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Time, Place, and Manner

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The Grasshopper's Contagion

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The grasshopper would look at her and laugh. “Why do you work so hard, dear ant”' he would say. “Come, rest awhile, listen to my song. Summer is here, the days are long and bright. Why waste the sunshine in labor and toil?”

- The Ant and the Grasshopper


I am a corrupting influence. In college I had a reputation for convincing the good, diligent students to skip class and drink instead. Most of the classes taught directly from PowerPoint slides; it’s not like we were missing anything. Contrary to what many may have thought of me though, there was no malice in my actions. I was trying to help. When I see an otherwise decent human committing the great sin of taking this life too seriously I feel compelled to act. We all know the type. This type is the first in the library and the last to leave. This is the type that takes diligent notes even when the professor says, “This won’t be on the exam.” The ones who always look exhausted despite the fact that they mainline caffeine and Adderall. These are the same people who, upon entering the workforce, will eat lunch at their desks; not because they’re afraid of being labeled lazy by management, but because they think not taking that hour off will give them a competitive edge. This is the type that’s always going 100mph. Giving it all they’ve got until one day they finally hit a wall. My goal was merely to teach them how and when to use the brakes.

That brings me to Chuck. Chuck was a 1L with me. He dug StarCraft. He listened to The Roots. He never missed a chance to ridicule stupidity. Chuck was an overall decent guy. Just one problem—Chuck was a gunner. He was no ordinary gunner either. He was the Iceman of gunners. His hand shooting into the air created a sonic boom that would deafen those seated adjacent to him. You see, Chuck went to law school because of Boston Legal. Well, he actually went to law school because his business degree was collecting dust on a shelf while he sold women’s shoes at a department store. Nonetheless, the fantasy that Boston Legal presented about the legal profession was a heavy influence on him.

He had delusions of being Denny Crane. He wanted the BigLaw fantasy. He wanted to litigate complex cases where everything was on the line. He wanted to make the big, provocative closing argument while an audience stared in awe of his verbal prowess. He wanted to retire to the balcony of his law firm at night to reflect on the day over a scotch and cigar.* He fell in love with the story of it all, the fantasy life, and became blind to reality. He worked hard 1L and eventually transferred to a top 15 school on the East Coast where he thought all of his fantasies would come true. He was crafting the one resume to rule them all; top school, top grades, internship at a top law firm, moot court medal, law review editor… activities ad nauseam. Only 24 hours in a day? Fuck that. Sleep and a social life are for wimps.

I tried explaining to him that getting into and succeeding in BigLaw weren’t that easy, especially these days. Maybe in Michigan his GPA would be enough, but he had his eyes set on Manhattan. White & Case or bust was his mantra. Nothing I said or did could sway him. One day, a month before finals, I received this text from him: You were right about everything. Teach me your ways. Turns out he hated his T15 law school because the people there weren’t actors. He admitted to me that his was an act. He was playing the part of the gunner because that’s what he thought he had to do. Only he got the sense that the other students weren’t pretending. They really were assholes. They behaved this way whether they were being watched or not. Had they always been this way, or was it a case of self-fulfilling prophecy where on a long enough time line acting like a Type A turns you into one? Either way, Chuck decided he wanted to stay away from those bastards for fear of turning into one.

Chuck was a sheltered guy, having grown up in the suburbs of South-East Michigan. And like so many suburbanites his worldview was influenced disproportionately by his television. The goal here wasn’t to turn him into a Mini-Me, but rather to replace the fantasies Boston Legal had sown into his mind with something real.

I began by sending him the Philadelphia Lawyer’s 2009 Commencement speech to gain some perspective. Chuck is a smart guy, but he was banking on the fallacy that book smarts alone would elevate him to the top. He was also an entrenched introvert. That was the big hurdle to overcome. I set him up with friends of mine in the DC and New York areas. This wasn’t about networking. This was about teaching him simple people skills. I wanted him around decent people who would call him out on his naïve, glass bubble bullshit and teach him how the real world works. I wanted him to learn all the things that can’t be picked up from a casebook, certain things that only experience can teach.

Ultimately, he needs to figure this out for himself. I, nor my friends, can impose our own world views onto him. He needs to give up the fantasies put into his head by Boston Legal and reflect. Reflect on what he wants from this life and reflect on the ways to achieve those things. Does he really want the Manhattan apartment or was he conditioned to want it? Is commercial litigation his passion, or would he be happier chasing ambulances? I can only give him the list of questions. He has to strip away all the stories that have influenced him and figure out the answers for himself.

Results are pending.

* Even though he neither drinks nor smokes. ^

[Read more from Shadow Hand]

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