Juris ImpudenceBy Joe Daly
April 04, 2010
I was in a hotel room in Ohio. I think it was Cleveland. I’m pretty sure it was not Cincinnati, but to this day, I’m not one hundred percent on that. I had been up for two days, so just getting Ohio correct is worthy of scientific notice.
I was working as a roadie for a rock and roll outfit from San Diego who were in the midwest swing of a North American tour. I was a drum tech, which meant that each evening when we arrived at the venue, I would unload the equipment with the band, set up the drums, and hang by the side of the stage during the gig to re-string guitars, fetch new drum sticks and make enthusiastic use of whatever liberal drinking privileges were extended to the band. After the show, I would pack up the drums, load them into the van and then pursue activities more consonant with a rock and roll lifestyle. Next morning, off to the next show. Rinse and repeat.
The thing is, I only did this for a week at a time, a couple times a year. It was how I spent my vacation time from my real job. Some people choose sun-drenched beaches or historic faraway lands for their paid time off, but not me. I’m a rock and roller at heart. Whether or not I’m playing music is immaterial- I bleed fat E chords, long sweaty pentatonic solos and the machine-gun snap of double kicks. So wherever and whenever I could get my fix, I took it.
Oh, my full time job? Attorney-at-law. And Lord, did I hate my job…
In fact, it was in the aforesaid (how’s that for a lawyerly word?) hotel room that I put an end to my law career. I had staggered into my hotel room that afternoon to finally crash, and walking to the window to draw the blinds seemed a hellaciously unreasonable task. Therefore when I awoke only a couple hours later, the room was blindingly bright from the sun that was roasting me like a putrid, alcohol-soaked tamale.
It was from that dingy bed, still wearing my clothing from the night before (actually two nights before), that I picked up the phone, called one of the senior partners at my law firm, and said that while I understood the tackiness of resigning over the phone, I was simply done with the legal profession. Adios, muchachos.
To be fair, although they were completely surprised by the call, I have to think that they were somewhat relieved. While the senior partners of my little law firm viewed my employment there as an otherworldly gift that they had channeled to me, I had regarded it more as an agony to endure. My only bright spot in the day had been in the mornings, feasting on breakfast sandwiches and gallons of coffee while reading the morning newspaper at my desk. I am quite sure that my professional malaise was apparent in a host of colorful ways.
I know, I know- “if you hated it so much, ‘Mr. Rock and Roll Guy,’ why even go to law school?”
Oh, so it’s like that, eh?
Well, if you must know, while law school is a most hallowed stepping stone towards a noble vocation for most attorneys, for people like me, it is a respectable place to regroup while evaluating mistakes made during the undergraduate years. It is also a socially acceptable way to extend the party another three years.
Now, I am eminently aware that I have a bit of the gift of gab, so I took to law school like the Vatican takes to a good cover-up. I enjoyed both public speaking and the challenges of persuasive writing. The rugby-playing slacker who graduated college in the bottom hundred of his class was the same guy who finished near the top in law school. Bizarrely, when I actually tried, I got results. Who knew?
The thing was, while I enjoyed the flashy stuff, I loathed the intensive research and the myriad of detailed procedural regulations that governed all legal action. I basically wanted to perform only the fun and sexy roles that lawyers play on television, while avoiding the other 95% of the legal practice, which is neither fun nor sexy on any level. Hey, I’m an optimist- what can I say? Still, having clerked at a small firm throughout all of law school, I was well prepared to take on my new career.
After passing the bar, I ended up at a small spin-off firm where the senior partners tried to haze me like a college freshman and where my salary was somewhere between that of the maintenance man in my apartment building and the guy who reported to him. They believed that it was their divine right to impose a never-ending stream of demeaning administration on me, with very little in the way of personal or professional encouragement. In fact, my first role as a new lawyer in the firm was taking over as the new law clerk, while the old law clerk studied for the bar. And so I began my professional career being the office errand boy, while at the same time, trying to work on my own files. I felt emasculated.
I still remember one Friday afternoon, sitting at my desk and getting ready to cut out a little early for the weekend. Both senior partners walked into my office on their way out the door, grinning smugly. The woman threw a file on my desk and scoffed, “[h]ope you don’t have any plans for the weekend. Here’s a new case. I want to see a memo on this on Monday.”
I looked at the front of the file and immediately noted that it had been prepared on Monday and assigned to me on Tuesday. But rather than let me get started then, they held onto it until Friday afternoon to give it to me. I was apparently supposed to ruefully accept the assignment and show them that I could rise to the challenge by spending all weekend in the office, and presenting a world class case assessment on Monday morning.
