Gosh, I feel I owe all you folks wanting to leave law a big apology. Not until I read Steven Chung and Jordan Rothman’s insightful—nay, psychically accurate analyses of why lawyers leave law—did I realize I have been leading folks astray for more than a decade. Mea culpa! Mea culpa! Mea maxima culpa!
Here I thought that I was helping unhappy lawyers find work:
- that was much better aligned with their talents,
- that helped them be who they wanted to be in the world, and
- in environments that didn’t make them want to start drinking by 11am daily.
But I WAS WRONG. So very wrong. I learned from Chung and Rothman that actually, I’m just bitter, and all my clients who want out of law are, too. I am so very grateful to have been set straight.
You Chose That Stress, Baby
After all, when at least half of attorneys surveyed say they would not choose law again, obviously nothing is wrong with the structure and culture of the profession. It’s—‘DOH!—bad personal choices by those who went to law school.
I should have known that the people who “hate the stressful, adversarial nature of the profession,” are just not tough enough. People who don’t welcome the chance to stand eyeball-to-eyeball with opposing counsel and yell at them are not who we need in law. I mean, seriously, how did I not know this?
Why should anyone be stressed if their boss gives the same assignment to them and another colleague, without telling either one, just to see who will do a better job? Who goes to law school and doesn’t expect to participate in the Hunger Games, right?
All of my spouting off about ways to manage conflict without competition and adversarial pissing contests is just psychobabble, and I am aghast and horrified to have led so many of you astray.
There’s nothing wrong with your colleagues, either. The fact that many of them cannot even meet your eyes or manage a smile in your direction when passing in the hallway? Hey, everyone is there to work, not win congeniality awards.
Being pleasant to colleagues is not billable. Making social contact can distract you from the billable work you were thinking about on your way to the loo.
I am distraught that I ever suggested lawyers should exhibit some basic social intelligence; I guess I watched too many Brene Brown videos.
Questioning Billable Hours Reveals Your Weakness
Do you bitch about billable hours requirements? I did, too. Turns out, questioning billable hours standards means that the naysayers resent and resist accountability.
I am deeply ashamed that I have publicly questioned the utility and general superiority of the billable hours system, and that I have misled so many by doing so. It is a system that is utterly pure and unadulterated by base human motivations. It certainly cannot be perverted by petty things like padding hours or working inefficiently.
Nor could the billable hours model ever in a million years create disincentives to:
- Training junior lawyers appropriately (and would never cause senior lawyers to mutter “I don’t have time to babysit junior associates!”);
- Participating in local communities for selfless (i.e., not networking) reasons; or
- Achieving a healthy balance between work and personal life.
Never, ever would the billable hours system be used to incentivize a ludicrous numbers of hours worked. All those bonuses based on hours billed would definitely not be worth about $20 per hour worked beyond the 1,900 billed hours base.
Besides, that extra $20/hour really adds up when you compare its value to the amount of time you didn’t sleep, missed seeing your family and friends, or couldn’t do something that wasn’t work, eat, or sleep. You don’t get paid a cent for any of those things, right?
I’m hideously embarrassed I didn’t see that bitter ex-lawyers are people who simply failed to do some basic research about what working in law is like.
If only all these unhappy former lawyers had simply buckled down and done some stinking homework before they took their amazing college GPAs and sparkling resumes to law school!
It’s not like making major life decisions is hard! That’s especially true with decisions that come with a $175K price tag that isn’t dischargeable in bankruptcy.
In fact, it’s easier to make huge life decisions when you’ve never worked more than a summer job or lived on your own. You totally know so much about yourself after living in college dorms or with friends off-campus.
All that mumbo-jumbo about the brain not maturing fully until 25 years old, especially executive function and emotional intelligence—excuses, all of it! Heck, some lawyer columnists make it to 40 without emotional intelligence, and they do just fine!
No Special Status for You, Unhappy Lawyers!
Chung is correct—lawyers are spoiled divas to think they are special snowflakes entitled to silly things like autonomy and a chance to gain competence in their work.
It’s unbearably audacious to expect useful training, mentoring, and to be given an idea of the purpose of their work in the overall project. That kind of bleeding heart nonsense is for ordinary, average people, not lawyers, for crying out loud!
Lawyers are the Army of One—we don’t need no namby-pamby cooperation or collaboration with colleagues.
“Trauma” Is Just the Excuse du Jour
Chung does concede that some former lawyers may have been subjected to more stressful situations than others. But for various career-advancement reasons, “they had to keep quiet about all of the abuse they had to put up with from their bosses.”
But honestly—partners said mean things to you and about you? Who cares, right?! Abuse is just something to shrug off, like a hurricane off a duck’s back. As Chung points out, the very worst part of abuse is that you can’t tell everyone about it. Because then you’re a whiner and complainer, which could get back to the abusers and definitely jeopardize your career.
It’s not like years of verbal and emotional abuse from someone with power over you causes deep, debilitating trauma that requires years of therapy to kinda, sorta heal from.
The Complex PTSD that people whine about if they’ve endured years of office abuse is just more of that airy-theory pop psychology. The tragedy of working among narcissists, sociopaths, and generally angry and hyper-reactive people is that you can’t talk about those people over drinks. That’s all. Big deal, right?
If you’re any kind of decent lawyer that’s a small price to pay.
Law Is Nothing To Recover From, You Ninny
Obviously, Chung is correct that calling myself a “recovering lawyer” is really just a weird attempt at self-deprecating humor.
It’s true, I’m just a weirdo! All those decades of post-practice disturbing dreams—in which I live in terror of being found out for not entering my billable hours promptly—just proves it.
It’s laughable, really, the idea that law has left deep psychological scars on anyone, or irrevocably altered their view of the world.
All us bitter recovering lawyers had a skewed view of the world before law, and law corrected those silly ideas about fairness, compassion, the greater good, and all that other touchy-feely nonsense that decent lawyers rightly reject as frippery.
In light of these revelations from Chung and Rothman, obviously this whole coaching unhappy lawyers gig is a sham. Maybe I should start doing stand-up comedy about that?
Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer whose gig on the Island of Misfit Toys is still going strong after 22 years.
If you would like one day soon to join all the other legal misfits on the island, and maybe even wear that Recovering Lawyer label with pride, you can schedule a sample session with Jennifer via firstname.lastname@example.org. She can get you running down the path that’s ideal for you.