Volume 9, Issue 12
I went into the Clerkship Process (TM) as many do: not really sure that it’s what I wanted, but convinced that it was my best option. Even if I didn’t want to do it long-term I could stick it out for a year and a half, have my PLT paid for, and use my transferable skills to do something else down the line.
I wasn’t enamoured with the moral implications of the whole thing, but I thought it was justifiable. The problem: like Mayor Tommy Carcetti in The Wire, how much of yourself are you willing to give away to become what you want to become? Spoiler: as he pursues power in order to do the right thing, he eventually sells out everything he ever stood for. Entirely possible, but a risk worth running.
In the interim, I was content with the moral tradeoffs of commercial law as a young practitioner. In Projects, for every five prisons you help build, you might help build a hospital. In Commercial Disputes, you’re really helping one big company slug it out with another big company; mostly a moral net neutral.
A “passion for commerce” is something that is easily falsified in interviews: talk about a case study of some commercial issue, talk about enjoying “challenge” and “interesting work.” The falsification worked: I ended up clerking at firms that proudly self-represent as “top-tier.” Of course, they each cherry-pick their stats, but this is a conversation for another time.
But in practice, that passion is much harder to falsify. I encountered a problem I was unprepared for.
I was terribly bored.
Do a couple of research tasks in competition law or construction or whatever, and it gets old pretty quick. And I do understand that there are people that love the law and love commercial law, but it’s dry. Objectively, it’s really fucking dry. And then grads tell you you’re lucky to be doing research tasks, because they’ve been doing documents management or due diligence (euphemisms for the 5th circle of Hell) for the past 6 weeks and would love a research task. But it’s all worth it, they continue, because they were able to sit in on a meeting, and make a phone call to a pro bono client, and oh boy, even transcribe a client interview! Jesus.
I looked to the people who were my mentors, and I didn’t want to live their life. There are countless anecdotes I could tell of the decay that corporate life inflicts on the body - too many late nights in front of a computer screen and too many steak dinners take their toll. But I will focus on one. A graduate lawyer pulled me aside when I first got to The Firm and said “the first thing you’ll notice about this place: nobody has good skin.”
So, if the tasks are rather dull, and the work will take a substantial toll on my physical health, I thought, people must be in it for the long haul, so they can reap the rewards later. Of course there is the money, but people tend to proclaim their motivations go deeper.
A Senior Associate said to me, “There was once a time that I wanted to work for community law, to really help individuals. I applied for jobs at a few CLCs, but nothing was really kicking, so I applied to Top Tier Firm and I got a job! When I was here I realised, company directors need to be held to account, so that companies and shareholders can have a fair go.” I am glad she has found peace doing God’s work.
Every single person in every firm’s Construction practice will say the same thing: “I love that I can see the work that I do - it’s right out there,” as they point out the window as if to say, “Simba, everything the light touches…” This seems to miss the fact that the building is done by architects and builders, and all we really did was write contracts.
I asked a Partner I grew close to about whether he planned on doing anything for the community with the money and influence he had accrued in his years of practice. “I used to think about that kind of stuff, but I think I will just grow my practice.” Your moral magnanimity knows no bounds.
So I suppose there are people who find intrinsic value in this work, though the cynic inside me sees most of the reasoning as bogus self-justification. So I won’t be among the ranks of the self-justifiers. The “conventional wisdom” that you have to work here before you work anywhere is bullshit, and if you don’t really enjoy this work, don’t try and convince yourself that you do.
Just go and do something that doesn’t suck.
Have a funny clerkship story but still want a grad job? Send it to mlsdeminimis@gmail and we’ll publish it anonymously.
The rest of this week's *bumper* issue:
The rest of the series: