whole bit about grading papers and arguing about grades and begging for tenure or even a chance at tenure is a hassle....A job has rewards beyond the money it pays, but there is an undeniable element of suckiness in all work. I'm reminded of the joke about the guy who went to hell. He goes into his pit and sees everyone standing around, smoking cigarettes and hip deep in shit. The guy thinks, well it's not the red carpet, but I can handle it. At that moment, Satan enters the pit and tells the damned that break is over, time, now go back to standing on your head.

Martin L. Shoemaker said...

I think it was P.J. O'Rourke who said, "If work were fun, the rich would buy it all and wouldn't let us have any." (But it might've been Dave Barry.)

But that being said, I love my job. I write code even when no one's paying me to do so. Work may suck in general, but not in every case.

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