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Poisonings

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This is the sad and disturbing story of the life and death of Peter, a partner at Wilson Sonsini, a prominent Silicon Valley-based law firm. The article is written by his ex-wife, Eilene Zimmerman (they had two children), who found his body when she went to check on him after he didn’t respond to messages:

I parked in Peter’s driveway, used my key to open the front door and walked up to the living room, a loftlike space with bamboo floors bathed in sunlight.

“Peter?” I called out.

Silence. A few candy wrappers littered a counter. Peter worked so much that he rarely cooked anymore, sustaining himself largely on fast food, snacks, coffee, ibuprofen and antacids. I headed toward the bedroom, calling his name.

The door was ajar. A few crumpled and bloodied tissues were scattered on the bedsheets. And then I turned the corner and saw him, lying on the floor between the bathroom and the bedroom. His head rested on a flattened cardboard box.

In my shock, I didn’t see the half-filled syringes on the bathroom sink, or the spoon, lighter and crushed pills. I didn’t see the bag of white powder, or the tourniquet, or the other lighter next to the bed. The police report from that day noted several safes around the bedroom, all of them open and spilling out translucent orange pill bottles.

Peter, one of the most successful people I have ever known, died a drug addict, felled by a systemic bacterial infection common to intravenous users.

Of all the heartbreaking details of his story, the one that continues to haunt me is this: The history on his cellphone shows the last call he ever made was for work. Peter, vomiting, unable to sit up, slipping in and out of consciousness, had managed, somehow, to dial into a conference call.

Zimmerman describes the growing literature on substance abuse among lawyers, most of which focuses on alcohol, both because of high rates of alcoholism among attorneys, and because lawyers are no doubt more willing to admit to having problems with a legal and more socially acceptable form of self-medication than cocaine or heroin or prescription drugs.

She also refers to numerous studies that find the seeds of substance abuse and — often related — depression seem to be planted by the experience of law school itself (I discussed some of that literature here):

“The psychological factors seen to erode during law school are the very factors most important for the well-being of lawyers,” Lawrence Krieger, a professor at Florida State University College of Law, and Kennon Sheldon, a professor of psychology at the University of Missouri, wrote in their 2015 paper “What Makes Lawyers Happy?” Conversely, they wrote, “the factors most emphasized in law schools — grades, honors and potential career income — have nil to modest bearing on lawyer well-being.”

After students began law school they experienced “a marked increase in depression, negative mood and physical symptoms, with corresponding decreases in positive affect and life satisfaction,” the professors wrote.

Students also shed some of their idealism. Within the first year of law school, students’ motivation for studying law and becoming lawyers shifted from “helping and community-oriented values to extrinsic, rewards-based values.” . . .

Some research shows that before they start law school, law students are actually healthier than the general population, both physically and mentally. “There’s good data showing that,” said Andy Benjamin, a psychologist and lawyer who teaches law and psychology at the University of Washington. “They drink less than other young people, use less substances, have less depression and are less hostile.”

In addition, he said, law students generally start school with their sense of self and their values intact. But, in his research, he said, he has found that the formal structure of law school starts to change that.

Rather than hew to their internal self, students begin to focus on external values, he said, like status, comparative worth and competition. “We have seven very strong studies that show this twists people’s psyches and they come out of law school significantly impaired, with depression, anxiety and hostility,” he said.

And of course for lawyers like Peter, a junior partner at a fantastically profitable firm — Wilson Sonsini had profits per parter of $1.97 million last year, which was actually down 11% from the year before — the pressure to bill massive hours, service every need or whim of clients, and supervise younger attorneys, can be both relentless and overwhelming (Note that in the contemporary world of big law firms, profits per partner say very little about what any particular partner is making. “Service partners” — those who focus their time and efforts on doing legal work and managing the work of others — make vastly less than “rainmakers,” who cultivate relationships with existing and potential new clients.* Thus at a firm like Wilson Sonsini, a handful of rainmakers may be making ten or twenty times what the service partners are earning (It’s perhaps telling that, after Peter’s death, Eilene’s friends organized a Go Fund Me campaign for her and her two children, with the goal of raising $20,000 to help her with expenses).

The work culture created by such pressures is reflected in a vignette Zimmerman relates about Peter’s memorial service:

At Peter’s memorial service in 2015 — held in a place he loved, with sweeping views of the Pacific — a young associate from his firm stood up to speak of their friendship and of the bands they sometimes went to see together, only to break down in tears. Quite a few of the lawyers attending the service were bent over their phones, reading and tapping out emails.

There’s much to be said here about the destructive effects created by the intersection of the practice of law and new gilded age capitalism, and the various drugs, literal and metaphorical, that people use to get through that intersection alive — or not.

*In addition, some of the biggest and richest firms have recently created the oxymoronic category of “non-equity partner,” that is, a salaried employee who is a partner in name only. This allows them to keep talented and hard-working lawyers billing at high rates after they are no longer formally associates, without sharing any of the firm profits with them.

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  • howard

    this, of course, goes along with your posting about the upper middle class yesterday, and the price people are willing to pay to achieve upper-one-percenthood.

    • jim, some guy in iowa

      well, at least to achieve being able to press their noses right up against the glass between them and the 1%

      edit: it must be a hell of a thing, to be so close- and yet for practical purposes on the other side of the moon away from- that kind of money

      • howard

        per the numbers paul posted yesterday, the 1% begins at $400k/year, which he surely earned; 99.9% is $1.117M, which he not inconceivably earned.

        but of course the other side of the coin, here, so to speak, is net worth, and amazingly, a lot of these high-pay households are also high-expense households and not necessarily building the net worth you would expect given their privileged income position.

        • jim, some guy in iowa

          and yet, if you’re in that environment, are you comparing yourself to some dumb farmer in Iowa or the woman who rang up your groceries? People get a lot of their emotions tied up in dollars

          • howard

            there’s no doubt that people who make that kind of money are under a lot of keeping up with the joneses type pressures in their cohort to spend it ostentatiously.

            • Alec Leamas

              I think this might be related to the sort of taboos that inhere in the United States which is in many ways both an egalitarian culture and a striving culture. (egalitarian in contrast with cultures that have long traditions of formal hereditary aristocracies, striving in the sense of the mythos that an American can come from anywhere and become anything with the right amount of pluck and hard work).

              It’s gauche to talk about how much you make if you make an upper middle class income, but at the same time it’s important for people to establish their class and status by spending money that may or may not have to signal surreptitiously that they make a lot of money. In a perfect world starting from year zero, you might think that some of these problems could be mitigated if everyone’s YE income and perhaps a PFS was published so that anyone could see the figures. There would be little to gain from a low mileage lease of a luxury automobile that you really can’t afford if people could find out easily that the guy makes $50K a year and has more liabilities than assets.

