You are really, really sick of law. In fact, you want out. At a minimum, you need to get out of your current job, or you might die. That much is not in dispute. 

But you still have the loans. Therefore common sense says you should “give law one more try.”

As H. L. Mencken once observed:“For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”

You sense this quotation might apply to your current situation, because it seems clear and simple you should go find another job in biglaw, at least for a year. Here are some screamingly clear and simple reasons why:

  • You need money to pay off loans – one more shot at biglaw money.
  • It’s not life or death – you can always quit the new job if it doesn’t work out. 
  • According to the headhunters who call you twice a day, there are loads of “lifestyle” shops that would love to snap you up from your hotshot firm, despite the fact that you loath that place with every cell in your body. 

The list of “cons” includes:

  • imagining starting a law job at another firm makes you physically ill;
  • the thought of interviewing at a law firm makes you physically ill; and
  • the thought of walking into another law firm makes you physically ill. 

A lot of lawyers find themselves in this situation, stuck (in the metaphorical sense) between a rock (school loans) and a hard place (the thought of continuing to practice law.) 

However, the final decision tends to be along the lines of – well, no harm in going for an interview. Which is why you’ll probably wind up going in for that interview. 

“So, should I go on this interview?” One client asked me recently. I knew he was talking about that interview. 

“My rule is that you should only go on an interview if you want the job,” I deflected. “Do you want this job?”

My client pretended to mull it over. “Does needing money to pay off loans count?”

“Go in there and nail it,” I evaded.

“Except,” he ambivalented. “I dread the thought of another law firm job. The notion makes me physically ill.”

My client and I knew perfectly well he would go on the interview. The reason was, as for most lawyers in his situation (and I’m guessing, perhaps, for you, too) money. To be specific, money for loans. But even in the more general, all-encompassing sense of the word: money.

Per Mencken’s dictum, the interview –that interview – will almost inevitably play out wrong. Clearly, simply wrong. 

But it’s worth noting a singular feature of these sorts of interviews (those interviews) which is that every word uttered will be a falsehood. This is a hard and fast rule. Each participant will intend precisely the opposite of what they’re expressing. 

Let’s say you’re a third year and it’s time to leave your first biglaw job. You know, because you got a lousy review and were asked to leave, or (alternatively) you haven’t been asked to leave yet but you dread each day, cry all the time and wonder whether, if you broke an arm or a leg, or came down with some serious disease, it might get you a week off, because that sounds worth it.

Friends offer advice: Go work at another firm! Plenty of places must be looking for people like you! Maybe try a “lifestyle” firm!

These friends are non-lawyers. They know nothing.

But let’s get granular, and examine how, should you go on it, one of thoseinterviews plays out in real time. For clarity, I’ll present what is said first, followed (in italics) by what’s meant. 

Here goes:

“Welcome to Wealth & Greed. Nice to meet you.”

You are anonymous and fungible. Within the hour, I shall forget your existence. 

“It’s a pleasure to be here. Thanks for having me in.”

Not sure I can go through with this. I feel nauseous.

“Tell me a bit about your time at Cold & Grasping.”

This is where you play nice. Say you love working in biglaw, or this interview is over. We have no desire to hear you gripe, whine or otherwise imply you weren’t completely contented as a galley slave.

“It’s a terrific firm. It was a privilege to work at an institution like Grasping.”

My time there nearly killed me. I’m already dead inside. In any case, they’ve told me to be gone within three months.

“Why have you decided to leave at this time?”

We both know why. I’m doing my job, pretending. Now it’s your turn to pretend.

I’d like to focus on the issuance of collateralized debt obligations. I know you have a well regarded practice group in that area, so it seems like a good fit.

I don’t really understand what a CDO is, except they nearly destroyed the world in ‘08. In any case, they were the only thing I worked on at Grasping, so they’re the only thing I can realistically pretend to know about. 

