Will Meyerhofer: Learning From Barry Manilow

Will MeyerhoferIt is remarkable how often I listen to clients worrying themselves sick over people who don’t even seem to like them.

The other day a woman complained she didn’t know how to handle a guy who’d treated her like something under his shoe.  He didn’t call, didn’t pay attention to her life or any of the issues she was facing at work or with her family.  He pretty much just talked, and cared, about himself.

But she couldn’t seem to get over him.

He called again, wanted to get together.

“Should I see him?”  She asked me.

The answer was obvious.  Every time she’d given in – and it had happened plenty – the same pattern played out.  He was considerate and nice for a week or two, then went back to the same old routine of ignoring her needs and focusing entirely on himself.

I told her she needed greater wisdom than I could summon.  She needed to listen to Barry Manilow.

You probably have some sort of opinion regarding the creative output of Barry Manilow – which is to say you probably either love his music or you hate it.

If you love it – really, really love it – then you’re a “fanilow,” a Barry Manilow super-fan.

A friend of mine visited Las Vegas last year with his two elderly aunts, and – mostly to humor them – went to see Barry Manilow play at one of the big resort hotels.  He posted his response up on Facebook:  “I’m a fanilow!”

He was wowed – like plenty of people who actually go to see this hard-working, talented performer who gives everything he’s got on stage.

Barry loves his fanilows.  He thanks them, he signs their programs, he tells them again and again that he owes them everything, that they’re the reason he can keep on performing and doing what he loves.  They love him – and he loves them right back.

On the other hand, I read an interview a few years back where the reporter got a bit snarky with Barry, hinting that his music was widely dismissed as camp, mere sugary trash.  I don’t remember Barry’s precise words, but he said something like this:  “I take my work very seriously, and if you aren’t going to treat it with respect, I’ll end this interview right now.”

He had a point, and he made it.  Barry Manilow does what he loves, and there are many people who celebrate him for it. He doesn’t need the haters.

You can learn from Barry Manilow.

Find your fanilows – and hold them tight.  Cherish them.  Celebrate them as they celebrate you.  Those are the people who deserve you in their lives.

The haters?  The critics?  The people who take you for granted or tear you down?  Push them away.

There are plenty of people in this world.  You can find some fanilows – starting with yourself.  No one loves Barry’s music more than Barry – and that’s exactly how it should be.

Here’s a good ground rule for dating (I call it “the Manilow Rule”):  Don’t even consider a relationship with anyone who isn’t a fanilow – your fanilow.  If the other person isn’t excited – thrilled – ecstatic –jumping up and down with enthusiasm about a date with you, push him aside and find someone who is.

Be your own biggest fan – and start a fan club.

If you’re hoping he’ll call, he’s not a fanilow.  A fan doesn’t leave you wondering – he lets you know you know he’s dying to see you.  That’s the guy for you.

Does surrounding yourself with fanilows sound a bit dangerous?  A bit too easy?  Would it turn you into a self-satisfied egomaniac, unwilling to hear criticism?

It doesn’t have to.  I’m sure Barry reads the critics, and he ponders their suggestions.  He takes everything into consideration – then he makes his calls, his own decisions about his music and his performances.

You can have a suggestion box, too.  And you can invite people to write down their suggestions and stick them in.  And you can read them, and consider each and every one on its merits.  If they have a problem with you, they can say so, and you’ll listen.

But at the end of the day, you have to make your own calls.  You decide who you want to be – your most authentic, best self.

Then you go out into the world, and sort through the haters – and the fanilows.

The haters you can listen to politely, and push aside.

But the fanilows are the ones who celebrate you, and make it possible for you to see what’s best in yourself.

Be good to the fanilows.  Treat them like gold.





My new book is a comic novel about a psychotherapist who falls in love with a blue alien from outer space. I guarantee pure reading pleasure: Bad Therapist: A Romance.

Please also check out The People’s Therapist’s legendary best-seller about the sad state of the legal profession: Way-Worse-Than-Being-Dentist

My first book is an unusual (and useful) introduction to the concepts underlying psychotherapy: Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy

(In addition to Amazon.com, my books are also available on bn.com and the Apple iBookstore.)