        • HugeEuge

          Is that $400/k household income or individual personal income? Because I can imagine that some two income households I know might reach that threshold and while I always thought of them as really well off — with probably the biggest item being almost certainly a very comfortable retirement — the idea of them as 1% means that I have to reexamine some assumptions I’ve long made.

          • howard

            household.

            the amazing thing is this: if you compare that $400K to the median household, it’s around 8 times higher.

            but simply the gap between the 99% and 99.9% ($400K to 1.1M) households is already 3 x, and that’s simply the threshold for the upper tenth of one percent: get the average of the people in that cluster and i’m willing to bet that it exceeds 8x $400K….

          • BiloSagdiyev

            The official slogans of Occupy should have been about the 99.9% vs. the 0.1 percent, to be more accurate, but it would have been too clumsy.

          • Captain_Subtext

            You also have to look at where they live. $400K doesn’t go as far in Silicon Valley as it does in Fresno.

        • Unemployed_Northeastern

          You have to take into consideration what the benchmark is. Biglaw partners, at least in Boston and certainly in NYC, seem to benchmark themselves against the IB/HF/PE/VC folk and the tech gablillionaires. By that metric they are relatively impoverished.

          Of course, Mitt Romney can look at the plutocrats with yachts that cost more than he’s made in his life (seriously, there are dozens and dozens of yachts out there that cost >$250m) and feel comparatively poor.

          • howard

            i agree absolutely.

          • Alec Leamas

            Well, the deceased gentleman in question had a science background and worked in Northern California (doing IIRC IP work), where the tech money would be the benchmark and driving the cost of living sky high.

            The Ex-wife and author cited a billing rate of $600/hr, which at a flat 2000 (perhaps he billed more) yields $1.2M billed per annum, with somewhat less collected in all likelihood. That might give you some sort of bearing as to what his income may have been at the time of his death.

            • Unemployed_Northeastern

              I think we can safely presume that every IP lawyer in San Francisco / Silicon Valley makes a small fraction of what their clients earn.

              • Alec Leamas

                I don’t know enough about that localized economy but I assumed that the tech entrepreneurs were few and mightily wealthy, while the lessers (i.e. engineers) still made a lot of money but something in more on the scale of BigLaw. Am I wrong about this? If so, where can I learn to code?

                • Unemployed_Northeastern

                  How often do IP partners have assembly-line engineers as clients versus tech entrepreneurs?

                • Alec Leamas

                  Well, I’d think the entity would technically be the client. But if you’re addressing comparative compensation my guess is that the IP or other Partner would be comparing his compensation to the decision makers with whom he works closely within the client.

                • Unemployed_Northeastern

                  And if said IP partner tries to stretch his money to live in Atherton or one of those other towns out there where the median house is like $5 million these days, is he more likely to be surrounded by tech gurus with eight to twelve figure net worths or the run of the mill Netflix coder who *only* makes like $300k?

                • Alec Leamas

                  I don’t know the particulars. That’s why I’m asking and you’re adding your knowledge to the discussion such as it is.

                  Who are “tech gurus?” Other than Jobs et al, are there that many? I perceive that there are a lot of people who aspire to be “tech gurus” but there is probably an oversupply of aspirants.

                • Unemployed_Northeastern

                  The constellation of folk who are either VC, angel investors, or founders of tech, biotech, etc. companies. We have plenty of similar people here in metro Boston; their names don’t ring out like Jobs or Musk or Gates, but hey, how many decimillionaire or even centimillionaire rainmakers at the world’s investment banks can any of us name? Yeah, there are likely many more VC-side people than tech founders. But a VC equity partner realistically sees money that your Vault 5 law firm partner can only dream of.

            • sigaba

              Do firms skim off the top of the “billing rate” and how much?

              • Alec Leamas

                I’m not sure what you mean.

                The billings go to the clients who (hopefully) pay them to the firm. The firm compensates the lawyers per whatever agreement they have with the lawyer.

                Traditionally, the “rule of threes” prevailed – that is that non-partner combined compensation should be 1/3 of fees collected. Of the remaining 2/3, 1/3 is allocable to overhead expense and 1/3 to the pool of y/e profits for the partners.

                For most if not all lawyers, a sum equal to salary and benefits equal for overhead is ridiculous, so the “rule of threes” is beloved by established partners because it artificially suppresses non-partner compensation to the benefit of the partners.

    • NewishLawyer

      Right but it is what comes with that lifestyle that people find nice. I admit that this includes me. I like eating at nice restaurants and I have a clothes horse habit for better or for worse (inherited from both mom and dad) along with liking furniture that is a bit more unique than an Ikea build. And Iike going to theatre which is also expensive.

      These things cost money for better or for worse as well. Is it a bit silly? Maybe but I don’t know how to turn myself into a t-shirt, shorts, and sneakers kind of guy.

      • howard

        look, i have devoted myself to finding ways of making a living that let me wear t-shirts, jeans, and sneakers most of the time, and it’s worked out pretty well all in all, but absolutely: de gustibus.

        part of why people want high incomes is they want what they can acquire with those high incomes, and why shouldn’t they? but in the end, mr. micawber had it right: “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen [pounds]
        nineteen [shillings] and six [pence], result happiness. Annual income twenty
        pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.”

        • Drew

          Hey me too. It kills me that I have to spend my hard-earned scratch on suits and dress shoes. I love a pair of jeans and a plain t-shirt or flannelcin the winter. Maybe I need to find a different career track.

          • Linnaeus

            That’s pretty much my daily uniform.

          • NewishLawyer

            YMMV. FWIW, I often find that shoes are much more interesting looking and aesthetic than a pair of sneakers. I like wearing sneakers but not just something like a pair of New Balances. I wear t-shirts too and jeans too but I spend money on clothing because I want to, not because I have to.

            Consider this the drama major/aesthetic part of my side. I also said I come from a line of clothes horses.

            • Renato Mori

              …You must realize that this is the hundredth time you’ve offered an assessment of your “tasteful taste”? Wow, if only it felt better for us to read about your consumer habits once again… we’d still fall way short of your self-regard. Blow harder.
              I like shoes too.
              I like to wear clothes too.
              I like furniture too.

      • BlueLoom

        I don’t know how to turn myself into a t-shirt, shorts, and sneakers kind of guy.

        Try volunteering at a soup kitchen or food bank; or an inner city school; or, since you’re a lawyer, doing pro bono work for people who need but can’t afford legal assistance.

        Don’t have time for these activities? Try sacrificing a couple of theater and/or fine dining experiences each month. Or give up shopping for your elegant clothes and perfect home furnishings.

  • rudolf schnaubelt

    So sad. Law school is like torture for intelligent people.

    Isn’t that how Orcs were made? By torturing Elves nay?

    • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

      I know a lot of people who went into medicine bc they basically thought, “I’m smart, and I don’t make enough money on my current track.” If they can’t go into a field like radiology or anesthesia (high pay, generally low patient contact/ stress), they end up pretty unhappy.

