Law dramas on television make law business seem glamorous and exciting. This evening I attended a wake for an uncle who had lived till the ripe old age of ninety-seven years old. I had a chat with his granddaughter who is working as a solicitor with a corporate law firm. After working gruelling hours like sixteen hours a day and the countless 2a.m. nights for years, she feels the strain and contemplates leaving her position. She realises that it will be hard to find a position that pays as well as her current position and yet offers her a chance to live a better lifestyle. Apart from receiving an attractive remuneration pay package, she is given optic allowances and masseur services seeing that they have to labour before their laptops ploughing through documents. Apparently her male colleague has the misfortune of battling onset of grey hair way before his time while these unearthly hours affect her skin condition.
If you think that lawyers are autonomous and will tell their clients what they must do, you are mistaken because in actual fact, lawyers act on clients’ instructions and they basically have to execute the wishes of a client legally. Law is a service-oriented profession where clients instruct and lawyers execute clients’ instructions. If lawyers are too afraid of losing clients and bent on making ends meet, they will always be at the mercy of their clients. When a lawyer is engaged by a client, the latter’s interest is paramount and the lawyer has to ensure that he or she will do his or her very best to safeguard the client’s interest and meet the client’s expectations.
In BIGLAW , the novel written by Lindsay Cameron, a corporate lawyer turned writer, Mackenzie Corbett had been fixated with success ever since she saw her sister, Margaret, draped in four first place medals at the regional swim competition when she was ten years old.
‘ Mom had signed Margaret and me up for the swim team at the community center that summer after reading an article on the importance of sports in building girls’ self –esteem. Margaret had groaned, but I was excited – I loved swimming. When the season started, it didn’t take a stopwatch to tell me that Margaret was easily the fastest swimmer on the team, often finishing races a full length ahead of everyone else. And I would know , being that I was usually the one bringing up the rear. “I think you just need to practice more,” Mom would gently instruct when I complained to her about being last. “ You can achieve anything with hard work.” So I spent the summer in the pool, with Dad dropping off early on his way to work while Margaret was still in bed, and stayed long past when Margaret skipped out to head to the beach with her friends. I didn’t mind, though,because I couldn’t wait to show my parents how good I’d become in the final match of the summer –the All East swim competition. But things didn’t go exactly as my optimistic ten-year old mind had planned. Margaret won four first place medals, and all I walked away with was a cruddy participation ribbon. Watching my sister draped around her neck, nodding humbly at the rousing applause, somewhere deep inside I was filled with a burning, pulsing need to be up there. But so long as I embodied the athletic ability of Charlie Brown, it wasn’t going to happen.’
Mackenzie was worried that Margaret was going to be the only winner in the family until she found her niche. She learned that if she studied hard enough and had a 4.0 GPA, she would earn awards, scholarships, and if she steered clear of sports or sororities in college and instead filled her time with lawyer-friendly extracurricular activities like the debate club and civil liberties club, she could earn a spot at Georgetown Law School. And then when she was in law school, the students were told by their career resources counselor that a corporate associate position at a Biglaw firm was the most difficult spot to obtain. Only a handful of summer associates would be asked to join the corporate department so aiming to join the corporate department in a Biglaw firm ‘was the epitome of success for the eternal striver in her’.
After graduating in law, Mackenzie secured her place as an associate at a premier law firm in Manhattan and for two years she lived the fantasy of big salary, high profile deals, cute boyfriend and designer bag on her arm. The overachiever in Mackenzie drove Mackenzie to work her butt out hoping to secure a prestigious secondment on the line. She was the able associate who was assigned by the top partners to work on high profile deals that deprived her of her sleep due to the timeline and high volumn of due diligence work she had to carry out . She had little time for her boyfriend and had to cancel out on outings with Kim, her good friend since college days at Princeton.
Mackenzie was driven to succeed so she put up with partners like Saul Sever who was described to be sadistic and “actually derived real pleasure from the torture he inflicted. Rumour had it that the only time Saul could be seen with a smile on his face was after he yelled at someone. Particularly if he brought them to tears. It was well -established firm lore that he once threw a stapler at the cleaning lady for moving his beloved ficus plant while vacuuming. It hit her in the back fo the head and drew blood. Apparently after the settlement the partnership requested that he be put on medication . Whatever medication he was taking didn’t seem to stifle his ongoing atrocities against associates , though. “They can’t make a medication strong enough to give that monster an empathy gene,” I remembered an associate slurring after one too many margaritas at a Cinco-de Mayo party. Despite Saul’s abusive behaviour and his “F” words, the firm ignored all the ways in which he was severe liability because he had a client list that rivaled those of the top partners in the city.‘
Mackenzie seemed to thrive in the corporate department where the partners all used intimidation and public humiliation as teaching tools. Each of these partners was crazy and appeared to be dysfunctional in his own way. There were a couple of cheery characters in the firm, her secretary Rita and Alex a colleague who managed to survive working for Saul as ‘everything rolls off his back.”
Mackenzie was living a life where she was attached to her BlackBerry. Half way through spending Christmas day with her family, she received an email from her senior partner requesting her to Fedex the latest agreement to him in Mexico ASAP. She had to contend with the poor internet service at her parents’ home and her hope of getting the document services department in her Biglaw firm to Fedex was dashed as it was Christmas Day . She ended up having to print the document on her dad’s old printer and had to drive to the nearest FedEx office branch only to find that it was closed. Her phone buzzed again and she was told to fax the document, all 234 pages. She missed the dessert and she could not tell her parents what it was she was doing. She had a rude awakening when she had to face investigation officers from the Securities and Exchange Enforcement division questioning her on insider trading after a high profile sale of the company deal that she worked on for Saul did not materialize as she was privy to all the confidential information. She also realised that she had become an impatient and nasty person when she needed things done by her junior associates in her team.
BIGLAW written by Lindsay Cameron may be fictitious but it does give us an insight of life at a big law firm.