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Time, Place, and Manner

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Anger Management

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It’s been said that when you’re young, you get sad, and when you’re sad, you get high. When you work in law, you’ll get angry, and when you get angry you often quit, or punch someone out, and when this happens, you get destitute. Which isn’t any fun. This is a little riff on how to avoid that – how to channel anger to your benefit.


Too many associates wear depression on their sleeves. They walk around with their shoulders slumped, frowning, staring at the carpet – the telltale signs of a problem down the road. A problem worth abusing, exploiting… terminating.

Lawyers operate like school yard bullies. They only pick on the weak. Look like you’re beaten, act like you're beaten and, well, you’ll get beaten. The only way to succeed in a job you loath is to make a sport of hating it – to turn your work into performance art.

That’s vague, I know. Let me explain.

Most people internalize their frustration. They sit at their desks, stoic, polite, believing quiet resilience will inevitably earn the brass ring. In a different time, yeah, I guess that worked. Not today. Not anymore. And sure as hell not in a law firm. If you’re not self-promoting, you might as well stay home. Even in the “United States of States of Amnesia,” where nobody remembers anything before their last text message, the average lawyer’s lack of attention span is amazing.*

The sorts of pathological Type A personalities who manage law firms run from project to project like rats from one dumpster to another. Most don’t have the time, interest, or inclination to separate the advertisers from the producers. To a mind that rarely considers anything beyond the satisfaction of its owner’s Id for more than thirty seconds, feigned dedication and actually giving a shit are indistinguishable. “Angry” is easily confused with “relentlessly driven.”

If you’re part of the minority of normal of people in your firm, early in your career, you’ll find yourself so irritated by the toil you’ll have to stop and take a deep breath a few times a day, check your pulse and get your head under control… Hold yourself from smashing your Blackberry, throwing binders into the hallway, or flinging your monitor through the window.

You think it’s the stress, but it’s not. You’re bored – incurably, desperately so. All that time spent sitting at a desk, researching, writing, going to court and bleating all those tedious, niggling arguments. You know it’s a horrid existence, if you can even call it that. But how else do you keep up the cash flow? You’re trapped. Cornered.

So how do you deal with that? There’s no way to contain the disgust. Nobody’s that good an actor.

The answer’s pretty simple. Embrace your inner maniac. Run with your anger… Let it out. Just be sure to transfer it as you do – to turn it to something productive, something self-promoting. Every time you’re about to flip out – when you find yourself an inch from telling the partner you work under to fuck himself with a live cattle prod, remember these three little words: Change the Target.

Find a way to couch your eruption in terms of frustration with an opponent, as though you’re hyper-committed to the job. If you’re stalking the hallway cursing under your breath, slamming a phone receiver off your desk, kicking a filing cabinet or cracking your keyboard over your knee in anger at having to write some mindless, dictionary-thick brief, throw a reference to your opposing counsel or the court into the accompanying tirade. Where you’d complain about your firm or your boss, make it about your adversary. Make it seem like you’re truly, deeply invested in the competition – that you live for the reindeer games.

It isn’t all that hard. Not much more than simple noun replacement:

What you’re saying: “I’m going to kill [Insert opponent]. What kind of evil prick files a thirty page motion against me on a Friday at 3:00? Can you believe that shit?”

What you’re thinking: “Thanks, [Insert partner], for shoving more shit on my plate at the last second, like my life was as vacant as yours. Like I was some middle aged, twice divorced slob with nothing better to do than sit in the office, plugging out billable time answering procedural horseshit over the weekend.”

What you’re saying: “This judge has to be the stupidest son of a bitch I’ve ever had a case in front of. You couldn’t drive a jackhammer through his skull.”

What you’re thinking: “Great case, [Insert partner]. How desperate were you for short term cash when you took on this Titanic? Scrambling to make a tuition payment? Or is this for that new kitchen you couldn’t tell the wife you can’t afford?”

What you’re saying: “These appellate rules are goddamned impossible! Could they make this process any more of a fucking nightmare?”

What you’re thinking: “Can I tell you how thrilled I am you lost this case, [Insert partner]? Nothing makes me feel more alive and essential in this world than working on an appellate brief. Checking dozens of cites, spacing and page numbering to ensure compliance with a pile of arcane strictures, all to fix your fuck-up. And you want to talk strategy with me? Like this is interesting? You see this three page table of contents? These reams of rules about fonts, and the specific size of margins? If I ever found this engaging, even remotely, I’d stick a gun in my mouth. On principle.”

Sounds ridiculous, but it works. Some will suspect you’re full of shit, but most will assume you’re “intense” –  just like any of the thousands of prima donna partners running around firms behaving like spoiled children every day.  The angrier or crazier you act, the harder they’ll think you’re working, the more you give a damn. People will say things like, “You’ve got tremendous work ethic,” “You care more than the others,” or my favorite: “You’re committed.” That last one fits best. Because if you’re the kind of person who can use this advice, and you stay in the legal business long enough, inevitably, you will be.

*Gore Vidal. ^

[Read more from The Philadelphia Lawyer]

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