      • ap77

        I’m an attorney and have often thought that if I had to do it all over again, I’d go into medicine. This “high pay, low patient contact” thing seems like the ticket. I don’t like people so can’t imagine wanting to deal with patients. :)

        • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

          My classmate / friend picked radiology not out of any love for it, but bc he does not like people.

        • Hondo

          A doctor who doesn’t like people? Sounds like a poor career choice.

          • DocAmazing

            You should talk to some pathologists. Much of their contact with patients is on slides and in tubes; when an entire patient comes in, s/he is usually dead.

          • howard

            my vague understanding of the historical sociology of the medical profession is that 50+ years ago, a handful of medical specialists made big money but most doctors did not because they couldn’t count on getting paid, and so by and large people went into medicine because they wanted to.

            once medicare and then medicaid came along to increase the guarantees of payment, once health insurance as a fringe benefit ratcheted up, it meant that there was a lot more money floating around, and so changed the incentives about going into medicine.

            and, of course, this has all created a larger set of incentive for the growth of specialist medicine.

            • petesh

              But, 50+ years ago, doctors had status as well as income fairly commensurate with senior management in business. But top management has hugely outpaced them in income, and the status has simultaneously been downgraded. Everyone moans when they see their “peers” making an order of magnitude more than they do.

      • Unemployed_Northeastern

        I would think radiology and anesthesia have very different levels of stress.

        • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

          They tend to attract bright but self-contained types. An anesthesia mishap is a terrible day at the office, but they’re rare. But the same holds for a radiologist who misses a read. They both have the same pressures to do a certain volume of work, be on call, etc.

      • NewishLawyer

        While I like working for individuals, the biggest stress can be working with people who are in tough spots and need a social worker/psychologist as much as they need a lawyer.

        • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

          You and me both, pal! As hard as it is for doctors to get a patient to actually follow up with the counselor, therapist, nutritionist, etc.*, it seems like it would be damn-near impossible to do so as a lawyer.

          * the only approach that seems to work is to actually have the person physically in the office.

          • NewishLawyer

            A thing to point out here is that the kind of law I do is considered far from prestigious even though I think I am helping people. I do plaintiff’s law. Most of my cases are pharma related and employment related (so I represent people who are screwed out of their OT and/or are the victims of employment discrimination). But I also do PI. In short, I can be viewed as a “ambulance chaser.”

            LeeEsq does immigration law in private practice and he gets viewed as kind of bottom feeder to for not being at a non-profit.

            People (including people on the left) give a presumption of respectability to Big Law/Corporate Law. Even the stories of people who leave tend to be that they went to work at the Ford Foundation rather than a plaintiff’s firm (though plenty switch sides.)

            So there seems to be a kind of limited thought process at the top where you can be in Big Law/Big Business or a Consultant or a do-gooder at a nonprofit but nothing in between.

            • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

              Interesting – I never thought about law in those terms (despite working many years for various lawyers), but it’s a good insight. We rarely glamorize the guy who has to bust his ass and keep his own lights on doing lame mom and pop cases. In this corner: Atticus Finch. And in the other corner: Saul Goodman.

              • NewishLawyer

                The best lawyer movie ever made had a kind of hero doing a PI case (the Verdict with Paul Neuman and Paul Neuman still played a washed-up drunk!) But yeah, people who do the kind of law I do are the kind of lawyers who get jokes until people need us.

                The kind of law the deceased did is presumptively presumed to be prestigious.

                • DocAmazing

                  Death by alliteration.

                • NewishLawyer

                  There are worse ways to go.

                • Unemployed_Northeastern

                  Death by assonance?

                • Unemployed_Northeastern

                  You think The Verdict is better than A Civil Action? I dunna.

                • NewishLawyer

                  The Verdict is better than the Civil Action and was from a time when David Mamet was a good writer.

                • Unemployed_Northeastern

                  I respectfully dissent as to the first part and concur to the second.

            • Drew

              Plaintiff’s work can be a lot of fun. Harder to build a case than to string dynamite around one, but more satisfying.

      • Alec Leamas

        I don’t know what the factors determining happiness in the practice of medicine are, but doctors seem to be a more cheerful bunch than lawyers.

        The law is adversarial in a general sense, and specifically so in practice areas like litigation. Managing your adversary who is trying to trick you/wear you down/make you hate your life, and the client whose expectations are often unreasonable and whose willingness to pay for your work is often less than optimal and your firm’s management’s expectations with regard to fees collected and hours billed (not worked, but billed) all while trying to avoid making a mistake that could be catastrophic for your career and for the firm can feel like being in a blender.

    • NewishLawyer

      When I was in law school, my (very glib) comment was that law school was for people who were too nerdy for business school but not math oriented enough to become engineers.

      • Unemployed_Northeastern

        I think in the last several years law school became the refuge of liberal arts grads who would rather have gone to biz school but couldn’t get into the sort of early careers that every halfway respectable MBA program favors. You can go straight from college into any law school if your scores and grades are right. But most decent MBA programs want to see that you had a few years’ meaningful white collar corporate experience somewhere, and at the elite biz schools you can pretty much read that as bulge bracket bank, MBB consultancy, early management track at a blue chip or major tech company, or appointed heir to your family’s business empire.

        • NewishLawyer

          I think going to law school was always the refuge of liberal arts majors (says the drama major who spent most of his 20s trying for a career in directing) but it could have gotten worse in the last few.

          • Unemployed_Northeastern

            So you’re saying I should spend my post-law school 30s trying to break into directing?

            • sigaba

              I have a few friends with an MFA in screenwriting that went back to law school, not aware of any vice versa.

  • LouKyCardFan

    Old lawyers have a tendency to eat the young. The sad part is that the only solution that bar associations keep coming up with is for younger lawyers to take on more free work for people who can’t afford it and for people who have unresolvable issues. It is a bullshit response.

    • Denverite

      There’s a really self-defeating aspect to this cannibalization of younger lawyers, as well. I’ve talked to people at more than one national firm who really bemoan the lack of senior associate/junior partner/of counsel-level attorneys (i.e., attorneys with about 8-15 years of experience). Especially in motions/briefing-heavy practices, there’s a real dearth of attorneys who can actually produce a high quality piece of writing. The junior associates don’t have the experience or writing chops to do that, and the senior partners don’t have the time or ability (at least, anymore). I was just talking to one colleague who was panicking at having to draft a summary judgment reply brief when the MSJ author left the firm to go to a government job.

    • DocAmazing

      That’s also true in medicine, and I suspect in other professions as well. Older practitioners build a practice and then hire younger practitioners to to the actual work for a fraction of the reward. In health care, this often leads to high turnover, so Kindly Old Doc Founder sees a few patients while a rotating cast of Young Dr. Dispensibles fresh out of residency does the bulk of patent care.

      • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

        Yeah, my wife fell into an ED practice based on this exact model, and after 18 months is already the most senior non-management member of the practice.