However, in what would surely have been a career-limiting move (had I cared much for my career), I replied, “I’ve already been through college and law school. I worked thirty hours a week clerking at my old firm while going full time to school. I don’t think I need to prove anything to you guys.”
If I could crystallize the look on their faces, I would crush it into a fine dust and snort it. It was that satisfying.
“Excuse me?” the woman said with considerable offense.
“Look, we got this case on Tuesday. I get it. You want me to show you what I’ve got. But if you weren’t sure if I was up the the challenge, why even hire me in the first place? I mean, haven’t I already shown you that I can do this?”
They both stammered and stared uncomfortably at each other. While I knew the last word would not be mine, I nonetheless relished this fleeting moment in the sun.
“Look, Joe,” said the man, getting a little feisty, “this is how it is. This is your assignment and I don’t care how you do it, I want this done by Monday.”
“Cool, I’ll have it to you on Monday.”
“Monday morning,” the woman clarified with considerable agitation.
“OK, I’ll get this to you on Monday,” I replied, implying that I would both begin and complete this task on the same day.
The partners stormed out. I sat at my desk with my heart racing at a much faster pace than my demeanor might have revealed. I knew I was done. The clock had begun to tick.
I had found myself depressed at the prospect of a lifetime in law. That I needed to leave this law firm was obvious. But it was hard to see a true solution in simply moving to some other small firm with more of the same. I had become burnt out after only two years. In all fairness, my dim outlook was mainly due to my own inability to accept many of the realities of the profession. It was only compounded by my unpleasant experiences at my little firm.
But it wasn’t just my character defects that led me to my professional unhappiness. I had also become disheartened by what I perceived to be a systematic abuse of the legal system. I saw plaintiffs exaggerating and sometimes fabricating injuries in order to get more money. I saw their lawyers abuse rules of procedure to attempt to pressure insurance companies into paying them off. I saw insurance companies try to use sleazy exclusions to get out of defending people who had paid them for the right to a defense. And I saw a court system full of poorly-compensated clerks who rarely engaged in a transaction without letting you know how much they were looking forward to their day ending.
I was depressed, jaded, and entirely unhappy with my vision of the next thirty years. I wanted out. Thankfully, out arrived a couple of months after “The Friday Afternoon Unpleasantness.” My out arrived in the form of a technical writing gig for a start up telecommunications company. The job had nothing to do with the law. Not only that, but it paid better and most importantly, it allowed me to reclaim my self-esteem and a long lost sense of dignity. I accepted the new job immediately. It was one of the best decisions of my life (next to buying a Gretsch Silver Jet).
After giving notice from my dingy little hotel room, the weight was lifted. I felt empowered for the first time in years. I was driving my own ship now and I was thrilled at the possibilities before me.
I returned from my roadie vacation and worked on my files for two more weeks, preparing memos on my cases and handing them off to the different lawyers in my firm to whom they would be re-assigned. I mainly got the cold shoulder from the other attorneys, except for the one guy who had become one of my best friends and a much-needed ally during those two harrowing years. He was happy for me, and having him as a confidante helped get me through those two final weeks.
On the last day of my legal career, I arrived in the office at around nine a.m. and had a breakfast sandwich at my desk while I read the morning newspaper. I worked until about noon and then my attorney buddy and I absconded to a watering hole, where we spent the rest of the afternoon. I strolled back into the office at around 4 p.m. reeking of alcohol. I was triumphant in my ambivalence. The senior partners were standing in front of their corner offices on the other side of the floor, glaring at me. I walked into my office, threw a couple of my books into a cardboard box, and emerged. With my box under one arm, I waved to the partners and walked out the door.
Maybe you should come practice in Colorado? A lot of my friends have gone through law school here, and a couple of them are similar maverick types, and everyone seems to find a comfy niche. I’ve heard more generally stories about Colorado being famous for its idiosyncratic lawyers. Anyway never mind all that, it sounds as if you set your course with some triumph, and you’ve found the only good use of looking back: writing the experience.
Thanks, Uche! Colorado sounds like a great place to let my freak flag fly! You’re right about these experiences yielding great treasures as writing topics years later. Thankfully I get to write for fun now.
What’s the jersey in your pic? Arsenal?
Yep. The Arsenal forever. That’s one of my proudest possessions, a Highbury final year edition replica. And the stadium venue of the pic is the Emirates. And the occasion was right after The Arsenal finished walloping Blackburn 6-2. Yes, that was a glorious day.
