The early years of my legal career were superficially successful. I had parlayed my middling grades at a slightly above-average law school into a job at a litigation boutique of decent local renown. The work was fairly top-end as far as these things go, and I was more or less well thought-of. After a time, however, I came to be thought of as more savvy than traditionally talented, and a pattern began in which I was trusted with sensitive and even personal matters more than I was trusted with complicated and sophisticated legal assignments.
While colleagues handled the class action lawsuit, I handled the sexual harassment case involving the senior partner’s fraternity brother. While they defended the corporation, I defended the son of that corporation’s CEO from charges arising out a weekend bar fight. This didn’t much bother me as I am a voyeur at heart, and I found the often sordid underlying facts of my cases far more interesting than the underlying facts of real litigation. I took the fact that I was tasked with these matters as a sign that I was well-liked and was considered trustworthy. Every law firm has a fixer, and I was well on my way to becoming just that.
For a time I reveled in my clients’ greed, avarice, frailty, absurdity and loathsomeness, viewing it all as great theater and job security. I bought a house and filled it with nice furniture, top shelf liquor and cutting edge electronics and didn’t think twice about it. I traveled and ate well and bought expensive suits. When the dotcom boom created a ridiculous chain reaction in escalating legal salaries across the country, I jumped from my litigation boutique to a larger shop for money that was downright silly. And I convinced myself that I deserved every penny of it.
I continued my old work habits at the new firm – about 60% fixer work and 40% real lawyering – but that proved unsustainable. The same big business dynamics which had led to crazy salary escalation in a two-horse Midwestern town had also led to a mindset among management that the salacious, incestuous and petty legal/political problems of a two-horse Midwestern town were not the sort of thing upon which a valuable legal practice was based. When a new matter ripe for my fixing talents came my way, it was not enough for me to say that the client was the wastrel younger brother of the bank president who would be very grateful if I got his sibling out of a jam. No, I had to fight the business development committee to take the matter on and God help me if I couldn’t swear that it would lead to $100,000 in billable hours for fiscal 2001.
This dynamic led to some unpleasantness in the form of real legal work. As in, reviewing warehouses full of documents in some far-flung suburban office park to the tune of $300 an hour. It was soul-killing stuff for an easily-bored guy with a short attention span like me and it led me to look elsewhere for fulfillment.
By complete happenstance that fulfillment was found – at least for a short period – in my long-abandoned dream of writing about sports.