        And don’t forget we have institutionalized a whole caste of overworked underpaid laborers: residents*. The hospitals get IIRC $250K per resident every year from Medicare, and the privilege of working them vastly harder than “real doctors” while earn earning much of the revenue a real doctor would (in addition to the aforementioned $250k) – plus the perk of providing verbal and psychological abuse when their work doesn’t make your life easy enough. I don’t know how many hospitals could even keep the doors open without residents.

        * (full disclosure: I’m a newly minted intern, and I like my hospital / program, so I’m lucky, but the economic exploitation is inescapable).

        • hypersphericalcow

          I’ve been lucky enough to only have gone to a hospital once, but the idea of being operated on by a resident is terrifying. “Hello, I’m your surgeon. I’ve been on my feet for 15 hours, I’m being subjected to enormous emotional abuse, and I rather hate my life. Now lie still while I take this scalpel to your neck.”

          • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

            If it puts your mind at ease, I’ve never seen a surgical specialty (general surgery, vascular, OBG, etc) where the lead surgeon wasn’t an attending physician (ie past residency), or a resident in their final year under the direct supervision of an attending.

            I have seen residents miss life-threatening conditions (eg a perforated bowel on a CT scan, that the internal medicine resident basically sat on for 24+ hours).

          • Joe_Bob_the_III

            Word to the wise: Try to avoid going to the hospital in July. That’s the month most of the new residents start.

            • applecor

              I understand that July 1 is called “amateur night”.

      • hypersphericalcow

        It is true. I work in software, and it’s almost funny how many job listings will require “5 years of experience” with a technology that was invented three years ago.

        • Hondo

          Nobody ever accused corporate HR types of being very smart.

          • MikeG

            Corporate HR depts are dumber than bricks. They’ll hire someone with 3 months experience in SoftwareX instead of the guy with 10 years in almost-identical SoftwareY who could pick up SoftwareX in a couple of days. And god forbid they take a chance on someone without a formal-qualification-conformist background but lots of ability. Corporate ass-covering.

          • BiloSagdiyev

            Inspector Harry Callahan’s opinion:

            https://youtube.com/watch?v=DGCMyF-sA58

            • Hondo

              Thanks for the laugh.

        • Unemployed_Northeastern

          Wharton management professor Peter Cappelli talks about this a bit in his recent book “Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs.” One tale he relates is of the HR filtering software that turned down more than 25,000 applications to a “bog-standard” engineering position.

          • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

            It’s the same in government, when I worked in LA County, it was standard practice to just cut and paste the required qualifications from the listing into your resume because the software/ HR slugs would reject anything else. A friend got rejected from a job requiring a degree in “international affairs” because his degree was in international relations.

            • Unemployed_Northeastern

              Maybe my problem all this time is that I’m not good enough plagiarizing the text of job listings and tossing it back at them?

            • PohranicniStraze

              And yet… in a previous government agency I worked for, there was a position posted open to the public. The online application had, apart from some yes/no questions, several open-ended questions to be completed in text fields. One individual went through the process, answering the yes/no questions and filling all of the text fields with the word “placeholder” so that he could go to the next question, apparently with the intent of coming back later and putting in a proper answer. Instead, he went ahead and submitted as-is, and the HR Shared Services group somehow put him in the package for us to choose from. My best guess is he must have been the last listing in the package and HR got to him at 4:29 on a Friday evening.

      • Alec Leamas

        Maybe the difference is the adversarial nature of the practice of law – not only are the Partners trying to screw you, but so are the adversarial lawyers in your life (and often your own clients).

    • LeeEsq

      It’s like a form of hazing for professionals. The entire point is to show how tough you are by going through hell during your early career for the big rewards later.

      • MikeG

        “I had to eat shit for ten years, now it’s my turn to make the junior guys eat shit.”
        And the cycle continues.

    • Alec Leamas

      You’d think that the Bar Associations would consider amending the rules of ethics to govern intrafirm relations since the high rates of depression, anxiety, burn out, and substance abuse created by the boiler room environment is a major contributing cause of incidents requiring attorney discipline and lowering the esteem of the profession in the eyes of the general public. Part of competently supervising junior lawyers is making certain that their workload is reasonable in human terms.

  • LouKyCardFan

    Too much stress over deadlines, never enough mentoring for the majority of graduates, no classes in practice management, antagonistic bar associations, institutional lapdog judges unwilling to buck corporate suzerainty, a refusal of law schools to recognize that this is simply a job…

    • Linnaeus

      An acquaintance of mine began his legal career at Wilson Sonsini (this was nearly twenty years ago, and I don’t think that he works there any more). I happened to be staying with him and his then-wife for about a week because I needed to do some archival research at Stanford and their house was within a decent driving distance from the archive, saving me the expense of having to stay at a hotel. Sadly, I didn’t get to see him as much as I would have liked because he had to spend nights at the office – not just late nights, but overnights. He packed a couple days’ worth of clothes to take with him to the office so that he wouldn’t have to come back home. The day I arrived, he suggested that I look into pursuing a legal career. When I saw him packing for a stay at the office, I was less inclined to do so.

      • Denverite

        When Kirkland was engaged for the United bankruptcy back in the early 00s, they famously booked a block of hotel rooms at the nearby hotel and told their bankruptcy attorneys to go home early (it was a Friday), report back on Sunday afternoon, and plan not to see their families for the next four weeks.

        • Linnaeus

          Ugh. I had some (very) late nights in the lab in my previous life, but nothing like “hey folks, I won’t see you for a month”. That’s harsh.

          • DamnYankeesLGM

            It’s also not common. I don’t know what life is like as a litigator, but on the corporate side of things, these kinds of horror stories are, in my experience, pretty rare. They are just the stories people like to tell (not that they aren’t true).

            • Denverite

              I don’t know what life is like as a litigator, but on the corporate side of things, these kinds of horror stories are, in my experience, pretty rare.

              I billed 2600 hours once upon a time, and while I did a couple of all-nighters in that year, it was just a couple. It was mostly just the drudgery of working unto 8:30 or 9:00 four nights a week, working just about every weekend (and oftentimes at least some of both weekend days), traveling a bunch, and having two multi-week trial-type things.

              In recent years, it’s been more along the lines of 1800-1900 hours (yay Denver!), which for me has ended up being pretty regularly 9:00-7:30 days with a half day on the weekend most weekends.

              • DamnYankeesLGM

                Sounds roughly right, though I work from home a lot more than it sounds like you do. In my 4 years at Wilson, I’d say I’ve eaten dinner in the office less than 10 times. And I still don’t think I’ve ever gone in to the office on the weekend.

                I sometimes wonder if people appreciate how much life has changes for lawyers given the ability to work remotely and not lose a single step. I would probably like my job much much less if I couldn’t work from home.

                • Denverite

                  I can’t really work from home at night or weekends (more than light email and the like) with the kids.

                • ap77

                  Your experience is quite atypical.

                  And while many firms pay lip service to being able to “work remotely,” in my experience there is a lot of resentment towards anyone who actually does so.