Will Meyerhofer: A Bucket of Cockroaches

Will MeyerhoferMy client – a second year corporate associate working in a foreign office – compared remaining at her biglaw firm to eating cockroaches.

“You know, on one of those reality game shows where they dare you to eat a bucket of cockroaches and they’ll pay you a million bucks if you do.”

I requested she elaborate.

“My point is, at some juncture you stop and think – and this is probably a rational part of your brain: Hell, for a million bucks, I’ll do it. I mean, for a million bucks, you’ll do anything, so long as you can get it over with in a minute or two. The plan is to keep repeating in your head a million dollars a million dollars a million dollars until – bingo! – all done, and you’re rich.”

Alas, there’s a wrinkle.

“It should only take a minute or two to eat a bucket of cockroaches. You hold your breath, close your eyes, keep swallowing, and a minute later you’re a millionaire.”

“Then you realize it’s not so easy. The problem is, once you’re actually there, faced with the situation, you can’t get them down. Maybe one or two cockroaches, but then you’re gagging, and it all comes back up. And then you’re on all fours puking your guts out with half a bucket left to eat and you realize this might not work out as planned. You can think to yourself – I can do this, I can do this…a million bucks, a million bucks…but the fact is, you can’t pull it off.”

Why does eating a bucket of cockroaches serve as an apt metaphor for working in biglaw? Because at some point in many lawyers’ careers, you’ve paid off – or mostly paid off – the loans. And you know you’re not sticking around for much longer, because you hate it more than anything you’ve ever hated before in your life – it’s literally unbearable. On the other hand, without the loans, you are faced more starkly than ever before with the reality of why you pursued a career in the legal profession in the first place: Money.

Remember money? That was the whole point. Back when you thought a law degree could actually earn you some.

So here’s your chance. All you have to do is stick around for another – what? Six months? Eight months? A year or so? A year and a half? Pick a date – maybe the end of this year, until just after bonus time. Then you could have something like $100k in the bank. We’re only talking about a measly few more months – the money is hitting your bank account now, not going off to pay loans. If you could last a couple more years – no, that’s unthinkable, you hate this job with every cell in your body…still, if you could, how about a quarter of a million dollars luxuriating in an S&P index fund, accreting value for a rainy day? You’d only have to suck it up and suffer through two or three more years. How hard can it be to focus on the money the money the money the money the money…and then Bob’s your uncle! A quarter of a million bucks. That’s the down payment on a house – a nice house.

Mmmmm….money. Money good.

There’s just that little problem of the cockroaches. Eating the damned cockroaches.

Does the following monolog sound familiar? I’ll say it’s one of my clients talking, because that’s what I always say in these columns, but in reality of course, it’s a chorus, a collective unison chant, the composite harmony produced by the voices of dozens of miserable lawyers all complaining at once:

“I haven’t had a day off all month. I’ve worked back to back all-nighters. The partner is an irritable, unpredictable, condescending, unpleasable psychopath. And that’s not the bad part. Deep down, from the day I got here, I realized I loathe this work. I hate law. I hate detail-driven, obsessive paperwork – the heaps of pointless minutia that no one ever reads, the noxious waste product of billionaires grinding their way through the economy in search of more money to stuff into their bulging off-shore tax shelters.”

Oh, c’mon, we collectively respond, in high dudgeon: Quit whining. You’re collecting beaucoup greenbacks to compensate for any inconvenience. Plenty of people – unemployed real people in debt with degrees from third-tier schools – would donate organs for a chance at your job. So shut the fuck up.

But we needn’t waste our breath chiding biglaw senior associates for whining. I work with plenty of these folks, and they acknowledge you feel no sympathy for their predicament. Any elite associate in a position to contemplate injesting a bucket of wriggling insects realizes no one else – including you – is willing to evince a shred of pity for what he’s attempting to do. He gets it – you’re jealous. You want a chance to gobble the little buggies and pocket the quarter million bucks too.

