QI’m sure you’ve seen it by now that Latham Watkins is redoing its law firm website and has instructed us associates to look “sophisticated, modern, vibrant and approachable.” As I write this, the photos have not yet been taken. And while I do consider myself sophisticated and modern, I’m definitely not vibrant and approachable. I’ve built my career—albeit a short career so far—on being reclusive and brilliant. In any event, let’s say this photo shoot goes forward as planned. Any thoughts on how to coopt a vibrant and approachable associate look?
AWhat’s with big firms these days? First there was the writer whose firm wanted to instill “family” in its summer associates. Now global firms like Latham Watkins want their associates to be vibrant and approachable? In theory it sounds good. But in reality its a cornball waiting to pop.
But I digress. The real question is what’s up with big firm associates today and the need to play tabloid toady? Sure, ATL will take any internal law firm memo, any microscopic particle of gossip, and play it into a story. But ATL is only one party. The other is the two-bit associate who leaks memos to gossip rags or wants to run to his mommy about . . . law firm photos. My God. What’s the world come to? Global firm wants to make over its website and take some better associate profile photos, at least not the traditional headshots. Stop the presses. Bring down the law. The world is crumbling at our feet.
But I digress again. Back to your question. I can read between the lines, pal. Here’s you in a nutshell: not quite the top of your law school class but did very well at a T20 school. You always saw yourself as running a business but working only ten hours a week to make it work. The reality today? You are not running anything and working 80 hours a week “for the man” (your brilliant turn-of-phrase, not mine). You and the 50,000 associates like you realize that it was not all that you had hoped, so to keep yourself “engaged” you turn to cynical irony, the main weapon of the thirty-something generation. You never bought in to your career choice and now everything is a joke, though told in such a post-ironic framework that half the time no one except your immediate friends know you are joking. The other half of the time people think you are either a cynical asshole or just making idle small talk. But your inscrutable humor is really a way to dismiss actual conversation and, more importantly, to deal with a seeping reality that you are way over your head in a ridiculously competitive environment.
Reclusive and brilliant? Right. You wouldn’t be writing me a letter. Instead, you write so that you and your other toady friends can, for whatever reason escapes me, giggle in the corner and appear to rise above the business of practicing law. You cannot rise above it, no matter what you complain about or what tidbit of drop-dead fascinating associate minutiae you feel is worth emailing to the “tips” line over at Above the Law. It’s a business. It’s run like a business, sometimes ruthlessly. Partners want photographs that are “sophisticated, modern, vibrant and approachable.” Who the fuck cares? Obviously you and ATL care. A lot.
Want to be vibrant and approachable? Just drop the irony routine for two minutes and smile. Then go back to joking about how “vibrant and approachable” your firm photo really is and what your hand was doing when the shutter on the camera clicked.