Saturday, December 08, 2007

Legally Blind

I have spent the better part of the past two days, trying to figure out if this professional malaise is temporary or fatal.

There are things I absolutely love about the practice of law. I love intellectualizing an issue and noodling it in my head until I fully understand the nuances of the issue. As I am fond of saying, usually, the law follows logic, although in practice, that's another story. But when it comes to understanding why a particular law or cause of action exists, or the policy behind the law? I am an utter law geek. I love jurisprudence, even when I disagree with a particular jurist (and yes, I am looking at you, Scalia, although you sold out long ago).

In short, I love the law in theory. I have come to really resent the law in practice.

There are many reasons for this. As a practical matter, the whole business model of billable hours is horseshit. It encourages inefficiency, as there is little financial incentive to get an issue or a briefing done sooner, rather than later. Of course, the tautology in this is that you cannot spend too much time on a matter, lest your client bitch about taking three weeks to write a pleading, which, honestly, might be required, given the issues. I have thought about this model for years and am not certain that I have a solution. It is damn near impossible to quote an accurate professional service fee for a given legal issue, as there are just too many variables, including others I shall bitch about shortly. Still, there is pretty much nothing more unbearable than keeping track of your professional hours in five minute increments.

Opposing counsel and other attorneys are another source of burnout. I am fortunate to practice in a smaller city, where it is more likely than not that you will encounter your opponent socially or by happenstance, and if you were a blustering asshole in court or in a meeting, you will feel shame when the suits are off. LA and NYC litigators? Truly insufferable. The worst attorneys I have dealt with locally don't even approach that level of arrogance and showmanship-style theater. Still, and perhaps it is because I have never had a marginal case, in that I have always believed strongly in the merits of my client's case or defense, I have been rendered speechless more than once at my opposing counsel's position and tactics.

By far (aside from the billable hours thing), the most frustrating thing about practicing law is that judges are completely and often fallible. There is this social contract we have with the judicial and court system, wherein we believe that the judges are wise and competent and will pore through the law to levy justice. That is a highly fictional social contract, even among the most professional and intellectually engaged jurist. The court system is overburdened and even the best judge spends 1/100th of the time you've spent (arguing and thinking, considering and briefing the case) considering the matter. This is why truly great litigators are worth every dime they are paid: they can read a judge and determine where they are getting sidetracked or otherwise misguided and can redirect them to the underlying legal issue.

Yes, I am still hung up on that oral argument, as I now would give almost anything for five more minutes in front of her. I am crossing my fingers that she, too, is a law geek and, after noodling it a while, will come to our side, but alas, I have seen far too many render a lazy decision that is inevitably calculated to pass the buck (appellate court, etc.). I do this after every oral argument - second guess my performance, beat myself up on not having realized where the judge was wrong, because even attorneys have this stupid reverence for jurists and their superior analytical skills.

If I get an unfavorable ruling, I have a motion for reconsideration already prepared, and that is where I will get my proverbial five more minutes. Failing that, I will go to the Court of Appeals.

But tonight, here is where I am at. I don't like my job right now. I don't want to work for a law firm anymore. I don't want to record my life in five minute increments and I don't want to be involved in cases like this, where common sense is not even a footnote. I like being involved in projects that are creating something, building alliances, putting together deals, and not fighting over issues that any bloke on the street could mediate.

The hardest thing for me is considering not being an attorney. I knew I was going to be a lawyer for as long as I can remember - aside from a very early childhood fascination with becoming a flight attendant. I have never considered any other career, and yet now, I am. Being a lawyer is truly in your blood and that devotion pulses through my veins. I will always be an attorney, whether or not I am actually practicing law. But right now, for better or worse, the idea of not practicing law is firmly and attractively on the table.


Norm said...

I am at or near a personal best with regards to disgust for my own career at the moment, so I was offering you mental high-fives after reading every paragraph of this post. Different in all the details, same in all the underlying principles.

Thing that gets me the most is how much time and effort it took me (and the taxpayers, for that matter, who contributed a lot to my education) to get to this point, and I feel like I haven't even made a ripple.

I'm thinking I'm going to get over it at some point. On the other hand, I'm sure we can use some extra help down on the berry farm, particularly at picking time. :D

cornutt said...

I have a plan for world domination, or, better said, a business plan that I first wrote out during my first year of law school. I have been thinking a lot about it lately and am going to discretely sniff around for some seed money.

If and when it ever comes to fruition, there are opportunities for both you and the wife. We can berry pick on the weekends.