So, yes, we’re all on the same base, and no one’s kidding anyone – and yes, it all seems rather simple. It appears axiomatic that, should one find oneself getting paid a ton of money essentially just to keep doing what one is already doing, then one should stay as long as possible – at least until they fire you or lay your ass off – and pocket aforesaid ton of money. You play a tape in your head that sounds like “one million dollars one million dollars one million dollars” – and eat the effing roaches.

That’s because money is fun. One lawyer client recently admitted to me she’s putting away roughly $10k a month in savings right now. We take turns intoning that figure in our “Dr. Evil” voices: TEN THOUSAND DOLLARS!!! Then we emit diabolical cackles.

And yet. It’s awkward to point out…but there’s that wrinkle again – neither one of us is certain she can make it to the end of the year to collect a delicious bonus on top of the other goodies. That sort of amazes us both, but there it is.

Don’t get me wrong, the money is obscene. But then, so is eating cockroaches.

Here’s the problem in a nutshell, according to yet another client:

“You stare at the jar of cockroaches and you think – there’s got to be an easier way to earn a million dollars. And maybe, if I’ve been reduced to this, I don’t really need a million dollars. Maybe what I really need is a life I’m not terrified to face each day, where I don’t have to go to a place that’s making me sick. Today I ignored my email – just ignored it. I thought, fuck you, and waited a few hours. Last week that was unthinkable, but today I did it – I went back to sleep. Fuck them, and their money – I don’t need it that bad. Not bad enough to eat a bucket of cockroaches. Last night I ignored a document I was supposed to proof. You know what? Fuck it. It’s probably okay. If it isn’t, I’ll be long gone by the time they find the typo.”

This client is leaving her firm. She isn’t sure when, but she’s leaving – that much she’s certain of. The loans aren’t completely paid off, but she’s managed to reduce them to…well, it isn’t about that anymore. She simply can’t eat any more cockroaches.

Our agreement at this point is to take it one week at a time. If the partner’s out of town – that’s a good week. If the partner comes back and my client gets assigned to a deal from hell – that’s a bad week. If the deal dies and things are quiet – that’s a good week. If she has a vacation and can actually take it – a really good week. If the deal re-opens and she’s working all-nighters, for the other partner, whom she hates above all, the one who makes sarcastic comments about her work and emails her in the middle of the night and expects her to reply immediately and piles on work without checking if she’s already buried….That might be the breaking point. That might be the cockroach she can’t choke down.

I can already envision the letters I’ll receive from biglaw attorneys insisting they love their jobs. Well, okay – there are also people out there who enjoy eating insects. Travel to Ghana or Thailand or even Mexico and you’ll find contented diners chomping grasshoppers and bamboo worms. My client admits there are people at her firm who enjoy their jobs – or say they do. They like the money, and the status that comes with working around the clock for billionaires. A certain type of slightly dorky, detail-driven, competitive personality thrives in the corridors (and tiny, colorless offices) of biglaw. It’s a matter of taste – or predilection.

However, for most of us, working in biglaw appears to resemble eating cockroaches when you’re one of those people who doesn’t like eating cockroaches. And the answer to the question, Why would we then eat a bucket of cockroaches? is simple: The money.

If you need to pay off loans, then they own your ass, and you haven’t much choice.

If you’ve killed off the loans, you’re probably feeling it’s payback time. So if you’re like most of my clients, you’ll hang in there as long as you can bear to – you might even go for the gold, aim for the dream – make it to the end of the year and that sweet, juicy (though by Wall Street standards, paltry) bonus. At very least, you won’t leave that god-awful law firm until they fire you or you’ve stowed away $100k minimum in non-retirement savings. That’s non-negotiable. That’s axiomatic. You’re determined, and it’s time to cash in and you are committed one thousand percent to money money money money money.

Then they hand you that bucket filled with fat, wriggling legs and feelers and wings and thoraxes…and it dawns on you some trade-offs aren’t worth the price.


My new book is a comic novel about a psychotherapist who falls in love with a blue alien from outer space. I guarantee pure reading pleasure: Bad Therapist: A Romance.