BTW I want to echo Simon’s comment below. The snort-the-smug-crystal trope is priceless.
You must have been well-pleased with the result on Wednesday. What a comeback, eh? Exciting way to kick off the quarter finals!
It was certainly a good result, considering the ridiculous first half. It’s been a pretty cruel week for both teams, though. Arsenal lose Cesc, Arshavin and Gallas. Barca lose Puyol and Pique to suspension and now Ibra to injury. The return leg is really wide open. I’m backing my boys.
I’m not sure of the exact statistic, but I know that English sides have struggled to win in Spain in recent years.
It should be an excellent game though. I think Barca have the edge with the experience and the two away goals, and the home advantage…
Joe, I loved this, man. You hit the perfect notes in ways that make me entirely jealous of your writing style (which is about the highest compliment I think I can give). This one right here:
“If I could crystallize the look on their faces, I would crush it into a fine dust and snort it. It was that satisfying.”
Sweeter than a Cadbury Creme Egg.
I’m going to go send this to all the lawyers I know now.
Thanks a bunch, Simon. Your time and feedback are always appreciated. I got skeeved out again just seeing “Cadbury Creme Egg” again. It’s like the last thing I want, yet I find myself already looking forward to the inevitable “75% OFF ALL EASTER CANDY” sales tomorrow, when I can hoard me some CCEs!
There are few things more satisfying than telling off a boss, especially one who’s a complete and total asshole. And there’s nothing like quitting a job in style.
Nice one, man. I ever get in any legal trouble, I’m giving you a call.
Thanks, Matt. I’ll be happy to help if you get into legal trouble- just give me about ten years to catch up on all the rules that have changed in the past sixteen years and to sit for the California state bar. Then I’ll give ’em hell for you!
GReat story JOe. I’ve never had a conversation like the one you had with the assholey partners when that thing was due Monday. Those kinds of conversations only happen in my head. I’m glad that you stood up to them. I glad that people like you are in the world to stand up to assholes.
What’s a Gretsch silver jet? Jet as in jet plane?
Thanks, Jessica! Thankfully, the vast majority of those conversations take place in my head now as well. At the time, two of my greater deficits were fear and common sense.
The Silver Jet is a glorious guitar that’s really, really fun to play. I’ve never held the Hope Diamond, but I have to feel that the emotional experience would be comparable. 🙂
Missing your Twitter wit, I found myself here. I guess now that you’re “starting to consider thinking about taking this whole writing thing seriously”, it’s not fair to hold you to 140 characters at a time.
Another sublime story, Joe. I third the beauty of your crystallize, crush and snort line. Another favorite: “Next morning… Rinse and repeat.” I absolutely love your way with words!
Thanks, Karen! I needed to give Twitter a break. Following Roger Ebert and all his links and re-tweets had taken on all the characteristics of a full-time job, save for the salary and benefits.
Thanks for reading and have a Krainztastic week!
Krainztastic… I like that. Yes, having that kind of week. Thanks! 🙂
Glad to hear it! Rock on!!
I too noticed your absence from Twitter and sought your prose here! Loved this one …come back to Twitter dude! :o)
I found that Twitter no longer had anything to offer me.
OK, that’s not it- I was having a blast on Twitter, but I was spending a lot of my mental capital there, and with FB, TNB, my blog, and miscellaneous other pursuits, I decided to axe the Twit. They were probably glad. I tend to talk a lot of nonsense.
As the daughter, sister, and sister-in-law of lawyers, I’ve seen the best and the worst of the legal profession.
I’ve come to the conclusion that you have to really want it. Love it. Revel in it.
And me? I don’t. Which is why, when pressured to take the LSATS, I politely decline.
Good on you for getting out.
Thanks, Marni! You hit the nail on the head- you really have to have a passion for the whole experience of being an attorney. When I look back on my friends from law school, I’d say at least half no longer practice law. I will say that I’m happy that I went to law school, as it provided fantastic training in writing and analytical thinking. But at the end of the day, I’m just not built for a career based on conflict and negativity. Thank God there are so many people out there who are!
Perfect title for this Joe! I’m amused (but not surprised) that you stood up for yourself against the senior partners. It’s not a small thing to have that kind of confidence.
“While I knew the last word would not be mine, I nonetheless relished this fleeting moment in the sun.”
Your Irish is showing!
I’d like to read some of your technical writing sometime. 😉 Did you ever plant any Easter eggs in dry text?
P.S. I heard there was a strong aftershock this morning – everything still holding together?
Thx, Anad. Yeah, who knew I could be a punk jackass? Well, besides everyone who knows me, that is.
