Death comes to the BigLaw(yer)

My #coachnotcoach sent me a happy news article about a lawyer who loved his job so much that one morning when he got to work he blew his brains out. This is apparently common, as attorney jobs go. Many lawyers hate their fucking jobs so much that a bullet to the head is preferable to another day on the job.

Fortunately, I’m not one of them.

But the story behind the death of Gabe MacConaill, the LA BigLaw partner who shot himself, is instructive for a lot of reasons. Of course the primary victims in the story are MacConaill and his wife, Joanna Litt. I know firsthand that suicide wrecks more than the life of the person who is wheeled off in a gurney. If the person was close to you at all, his death is your fault, and you carry that around with you every single day for the rest of your life.

But the idea that MacConaill was somehow victimized by his firm is a false narrative, or at least a distorted one. MacConaill worked for Sidley Austin, a huge firm that, like all huge firms, thrives on the misery of its employees.

No one goes to work for BigLaw thinking that anyone there gives a melted plastic fuck about them. BigLaw, and you, are there for money and money alone. BigLaw doesn’t make the world better, people safer, or promote justice. It exists to fuck the faces of everyone and anyone who stands in the way of corporate profit.

I know plenty of BigLaw attorneys, and some of them are fantastic people, especially on the bike. But in the cubicle jungle of the skyscrapers they work in, they sweat blood in a competition-promotion hierarchy that eats the weak. Death, illness, addiction, divorce, insanity, and horrific personal misery are not simply risks of the trade, they are often its inevitable wages.

MacConaill, a partner at a monstrous firm, was ground up by a corporate Chapter 11 filing by the Mattress Firm; apparently he was the point guy on this very big case–“very big” meaning “lucrative for The Firm.” Such jobs are similar to working for the Mafia in this way: Everyone who belongs, knows they belong. No one is an “accidental” hit man or a “How’d I get this corner suite?” partner. Unlike the Mafia, though, with Biglaw you can always walk away. In theory …

Both MacConaill and his wife, a fellow lawyer, knew that they were sacrificing short-term happiness so that he could cash a partner’s paycheck that would, they hoped, some day lead to long-term happiness.

THIS IS HOW ALMOST EVERYONE IN THAT MEATGRINDER THINKS: I WILL BE MISERABLE TODAY SO THAT I CAN BUY HAPPINESS TOMORROW.

But it turns out you can’t, and it’s not simply because happiness isn’t for sale, it’s for a reason far more profound: Tomorrow isn’t for sale. The only thing for sale is today.

Ride yer fuggin’ bike

I continually run across people who have thrown away their lives cycling. Steve Tilford is the best example. He could have done anything and been anyone, but he chose to ride his bike because it brought him pleasure and because it allowed him to bring pleasure to those around him.

When his life ended, no one bemoaned the life he had chosen. No one regretted the piles of money he never made, the fancy cars he never drove, the luxurious vacations he never took. All they did was reflect on what a passionately good, honest, bike-loving, bike racing guy he was, and how he had spread that happiness in word and in deed.

There’s a moral there somewhere.

END

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12 thoughts on “Death comes to the BigLaw(yer)”

  1. As my friend Larry always says “No man (or wooman) ever said on their death bed ‘I shouldn’t have bought that bike'”. That extends to almost anything “I shouldn’t have done that ride”, “I shouldn’t have gone on that riding vacation” “I shouldn’t have backpacked the Eagle Cap Wilderness” “I should never have had kids”. Live to work, don’t work to live.

  2. This is a great, hard truth. One that I constantly battle back and forth on. Part of me thinks it is a luxury of “first world problems” to think this way and I think if you visit other highly competitive societies, it makes America look like a land of puppies.

    I could go on about the good and bad of it, but doesn’t The Matrix explain it all so much better? Red pill or Blue pill…
    Most are not ready to accept the hard truth, and are bought into it… or am I copping out and not keeping my eye on the ball? Work is all about “work now for your retirement”, isn’t it?

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