"Exile on Bay Street" begins . . .
Until an autumn day in 1998, I was headed along a well-travelled path, but, on that day, I was diverted. Three years out of the University of Toronto’s storied law faculty, I was employed as a junior associate at a downtown law firm—a civil litigation boutique with an odd mixture of specialties ranging from defamation to maritime law, from insurance to aviation. I was in my office, on the 21st floor of a ziggurat-like tower at Yonge and Queen, sending out e-mails to my colleagues soliciting work. I had just finished assisting a partner in a constitutional case at the Ontario Court of Appeal, and for the first time since joining the firm, I didn’t have much on my plate.
The phone rang. Would I come to the interior conference room, the one with the ugly pastels? There, looking sheepish, were two of my favourite partners: a courtly aviation specialist, a Louisiana native who always wore a fedora outside; and one of the firm’s few senior female lawyers, a soft-spoken Scottish-Canadian. At once, I knew what was coming, why I had no work. I was about to be fired.
They sat me down and said that after a strong start at the firm, I’d apparently lost my drive. I was billing too few hours. I didn’t seem happy. I sometimes didn’t give the impression of wanting to learn. The worst of it was that everything they said was true. I had been miserable for at least a year. I hated beginning my day by finding a nasty e-mail in my inbox (sent at 1:28 a.m.) or a vicious phone message from another lawyer (left at 2:25 a.m.). I despised being on my feet in front of rude, overworked judges. I had such bad performance anxiety that quite often, just prior to a court appearance, I’d excuse myself, go to the washroom and vomit.
Note (added August 15, 2007, 9:55 AM Mountain): More attention to Canadian Bar and lawyer unhappiness in the blogosphere.
Julie Fleming-Brown links to "Exile on Bay Street" in her post "Top firms for women or leaving the law: it’s all about perceived satisfaction." You will want to read her comments. Fleming-Brown linked to a post of mine on which Vickie Pynchon left a comment with 10 reasons lawyers report they are unhappy. The first five . . .
Why do lawyers REPORT that they are unhappy with their jobs in such great numbers?
1. we're people who are not generally happy with the way things ARE; that's why we went to law school: to learn how to operate the gears and levers of a system we think we could have designed to be much more efficient in the first place;
2. we have unreasonably high expectations for career satisfaction -- especially right out of law school -- and these expectations -- i.e., for our work always to be stimulating -- are impossible to meet.
3. we chose the law because we are less good than others at being bored; we liked the idea of a career that allowed us to be in a court room one day, a board room the next and the library (well, now in front of a computer database) the next. So we arrive at law school and our first law jobs already restless and irritable (and discontent).
4. We're playing a zero sum game -- so we're UP one day (we won!) and down the next . . . . catch your cadre of attorney questionaire respondents the day after a favorable jury verdict and you're sure to get different answers than the day after they've spent an entire week answering contention interrogatories.
5. Oh yeah, did I already say it's a zero sum game. Half the time we lose. Lawyers DON'T LIKE TO LOSE or they wouldn't be playing a game the point of which is to WIN. Of COURSE we say we're unhappy. We lose a statistically average amount of the time.
Gerry Riskin links to, quotes from and comments on a Globe and Mail article entitled "Office stress ruining women lawyers' lives."
Note added a few minutes later: From the Globe and Mail article quoted in Riskin's post: “Women at modern-day law firms are so petrified of appearing unproductive that they sometimes conceal cancer or heart attacks to avoid being marginalized” . . . . I find the behavior of the women who would hide serious health problems to be extremely puzzling, almost bizarre. Think of the statement that makes about their values. Why would they make such a trade-off? What is so important? Are we seeing zombies at law?