If there was a strong aftershock, I missed it. Although it would explain why I woke up with three dogs lying on top of me this morning…
As a lawyer with many many non-legal interests (to say nothing of my handful of illegal interests), I hear you loud and clear on this one – and like Simon said, you’ve described the soul-crushing feeling of a lousy job brilliantly. I feel sad, though, that you seem to have landed in such a crappy work situation. Far be it from me to try to lure you back to the bar (no, not that bar, go there whenever you like), but there are places in this profession for free-thinkers, freaks, and people who don’t like breaking others for sport. No matter, though – you seem to have landed on your feet!
Thanks for the comment, Josh! It’s good to hear from someone who stuck with the profession! Would be very interested in hearing more about your illegal interests. Unless we’re talking mattress tag removal. That’s a thrill I’m better off avoiding…
But I do appreciate your clarification that there is a great deal of room in the legal community for positive change and for people to get their freak on. I have to think that had I ended up among attorneys as you describe, I might have ended up on a very different path.
Thanks for continuing to fight the good fight. One thing the legal profession did leave me with is a deep and abiding appreciation for hard-working, conscientious attorneys. We all need one at one time or another!
Ah, so many great lines here to welcome me back from vacation and into the daily grind! I love the use of your vacation time. If I had only known such a gig was possible, my vacation might have been much different……and maybe my Monday morning too! Ha!
I do not believe my conscience or morals would allow me to work anywhere near an office of attorneys. The legal system in this country,while better than most, sucks. Thanks for sharing. 🙂
Thanks, Lorna! And yeah, it’s fun to go on a “working vacation,” but you correctly assume that the following Monday is often fraught with emotional challenges unlike the recovery from a week in Cabo!
Well said about our legal system- we do need to acknowledge that it’s one of the better ones out there. Which in many ways is like putting whipped cream on dog shit.
Dude, inspiring stuff man, and far better early morning reading that the newspaper. Rock on man
Thanks, Coomdawg! Appreciate you taking the time to read it.
“I took to law school like the Vatican takes to a good cover-up.” HA!! So appropriate on this post-Easter “gossip-obsessed media” Monday. Nice one Joe!
Thanks, Ash! Yeah, there’s nothing like a little gossip to get the media going. Did you hear that one of the pro golfers cheated on his wife? Almost sounds interesting, but good luck finding any media coverage on something like that!
“Oh, my full time job? Attorney-at-law. And Lord, did I hate my job…”
Geez, do I know how that feels. Stuck in that rut at the moment.
Loved the way you politely asked the senior partners to pucker up and kiss your ass. That must’ve been so uplifting! *High Five!
Thanks, Simone. Sticking it to The Man is fun! Even when The Man is two people, one of whom is not a man. 🙂
*High Five Back Atya!*
“I strolled back into the office at around 4 p.m. reeking of alcohol, perfume, and with two different shades of lipstick on my face. I was triumphant in my ambivalence.”
To anyone who has ever dreamed of that moment, this is music their ears. Pun intended.
Thanks, Richard! Nothing says “triumph” like four hours in a strip club!
“If I could crystallize the look on their faces, I would crush it into a fine dust and snort it.” awesome!
i know that feeling of being stuck not just in a job but a profession. somehow i found myself in marketing and had no way out. i didn’t want to go into *another* marketing job and so felt at a loss as to what to do. luckily i stuck out long enough that the “right” job – or at least a less sucky one – finally came along.
i never told my supervisor off like you did though!
Angela- I totally relate to the inertia of feeling confined to a field. Funny the stories we tell ourselves in those situations. I don’t know about you, but I assumed that all legal jobs would find me equally depressed, yet with all that training and experience, where else would I go? I’m happy to hear that the right job came your way- a fine and just reward for perseverance!
this is beautiful, joe. i, too, worked for a few law firms in san diego after finishing law school and was a miserable human being with a mountain of law school debt and a tiny salary. (why does everyone think lawyers make so much money? those breakfast sandwiches probably cost you a good 1/4 of your salary …).
i quit (sans lipstick and perfume, other than my own – the alcohol came later) and, despite the mountain of debt upon which i now happily meditate, had never had the slightest inclination to practice law again. however, having lived at subsistence levels for too long, i took a job last summer as an attorney. i considered driving into walls on the drive home every day. i felt hateful. and hated. i heard bad lawyer jokes again. as applied to me. being one.
my third day there, my boss made me stay until 5:30 — not p.m. THE NEXT FRICKING MORNING. for no reason. he was hateful, manipulative (of his employees and of the spirit of the law) and, after two months, i decided poor was better than suicidal and am pretty happy with that decision.
sounds like you’re happy, too. yay!