Please also check out The People’s Therapist’s legendary best-seller about the sad state of the legal profession: Way-Worse-Than-Being-Dentist

My first book is an unusual (and useful) introduction to the concepts underlying psychotherapy: Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy

Will Meyerhofer: Evil Middle Management

Will MeyerhoferWhen I launched The People’s Therapist, my intent was to get stuff off my chest – process a smidgen of psychic trauma. I’d write a column or two, exorcise the odd demon, piss off Sullivan & Cromwell and call it a day.

It never occurred to me I’d be deluged with lawyers as clients.

It never, ever occurred to me I’d be deluged with partners as clients.

It never so much as crossed my mind they’d be so unhappy.

It turns out being a partner can be…not all that. For many of my clients, the job boils down to evil middle management.

Permit me to explain.

Biglaw associates resemble the low-level evil henchman in James Bond movies – those omnipresent guys in jumpsuits who all look the same and do what they’re told. They drive around evil headquarters in little golf carts, manipulate dials in the control room, shoot at James Bond (always missing) – then get shot themselves. Presumably – like biglaw associates – they’re mostly in it for the money, rather than a genuine penchant for evil.

I felt like an impostor at S&C – only pretending to be a genuine low-level evil henchman. I was more like James Bond after he bonks the real low-level evil henchman on the head, then reemerges strolling through evil headquarters sporting that guy’s jumpsuit.

I was an impostor – trying to look like I drank the Kool-Aid, going through the motions. I wasn’t even a clandestine agent, battling evil, like 007. The plan to blow up the moon wasn’t my problem. I just wanted a way out of that crummy job – one not involving a fatal dunk in the evil piranha tank. Somewhere in that evil-lair-secreted-in-a-hollowed-out-volcano there had to be a door marked exit.

Most of the partners I work with are looking for the same thing. The difference is, as a partner, you’re not an impostor pretending to be a low-level evil henchman – you’re an impostor pretending to be evil middle management.

“Preposterous!” you sputter, outraged. “Partners never condescend to be middle anything! They crouch, smugly, at the pinnacle of the evil pyramid! With one wiggle of their evil little finger…they manipulate human life!”

It can look that way from the bottom rung, whence a partner appears as far removed from a low-level evil henchman as a junior associate from a positive bank balance.

From the vantage of the pyramid’s sub-sub-basement, all partners appear interchangeable – the unifying feature being their utter dissimilarity from anyone like you. A partner’s one of them – evil incarnate, possessing his own evil headquarters – his own creepy evil white cat (for stroking purposes) – and his own weird evil European accent (with which to mutter, “Come now, Mr. Bond…”) A partner doesn’t have to drink the Kool-Aid – an iv bag of the stuff dangles by his bedside.

If only that were true. After getting all up-close and personal with a bevy of partners, I’ve caught wind of a terrifying reality: All partners are not the same. Most are nothing more than evil middle managers.

It turns out – I swear on a stack of Books of Mormon – there’s only one guy per law firm who actually owns an evil headquarters.

He’s also the one guy who gets to stroke a cat and mutter diabolical threats. At most, there are six or seven guys (yes, they’re always guys.)

The other, lesser partners aren’t diabolical geniuses – or low-level evil henchmen. These so-called “partners” only get to act like they personify evil – they’re hardly Dr. Evil himself. They’re more like the bland guy sitting in the wrong chair in the evil boardroom when Dr. Evil presses that discreet little button – the one that activates the steel wrist straps and the trapdoor in the floor.

I’ve worked with partners so traumatized by the situation, it’s shaken their faith in global organizations dedicated to evil.

It’s dispiriting.

Here, in a nutshell, is how you end up in evil middle management:

Over the course of years of slave labor, you make yourself indispensable to a rainmaker (your “rabbi”.) He elevates you. Then two things happen: First, you acquire the title of PARTNER and all the rights, privileges and immunities (and status and money) thereunto appertaining; and second, the ink begins to dry on a binding contract with Beelzebub.