                • DamnYankeesLGM

                  Well, maybe. But there isn’t at Wilson in my experience. And since that’s where the partner in the article worked, it seemed relevant.

                • applecor

                  To resent it, they would have to know about it.

                  I am 100% sure that 90% of the time I am e-mailing people from home, they don’t know about it, because it would not occur to them to go by my office.

                • ap77

                  Sure – but the moment they call your office, they’ll know you aren’t there. I sincerely believe that clients don’t care, but people at the firm do, because they’re maniacs.

                • Richard Gadsden

                  No they won’t! Certainly with our setup, people have a phone at home linked to their office extension, so the phone just rings in the home office.

                • Richard Gadsden

                  As a legal IT person who spends a large fraction of my life making sure that the technology works so you can work from home, I’ll accept your thanks.

              • Unemployed_Northeastern

                Jeebus. that makes me feel a little better about striking out in the job market.

            • ap77

              I’ve worked at a New York law firm for about 9 years. This stuff is very common.

              • DamnYankeesLGM

                In corporate?

                My general experience in corporate work is that the people who were constantly staying late, especially ones pulling all nighters, were just utter shit at managing their own time. It was incredibly frustrating working for them as juniors since their inefficiencies were so staggeringly obvious. Now that I am a senior, I believe that more than ever.

                Not saying its true for everyone. People get fucked. But in my view there’s simply no way to be routintely working like that unless you either work at a particularly awful place or you stink at managing your time.

                • ap77

                  Corporate is far worse than litigation when it comes to this stuff. Other side doesn’t get you a new version until 2 am, you’re expected to have comments and an issues listed by 6 am, etc.

                  It’s not about “managing your own time” – many of these things are exogenous to whatever you could possibly do with your own time to be more efficient.

                  I’m not trying to be harsh, and it sounds like you’ve got a gig that you like – which, honestly, that’s good! – but when if your initial reaction is “manage your time better,” it’s the sort of thing I find hard to take seriously.

                • DamnYankeesLGM

                  >Other side doesn’t get you a new version until 2 am, you’re expected to have comments and an issues listed by 6 am, etc.

                  I’ve been doing M&A for 7 years (maybe small compared to a whole career, but enough to have a pretty solid view of how this works), in both NY and CA, with financial and strategic clients – and this has happened to me a grand total of two times. And when it happens, both to me and to other people (and I can think of a few circumstances where it has), it’s perfectly expected – you know on Monday that you are trying to sign by Friday, so you can expect Thursday night to be tough and plan accordingly.

                  I think people vastly overstate how often this happens in an effort to make themselves sound tougher. Maybe I’m a jerk for thinking that, but based on my experience (both in terms of the work I get but also seeing what people brag/complain about when I’m aware of the facts).

                  Or maybe you work at Skadden or K&E. In which case, sure. :)

                • ap77

                  I don’t even do corporate work primarily and I see this happen all the time.

                  Your position appears to be that people who complain about this stuff are just doing so to “make themselves sounder tougher.” I think that’s a great example of the type of toxic atmosphere that prevails at many law firms. And the fact that you are likely an associate (based on your 7 years) makes it all the more telling.

                • DamnYankeesLGM

                  >Your position appears to be that people who complain about this stuff are just doing so to “make themselves sounder tougher.”

                  No, they complain about it because it sucks. I think people overstate how *often* it happens; people constantly complain about these events which gives them an outsized prominence in people’s understanding of what the job is. I’ not saying it doesn’t happen.

                  >I think that’s a great example of the type of toxic atmosphere that prevails at many law firms.

                  I think a large part of the toxic atmosphere is people complaining about this stuff but also sort of reveling in it, making it sound like its a trial by fire. People complaining about working 50 hours over three day holiday weekend, but through complaining their are virtue signaling how dedicated they are and how only the toughest kinds of people can do these jobs. That’s how you get partners making $2M per year and associates making $400K gathering together in Manhattan bars complaining how underpaid they are, because they overstate and revel in the difficulty of the job.

                  I freaking hate that. You’re projecting an attitude on to me I don’t have in an effort to fit me into a stereotype.

                • ap77

                  Sorry – I’ve got to be honest, this reads like gibberish to me.

                  I doubt that you and I are going to come to agreement on this topic. So I’m going to have a drink and call it a night. :)

                • twbb

                  I think in a lot of cases the insane hours aren’t actually necessary, but the firm’s sociopathic partners want to churn a lot of billables.
                  .

                • Drew

                  Oh yeah. Working under an inefficient/shitty delegator is the worst. It’s like, I don’t mind putting the work in, but you make it so much worse than it has to be.

        • Chauncy Gardner

          That was a wild time in Chicago bankruptcy, but it should be noted that Kirkland also filed the Conseco bankruptcy that same month and first day motions filed by that team for those two cases combined was probably about 2 million pages of documents. Those two cases were both top 10 largest cases to date, (on the date of filing), and were running concurrently.

      • LouKyCardFan

        Yeah – there is seriously no point to that sort of nonsense.

        I’m going on my 29th year in practice, and 21 years since I last pulled a “work on something till 11 pm” – it doesn’t make any sense to me.

        • NewishLawyer

          Sometime people also get a kind of rush/thrill of doing all nighters and/or getting things in at the last minute because it makes them feel necessary.

          When I was in college and grad school for theatre, there was always a few people who over extended themselves with projects and went rushing from thing to thing. Eventually someone told them to sit down and take a rest and eat. I think they overextended themselves for those movements.

        • Drew

          It depends on who you work for. Tough to find a humane/sane boss sometimes.

    • Drew

      What do you mean by “antagonistic” bar associations?

      • Unemployed_Northeastern

        I thought of how the only time I hear from any of them is when it’s time to pay the annual dues, but that’s not so much “antagonistic” as “indifferent to members as anything other than revenue sources.”

        • Drew

          Ah. That’s why I cut down on the voluntary ones. I find that the “higher up” they are, the less useful. So, I’m not an ABA member because I find membership damn near useless. The state bar associations where I practice are pretty good. The county bar associations where I practice have been by far the most helpful professionally so I stay on top of those.

          • Unemployed_Northeastern

            The only time I hear from the involuntary one(s) are when it’s time to pay the annual dues, too.

  • Linnaeus

    This passage caught my attention:

    That day in Peter’s house, the emergency medical workers told me right away that it was probably a drug overdose. I remember saying, “That’s impossible.” After all, I said, he was a partner at a law firm. He had an Ivy League education.

    “How could that be?” I asked one of them. “He was so smart.”

    This says a lot about our cultural attitudes towards addiction and mental illness; namely, who is affected by these problems and who constitutes a sympathetic victim. Addiction and mental illness aren’t supposed to happen to smart, educated, professional people like Peter. So, when they do happen to people like him, it’s viewed as tragedy and a sickness (rightly so). When it happens to the lower sorts, however, not so much – it’s hard not to compare this piece with Kevin Drum’s Mother Jones piece that Shakezula criticized in her post yesterday.