What is your greatest strength and your greatest weakness as a lawyer?

This is just bullshit to stretch out the interview – I couldn’t care less what you say. Play along and we’re good.

I’m detail-oriented – that’s my strength, and perhaps also my weakness – a surfeit of attention to detail. Mustn’t lose sight of the big picture.

I copied this answer from an online interviewing guide. It bears no relationship to any reality I know or have ever known. 

Are you a ‘team player’?

I don’t know what that means.

Of course, very much so.

I don’t know how that couldmean anything but whatevs.

Well, thanks for coming in. Before we finish, do you have any questions for me?

You know the rules: Come up with a question, and let’s get this over with. 

Sure. Are there plans to continue expanding the CDO practice group at Craven & Caustic?

I could care less. You could care less. 

I can’t speak to that specifically, other than to say that the group has been expanding quickly, and I would expect that trend to continue. I can refer you to the head of the practice group. If we have you back in, I’m sure you’ll be meeting with him personally.

Let’s get this over with. We’re hiring a drone – we both know that. 

Thank you so much for your time. You’ll be hearing back from us soon.

We won’t have you back in. We might hire you anyway. We might never get back to you or the headhunter. Either way, I’ll never see you again and I’ve already forgotten who you are. 

It’s been a pleasure.

Get me out of here. This was a terrible mistake. I need to throw up. 

A friend, who worked at an employment agency (back when there were such things as “employment agencies”) once told me the trick to a successful job interview. He said, “you have to establish two things – that you can do the job, and that you want the job. The second is more important, because all of the finalists can do it – they’ve been vetted – but only one wants it the most, and that’s who’s getting hired, since he’ll be the most appreciative and hardest working. So once you’ve established you can do it and you want it, shut up and walk away.”

That was good advice, and captures in a nutshell what’s doomed about thatinterview: You can’t do it and you don’t want it. That leaves you in a position where you have to lie, pretty much about everything, at least, everything that matters. 

What’s even weirder is that the employer probably already senses you can’t do it and don’t want it, so they’re lying, too. They’re probably figuring you’ll stay a year or two and do the minimum (which is enough for them to earn a profit billing for your labor), so, comme on dit,whatevs. 

Thatinterview is different from other interviews because the real task is pulling off one big trick – proving you can lie about essentially everything. 

If you can pull that off, you might get the job, and then, if you can’t hack it at the new firm, they’ll fire you or you can quit. The most likely outcome, if you do lie your way in, is that (as your employer probably already expects) you’ll last a year or so, and then one way or another, fall by the wayside. And let’s be honest, making a few more loan payments is nothing to sniff at, even if it entails a few more months of life spent in misery.

The question is whether the alternative – leaving law and getting stuck without a salary big enough to cover loan payments and your current lifestyle – is feasible. The truth is, it might have to be, because there’s a point where somebody has to blink, somebody has to stop lying, at very least, to himself.

Thatinterview is a reflection of a larger phenomenon: The speeding train you boarded when you took the LSAT has finally run out of track. 

You can pretend the tracks are still there and keep chugging along in the same direction, and go on thatinterview. 

But if thatinterview goes off the rails, there will be no more avoiding a new reality, which is that something has changed, irrevocably. 

You can no longer rely on clear, simple answers that happen to be wrong.


This piece is part of a series of columns presented by The People’s Therapist in cooperation with My thanks to ATL for their help with the creation of this series.

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Please check out The People’s Therapist’s legendary best-seller about the sad state of the legal profession: Way Worse Than Being a Dentist: The Lawyer’s Quest for Meaning

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And now there’s a new Sequel: Still Way Worse Than Being a Dentist: (The Sequel)

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My first book is an unusual (and useful) introduction to the concepts underlying psychotherapy:Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy

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I’ve also written a comic novel about a psychotherapist who falls in love with a blue alien from outer space. I guarantee pure reading pleasure: Bad Therapist: A Romance