Well, as the title promises: "tales of poker, law and degeneracy" . . . This morning's post is about the boring part. I'll make it brief.
We recently got hired for a new coverage action pending in Federal District Court in Maryland. Currently, I'm the only lawyer at the firm admitted to the Maryland Bar, so it falls on me to handle the appearances in this matter. But, first, I had to be admitted before the Federal District Court. I filled out the application, found a "sponsor" to vouch for me and move my admission, and paid the fee. This morning was the "swearing in" ceremony.
It had been about 5 years since I last attended one of these (most recently, for the Federal District Court in D.C.). Generally, the admissions class is comprised mainly of newish lawyers. They all seem proud to be there, smiling, energetic, and dressed in new suits. You can almost sense the eagerness to begin their careers . . . to practice the profession they've worked hard to gain acceptance to. Further fueling the anticipation is the presiding judge, who always talks about what a big moment it is, and speaks about civility in the profession . . . about how we can all act kind towards one another, even while advocating for our clients. There is usually a guest speaker who says some kind and inspiring words (today, it was some representative of the Federal Bar Association . . . I think . . . I was zoning out), followed by a small reception where you can meet your fellow candidates.
I hate these ceremonies. After working for over a decade, the inspiring words and the aura of anticipation and of nobility ring hollow. These moments are just plain depressing. I'm surrounded by a room full of young "gunners" - folks who have yet to be beaten down by the reality of the profession. The practice of law is not like that show "Suits." Most cases are not 1/100th as exciting or interesting as those on TV. You don't suddenly discover that the defendant has been surreptitiously polluting the well water for decades and bring them to justice. Rather, you spend two years arguing over interpretation of a single sentence of a contractual provision. Is the coma intended to render the first and second clauses in the disjunctive? Does the sentence's express reference to three things mean that all others are not included (or, as some jackass on the other side will write: "expressio unius exclusion alterius")? You never see Harvey Spector arguing these points.
A case usually does not turn on some smoking gun. And, in the odd matter where it does, the smoking gun is not uncovered during some brilliant cross examination. No. You have to spend 300 hours alone in a room looking through a shit-load of documents to find it. Moreover, cases don't resolve themselves in three days of brilliant strategy, negotiation and brinkmanship. No. A case that doesn't settle may take two, three or four years to reach trial, and another two years to exhaust the appeals process. By the time you're done, you don't even remember what the case was about . . . assuming you are still even working for the same firm.
Perhaps worst of all, unlike TV, there are no hot paralegals roaming the halls. There is no Rachel Zane working here. In fact, I haven't seen an attractive woman in the office in seven years (we had one fairly good looking young associate at the old firm I worked for; but she was dumb as shit, quickly started banging a partner, soon thereafter threatened a lawsuit, took a quiet settlement, and was gone).
Finally (and sorry if I'm repeating myself, but . . .), most lawyers are dicks. It's bad enough arguing over the scope of your discovery requests; it's worse when opposing counsel is an untrustworthy jackass, and every phone conference involves shouting and has to be followed up with an equally abrasive letter memorializing the dispute and preserving your client's position for the inevitable motions to follow. In short, nothing is pleasant. Or easy.
These ceremonies always remind me of how I felt ten or twelve years ago. Optimistic . . . happy to be a lawyer . . . hopeful that my bar card might help me pick up girls . . . Now, none of these things apply. True enough, every now and then I get a case I don't mind working on. But even then -- even when you pick up something interesting - the $575 hourly rate forces you to work efficiently and to blow through the work while finding as little enjoyment or reward as possible. Spend too long working on something interesting, and you get to deal with a scathing call from the general counsel at the end of the month.
The presiding judges during these ceremonies should just be honest. Their speech should go like this:
"Some of you may choose to practice in an area of the law you truly enjoy, and for clients truly deserving of your services. These clients will not be able to pay much for your work and, as a result, you will be happy in the office, but poor as fuck in life. In fact, you will likely only be able to maintain your job for a year or two at most, until the weight of your law school loans and the cost of living force you to sell your souls . . . assuming, of course, that your brief time doing meaningful legal work has not blacklisted you from ever working for the private sector.
Others of you will accept high-paying jobs at big law firms. You will hate your life; you will be surrounded daily by asshats; your work will be mind numbing. You will wonder why you ever had to go to law school to do your job. But, you will tolerate the job for as long as you can, because it will allow you to take nice vacations, drive a fast car, buy a house with more rooms than you need, and drink Macallan 15 before crying yourself to sleep every night.
Good luck in your careers"