After my post below about the Doug Litowitz book, "The Destruction of Young Lawyers," I got an e-mail from a reader. I think he made a valid point, and I wanted to post his note and my response, because I think he made a fair point, and maybe this is worth opening up to other people's comments. Short version if you don't want to read all this: I'm probably more negative than I should be when I write about firms, and I forget sometimes that there are lots of people out there who like their jobs and it doesn't mean they're blindly following the herd, uncreative, and evil if they decide to work at a firm, and even if I recognize that there really are good reasons to go to firms, I'm not very good about making it seem that way when I write about them. Anyway, the e-mail exchange:
I've been reading Anonymous Lawyer (the blog) for a few months now and occasionally reading your personal blog for less time. I think AL is pretty genius. My wife bought me the book a few weeks ago, and I'm looking forward to reading it soon.That said, I am slightly troubled by an aspect of AL and an aspect of your personal writings, both having to do with the fact that you are not practicing law at a firm (and as far as I know, you have not done so, apart from summering somewhere). I do work at a big firm, and for the most part I really like it. So with respect to AL, I'm troubled by how savagely you satirize law firm work (and life), despite the fact that, apparently, you don't have the basis of knowledge to satirize it properly -- although, amazingly, you get a lot of things very right, which is attributable probably to the fact that you were quite perceptive as a summer (and unfortunately also to the fact that law firms probably tend to live up (or down) to the worst possible stereotypes).With respect to your personal writings, you sometimes seem more than a little disdainful of those (like me) who are out there working at firms -- as though we've made an uncreative decision, falling into the default option presented to us. To the extent that's your view, I'm troubled because it disregards the possibility that some of us might actually find the law intellectually engaging and that some of us might really appreciate (if not require) the financial security and rewards the job provides. Which is to say that on a good day, I love my job, and I think that can be said for lots of lawyers out there (even associates in big law firms). (But your blogging sometimes implies that anyone who chooses to work at a firm is a sucker and that no one really likes the work.)I'm sure you must get these kinds of comments sometimes, and you appear to be self-reflective to have considered these issues (though it's not something I've read you discussing overtly). Nonetheless, I felt compelled to share my view. Thanks.-- XXXX
And my reply:
Thanks for the note. I actually don't get these kinds of comments as often as I expect I should, but I appreciate it because I think I sometimes do -- because I'm not at a firm -- forget that there really are people out there who do like the work. I expect a lot of it is selection bias -- the people reading my stuff are probably more likely to be the unhappy ones at the firm than to be the happy ones. But of course all of these are fair points.
As far as AL goes, you're right that I don't have the basis of knowledge to do this as well as I would if I'd been at a firm for ten years, or even one year. I can't do anything about my lack of experience except acknowledge it and apologize for it. When I started AL, it was just to play around with the thoughts in my head after the interview process, before I'd even summered, and then I kept it going because I found I liked writing in the character's voice, and that people were reading. I didn't expect it would lead to a book deal, and I certainly didn't expect I'd keep it up this long. To the extent I get the details right, that's great. To the extent I don't, it's harder and harder the more distance grows between my summer experience and when I'm writing, and to some extent the character has turned into a caricature anyway. I've been surprised throughout my time writing the blog how much people tell me it resonates. But, honestly, I expect my better audience are people who've had relatively little experience at firms, or just want a glimpse inside the world, not people who've been there for years and know a lot more than I do. I'm just trying to write an entertaining character that rings true to as much of an extent as I can do it, and where if the humor is competing against the reality, I'm inclined to let the humor win out. I am as surprised as anyone that people feel like it resonates as much as they do.
As far as my personal blog goes, I don't mean to seem disdainful, and I try really hard to make sure that I'm not just buying into my own writing and believing that it's really this bad, for everyone. I'm not sure if your e-mail is in part a reaction to my post about Doug Litowitz's book last night. Litowitz is angry. And I read something like that and to some degree I can't help but get sucked in and feel like something like that validates AL and validates my own choices. I don't mean to. Honestly though, most of my friends at big firms don't like it. Even the ones who thought they would don't, and are wishing they could get out. I'm certain this is even more selection bias than my blog readers -- my friends at big firms, even the ones I perceive as being as likely to be happy there as anyone else, may not represent a fair sampling. But I talk to them and they don't find the work all that engaging, and they're frustrated at the lack of ability to plan their days and know whether they're leaving the office at 7 or at midnight, and they feel handcuffed by the salary, and wrestle with the question of whether or not it's worth it. And don't seem very happy. I imagine these things resolve themselves after a few years, and as the work gets more interesting, for some people the tide turns and they realize it is worth it, and the job can actually be pretty good. But even if I don't mean to be, I'm sure I'm influenced by the fact that even the people I talk to who are at firms don't like it, and so, really, it's easy for me to forget there's a whole class of people out there who do.
I probably shouldn't have gone to law school. I got very lucky that all this stuff happened with the blog and the book deal, but, really, I didn't want to be a lawyer, and I did this because I wanted a safe backup plan, I'm risk averse, and I didn't know what else to do. Those weren't good reasons. It is absolutely easy for me to forget that there are people out there truly interested in this stuff, who don't see the law firm as a default option, are not merely there to pay off their loans, and actually enjoy it. To the extent that my writing reflects that, it's a weakness and I don't always catch it, and I apologize for it.
Not sure if this answer satisfies, or just rationalizes. Would love to get your thoughts on whether any of this makes sense.
Actually, if you're cool with it, I'd love to quote part of your e-mail and post some of this -- I really do take the feedback seriously, and don't want to come off as disdainful to people at firms, who like it there, and I know that to an extent I probably do, because I do forget that not everyone is living inside my head, and the kinds of things that drove me to law school are totally different from the kinds of things that drive most people to law school, and that lots of people are actually engaged by this stuff and like their jobs.
And his reply back:
Thanks for your response, which I think makes a lot of sense and isn't purely rationalizing (and even if it were, that would be fine).You are correct that my email was prompted somewhat by your post on the Litowitz book, partly because I reject that his sweeping negative conclusions (at least as I recall your summary of them) necessarily hold true for all big-firm associates (and also because I question the extent to which you know whether he's right). I'm also sensitive to negative stereotyping about law firm work, because I think the predominance of that sort of viewpoint (whether based in fact or not) is largely what makes it so bad sometimes -- e.g., I never feel so negative about what I do as when I leave a social event with the firm at which a number of my colleagues have been whining about various aspects of the job (along similar lines, I think most of the unpleasantness that often surrounds the issues of billable hours and the politics of advancing within the firm tends to be generated by associates rather than partners).
Just thought that was interesting enough to post in full...