I’ve found myself in the uncomfortable position of defending my employer a lot lately. Not because there’s anything wrong with my employer. There’s not. My job is not perfect, but it’s pretty great. I’m just starting to rub up against widespread assumptions about lawyers and the corporate world. Like, when I tell my friend that I’m traveling for work 10 out the next 21 days, and he sarcastically says “heh, that’s a really efficient use of the client’s money,” and when I point out that costly legal service isn’t the same as inefficient legal service and that sometimes (usually) witnesses are spread across the country in really big cases he agrees, but refuses to let go of the insinuation that either (a) our client is frivolous with its money or (b) my firm’s goal is bill the heck out of the client unnecessarily. Or, when I’m joking with my mother about the End of Days and I tell her that the my plan when I get Left Behind starts with quitting my job, and she says “Well I doubt anybody at your firm will be getting Raptured.”* It was a joke and I laughed, but I hesitated because I didn’t know what she was getting at.** Was it a “lawyers are evil” joke? Maybe, but that doesn’t really make sense because my dad/her husband quit his job as a religious educator to be a lawyer four years ago she’s knows better than I do the wrongheaded assumptions that come with such a career move. Was it a “corporate lawyers are evil” joke? Maybe, but my parents are the ones that encouraged me to go for this job. Was it a “rich people can’t get into heaven” joke? Probably. I certainly didn’t have a lot of respect for big firm lawyers before I became one. But navigating this world has changed my perspective. And made me defensive. Here is what I know about law firms, or at least my firm:
- Legal ethics don’t coincide neatly with good old-fashioned morals, but most of the people I work with are genuinely good people. They care about things: their families, their clients (paying and pro bono alike), charity, politics, Chicago, and doing the right thing. And, contrary to what my friend and pretty much all lawyerly portrayals in pop culture (including my favorite, Barry Zuckercorn) would have you believe, we might screw each other over to make a buck, but we’d never take advantage of the client. It goes against everything we believe about client service. Plus, it’s way risky, especially today when clients and regulators are savvier than ever.
- The firm might be all about the bottom line, but individual people are not. Even the highest paid partner is motivated by more than money. And I should add that they are motivated by more than power and prestige, also. We like having jobs. We like having jobs that are intellectually stimulating. We like having jobs we are good at. We like working with our friends. And really, who doesn’t like these things?
- My work might not be Very Important, but it is interesting, educational, and rewarding (not just financially), and it is super important to the clients. Also, can I mention pro bono work again? Big firm lawyers do it. And the work I do for those clients (all three of them) is more important than anything I ever did at a job before I became involved with The Law.
I was going to end this post by talking about how crappy it is to criticize another person’s job or employer in this economy.*** But then I realized how crappy it is to do that to anybody in any economic climate. Us women, we’re starting to talk about things, like not shaming each other for our varied choices about marriage and reproduction and work-life balance. How about let’s not shame people for their work, either. Because that is also a deeply personal topic. Not personal in the sense that it’s intimate in the way that our sex and family lives are, but personal in that we all spend an incredible amount of time at our jobs and so, like it or not, they say something about who we are. I don’t think of myself as a Big Firm Lawyer, but 50-60 hours a week I act like one, and increasingly my friends and colleagues and hobbies reflect it. So please don’t put me in the position of feeling like I have to defend that.
[Update from my last post: Husband just glanced at these big blocks of text and told me to give the reader a break. So, not short enough apparently.]
*For the uninitiated, Mormons do not engage in casual conversation about the End of Days, nor do we use the term End of Days, Left Behind, or Raptured. We’re just like everybody else in that we were bewildered and amused by all that May 21 nonsense.
**When I type it out, I realize this might sound thoughtless or even mean. It was not, at all, and it was clearly, clearly a joke. I thought about deleting it (because I promised I’d give my mom the link, right?, and I don’t want to make her feel bad), but I am not going to because I am convinced that if my writing is interesting at all, it’s the details that make it so. And if my mom reads this, she should not feel bad. Because it was a joke, and I just like to use jokes as platforms for serious blog posts.
***This phrase is the worst, right? Because most people who use it (at least in my experience) are so not affected by the current economic climate. Myself included.