The blogosphere is abuzz with news that a former BigLaw associate has sued his former firm. It doesn’t sound like exciting news until your read the complaint, wherein a first-year associate who was canned from Kasowitz Benson (Gregory Berry) alleges he was fired because of his “superior legal mind” and “creativity.” The complaint, filed pro se, asserts 14 counts against Kasowitz and other people connected with his former firm.
Most people are latching on to the hilarious rhetoric found in the complaint, which was written by someone who obviously has quite the opinion of himself. (Sources tell me–yes, I have sources!–that this associate exhibited a similarly high opinion of himself in law school, essentially declining to participate in the law journal he joined.) But what I find interesting is that the complaint captures many of the frustrating aspects of life as a young associate in a law firm. Of course, ordinary people don’t sue over these frustrations. But the complaint reminds me that many people enter law firms completely oblivious to the reality of life within them. And given that many young associates will be starting their new jobs in the coming weeks, it might be helpful to give some warnings. So, using Mr. Berry’s complaint [PDF] as my guide, here are five basic truths that future associates need to know:
Although Michael is good to have around as a reminder of how green the grass on the other side really is, in the interest of being Fair and Balanced, I now present the five stages of legal unemployment.
- Denial: “Well, I guess this is what unemployment feels like! It’s not so bad… And it won’t last long. Besides, after just taking the bar exam, I’d probably want to take a week off anyway, so I’ll just enjoy things for now. I’m going to organize all my files and catch up on every book I wanted to read the past three years but couldn’t find time for during law school! Yay!”
- Anger: “#@$%*&$@%! Did you hear about that chick who sued her college because she couldn’t find a job? Maybe I’ll try that. No, wait, I won’t sue GW… I’ll sue the Career Development Office!! Fracking useless good-for-nothing CDO! This is all your fault! And also the fault of all those stupid experienced lawyers who got laid off and are now rudely taking my jobs!!! You know what would be a fair way of deciding who gets a job? From now on, all hiring decisions should be made by a barehanded fight to the death, last lawyer standing gets hired! I WILL DEFEAT ALL CHALLENGERS.”
- Bargaining: “Dear law firm: Please hire me. I promise I am a decent lawyer. Also I have other useful skills, such as coffee-fetching, supply closet organizing, and shameless sycophancy. You don’t even have to pay me. All I ask in return is for a janitor’s closet to sleep in and full access to any food left over in the break room.”
- Depression: “Rejection letters? Meh. Rejection phone calls? Meh. No big deal… I already knew they were going to reject me. I think today I am going to sit here and count how many times these job listings contain the phrase ‘must have 52-weeks post-JD experience to be considered.’ While eating this entire box of Oreos. By myself.”
- Acceptance: You must not accept unemployment. Acceptance is the mind-killer. Acceptance is the little death that obliterates any chance of being a lawyer. The only acceptance permissible is the acceptance of a job offer. If no job offer is forthcoming, skip Stage 5 and start again at Step 1.
Currently, I am at Stage 3, for the fourth or fifth time. However, my theme song never fails to cheer me up. You can listen to it here.
The other day, I was talking about the experience of being an associate with another young lawyer. I described how every day can bring new emotions: anger, joy, depression. “Oh, you’re just going through the five stages,” she explained. I had never heard this before, but it turns out that the “five stages of legal employment” (particularly in the private sector) makes a lot of sense. So what are they?
- Denial: “Oh, this isn’t the way the job is really going to be. Sure, my partners apparently don’t have any feelings resembling human compassion and I haven’t slept for the past week. But this is just an anomaly. I remember being a summer associate! That was so awesome! It’s going to be that way again soon! When is the firm taking me to Oceanaire again?”
- Anger: “My boss is such a !#$!@! All my fellow associates are soulless drones! I hate this job! I hate everyone!“
- Bargaining: “Ok, I’ll just work this job for a few months, just to get some money to pay back my loans. Then I’ll go work for the Peace Corps in Zambia. Or maybe if I ask them to cut my salary, they’ll work me few hours.”
- Depression: “*sigh* Yet another day.”
- Acceptance: “I guess I can do this. I’m sort of doing important work; I mean, Giant Corp. deserves a fair trial, too! And besides, now I can afford fancy shoes.”
*Now, I understand that any complaint about one’s job is pretty obnoxious in this economy. Fair enough. At the same time, it’s also important to recognize a more subtle consequence of the bad economy: firms may feel they can mistreat associates and get away with it. (After all, where are the associates going to go?) In some ways then, it’s more important than ever to note firm mistreatment.
A new article suggests that, as a result of the economic crisis, current 18-24 year olds might be “more risk-averse, invest less in the stock market, want more state intervention, believe more in redistribution, and accept higher taxes.”
Looks like young lawyers aren’t the only youthful people losing faith in the market.
Brooklyn Law Professor Anita Bernstein has suggested a solution [PDF] for the deep pessimism, cynicism, and (sometimes) depression that seems to afflict lawyers about the time they hit law school. Bernstein thinks students should be warned about the perils of the law profession while they’re in law school; she reasons anxiety and unhappiness will be reduced if students are fully aware of the “pitfalls.”
Honestly, I’m not sure if I agree. I simply don’t understand how further educating law students about the problems they might face as professionals will make those students feel better, particularly when law students tend to be a rather angsty and risk averse (some might say paranoid) bunch. See, e.g., these worries about clerkships. A full semester course about everything that can go wrong wouldn’t exactly calm my nerves. Any law students care to comment?