As the saying goes, “The grass is always greener on the other side.” But what if the grass actually IS greener on the other side of the fence? The big firm/small firm debate is always just a matter of perspective.
All sharks, be they lemmings at a BigLaw firm or a debt-saddled associate at a boutique, have a natural disposition to see how unfair the world is to them. A lose/lose mentality. And almost all the 26-33 year old attorneys in the United States hate their jobs, regardless of their pay or their level of responsibility. Truth be told, nobody told us that associates are roughly equivalent to those shady assholes in college who offered to write your term paper for $70 and an empty keg core in college. We do other peoples’ homework.
All of us put in a lot of hours poring over documents, writing reports, familiarizing ourselves with the facts of the case, and generally busting ass so someone else can reap the rewards. It’s not fair—and it’s not supposed to be. But it’s easy to bitch and moan about the life of an associate. It’s even easier when you’re a boutique associate.
I don’t get paid half of what a BIG associate makes. Seriously. And that’s game, set, match when you’re talking to one of those douches. They think because they’re raking in $160K that that’s how much they’re worth. And they assume I’m worth half. Beautiful; I’ve got you right where I want you. You are officially whores.
The trouble with associates caught in the BIG rat race is that they have no context. It’s not your fault: You’ve been at it for so long you don’t remember (a) what it is to be happy, or (b) what else could possibly give meaning to your lives other than perpetuating your meager existence. Money is just a number on a page, but we’re trained to think the BIG life is the pinnacle and the rest just get pegged down from there. But where is the grass really greener?
I’ve got nothing to lose. Sure, BIGs have an army behind them, and all I’ve got is a copy of MS Word from 1999 and a copier that has more jams than BET, but I still win about half the time.
I wear jeans to work, and I don’t have to pay women to spend time with me. I see movies when they come out in the theaters, not when they come out on Netflix. Cab voucher? I don’t even know what that is. I drive a Toyota Prius. (I’m also undercompensating for, well . . . .)
If I wanted a one-bedroom loft with an upside-down mortgage and a 3 Series BMW in my tandem parking spot, I know where Brentwood is. But I do real lawyer work. Six months on the job, and I know most every clerk and judge downtown. I ride my motorcycle on the weekends. I read for pleasure. I don’t need two double Grey Gooses to go to sleep at night, and I turn off the blackberry at 7:00 PM. No exceptions.
Being an associate at a BIG is indentured servitude: voluntary slavery in exchange for forty acres and a mule in the new world after you work off the debt that brought you there. Meanwhile, boutique associates may make five-figures (gasp), but we go to court three days a week. We get paid to talk and think. Summarize a depo? Waste of time. Memo to file? Who’s got the time?
Besides, I run the whole case anyway.
Yeah, my pleadings have typos. But this is state court, bitch.
I peer through the windows to gaze at my white-shoe counterparts. I deal with partners at Latham, Skadden, White & Case, and all the BIGS every day. Who do you think defends the companies I sue? The BIGs take me to Morton’s, and it goes on their expense account. A BIG gets evicted or screwed on a deal, and who do you think represents them? Would you pay $500 an hour to some pimple-faced first-year in a Brioni suit so he can run up a Lexis bill reading about higher theories of contract law? You wouldn’t. You’d go to me.
Boutique Lawyering 101: “SURE I CAN GET STARTED ON YOUR CASE TODAY. NOW ABOUT OUR RETAINER . . . .”