New Lawyers Thanksgiving to their Law Firms

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For new lawyers, Thanksgiving is an interesting time. It's really the first chance since graduating from law school where they have enough free time to ponder just what a horrible mistake they made in deciding to go to law school and enter the practice of law. More importantly, Thanksgiving is a time for the new attorney and his family to realize just how alienating the attorney's new job has been for both parties. Contrary to how it may seem, this is not always a time when new attorneys "connect" with their families. Instead, it can be a time when many of the personal ramifications of being a lawyer can become quite evident.

After finishing exams in May or June, law school graduates have precious little time to rest on their laurels as they immediately start long days studying for the Bar Exam. Following a grueling two (or three day) bar exam ordeal, they generally start their first firm legal job a few weeks later. Once in their new job, most attorneys have little idea what they are doing, but will most likely be working their hardest to get ahead. All of these factors -the new career, the pressure of the Bar Exam, the long hours studying within the past six months, the pressure of working in a new job that he or she does not understand, the long hours of the new job-conspire to begin to form a different kind of human.

We call this type of human an "attorney" in Western culture.

Newly classified attorneys may be a little paranoid, somewhat withdrawn due to long hours studying and working at the office, and most likely a little bit out of their element in social situations. A new attorney at Thanksgiving is sort of like a prisoner walking into the daylight after weeks of solitary confinement in a dark cell. The social Thanksgiving atmosphere, emphasizing things like sharing, warmth and the companionship of the family and loved ones, is usually the antithesis of what he or she has been getting accustomed to.

Many new attorneys may not even want to go to Thanksgiving. They fear it.

Assuming the new attorney does choose to attend a Thanksgiving feast of some sort, he or she is likely to show up at a family member's home with certain preconceptions. First and foremost, the entire holiday may seem like a complete waste of time as there is work that could be done. Second, because most attorneys' family members are not attorneys themselves, they may even be under the impression that everyone they are celebrating Thanksgiving with is stupid or backward (isn't everyone who is not an attorney stupid and backward). God help the attorney's family if the majority of them did not even go to college. Third, new attorneys are unlikely to want to talk about anything but themselves since they have been so engrossed in law and solitary activities for so long.

Here, then, is an impatient and annoyed individual. In the new attorney's eyes, there is unlikely to be anyone at Thanksgiving with anything to say that is even remotely as interesting as his or her own life. Accordingly, he may just sit on a couch reading and re-reading a copy of The Economist that he brought from home, as anything is better than socializing with a bunch of stupid people.

The family is likely to be very confused by this new creature.

Certainly, the family is not going to want to talk about securitizations instruments or doing interrogatories. More than likely, when asked what he is doing by a relative, the new attorney will give a condescending answer. Even the new attorney's 35 year old cousin with four tattoos who regularly drinks 40 oz beers and talks about getting ready to put a snow plow on his truck to earn "big bucks" with the first snowfall of the season will think the new attorney is a condescending jerk when he asks the attorney what he does. He may even get his ass kicked. (I've seen this happen.)

Then there is the attorney's salary. In some cases, new attorneys may be making 2, 3 or even 4 times what their parents are making (or ever made). In this case, the situation may be even worse. The new attorney will show up at Thanksgiving like some 15th Century nobleman visiting serfs and suddenly believe he is superior on every level to the people he is with. The new attorney may even drive his new 3-series BMW that he leases for $350 a month and look with disdain at the Tauruses and other cars lining the family driveway, perhaps even making a show of activating the alarm to protect the car.

God help all the relatives not making 2x what the attorney is. They may be lucky to even be acknowledged. Regardless, this is likely to be a very uncomfortable situation for the people who are dealing with the new attorney, as they likely will not know what to make of the person they are dealing with. Most of them will have never encountered anything like this new person, who is nothing like the 5 year old who peed on the floor at Denny's by mistake and then cried for an hour afterwards.

Of course, if the new attorney's salary is low, things may be better. He may not have the same attitude. Here, though, the new attorney is still likely to consider his work far more important than what the people he is celebrating Thanksgiving with do. If the attorney works in public interest law, he may even think the people he is celebrating Thanksgiving with are "capitalist pigs." This, too, will create an interesting Thanksgiving.

Then there are the Bar Exam results. In some states, like California, the pass rate is lower than others (about or below 50% most years). Nevertheless, a lot of people do not pass everywhere. The Thanksgiving tone will be set by whether or not the recent law school graduate has passed the Bar Exam.

If the attorney passes the Bar Exam they will expect a lot of congratulations and interest in their "latest" achievement. God Help Everyone If The New Attorney Passes The Bar Exam! I would multiply the various "asshole factors" above by at least 1.5 if that is the case. Here, we will have a more extreme version of the new attorney. A higher degree of arrogance will be present in all respects.

Given the new attorney's likely demeanor, few will really want to congratulate him because the natural reaction will be to actively dislike this new person. (As I pointed out earlier, though, the new attorney may have already gotten their ass kicked by their 35 year old cousin who drank 3 forty ounce beers before the new attorney arrived at 11:00 am.) This will confuse the new attorney, who may decide to not like their family anymore.

The new attorney may also take it a step further and decide he does not like other humans, in general, anymore, providing him with ample internal justification to bill and work more in the firm. (These new attorneys, by the way, are the ones most likely to become partner. These are the superstars.)

Because a lot of attorneys thrive on praise, they may make the decision that they need to make partner in their law firm to garner praise because no one seems to care that they passed the Bar Exam. The decision is therefore made to work even harder and withdraw from family and friends even further. In this respect, Thanksgiving will serve to make new attorneys even more of an attorney.

The most interesting Thanksgiving is when the attorney does not pass the Bar Exam. In this situation, the new attorney's family will be very confused. Absolutely everyone at Thanksgiving-whether there are 5 or 50 people at the dinner-will know the new attorney's fate, making him incredibly paranoid. "What do you mean it is nice to see me? Are you making fun of me? Why do you want me to serve the potatoes? You don't think I'm smart enough to carve the turkey!"

Most everyone will have something to say about the new attorney's fate. They will undoubtedly regale him with stories about lawyers who managed to pass the Bar after a few attempts and become amazingly successful. Certainly, someone will mention JFK Jr. a couple of times.

The new attorney who fails the Bar will have a lot of mixed feelings to deal with. Having been withdrawn and morphing over the past several months into this new creature we call an attorney, he will become extremely confused as to how to deal with his new status as a Bar Exam flunker (most new attorneys learn whether or not they passed the week before Thanksgiving). In his mind, he is supposed to be smarter, better and more successful than everyone at Thanksgiving (apart from other attorneys who went to better law schools, did better than them, got better jobs and make more money, of course). The empathy he will be receiving from his grandfather who worked as a butcher at the local supermarket chain for 30 years is simply unacceptable. Things are not supposed to be like this.

Accordingly, many of these attorneys who fail the Bar Exam begin to go insane. They simply cannot rectify all their emotions and the contradictions inherent in what they are. I have seen some attorneys actually go insane — it is not pretty. Many of these attorneys will have grown up in towns where a lot of their childhood friends never did anything with their lives and are now working at the local concrete plant-or not even working at all. Calls may go out. Drugs may be used, despite never having used drugs before he learned of his fate. Others take up smoking. You can spot a lot of these new smokers in corners outside of high rises the Monday after Thanksgiving. They cough a lot (after virtually every puff). I spot them every year because there are a lot of skyscrapers near where I work.

Finally, there is the attorney who never got a job. This new attorney may or may not have passed the Bar Exam, which is often irrelevant. He has had months to deal with the fact that the law does not necessarily welcome them. In my experience, this attorney will have the best Thanksgiving. This will be the happiest person out there. Someone up above is smiling on him, perhaps a guardian angel. Norman Rockwell could have painted a wonderful picture of the Thanksgiving of the new attorney who never got a job.

The first Thanksgiving for a fresh attorney is one of the most powerful times in an attorneys career. Certainly, there are many attorneys who are emotionally well-balanced enough to really have a good Thanksgivings. At least I hope there are.

So what is the moral of Thanksgiving? The moral is that you need to stay connected with the world and other people. The constant push many new attorneys are making for success is not always worth it. The people at Thanksgiving are the same people who will come to your funeral if you keel over in 10 years from a job-related, stress-induced heart attack. These are also the same people who will come to visit you in the psychiatric hospital if you ever go crazy. Embrace these people and embrace Thanksgiving. This is your only connection to the real world and it is a new attorney's first wake up call to a very real fact: You only live once.

About Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes is the founder of LawCrossing and an internationally recognized expert in attorney search and placement. Harrison is extremely committed to and passionate about the profession of legal placement. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placement attract millions of reads each year. LawCrossing has been ranked on the Inc. 500 twice. For more information, please visit Harrison Barnes’ bio.

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About Harrison Barnes

Harrison is the founder of BCG Attorney Search and several companies in the legal employment space that collectively gets thousands of attorneys jobs each year. Harrison is widely considered the most successful recruiter in the United States and personally places multiple attorneys most weeks. His articles on legal search and placement are read by attorneys, law students and others millions of times per year.

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