February 25, 2014

"I was naïve when I started at Sullivan & Cromwell."

"I’d been told to expect late nights and weekends. Somehow or other, though, I harbored the daft notion it would be okay because we’d be in it together. There’d be an esprit de corps, a collegial sense of loyalty to one another, and to the firm. We’d divvy up the assignments based on seniority and expertise, then plug away as a team – and maybe share a pizza and a few laughs in a conference room during breaks."

Writes Will Meyerhofer, "The People's Therapist" (a therapist who was once, as I was, a lawyer at Sullivan & Cromwell).

28 comments:

YoungHegelian said...

Somehow or other, though, I harbored the daft notion it would be okay because we’d be in it together.

That's the reason it's called work, guy. If it was fun, they wouldn't have to pay you those big bucks to do it!

RecChief said...

whew! looks like he made the right choice by changing professions.

YoungHegelian has a point too.

sean said...

Meyerhofer's claims don't correspond with my experience as a junior associate. We had lots of camaraderie AMONG THE ASSOCIATES, because we were all in it together. At a firm with the leverage (i.e., associate/partner ratio) of S&C, he should never have been alone in an empty office tower. It's just not credible, that claim. Furthermore, everyone knows (or is supposed to learn) that partners tend not to explain things (mostly because they don't understand the things themselves); find a senior associate to explain it to you.

Birches said...

Obviously, he didn't know any lawyers before he selected his profession.

madAsHell said...

My wife lasted 5 years in a firm. It was nearly the end of us. The tipping point was when the kids bypassed her, and went to my mother (grandma) for comfort, and affection.

chuck said...

Reminds me of asking one of my college professors, way back when I was an undergraduate at Columbia, where the community of scholars was. He confessed that he had never found it himself.

Left Bank of the Charles said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John Lynch said...

Gee, this makes all of us schlubs who aren't bigshot lawyers feel good about ourselves.

EDH said...

If she’s running around looking busy, maybe that makes him look busy, too – at least in his febrile, panicked mind. Because that’s how everyone is supposed to look at a Biglaw firm – tense, harried and working all the time. That the culture. Ironically, because things are so slow at my client’s firm, there is no other work for her to do, so she’s stuck toiling for this guy, scrambling frantically like there’s actually something worth doing…all because there’s nothing to do.

"Co-stan-za"

SteveR said...

No one will ever, ever, ever show you how to do it. That would be unthinkable. That would violate an axiom of legal physics. You’re just supposed to somehow know.

this

Left Bank of the Charles said...

It's too funny how he weaves together working too many long hours and not getting sufficient work to keep busy.

My BigLaw experience was somewhat different. It enabled me to pay off my student loans inside of 2 years.

I never worried about my billable hours. I thought the training was good, as was the opportunity you get at a big firm to work with great clients.

It was hard work, but not hard in the way that picking up hay bales is on a hot August afternoon.

Mark O said...

I worked BigLaw in LA. It was very different from this. There was a collegiality. I enjoyed it. But, then, giant lizards also roamed the earth.

a psychiatrist who learned from veterans said...

"a therapist who was once, as I was, a lawyer at Sullivan & Cromwell"

Do you resemble those remarks?



Michael K said...

"I thought the training was good, as was the opportunity you get at a big firm to work with great clients."

This is similar to my experience as a young surgeon in two Big Surgery practices. In the first, in downtown LA as a resident, I was disappointed in the lack of camaraderie. The partners sort of made fun of the residents and fellows. Partly because, after I signed on, they hired a bunch of FMG fellows as cheap labor. Some of it was pretty funny, as the time an Indian fellow opened the right ventricle with the sternum in a redo.

Still, I was out of there.

The next experience was with two older surgeons (20 years older) and they complained about how much they were paying me. I left soon after to join a colleague from residency who was my age. They felt betrayed when I left. One of them is now 96 and I am almost his only friend. He has forgotten the feelings he had when I left.

The other died of cancer a few years later. It's funny because they respected me much more because I left. And did better on my own.

Douglas said...

Left Bank - Thank you for bringing a little reality to the discussion. Being a junior associate at a big law firm is nowhere near as hard as any number of back-breaking manual labor jobs, and the pay is a lot better, too.

Douglas said...

Left Bank - Thank you for bringing a little reality to the discussion. Being a junior associate at a big law firm is nowhere near as hard as any number of back-breaking manual labor jobs, and the pay is a lot better, too.

Beldar said...

Didn't know you'd been at S&C, Prof. Althouse. I was a summer clerk there in 1980.

Tari said...

"It's too funny how he weaves together working too many long hours and not getting sufficient work to keep busy."

I dunno, in the short, 2 year stint I did at Akin Gump, I was at one point told that because my billable hours were too low, I was to stay late every night and go door-to-door, asking the more senior associates "would you like to go home? if so, I can finish that for you." This would be, of course, in addition to having been there from 8:30am on.

I got pregnant unexpectedly about 6 months later, and if I didn't know better I'd say that my body was trying to save itself the only way it knew how. I went in-house at the end of my maternity leave and will never, ever darken the door of a law firm again.

Freeman Hunt said...

I'd go into crimnal law.

sean said...

There's no point coming into work at 8:30 am if you are a biglaw associate. Associates are supposed to have finished their work the night before, and there's no more work for them to do early in the morning. If you're trying to impress the partners, forget it: you can never wake up and come in to work as early as 50 year olds with bladder problems. You're just wasting your time. Sleep in, tell your secretary to open your office door and turn on your light, and come in at 10 like the other associates.

Ann Althouse said...

"Do you resemble those remarks?"

Not really, because I was 30 when I graduated from law school, and I was married with a new baby, a desire to get into law teaching. After a 1-year clerkship, I started with S&C, and at that point I was pregnant with my second child. So I never pictured myself "in it together" with the others there. I felt like someone who was only passing through and never aspired to make partner, only to do a creditable job to not be getting scandalously overpaid.

After 8 months, I took a maternity leave. (Paid, 3 months!) When I came back from the leave, I was applying for lawprof jobs, and I had my offer at Wisconsin within a few months. I left the following May (or so), and moved out to Madison.

I was well protected from the typical abuse. I had my own goals, my wits about me, and my commitment to my family. All extremely strong. The firm could not compete with that.

Tari said...

We all came in by 8:30 or 9am, even the partners. This wasn't NYC, where everyone wants to stay late to cadge free dinner and taxi vouchers (and so no one ever comes in before 10am). Our goal on a good day was to get home by 8pm - and if you had work, the only way you could accomplish that was to get in and get started. Showing up at 10am was a good way to tell everyone you had nothing to do. And don't think for a minute your secretary was keeping your secret - she was telling the managing partner's secretary all about you, to get brownie points of her own.

The Godfather said...

I graduated from Columbia Law School in 1968. When I started law school, everyone's dream was to get an associate position with a Wall Street firm -- Sullivan & Cromwell, Sherman & Sterling, etc. By the time I graduated, the dream for most of us was Washington. I suppose that was partly political and partly because the starting salary for associates at the big DC firms had gone up enough that, adjusted for the cost of living, it was competitive with Wall Street.

I joined what was then the second largest firm in Washington. In those days, none of the horror stories about associate life were true there. Yes, we worked hard. My only summer vacation time in my first several years was my two-week active duty in the Army Reserve. But there was a community among the associates AND the partners. I loved it.

Of course, the world has changed since then. That law firm changed, too. But knowing what I know, I wouldn't change my choice of a way to begin the practice of law.

But if I were 21 today, I am not at all sure I would choose law as my career.

David said...

Wow, that was bitter.

I remember, as a corporate associate, being asked a bankruptcy question involving preferential transfers in a corporate acquisition. I'd not taken bankruptcy in law school, and had next to no experience in the area.

The available lawyers with the bankruptcy experience had not gotten deeply into the the particular issue, and for some reason the partner gave it to me.

I had about four days to prepare the memo. Essentially I had to learn the whole law of preferences in M&A and apply it to the facts. (This is before that issue was front and center and before fairness opinions etc were part of the regular drill.)

I did the work, wrote the memo. It took about 75 hours of work over 4 days.

A few days later the partner called me in. He said the memo had been very good and very useful. Then he gave me another assignment, an easier one.

That was all I expected. Good work, thanks, here's what's next. My greatest satisfaction came from learning that I could tackle a new topic and master it quickly if I had to. That's what we were there to do. At some point, every familiar problem was new to someone.

Skeptical Voter said...

Like the Godfather I graduated from law school in '68--in my case Boalt Hall at UC Berkeley. I spent 6 years at what was then the biggest law firm in San Diego (20 lawyers when I started, 75 by the time I left). Today it's part of a 3,500 lawyer international law firm.

Times were different then; we had the same sort of corporate clients for litigation that Big Law has today; not so much in the way of M&A and finance work. Most of the time the folks were happy and got along; I did get bruised in a battle between senior partners over control of a piece of work, but aside from that life was pretty good.

I went inhouse in a Fortune 50 company after 6 years. Twentyfive years later there was a merger and I was back in a "Big Law" firm again--a regional firm with 400 lawyers. I spent a few years there. The atmosphere was completely different--a poisonous brew of fighting over billable hours. It wasn't a unified law firm--more like 400 little village shopkeepers scrapping over customers.


If I were 25 and just coming out law school and could find a situation like my old 20 man firm, I'd do it in a heartbeat. But those days are gone.

Robert Cook said...

"That's the reason it's called work, guy. If it was fun, they wouldn't have to pay you those big bucks to do it!"

Bullshit. There's no reason "work" has to be misery. In fact, it should be enjoyable, and a happy workplace where people enjoy and respect each other's personal and professional company will be a healthier and probably more productive workplace.

Lawyers are paid "big bucks" (those who are) for their knowledge, experience, and ability to represent their clients to their clients' benefit. It should not be presumed they are paid big bucks to toil in misery, or that, being paid big bucks means they should learn to enjoy the misery or shut up and not complain about their misery.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

NALP says that first-year associate salaries of $160,000 are still widespread at large law firms of more than 700 lawyers.

If a law firm hires ten, that's $1.6 million in billings just to cover the nut. And the firm often doesn't get any real experience for that $1.6 million.

Partners who put in long hours, including the ones who enjoy their lifestyle, can't be expected to have much sympathy for $160,000/year victimhood.

No high caliber young associate with lifestyle concerns comes in and says, you want 60 hours a week for $160,000. How about I give you 40 hours a week for $106,667? Or better still, since that may not cover your profit margins, how about I give you 40 hours a week for $80,000?

Brando said...

Rough as that all is, there's plenty of unemployed JDs out there who'd be thrilled to have a job like that so they can at least pay off the exhorbitant law school debt they've piled up.

The message here is don't go into law unless you love it and think you'll be good enough to write your own ticket--and then, consider the tradeoffs between higher paying jobs and those you'll enjoy more.