Jeremy's Weblog

I recently graduated from Harvard Law School. This is my weblog. It tries to be funny. E-mail me if you like it. For an index of what's lurking in the archives, sorted by category, click here.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

A few days ago, I received an e-mail:

The [new] template is fine, you have been writing crap though. 900 words on what you ate for lunch the last two days? You have got to be kidding. Filler.

I'm a rising 2L [school omitted] and I have been reading your blog from the start. I was looking forward to your summer experience preparing me for mine the same way it did for 1L year. It seems to me though, that... you're writing knowing that big brother is definitely reading, and the resulting lack of candor spoils what makes your blog worth reading to begin with....

That's why I don't have comments enabled. No, I'm kidding. I think that's a totally fair point. There is more that I could have been writing about this summer, but I haven't. I think I've written some reasonably funny parody memos. I think I've had a few posts that accurately describe a reasonable day as a summer associate at a firm. I think I've told you more than you ever wanted to know about lunch. But I haven't shared many stories of work, stories of people, or feelings about the experience. Some of it might be coming through in the parodies, but I know I haven't been direct about all that much.

I have two explanations. The first is something I'm just able to articulate now, as I think about how I tend to approach the stuff I write about. At law school, "the school" does a lot of things. The nameless, faceless bureaucracy. "Proctors" do stuff. "Professors" do stuff. "Career Services" does stuff. I can poke fun at what they do, and feel comfortable doing so, because I'm not talking about people -- I'm talking about institutions. And I'm talking about institutions that have put themselves out there. I feel no qualms expressing my feelings about a particularly useless Career Services presentation. Career Services owes us better. We're paying. At the firm, the institution just works differently. "Partners" don't say things -- "Bob" says something. "Associates" don't feel a certain way -- "Jane" feels a certain way. "Recruiting" doesn't do something. "The recruiting coordinator" does something. "Secretaries" don't help me figure out how to make a long-distance phone call and bill it to a client -- "Gladys" does. So it feels different writing. Whether I have good things to say or bad things to say, it honestly -- and it's not that I'm censoring myself -- it honestly doesn't cross my mind to even consider writing about identifiable people who have not asked to be written about, and who have not put themselves out there in the public eye. It's just not nice. It's not what I feel comfortable doing. It's not the reputation I want to have. So those posts never become posts -- they become stories over dinner.

Or at least they start out as stories over dinner. But then more things happen. With different partners, and different associates, and the temp secretary filling in while mine goes away on vacation. And the world of the law firm does slowly start to become more generic. There *are* "Partner" things to do, and "Associate" things to feel. And the stories become less about "Bob" and more about "The Firm," and then there are ways to write them. Maybe. There are stories I feel comfortable sharing. But there are stories that are about real people, with real feelings, and real situations that just aren't the kinds of things I feel like posting on the Internet and risking people getting hurt. I'm careful. Not because I feel like there are consequences, but because there are ways to do this that feel ethical and appropriate and decent -- and because there are ways to do this that feel icky. That feel mean and unfair and wrong. And I try my hardest not to head down that road, because it's not the writer or the person that I want to be.

The second explanation is somewhat different. Throughout the summer, I've struggled in my own head to figure out the source of some of my feelings about law firm life. Part of it is that I'm just not as passionate about the law as a lot of my classmates are. It comes through in what I post about -- I don't think I ever really find myself with much to say about cases, statutes, doctrines -- unless I'm going after the humor I'm trying hard to see. I just don't feel that engaged in the law -- it's not what excites me, it's not what gets me motivated to think and react and write. Yet I'm a law student. Working at a law firm. It is grotesquely unfair for me to expect a law firm to satisfy me -- as I acknowledge that the law probably isn't my passion -- as much as it should satisfy someone who *is* passionate about the law. And I've been trying very hard not to hold the law firm, in my head, to a standard it can't possibly meet.

It is very clear to me, after 13 weeks at a law firm, that partners and associates work too many hours and need to expend too much mental and emotional energy into their jobs for this to be a truly fulfilling career unless you are passionate about what you are doing. Or at least very, very interested in it. If the work does not excite you, there seems to be -- at least at a big New York firm -- no way to be really happy doing it. Unless you're lying to yourself, or really into the money. More than one associate this summer has said that the law firm life leaves you room for one other thing -- a social life, a family, a hobby -- but not more than one of those. More than one associate has talked about having to consistently cancel plans with friends, because the hours are not only sometimes long, but relatively unpredictable. There are slow weeks when they get out at 7:00 every night. And there are weeks when they don't. And what type of week it is can change very quickly. More than one associate has talked about how a lot of the work is pretty mindless, especially for the first couple of years.

I'm not giving away any secrets here -- this is stuff I heard going in -- that we've all heard going in -- but we don't know to what extent it's reality. This is all manageable -- to a point, but that's another discussion -- if you love (or at least like) what you're doing. Or perhaps even just if you believe that what you're doing is necessary to get you to a future job you think you'll love (or at least like). It's frustrating, but manageable -- there's a light at the end of the tunnel; you're there for a reason; you understand the sacrifices; you're at peace with the life you've chosen. But if you don't like what you're doing, if the work doesn't interest you, if this isn't your passion -- and you're being honest with yourself -- I don't see how someone can torture themselves as much as they have to in order to do their job. I don't see how a good and decent and happy person can remain a good and decent and happy person working at one of these places if they don't see this as their calling.

But part of what's kept me from writing some of how I feel is because I don't want to go overboard. There are people at the firm I'm at -- and I'm sure at most others -- who are happy to be where they are. They are comfortable with the tradeoffs they are making, whether it's because they see themselves leaving after a few years, when the loans are paid, when the apartment is bought, when the resume looks good enough -- or it's because this is what they love to do, and it's worth not seeing their kids in order to do this for a living. I don't believe I can make that decision, but that's in substantial part because my passion is not there. And if I put it all on the firm -- if I say there's no way *anyone* can be happy doing this; that there's no way *anyone* can hold on to his humanity at a place like this, that there's no reason at all for anyone to do this -- then I'm completely, and irresponsibly, grossly overstating any point I may have.

I have been rambling, and rambling in generics rather than specifics, and in thoughts and feelings still being sorted out in my own head more than anything else. But I feel like these feelings are starting to come together, and I can start to tell a story about my summer beyond the parody memos. That hopefully can provide some fodder for other people's thoughts. I feel like this post is a baseline, and a start. I don't know where I go from here, but something tells me I'll have more to say tomorrow. I'll try.