    • Paul Campos

      To be fair to Zimmerman, over the course of the piece she chronicles her discovery that her attitude was deeply mistaken.

      But you’re right about general societal attitudes of course.

      • Linnaeus

        Yes, and let me take care to say that I’m not blaming her – what she used to believe about addiction is indicative of a wider problem.

    • Phil Perspective

      Except K-Dumb knew it was stupid considering the response Clara Jeffery(his boss) got for saying this:

      https://twitter.com/bw31018/status/776459406884081664

      among other things about the homeless.

    • Tom in BK

      Addiction fucking sucks. Source: alcoholic.

      It can hit anyone. Source: alcoholic who goes to meetings.

      I get the stigma: you’re making a choice! But for a lot of people, they’re way past decision-making when it comes to addiction.

  • mirele

    I’m remembering a study of my class that was sent out in the mid-’90s, five years after we graduated. What it detailed was that forty percent of my classmates said they had a problem with alcohol. One percent said they had a problem with cocaine. Not long after that, the school was raising money and I got a law school keychain fob/bottle opener as an inducement to give. I still have it on my keyring, the only thing left from the crash and burn that was my attempt at the legal profession.

    • BiloSagdiyev

      That 1% had a problem. Several other percent thought, “No, my connection is reliable.”

  • Paul Thomas

    This seems a pertinent place to link to (then-Professor, now Judge) Patrick Schiltz’s classic essay on the morally corrupting influence of big-firm culture. He pulls no punches, particularly on the statistics around alcohol and drug abuse.

    http://www.integrityseminar.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Being_Happy_Healthy_Ethical_Member.pdf

    • Denverite

      Lawyers appear to be prodigious drinkers. The North Carolina study reported that almost 17% of lawyers admitted to drinking three to five alcoholic beverages every day

      I’d take that finding with a grain of salt. If 83% of a survey’s respondents are a bunch of fucking liars, that’s a red flag.

      NOTE: I’m only *on* my third drink of the day, so I’m not drunk yet.

      • PohranicniStraze

        Technically, that is 17% saying they drank between 3 and 5 per day. The other 83% could be in the 6+ range.

      • CDT

        Judge Schlitz’s article is a terrific one. Thanks for posting. Two other good reads about big firms are Double Billing and The Rodent’s Guide to Lawyers. IMHO after partnership at two big firms:
        –law school is great for learning how to think critically but can, indeed, sap you of some of your humanity if you allow it;
        –that is likewise true of practicing at many very large firms in a very large market (say, NY and Chicago);
        –while there are heartless jerks everywhere, east coast-based firms seem to be harder on their associates than midwestern ones (Chicago aside) and western ones.
        –lawyers in a second-tier legal market tend to be nicer.
        –even among very large firms, including my current firm, there are some that have managed to retain their humanity and commitment to public service.
        –nobody should go to a Wall Street firm and expect anything other than 5-6 years of intense work as a junior person on a huge case or transaction, followed by an exit. But everybody knows that going in.
        –perhaps more stressful and stressed are firms that are scrambling to stay in the big leagues but lack the capital market city platform to survive long-term.
        –there are good and bad people everywhere. The real key for those considering big law firms is to ensure that you will be able to learn, grow, and develop your skills as a lawyer.
        –finally, don’t get so focused on how to make partner that you forget to consider whether, given what you observe about the lives of the partners at your firm, that is even a desirable goal.

        My apologies for being in wistful old-timer mode.

      • Drew

        This is something I worry about. My mother and my aunt are attorneys. My mother has long been a teetotaler, as long as I can remember. I can remember her drinking once or twice growing up, always demurring when my father had wine or scotch. She recently started getting into wine again after about two decades of hardly drinking at all

        My aunt on the other hand, is an alcoholic. A truly wonderful human being…when she is not on the sauce. Which sadly has been often. A promising career start at a top firm in a secondary market, a marriage…both of which crashed and burned due to the drink. She spent the next decade and a half struggling to climb back up the ladder she had fallen off of. And after she made it back and was doing better professionally than we thought she would after being laid low, she crashed again. Alcohol truly destroyed her. I love her but she is always half in the bag these days and no one in the family knows what to do anymore.

        This scares me because I’m an attorney, and I often find myself reaching for the sauce. I killed so many bottles over the Fourth of July weekend that I think I’m going to lay off for a while.

    • DamnYankeesLGM

      Interesting. I hadn’t read this before. I flipped down to read the “Big Firm Culture” section, and all I can say is that as an associate at Wilson Sonsini, his description of big law life reads like a parody to me. It reads like someone watched The Firm and then described it. It doesn’t describe Wilson at all, at least in my experience.

      Now, this was written in 1999, and I assume he’s writing from a NY law perspective, so the Bay Area in 2017 is obviously very different. But it’s just a rather comical description to apply to “big law” in general, seems to me.

      That doesn’t make the statistics at the front of the paper any less valid, of course.

      • firefall

        You’ve repeatedly made the point that this doesn’t coincide with your experience. And you’ve repeatedly been dismissive, then tacked on the obligatory ‘but it doesn’t make it less valid’ fig leaf.
        Why is it you’re so deeply invested in defending this shit?

        • DamnYankeesLGM

          компромат

    • DocAmazing

      When a guy named Schlitz is worried that you drink too much…

  • DamnYankeesLGM

    To note a few things up front – I am an associate at Wilson Sonsini. I also did not know, and in fact had never heard of, Peter Zimmerman before this article. So while I know the firm, I do not know the man.

    Obviously this is a very sad story, and its sobering to see a story like this take place in a firm that I know quite well. But I do wonder if we’re a little too quick to pathologize the industry. While any instance like Mr. Zimmerman’s is of course tragic, I’m reticent to say it says anything systematic about my firm, or really big law in general.

    Is there pressure to our job? Sure. And there are of course time pressures and a sense that you need to be “on call” all the time. But we also get paid an obscene amount of money and we have wonderful independence and flexibility in our work schedules. All in all, I really like my job – it’s challenging and I work with great people and I get paid very well to something other than manual labor.

    I’d be genuinely curious to know if people who work in my industry suffer these kinds of drug abuses and tragic outcomes more or less often than you’d expect just given demographic. It’s very easy to see someone with a high pressure job, and see someone with a tragic end, and tie the two together. But at the risk of being defensive, I’m not sure its fair to do that on any sort of systematic level.

    I’m extremely open to evidence that I’m wrong about this though.

    EDIT: Looking at some of the other posts, there does seem to be a strong correlation between depression and being a lawyer. Interesting.

