In hindsight I would have crashed and burned at the document review law firm no matter what had happened, but at the time it seemed pretty clear that Bull had done me in.
It was March 2003 and I was called into the managing partner’s office. He never mentioned the baseball writing – and I’m rather doubtful that he even knew about it – but he told me that I was obviously distracted and no longer productive. He said he wasn’t firing me as such, but it was clear that I had no future there. They’d give me a more than reasonable amount of time to find something and they’d tell anyone who asked that I was leaving on my own accord. It was all very polite.
And really, given the good job market at the time, it wasn’t all that stressful. I knew that with my experience – not so much to where a potential employer needed to decide if I was partnership material immediately but not so little that I’d need to be trained – I could find another job fairly easily. And within two weeks I did. At a firm across the street.
The interview was a breeze. Three years earlier while working at the fixer firm I had represented the hiring partner and his wife, handling some ugliness with a home contractor. It was a favor to my old boss who was the hiring partner’s golf buddy. While that was going on the hiring partner – the man who was considering whether or not to give me a job – had been arrested for soliciting a prostitute in a grocery store parking lot at 9AM on a Tuesday morning and the wife had cried on my shoulder about it. That I hadn’t blabbed about that all over town probably sealed the deal for me. The hiring partner knew he could trust me. And unlike the last place, the hiring partner worked for a firm where fixers were still highly valued. I got the job.
I took a month off before I started work there and took a cross-country road trip. While on that trip I found out that my wife was pregnant with our daughter. That obviously changed the game for me. It changed the trip too from one of aimlessness to one of self-discovery. By the time I got back I thought I had found some contentment and new resolve to make my legal career work. And I worked at it for a while. A pretty good while, actually.
Motivated by fatherhood and the knowledge that this was my last shot to make something of myself as a lawyer, I worked hard. I shut down my baseball column at Bull. I worked long hours and worked difficult cases. I mentored law students and young lawyers and did my best to be reliable if not indispensable to the partners and the clients. I billed a ton of hours and settled in for what I thought would be a decade or two of keeping my head down and defining what middle age would look like.
But something happened as I delved back into the fixer work. Rather than experience a voyeuristic thrill from the foibles and scandals of my often noteworthy clients and their often newsworthy cases, I began to feel something else. Dread. Loathing. For my cases, my clients and eventually for myself. Maybe it was just because I was older or maybe fatherhood had changed me, but I couldn’t just sit back and laugh and mock like I had before. Bad people were doing bad things, quite often my job was to either defend or facilitate that, and I started to develop a pretty major problem with it.
Not that this led to some principled stand. I never made one. Instead, I internalized my discontent and dealt with it in other, less-than-healthy ways. There are a million stories about this period in my life that I may tell one day – maybe here – but the upshot is that I began drinking more and began going out with coworkers too much, many of whom felt much the same way I did about our jobs and our place in the world. I’d unconsciously slow down work on cases I hated and overcompensate on cases I found acceptable. Which, however noble I wanted to pretend it was, was me not doing what I was paid to do.
All of this came to a head at the end of 2006. I had spent most of that year and the year before helping defend an embezzlement and public corruption case which was fairly big news here in Ohio. I threw myself into it with abandon. I got close – maybe too close – to my client. I lived it and breathed it. At the end of it all I wasn’t sure who was right and who was wrong and whether my client deserved all that time in jail he got even though, in all honesty, the evidence required that he go there. Despite all of that I still think to this very day that the people who led the mobs after my client were every bit as misguided and potentially corrupt as my client was himself. Though I myself never crossed any lines, I still feel like I suffered a complete loss of ethical and moral gravity as a result of the experience.
My client went to jail in November. Despite this outcome I received considerable praise from my firm about how hard I worked (i.e. how many hours I billed) and how dedicated I was (i.e. how many hours I billed). I was told that if I had one more good year I’d make partner. Despite this, I was basically numb through the end of March.
One Saturday in April of 2007 I decided that I needed something positive in my life. I needed to get back that feeling that I had five years previously when, on occasion, I wrote about baseball and, on occasion, someone said that they liked it and that it was good. I sat down at my computer and opened up a Blogspot blog about legal issues that I had erratically maintained. It was called Shyster.
I deleted the legal posts, changed its name to Shysterball and put up a post about baseball. A few days later I put up another. I thought it would great if a handful of people read it. Anything else would be gravy.