Mr. Rabbi doesn’t share his clients with you. You’ve never spoken to them. He elevated you to do his work, transforming you into a glorified senior associate (glorified = overpaid.) Since the downturn in 2008, there are no longer any actualsenior associates at the firm – they’ve been fired – so the actual partner reduces your points (partner-speak for money) and increases your workload.

It’s getting to where you’re not even overpaid, let alone glorified.

Don’t like it? No problem. Do what they keep telling you to do: Find your own clients. Generate business. Pull your weight. Do some marketing.

There are issues. First, you don’t know how to market. They didn’t have a class in “marketing” at your evil law school. Second, when you try marketing – which seems to mean pointless research, then taking people you hardly know out to lunch – you feel like an idiot. Third, it doesn’t work. They don’t suddenly call with a pile of overpaid legal stuff for you to do.

This is not entirely surprising. In a domestic market containing, at minimum, twice the lawyers the entire planet could possibly utilize, clients aren’t sitting around waiting to be asked to hire over-priced outside counsel. Many are bringing work in-house to cut legal bills – or strong-arming outside counsel to trim prices.

You could offer to reduce your fee – slide your price to bring in work – but your rabbi won’t hear of it. It would “degrade the firm’s brand” – which means it might affect his fee. He’s got his own book of business, and doesn’t give what we’ll euphemistically refer to as a “hoot” about your book of business. You’re competition.  He’s content having you do his work.

That’s evil middle management. You’re a partner, but you don’t feel like it. Your friends and family assume you’re rich and powerful. Your car mechanic tacks on made-up charges when you take your Benz in for a tune-up. Obscure charities guilt you into tickets to their annual ball thingamabobs. Even your therapist considerately slides his rate up for you.  : )

The truth is you’re rich-ish – or used to be, or were heading in that direction. But you earn a tiny fraction of the rabbi’s take and that keeps declining. And power? You hold none whatsoever, beyond the ability to torment associates – which isn’t as much fun since they fired all the associates.

Things get worse as the recession deepens. The plan to build your own book of business seems more and more like a pipe dream.

You have no actual idea what’s going on at your firm, since no one shares information. The other partners in your group tell you nothing. Without warning, five of them took off from the LA office last month. You found out by reading AboveTheLaw.

Scarier still, the rabbi isn’t sending you as much work. You hear about partners at other firms – and your own – getting pushed out. First, they’re hunched at their desks, playing computer solitaire – then they’re no longer with the firm. You recall that discreet little button.

There are additional indignities. Your secretary is fired. You come in and she’s not there. Yeah. That happens.

But you’re a partner! You can say to heck with it, and take off. If this is how they treat a co-owner of the firm, you’ll go somewhere else, where partnership still means something.

Nice try. You’re a service partner. You have no book of business. No other firm is going to greet you with open arms. They will buy a book of business – and probably overpay, since it will be inflated with clients who aren’t actually portable. But no book of business? No evil headquarters.

How about going in-house? Sure, you’ll take a pay cut, but a senior vice president job would be cool, or even general counsel. You could frame it as a lifestyle choice – something you’re doing for the wife and kids. You’ll work nine to five, get a company car, attend conferences. Might be refreshing.

It would be…if everyone else hadn’t thought of it, too. Service partners are lining up for those jobs.

Where to go?

Nowhere. You’re stuck where you are. Let’s face it, resigning your partnership isn’t a step you’ll take lightly. You worked your ass off for the ultimate lawyer honor – to become a would-be diabolical genius. You don’t give that up.

One client – a mid-level associate – recounted being taken aside by a female partner, and given a speech about the meaning of partnership. The partner intended to inspire.  She came across as unhinged.

“She said making partner was better than I could imagine,” my client recalled. “It was the greatest day of your life. It was better than sex. It was better than getting married. It was better than having a child.”

“At some point, she got this weird look in her eyes – it creeped me out. I listened with a frozen smile and thought, I’ve got to get out of here before this happens to me.”