  • Unemployed_Northeastern

    But according to the wage premium guy it’s cool because this is all genetics and these people would have been depressed anyways so law school and the legal profession clearly had nothing to do with it:

    “Happiness and success tend to go together. Some people assume that success leads to happiness. But an increasing number of psychological studies suggest that happiness causes success (here and here). Happiness often precedes and predicts success, and happiness appears to be strongly influenced by genetic factors* … People like working with happy people. They don’t like working with people who are unhappy or unpleasant. This does not mean that people who are unhappy are to blame for their unhappiness, any more than people who are born with disabilities are to blame for being deaf or blind. But it does raise serious questions about whether studies of law graduates’ levels of happiness are measuring causation or selection. We would not assume that differences between the height of law graduates and the rest of the population were caused by law school attendance, and we probably should not assume that law school affects happiness very much either.”

    *UN note: “Strongly influenced” is optimistic. “Psychological states such as anxiety or depression—or happiness and optimism—are forged by both nature and nurture. “They are 40–50 percent heritable, which means you may be born with the genetic predisposition. But this also suggests there is a lot of room to maneuver.” That comes from the PhD and MPH-holding director of the Center for Health and Happiness at the very university where our intrepid law school defender got his JD and undergrad econ degree.

    I was thinking about posting this alongside that screenshot from Glengarry Glen Ross with the “always be closing” blackboard, but that might be too on the nose.

    • Hogan

      I’m thinking about a KickStarter to create a special circle of hell for Simkovic, in which he spends eternity in an overheated train car listening to Paul Leiter explain how he rates philosophy departments.

    • twbb

      I thought I couldn’t think any lower of Simkovic. You have disproved that theory.

      • Unemployed_Northeastern

        But he said that mental state is an immutable characteristic like height!

        If you follow my first link, you’ll see that I (and others) have a spirited and lengthy dispute with his contentions in the comments.

  • Unemployed_Northeastern

    Ex-Yale professor William Deresiewicz’s book “Excellent Sheep” overflows with similar, if not consequential, tales. Ivy league grads excel at completing tasks they are told to accomplish; it’s been the entire focal point of their lives from childhood onwards. But many start questioning in their late 20s to mid 30s what exactly the point of grinding 24/7 forever in law/banking/consulting/tech is, aside from making money they don’t really have time to enjoy.

  • Dudefella

    I’m not convinced that being a lawyer causes addiction, but I am convinced that there’s a strong correlation between a law degree and addictive behavior. I’ve got both: I’m a government lawyer and I’ve been clean for about five years. I’ve known a lot of other lawyers–friends, colleagues, classmates–who’ve struggled with some kind of substance abuse. Some kicked it or toned it down before it got too bad, the lucky ones like me either graduated to full-blown addiction or had it in them from the beginning. I think a lot of us would’ve had our issues no matter what field we went into.

    • ap77

      Causes addiction? No, I don’t think anyone is claiming that, but maybe I’m missing it.

      But if you have a predilection or tendency towards it – look out.

      • Dudefella

        “She also refers to numerous studies that find the seeds of substance abuse and — often related — depression seem to be planted by the experience of law school itself

        Some research shows that before they start law school, law students are actually healthier than the general population, both physically and mentally. ‘There’s good data showing that,’ said Andy Benjamin, a psychologist and lawyer who teaches law and psychology at the University of Washington. ‘They drink less than other young people, use less substances, have less depression and are less hostile.’”

        “Causes” is probably overstatement, considering the complexity of the subject, but it sure sounds to me like the premise is “these kids are fine until they hit law school, then law school crushes their souls and drives them to drink.” I don’t dispute the research, but it doesn’t jibe with either my experience, or the experience of most of the other lawyer/addicts I’ve spoken with.

        • Unemployed_Northeastern

          There is a constellation of factors that can give rise to depression – environment (i.e. law school), internal chemistry, genetics, the other environment (i.e. weather), etc., etc.

          But according to this, “Depression among law students is 8-9% prior to matriculation, 27% after one semester, 34% after 2 semesters, and 40% after 3 years.”

  • edwoof

    “In addition, he said, law students generally start school with their sense of self and their values intact. But, in his research, he said, he has found that the formal structure of law school starts to change that.
    Rather than hew to their internal self, students begin to focus on external values, he said, like status, comparative worth and competition…”
    It’s not the formal structure of law school; it’s the crushing debt and the lack of jobs. Of course the students start focusing on comparative worth and competition after they begin law school as they also begin to understand the realities of the job market and the personal debt they’re taking on for their JD. Even graduating with a good job isn’t “safe” as a couple of conversations with associates and the students start realizing that a crappy market means that labor is readily available so they will be under constant pressure to perform and most associates won’t last five years at the same firm. You could take away the “formal structure of law school” by easing up on the Socratic method and giving every student a pass/fail grade in class, but the unjustifiably high tuition would still be there requiring massive indebtedness just to enter into a market in mid-death spiral.

    • I recall, back in the day, watching the 1L’s receive their first set of grades. I recall specifically a particularly chipper, friendly 1L who had the life drain out of her face — she never rebounded to her prior ebullience. A big part of that comes from the traditional structure of law school, with most students having no way to gauge how well (in a professor’s eyes) they’re understanding the material until the course is over and they take the only test they are given in the semester, the final exam. I won’t bore you with stories of lazy or incompetent exam-writing and grading, as if you’ve attended law school you likely have your own. I thought law school was pretty expensive at the time, but it’s vastly more expensive today.

      Grades on the whole are a poor indication of future performance, and across fields the smartest students often have mixed grades (unless they read the professor well) as they tend to press against some of their professors’ orthodoxy; but little of that matters in law school or the search for a law job, because lawyers are hired largely on a commodity basis and grades provide a simple means of categorizing potential hires. Law is also unusual in the manner of how your first job out of law school has the potential to affect or constrain your entire future career.

      • NewishLawyer

        Adding to this is the issue that it might be the first time those people received bad grades because they are getting graded on a curve for the first time and only 2-10 people in a class of 100 or more can get As or something like that

      • twbb

        Law school has a tendency to attract color-in-the-lines types who do not deal well with disappointment. I think my advantage going in is that I was a little older (27) and had a rough couple of years before it so I wasn’t quite as terrified of failure or stressed out by the possibility of it.

    • Unemployed_Northeastern

      “You could take away the “formal structure of law school” by easing up on the Socratic method and giving every student a pass/fail grade in class”

      If memory serves, this is already the case at Yale, Harvard, and Stanford. Because they, unlike the other law schools, can do it without taking a reputational hit.

      • NewishLawyer

        Yep. My law school had an easy curve as law schools go but they would take a hit if they tried to do something like this.

        • Unemployed_Northeastern

          Northeastern Law has written evaluations instead of grades. Area employers who are familiar with the system put up with it (or not), but the non-standard transcript from a non-elite law school pretty much guarantees a quick trip to the circular file everywhere else.

  • TopsyJane

    I wonder what the firm’s marketing department is making of this thread.

    Non-equity partners also get to call themselves partner and make excellent money at a fancy firm without a lot of the pressures that come with rainmaking. There are worse fates for a lawyer.

