A few months back, I got an offer to strike out on my own and leave BigLaw for good. The offer came from Andrew, a really solid guy at the firm, who just wasn’t partner material. It was an open secret that nobody knew what to do with him. He was a diligent worker, but he just didn’t have the ability to connect with clients. That’s the polite version. In truth, he was socially awkward—a total slob who constantly had dried ketchup on his face and mumbled something awful. There were probably firms that would have cut him loose a long time ago for simply being a disheveled mess, but he was down to throw back the sauce whenever I wanted, and he liked watching UFC. As far as I am concerned, those are qualities that matter.
One night, while we polished off some twelve-year-old Macallan, I asked him about his future. When you’ve been an associate for ten years and still haven’t made partner, I wondered if he’d yet said to himself, “Hey, maybe there is something else I can do with my shitty life.”
“I’m leaving the firm soon to start my own boutique shop.”
I was shocked. I’m sure if my blood alcohol had been under .25, I would have told him I thought it was a terrible idea. Instead, I apparently agreed to quit and become his first associate.
When I woke up in the morning, the only thing I could remember was agreeing to take our waitress to Bonaroo or some other poser grunge festival that is everything I stand against. Apparently, Andrew had a clearer recollection. And he saw our drunken rambling as an ironclad agreement.
The following morning, we had the following IM exchange:
Andrew: Matt, have you figured out how you’re gonna give notice?
Me: Whatchu talking about, Willis?
Andrew: We need to do it at the same time. Leave as a team so they know we’re serious.
Me: I don’t know if that is such a good idea. I’m not sure what I’m going to do yet.
Andrew: This place is a shithole!
Shithole. Really? I mean, I know we weren’t making F-U hedge fund/d-bag money, but making over $200K year after year for simply editing prospectuses and mostly sitting silently on conference calls isn’t too shabby. We have an endless supply of underlings that I love to hate on, who are completely necessary and—sometimes—nice to look at. Plus, there’s that little thing called an expense report. When you go out on your own, you pay for everything, even if you don’t make a dime!
I pondered Andrew’s offer a bit, partly to humor him and partially because of the current climate. We are in a recession. I am a screw-up. Firms are looking to fire screw-ups. I probably should explore my options.
Me: It sounds like an okay idea. But what can we really offer clients?
Andrew: For starters, a lower rate. Second, we only take on clients we get along with personally. No assholes bossing us around at ungodly hours.
This guy was starting to sound compelling.
Me: But how do we find clients?
Andrew: Look, with my work experience and resume and your connections, there is no way we can fail.
Whoa, time out. My “connections?” WTF?
Andrew: Yeah, you’re best friends with [REDACTED.] That’s gonna be a huge score for us. Get us off the ground.
Note: When I’m drunk, I do a little embellishing about my “connections.” According to my imbibed ramblings with Andrew, I have a whole book of business through the father of one of my college buddies. In reality, that “buddy” is an “acquaintance” who loathes my existence. He even once toasted to my death. So something tells me if I asked him to ask his dad to move his hedge fund’s annual $10 million legal tab to my new boutique, he would politely tell me to suck it.
After a few days, I told Andrew that I just didn’t have the guts to do it, which was the truth. He left BigLaw the next day, and that was three months ago.
We exchanged emails at the beginning. He picked up a couple of small deals and had his own secretary. I sometimes thought about how smart and lucky he was for getting out; how gutless and stupid I was for putting up with this place. And then, last week, I snapped.
It was after midnight, and I was on my third espresso. We were supposedly closing this deal in the morning, but we were still fighting with opposing counsel about some tax issue. To make matters worse, Partner on the deal kept calling me to check in and make sure the prospectus didn’t have any typos. It’s like he knew that I would sneak out of the office to pass out the second my phone stopped ringing. Also, I had forgotten my contact lens case and solution, which basically meant that I was bleeding from the eyeballs. I was doped up on Cyclobenzaprine (aka Flexeril, a muscle relaxer that doubles as an antidepressant) because my back was killing me, as usual. (Question: Does anyone who is at least a third-year NOT have back problems?) I was in agony as I reread the prospectus for the thirty-seventh time.
I decided to call Andrew about jumping ship. How could it be any worse than this, I reasoned?
The deal finally closed, and I sent Andrew an email and left him a VM that day. I assumed he was probably, yet improbably, reeling in a new client. I knew this was a bit optimistic since I had no idea how he was actually doing. But I was at the end of my rope, so I pinned my hopes on a dream scenario where he and I were this hotshot new firm—totally killing it.
I actually went so far as to type up a draft of my “goodbye” letter to the firm, thanking Partners for the misery, ulcer, growing addiction to painkillers, and thanking specific female co-workers for the pleasure of letting me know them. But as I typed, my secretary said Andrew called and asked me to meet him in the first-floor lobby.
Perfect. Maybe I’d quit on the spot, and then Andrew and I could grab lunch to discuss my compensation package.
The man I saw when I walked off the elevator was hardly the confident solo lawyer I expected. Andrew looked more defeated than ever.
“It’s not happening…,” he stammered.
“What’s not happening?”
“Me hanging up my own shingle. I got one client from my mom, but he could barely afford to pay. Also, don’t underestimate having a dedicated doc services like you do now. Besides, I am a slob who can’t speak to clients to save my own life.”
Apparently, he had found self-awareness.
“I was thinking about joining you.”
“Well, that’s why I’m here. I was hoping to re-join you,” he trailed off.
“I tried to grovel my way back in here. But obviously there’s no place for a former associate who practically gave the finger when he voluntarily quit a few months ago. They’ve already bumped up the start date of someone who has an offer to take my place. I’ve been replaced by some chump who hasn’t even passed the bar yet. Once again, Matthew Richardson comes out on top.”
All I wanted to do was run for the elevator, head immediately back to my office, deleted any sign of my goodbye manifesto and pore over the first legal document I could get my hands on. I searched for the lobby surveillance cameras. I couldn’t be seen with this loser.
“Listen, buddy, let’s grab some scotch sometime soon. I’ll help you figure this out.”
“I wouldn’t mind jumping on your expense account. You busy tonight?”
“Maybe. I’ll call you.”
I darted back to the safety of BigLaw, where I vowed to limit risky behavior to loose women and to never try to be a solo artist’s wingman again.
Andrew said it best: “Once again, Matthew Richardson comes out on top.” And don’t you forget it.