People I Met Practicing Law

People I Met Practicing Law Episode Seven: The Super Star

Let me tell you about a real person, whose real name is not Emily.

Emily is a superstar. She does it all and has been doing it all for an awfully long time.

She brings in clients. Lots and lots of clients.

She does the work. Many, many billable hours.

She dockets her time. Every single scrap of it.

She bills her files. On time, month after month.

She collects her fees. Just about all of them.

She wins awards. More than one.

She makes time for her partners and associates whenever they come asking for help.

She supervises, trains and mentors her associates.

She is honest. She is ethical.

Emily has been the managing partner of her firm. She has been the head of her department.

She gives practical advice. She is creative. She is recognized as a leading lawyer in the country in her specialty.

Emily never issued an account that she did not first study in detail to confirm that it was fair to the client.

For years Emily reviewed and approved every account issued by all of her associates to confirm that the clients were being billed fairly. Every single time.

Emily has never raised her voice at an associate or a staff member. She has never yelled at a partners meeting. Not even at the really annoying partners.

She has told a young mother struggling to balance a childcare issue with a looming client deadline to go home and take care of her child, and that she would be sure that the client responsibilities were handled.

Emily is a super star in the legal profession. Everyone knows it. Other firms routinely headhunt her associates because everyone knows that ‘trained by Emily’ is a stamp of approval. Judges sign orders presented by her associates without reading them in too much detail because they have confidence that if they came from Emily’s office they must be in order.

Emily is also a tragic hero in the Shakespearean meaning of the word. I spent way too much time practicing law and too little time studying literature, so forgive me if I get this wrong, but I believe that a tragic hero means a potentially great character with a tragic flaw.

Emily’s tragic flaw is that she is a perfectionist. I would hardly describe her as calm and relaxed. I have heard her trying to calm herself down by repeating the mantra “this too shall pass” more times than I can remember.

I have seen Emily work to the point that she became sick and had to take several months off of work to recover, and then come back and have the same thing happen a few years later.

Emily has been married to the same man for a very long time. Great guy, but not one of those guys who took care of everything on the home front to free Emily up to devote all of her attention to practicing law. Being a perfectionist, Emily did more than her fair share at home as well.

I am sure that there must be lawyers who have been as successful in the legal profession as Emily, remained calm and happy, devoted a great deal of time to their home life and managed to maintain their physical and mental health, while not failing in their marriage or their relationships with their children. I just never met any of them.

It seems to me that most of the time, something has to give. The myth that one can and should have it all is a nice fairy tale. When you add to that the ego and competitive nature of many lawyers, it is a recipe for disaster. Why we perpetuate this fairy tale in the legal profession is beyond me. Lawyers are supposed to be smart people. All evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.

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