the lawyer writer

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Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Why Don't I Have Any Lawyer Friends?

In the spirit of getting this blog back on track with an actual theme, rather than the mental naval fluff I usually concentrate on, I have posed the above head-scratcher: Why, after three years of law school and two years in a law firm, don't I have any lawyer friends? Let's ponder.

LAW SCHOOL

Well, the first year was the equivalent of that lovely Pogues song "Drink and Fight," only it was actually "Drink and Study" (which is less popular as it's hard to rhyme). I hung around my fellow law students almost continuously, drinking in cheap-o Hell's Kitchen bars, along with unemployed construction workers, old men waiting for the OTB (Off-Track Betting) places to open up, and the ubiquitious band of sailors when Fleet Week came around. We drank drank drank and then studied studied studied, and I think we clung together because no one else could possibly understand the pressure of having your mind re-molded to the legal way of thinking at the age of 23. Seriously, it changes you. But I'm not sure how much we actually knew--let alone liked--each other.

Because, after first year, it seemed like we all scattered. And why shouldn't we? Our friendship was mostly based on the mutual misery of first-year studying. Now that we were second-years, all we cared about was getting the job. Most people went to classes only intermittently, and took part-time jobs in firms and legal agencies. (We were forbidden to work more than 20 hours a week during our first year). We were thrown into the mix with third years, and while this should have enlivened our social life--well, it didn't.

The summer after graduation was the Summer of the Bar. I cannot discuss the Summer of the Bar Exam because it might trigger flashbacks to a time where I felt that my brain was being flayed--very slowly. There may have been people around; I don't remember. I was already not looking forward to my law firm job, but it seemed to be following me everywhere. (I went to Greece and Israel to escape, only to meet more New York lawyers-to-be also trying to escape. Go figure).

LAW FIRM

Since so much of the law firm lends itself to mutual misery, you would think that we would also be eager to bond together in miserable solidarity. This did not happen. I only have experience with one law firm, so I am in no position to judge whether my experience was unusual or not. But while I was struggling with my own boredom and frustration with the work and workload, I realized that I wasn't connecting much with my fellow lawyers. I will set forth a number of characteristics of some of the lawyers that I felt I had nothing in common with: married, lived in the suburbs, Republican, Libertarian, obsessed with work, too gossipy, too preppie/whitebread, culturally illiterate, likely to backstab, obsessed with work (yes I KNOW I said that twice). What I didn't realize was that the firm--most firms--are EXTREMELY competitive, and that I was being watched not just by my bosses, but by fellow associates hoping for plum assignments and a leg up towards partnership.

Still.....I am a friendly, open-minded, chatty gal. I don't remember being particularly isolated. Who, then, did I spend my time with? And why are they not around anymore?

The logical and stereotypical answer is, of course, that lawyers are just plain dull. They rely on their gold card for entertainment--namely going to hotel bars to drink complicated martinis and show off their gold cards to tourists. Even those with actual interests have no time for them. I went months without seeing a movie, finishing a book, going on vacation. My only connection to the outside world was whatever I heard in the firm hallways and the (thank God) Internet. I certainly didn't write anything.

What was worse was the physical deterioration. I gained about fifteen pounds. I got pasty from eating crap for lunch. I barely went to the gym. I was smoking again and sleeping badly because of the stress. Fellow associates were getting paunchy and losing their hair (if they were men) or getting anorexic and looking generally listless (if they were women). We hid it all under expensive designer suits, but boy, were we a dull bunch. And, judging by what the partners looked like, it didn't look like it was going to get much better over the years.

Now, I do expect a slew of hate mail for this post, as many lawyers do not see themselves that way. This is perfectly reasonable to me. But my guess is, unless you have BigFirm in your blood, the majority of the associates at top (sweatshop) firms in big (pressure-cooker) cities fit this description. Personality takes a backseat as your bank account grows. You say you will give it up in a year or two, but what's that old Chicago song? "Hard Habit to Break."

Next entry: The law student/law firm friends I did have, and where have they gone?

3 Comments:

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I must say that your diagnosis of the personality disorder much of the legal fraternity is afflicted with is spot on. I really enjoy your writing, and I've only just stumbled on your blog today. Kudos. : )

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