    “Quite a few of the lawyers attending the service were bent over their phones, reading and tapping out emails.”

    I’d not make too much of this detail. Inappropriate cell phone use during solemn occasions is a phenomenon hardly limited to workaholic lawyers these days.

  • Solar System Wolf

    I wonder if it makes a difference when you start law school. I worked for five years between college and law school in an unrelated field. When I went back to school, I looked on the law school bullshit and said, “Meh.” Having some life experience on the meter helped me put it in perspective.

    • citizensuds

      Me too, exactly.

    • DAS

      The happiest lawyers I know are my wife (who is way underemployed), a couple who started out in medicine (she’s a pediatrician who divides her time between medical and legal practice, he was a marine medic who later was a nurse and then went to law school) and a former prosecutor who wasn’t happy until he retired from the DA’s office and now teaches part time.

  • NewishLawyer

    Someone mentioned excellent sheep below. I’ve not read the book but I find that there are a lot of highly accomplished people who just don’t know how to question paradigms or don’t want to take the lifestyle hit. To them, the insane hours is just something you do whether it is medicine, business (especially in finances/banking or upper-management), or law. Or they got use to a certain kind of lifestyle and don’t want to change that.

    I understand this because I have my own lifestyle preferences and things I like doing. I have been on international trips for the last three years in a row. This year I’m going abroad twice (three times if you include a side-trip to Malaysia for a friend’s wedding while visiting my girlfriend’s family in Singapore.)

    I would like to bring up the prestige issue though. BigLaw still makes up an really tiny percentage of all lawyers. Most lawyers do not work in Big Law and often maintain regular or semi-decent hours. I lost Memorial Day Weekend this year because of an opp to MSJ but I have rarely had to burn the midnight oil consistently.

    • DocAmazing

      Sometimes the insane hours thing is beyond your control. Where I now live, if two pediatricians’s vacations overlap, the remaining one has a very large number of kids to cover. That’s just the nature of the job. We’re responsible for taking care of things, and sometimes that takes a lot of time. It’s not just about hogging hours. (I imagine the same would be true in, say, the Public Defender’s office.)

      • NewishLawyer

        I agree. The same thing is true for me. Sometimes I just have a lot to cover and deadlines coming up at the same time.

    • Unemployed_Northeastern

      Excellent Sheep should be required reading for every 0L. And every matriculant to a highly-selective college/university, for that matter.

  • AMK

    People sell their lives for cheap.

    On a not-unrelated note, I can’t help wondering how many billable hours went into his wife’s boobjob.

    • BigHank53

      If you’d read the article and looked at the accompanying images, you’d know that the woman in the photo is not his ex-wife, but rather his daughter. Nice sexist assumption, though–you can still give yourself a prize for that.

    • Hogan

      Wouldn’t your mother be proud of you?

    • NewishLawyer

      I think that is his daughter in the photo…..

    • Veleda_k

      How nice for you that you have your priorities straight.

  • applecor

    My two cents…

    I read the Schiltz article. At the time it was written, articles like this were a dime a dozen and 100% conventional wisdom. I wonder how true it is now. In my personal experience only about a third of it is true (including, crucially, the part about the greed of the partners). Someone earlier said it reads like Grisham’s “The Firm” and I have to agree. In any event the article appears to have been written before widespread use of the Internet and e-mail, which has made a lot of the demands of a busy practice easier to manage (in exchange, of course, for some clients demanding responses in “real time” 24/7).

    I have been in BigLaw for 25 years, roughly equally divided between two different firms. My biggest billing year, by far, was in the 1800-1900 range.

    The first firm I was at, a direct competitor of Wilson Sonsini, had a number of pretty severe ethical and management issues. It went from 400 lawyers in the late 1990s to completely melting down and dissolving in 2005.

    My current firm, a 1000+-lawyer international behemoth, seems to be pretty successful. I am semi-retired and have a part-time consulting arrangement with them, so excessive hours are not a problem for me. On the rare occasions when I am in the office on holidays and weekends, I don’t see too many other faces, so I have to assume that it is not the storied sweatshop of old. The level of professionalism of the people I work with is extremely high, and the number of giant a-holes is extremely low. I have never been aware of any alcohol or drug abuse issues (but I will confess that as a non-partner I might not be privy to this information). I do have the impression that most of the lawyers do not care about anything except earning and spending money – I don’t know if that distinguishes them much from other upper-middle-class types or not.

    Over the 25 years I have given up hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars for nothing more than (a) the right to say no to an assignment I don’t want – for any reason – and (b) the absence of a requirement to do marketing. Most BigLaw associates will not get to make this trade, obviously, but I am here to say that it is possible.

    None of this invalidates the points from the Schiltz article that BigLaw can be hyper-specialized and incredibly dull as well as stressful.

    • JudenChino

      I have been in BigLaw for 25 years, roughly equally divided between two different firms. My biggest billing year, by far, was in the 1800-1900 range.

      What I’d give for that. Lowest I ever had was high 1900s and that was the year I took a month off for paternity.

  • Joe_Bob_the_III

    When I read this article the part about law school reminded me of my experience in architecture school. Namely, the experience of school didn’t cultivate creativity, it killed it. And the thing is, the program I went through had a reputation for not being especially harsh or cutthroat.

  • Mike Schilling

    Peter, one of the most successful people I have ever known

    That word, I do not think it means what you think it means.

  • anon1

    Peter was divorced from the authoress of the article, Eileen Zimmerman.
    At the end of the day he went home to the needle.

  • My first IT job was at a large corporate law firm. Those places pretty much eat their young.

    I can remember having to go into the office and check on one of the servers in the middle of the night. Some of the attorneys were in there working at midnight.

    • Unemployed_Northeastern

      Oh, they were just fulfilling the dream of most law school students…

  • Oops. Double post. Still trying to figure out the new format.

  • JudenChino

    It was about 3.45 in the morning, I was exhausted, I was hardly getting any service, my wife, was functionally naked as about a half dozen nurses and mid-wives were working on her.

    Yes, my son was born that morning in an emergency C-Section — but I sure as F— got that out of office message up in time. And best of all — One month paternity leave (which I took in full. If you want to make partner, you take just one week). That was probably my happiest month of all time (mostly because of the son, but not having to think about Big Law was nice too).

  • Tyler Golden

    a link to this same NYT article was posted on JDunderground.com, where someone made an astute observation not addressed by the LGM commentariat. it’s pure speculation, but you have to wonder how much pressure Peter put on himself as the “Franklin Pierce Guy” in a firm full of HYS and other T-14 grads. you wonder if he suffered from any debilitating insecurity that led to thoughts in his head like: “if the Stanford guy down the hall puts in 60 hours a week and the Boalt chick next to him puts in 62.5, I better put in 65 just to keep up. My margin for error is non-existent because if there are ever any economic layoffs, I, the Franklin Pierce guy, could be first to go and my exit options are more limited.

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