Okay, so some partners are a little…touched. Evil genius is a difficult job description. And maybe it isn’t better than sex. But you shouldn’t under-estimate the degree to which making partner is played up in the world of biglaw. It’s the beginning of everything – wealth, power, respect. You become a real person – someone who can hold his head up. You go to private clubs, buy bad-ass apartments and vacation on Mustique in a rented villa. You’re “in” – a made man – sitting at the table with Dr. Evil (no one mentions the discreet little button.)

The truth is, I hear a lot more partners talking about resigning their partnership than I see actually doing it. One guy who did resign from a major firm was literally covered in shingles and having a nervous breakdown when he quit. He couldn’t get out of bed or stop crying. (No, he wasn’t my client.) I got the feeling he felt obligated to reduce himself to that state to earn permission to do the unthinkable – or convince his wife (who wasn’t terribly sympathetic.)

To make partner, you elevated the goal of earning major bucks into the focus of your life for an endless string of god-awful years. Along the way, you picked up a spouse and kids and a mortgage. It ends up like everything else in biglaw – all about the money.

If the rabbi’s happy and has work for you, then you still count as a partner at a big law firm. You are evil middle-management. You can wear the fez and dark glasses each day and maintain the facade. You’re a partner. You were elevated.

Meanwhile, you daydream about killing the rabbi with an ax. You hate handing your life over to that condescending windbag.  You moan to your wife about how you can’t take it anymore. How many partnership meetings can you attend in the evil boardroom, watching him toy with that discreet little button…wondering if you’re sitting in the wrong chair…

Partner isn’t a title. It’s what you do. Unless you go out there and – by some miracle – bring in business, you’re not really a partner, equity or otherwise. You’re someone who gets called a partner for working for a partner.

Even if you have a book of business, it can be tough. I worked with a junior partner with a growing book of business.  He hates the grind.  Being on-call 24/7 triggers anxiety attacks. He debates quitting, going “part-time,” trying for a government job or taking the leap and starting his own firm. With a book of business, he’s got options.

Other partners have fewer options.

One service partner client discovered her rabbi was defecting to a notorious sweatshop. He offered to bring her with, but she couldn’t stomach it, and stayed behind.

Work dried up. Now she’s at another firm, on her own, unable to drum up business. In-house jobs aren’t materializing. She talks to her husband about moving to the country, giving the whole thing up, getting out of law…

Like many partners, she’s looking for an exit – one not involving a fatal dunk in the evil piranha tank.

This piece is part of a series of columns presented by The People’s Therapist in cooperation with AboveTheLaw.com. My thanks to ATL for their help with the creation of this series.

If you enjoy these columns, please check out The People’s Therapist’s new book,Way Worse Than Being A Dentist: The Lawyer’s Quest for Meaning

I also heartily recommend my first book, an introduction to the concepts behind psychotherapy, Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy

(Both books are also available on bn.com and the Apple iBookstore.) 

Will Meyerhofer: Save the World

Will MeyerhoferIf law students are annoying, then pre-law students are twice as annoying. There’s something about observing these lemmings scrabble their way into the maws of ruthless law schools, despite dire warnings and appeals to common sense, that just…gets under my skin.

Even after so much effort has been expended for their benefit – i.e., which part of “Way Worse Than Being a Dentist” didn’t you understand? – these piteous creatures patiently queue up for their punishment, hungry to “learn to think like a lawyer.” If your resolve weakens, and pity prevails over contempt, you might mistakenly engage one in conversation. For your trouble, you’ll receive an earful of a clueless pipsqueak’s master plan to save the world. Because – you hadn’t heard? – that’s why he’s going to law school: The betterment of humanity.

Because that’s what the world so desperately needs:  Another lawyer.

Somehow or other, these automata get it into their programming that, if they actually did want to save the world, becoming a lawyer would be a sensible way to do it. They are unaware of how imbecilic their words sound to anyone not entirely befuddled by the miasma of law school propaganda.

Law schools inundate proto-lawyers with ‘lawyers save the world’ nonsense, cramming their crania with musty tales of Brown v Board of Ed. That’s because the schools are well aware of the likely effect of such indoctrination: Greasing the rails to the killing floor. If a kid can tell himself he’s going to “change the world” – as opposed to, say, “make a lot of money and feel like a big deal” – then he’ll line up that extra bit more smugly for the $160k/year that makes his eyes roll up into his head and a little string of drool form at the corner of his mouth.