(btw, i scored some 50% cadbury eggs with the weird eggy looking stuff inside and am even happier. i think we might be the same person. except i’m a girl and i don’t play guitar.)
WOW. Thank you for reminding me that people like your boss exist. When you said 5:30, of course I assumed p.m., and even then I was irate for you! That he kept you until the next morning is surely the plot for a revenge fantasy flick involving kerosene and a Pez dispenser. I’ll leave it to you how those work into the plot.
Congratulations on obtaining your own freedom! You paid a high price for it, so here’s hoping you enjoy every delightful breath.
Wait- where are the fifty percenter offs? I only found 25% at the Rite Aid in Encinitas. They’re GOUGING us, I tell ya!!! 🙂
i know, right?! i forgot that people that horrid existed. no looking back … lawyering is just not my gig.
congrats to you, too! we survived it. we deserve cadbury eggs. (i’m in northern cal now so i guess i scored the better deal …) i got lucky because usually the cadbury eggs are long gone before sales time. maybe it’s karma for working for that … ummm, mean guy. speaking of karma, i’ll let it be the bitch. why waste a perfectly nice pez dispenser!
I guess it’s time to make a NorCal run to score some aging Easter booty. If I buy enough of it, it will justify the gas!
Good point on the Pez dispenser. It would be fun to get Pez dispensers for each justice on the Supreme Court. Hmmm…
This is a very, very enjoyable read, especially because I too am an ‘ex-attorney’. Like you, I too left without any preamble and, more importantly, in style. After an especially gruelling night at work, I decided to call it quits and didn’t go back. When the office called up the next day to know where I was, I coolly said, “Oh, did I forget to inform that I’ve quit?” and hung up.
It’s heartening to know that there’s a huge brother/sisterhood of ex-attorneys out there and no one regrets moving on to a better life or promise thereof 🙂
Kavita- that is awesome! What a great way to exit. Even if the salary/benefits are nice, what’s the point if you work 80 hours a week to have them? No thanks!
Yes, the ex-legal community appears to be a proud and ever-expanding network!
This is fantastic. I attained my first degree in Biological Anthropology–completely useless unless you have a PhD. After being harassed by my family to ‘grow-up’, I decided to be practical and take a pre-law program (from what I’m told is equivalent to your first year in law school).
I plan on burning my blue book ASAP.
…and I’m applying to a graduate program for anthropology. I’d rather be poor.
Gretsch Silver Jet. Nice. Congratulations!
Wow- I just had a terrifying flashback at the mention of “my blue book.” I forgot all about that fascist little tome.
Well, to be fair, I did enjoy law school, it was just the practicing part with which I struggled. Still, you can’t complain with following your heart/gut. And financially, I’ve got to think there are way more lawyers out there than anthropologists, and with the legal pool being constantly diluted, I’d say you’d make a better living in anthropology. Secure AND happy? Sounds like the proverbial “win win.” Let me know how it goes!
Joe, I loved this witty expose/diatribe!
You “bowed out” from a singularly nasty law office with “haze-pro” bully attorneys. Maybe bcuz my son did law school, public service work, big corporate law, and now is in a 2-person law office, I felt that your reasons for law study, your view of its humanity-undermining rituals, and your “one-day” stand against the bullies, were completely reasonable—in fact, a sign of a healthy mind and ego.
I sense, too, that you may step back into law; and, in practicing again, reform some of the practices inimical to good legal work.
Judy who’d like to buy a racing green Bentley
Thanks, Judy! Sometimes I feel that the ol’ ego can get a bit more healthier than it probably should be, but I ended up where I’m supposed to be, so no complaints here. 🙂
When you acquire your racing green Bentley, I will appreciate a picture, please!
Joe, your ego can never get healthier than it “should be”!!!
Re the Bentley (sighs), I just wonder why I got rid of my 1966 Austin Healey Sprite—-oh those blue leather bucket seats more comfortable than any I’ve experienced, even when 9 months pregnant.
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I wish I had your balls. I’ve been at my firm for a year and a half, and it’s a fantastic firm, but I clearly do not belong there. All the partners LOVE their damn jobs and everyone has drank the Kool-Aid. I’m frigging miserable but I don’t have the balls to quit until I can figure out a plan B non-legal career. I think my biggest hurdle is that no one seems to want to hire a JD with no other experience aside from bartending. How did you find your tech writing gig?