Week 8, culture of complaint.

To those who wonder how the US economy can absorb thousands of law school grads each year, one answer is because lawyers get disillusioned and leave the profession with apparently great regularity.

This leads to a body of written work that might be termed the literature of complaint (perhaps literature of whining is more apt)

These are the books and articles (frequently written anonymously) that all feature a protagonist who, while incredibly successful & important as a lawyer, wakes up one day and realizes its great tragic emptiness. Blah blah etc.

1. These tales speak to no fundamental misery intrinsic to the legal profession, but rather the naive and uninformed expectations carried into the profession by folks who should’ve known better. I mean, long hours, long meetings, eccentric senior partners, absorption of your life—this is exactly the experience big law firms promise. Everyone knows this. So then you take a job there and you’re surprised when that’s exactly what it’s like?

2. These ex-lawyers are sufficiently vocal in their discontent that they give the impression there are no happy lawyers. Logic implies there are plenty of firm partners who are busy and rich and like it that way. Those guys don’t, as a rule, publish often—“I’m a Rich Lawyer and Life is Good”.

3. So why do disgruntled lawyers feel so impelled to share their suffering? Part of it must be their primal scream against the world in retaliation for their powerlessness. The other is to bend the ear of sympathetic law students, lawyers and ex-lawyers. Misery has always loved company. I guess there is satisfaction in thinking you’re revealing The Big Lie Nobody Knows!! But everyone knows.

These guys have no one but themselves to blame for poor career choices. So many jobs in America are awful, repetitive, back-breaking, soul-dulling work. People find some happiness in them because they’re dependent on them.

For a white guy (it’s always a white guy) with the huge privileges of education and massive compensation to blather on about how it’s not fulfilling to him ... I suppose he’s entitled to his angst, but angst is itself a luxury most can’t afford.

These tales of woe end up circling around a sermon on the importance of “freedom” or “autonomy” or “what’s really important”. Translation: “it’s taken me 8 years to realize that even as a well-paid lawyer, it’s a cash flow business, not a capital business. You don’t end up amassing some war chest that you can live off of. I chose to develop an expensive lifestyle—which you think I’m owed, because I’m an important lawyer—with ongoing obligations and I’ve become totally dependent on those large ongoing checks.”

And for these colossal personal mistakes of common sense, financial prudence and self-awareness, the legal profession at large is held accountable. Very strange.

15 Oct 04

matthewb @ ucla
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