It’s simple: If you can tell yourself you’re doing it for the good of humankind, you won’t feel so guilty selling out in the most soulless, stereotypical way imaginable.


You know the vast majority of law students will end up deeply in debt and unemployed. We all know that. But before that happens, the sorry little shlemiels honest-to-god tell themselves they’re going to save the world.

The problem is lawyers very seldom do change the world, at least for the better. The bulk of significant positive change that the world experiences at any given moment – surprise! – doesn’t derive from the actions of lawyers. It derives from the actions of non-lawyers, or, at very least, lawyers acting in non-lawyer-y ways.

Evidence? Let’s start with a quote from one of the nation’s top civil rights attorneys, Michelle Alexander, from her book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness:

In recent years…a bit of mythology has sprung up regarding the centrality of litigation to racial justice struggles. The success of the brilliant legal crusade that led to Brown has created a widespread perception that civil rights lawyers are the most important players in racial justice advocacy…Not surprisingly…many civil rights organizations became top-heavy with lawyers. This development enhanced their ability to wage legal battles but impeded their ability to acknowledge or respond to the emergence of a new caste system. Lawyers have a tendency to identify and concentrate on problems they know how to solve – i.e., problems that can be solved through litigation. The mass incarceration of people of color is not that kind of problem.

Got that? Here’s a top-flight lawyer, at the center of a struggle to address the disaster of a nation that locks up a vast percentage of its poorest, most vulnerable citizens based largely on their race (whites don’t go to jail for minor drug possession offenses, blacks do.) What’s she saying? There are too many lawyers.

Read the rest of…
Will Meyerhofer: Save the World

Will Meyerhofer: Encountering Vishnu

Will MeyerhoferSpectating upon the atom bomb ignition at the Trinity test site in New Mexico, Robert Oppenheimer was reminded of a scene from the Bhagavad-Gita – an encounter between the prince and Vishnu, the latter apparently in a cranky frame of mind. The scene culminates in Vishnu, who is attempting to persuade the prince to do his duty, assuming a multi-armed form and intoning:

I have become death, destroyer of worlds.

There are lawyers out there who remind me of Vishnu in his multi-armed form. No, they don’t sprout extra limbs, or destroy entire worlds. These Biglaw-inspired incarnations of Vishnu merely assume the form of senior female attorneys to become career-death, destroyer of junior associates.

Behold the Biglaw Vishnus! (And trust me, within their personal sphere of destruction they give the real thing a run for his money.)

One of my clients fell victim to a Biglaw Vishnu – and his story is, as they say, far from atypical and so merits recounting.

He went, if not to a first-tier school, then to a first-and-a-half tier school, and by some rare stroke of fortune managed to locate a job, (if not at a first-tier firm, then at a first-and-a-half tier firm.)

It’s fair to say this guy was riding high – and gloating appropriately – when he happened to notice a problem: The firm had no work. His response was the same as everyone else’s around him – he twiddled his thumbs, wondering if he somehow smelled funny, or if, in fact (as it appeared) everyone else was twiddling their thumbs too (all while studiously pretending to be busy busy busy.) That situation endured for a year and a half, until my client was rudely stirred from this idyll by a partner, who delivered to him an awful review of the obviously-staged variety. (My client can’t remember if the problem they identified was that he asked for help too often instead of showing initiative or asked for help too rarely and wasted time by being too independent. He hadn’t billed an hour for months so he could hardly blame them for making something up.) As they say in California, “whatevers.” There was, however, a modicum of “fall-out.” Icarus-like, my client found himself plummeting in the unmistakable direction of every lawyer’s ultimate nightmare (at least officially): Unemployment. We all know the rules of this profession – five minutes of unaccounted-for time on your resume and it’s game over; you’ll never work as a lawyer again (well, maybe a staff attorney or doc reviewer but that hardly counts, does it?)

My client had three months to drum up a miracle. Following the world’s most intense job hunt, something came through at the eleventh hour. But there was a catch: He had to work for Vishnu.

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Will Meyerhofer: Encountering Vishnu

Will Meyerhofer: What You Never Hear

Will MeyerhoferHere’s what you never hear anyone say at a Biglaw firm – followed by a discussion of why you never hear anyone say it.

Here we go…

Let’s work on this together. It’ll be more fun.

People write me all the time, complaining I’m too down on Biglaw. Nothing new there, but one guy, recently, expanded on the topic, adding that he works at a firm where everyone, so far as he knows, is happy – enjoying a rewarding career in a supportive, non-exploitative environment.

Perhaps you can see this coming: It turns out this guy owns the firm – and specializes in oral arguments before federal appellate courts. Prior to becoming managing partner, he attended top Ivy League schools.

By way of a reply, I opined:  “Your experience might be considered atypical.”

In reality, his experience should be considered ridiculously atypical. Redonkulouslyatypical. Yet this presumably brilliant legal mind couldn’t manage to grasp that reality from where he was standing – at the top of the heap.

This man claims, without irony, that every lawyer at his firm is happy. But, that little voice in the back of your head begins to counter, before you’re even aware of having the thought: it’s your firm.

They work for you. Of course they act happy, just as the maid cleaning your hotel room – the one without a green card, with a family to feed, smiles and acts delighted to see you when you pop in to grab your extra iPad mini and she’s on her knees scrubbing the shower.

Presumably, someone else, some possibly unhappy little person at this guy’s law firm, is doing the work he would rather not think about – the work that has to be done. Maybe it’s a junior he’s never met. And I’d bet good money that other guy’s doing it all by himself, probably late at night or on a weekend.

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Will Meyerhofer: What You Never Hear

Will Meyerhofer: The Downward Drift

“I never thought I’d end up working as a contract attorney doing doc review in a windowless basement,” my client bemoaned. “But then I read that piece about the lawyer who’s working as a clerk at WalMart. At least I’ve still got it over him in terms of job prestige.”

Will MeyerhoferWell, you know how obsessed lawyers are with job prestige.

There’s a phrase, “The Downward Drift,” that crops up in discussions of serious mental health diagnoses like schizophrenia, and/or chronic substance abuse. The idea is that you are afflicted with serious mental illness, or become addicted to a harmful substance, which in turn leads to a slow, inevitable slide downward in terms of social class. Before long, the wealthy, Upper East Side business executive suffering from schizophrenia and/or severe alcoholism finds himself jobless, friendless and eventually even homeless, sleeping in shelters and begging for change.

Weirdly, the same phenomenon – the Downward Drift – affects people who acquire Juris Doctor degrees. It sort of makes sense, since – at least nowadays, with people like me bellowing jeremiads on every street corner, it would be evidence of utter madness – textbook psychosis, perhaps – for anyone to head in the direction of law school, at least unless that law school is one of the top three in the country and someone else is footing the bill. But try to persuade a kid with a high LSAT score not to apply to law school – it’s nearly as tough as persuading a kid who’s gotten into a “top-500” (or whatever) law school into not attending (especially if he’s “won” one of those risible $20,000 so-called “scholarships” they hand out like pushers showering crack vials on newbie users.) If that task sounds Herculean (or Sisyphean), try talking a kid who’s blown $80,000 on his first year of law school out of “finishing up” the other two (useless) years – even if he’s hated every moment of the experience so far. This is where the parallel with addiction comes in because I guarantee you it’s no easier than convincing a chronic alcoholic that ten martinis is really enough. Even my own much-vaunted powers of persuasion come up short at that juncture. Because it’s impossible. An addict will keep drinking and drugging until he passes out face down in a puddle on the sidewalk. And a law student will blow that additional $160,000 to finish those two more pointless years. It’s a sure thing – just like zombies like eating flesh, the sun likes rising in the morning and Pat Robertson likes blaming bad weather on the homosexual agenda.

So how does the “Downward Drift” work, at least for lawyers?

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Will Meyerhofer: The Downward Drift