The Beginning of Chapter One:
To begin, we should take a good, hard, sobering (ahem) look at the personality characteristics of litigators. Why do you hate working for lawyers? I will break it down for you.
Who Are Your Bosses?
Psychology Today weighed in on the subject and concluded that: “The ABA estimates that 15-20 percent of all U.S. lawyers suffer from alcoholism or substance abuse.” (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/therapy-matters/201105/the-depressed-lawyer). To put this number in perspective, consider that The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimates the rate of alcoholism among the general population as 7-10 percent.
The American Bar Association reports that “as many as one in five lawyers is a problem drinker – twice the national rate.” (http://www.americanbar.org/groups/lawyer_assistance/resources/alcohol_abuse_dependence.html)
As late as October 29, 2014, The International Journal of Law and Psychiatry study is still being quoted to measure rates of problem drinking as 18 percent for lawyers who have practiced anywhere from 2-20 years, and a whopping 25 percent for lawyers who have been working for 20 or more years. (http://www.chicagolawbulletin.com/Elements/pages/print.aspx?printpath=/Archives/2014/10/29/Alcoholism-Survey-10-29-14&classname=tera.gn3article).
Working for alcoholics can potentially make your work life completely toxic and dysfunctinal for obvious reasons, but consider this. What if being in an environment for years on end where the culture encourages and feeds toxicity starts to affect you? What you are exposed to on a daily basis becomes your normal sense of reality. Functioning among bosses who forget everything they ever told you and forget to tell you key pieces of information you need to know to do your job (but then punish you for not knowing what they forgot to tell you), will make you a nervous wreck or an alcoholic yourself. For a few years, I was probably both. I honestly did not realize how toxic my job was until I quit drinking myself. That subject is probably best reserved for another book entirely.
- Unhappiest Workers in America;
In that same Psychology Today article that is linked above, it is reported that a Johns Hopkins University Study found that lawyers have the highest rates of depression among more than 100 different occupations. Careerbliss.com routinely puts out a study about the happiest / unhappiest jobs in America and guess what tops the list for unhappiest? Associate Attorney! Also worth mentioning is the fact that Legal Assistant was closely followed as the Number 7 Unhappiest Job in America. In my mind, it should be ranked right behind Associate Attorney. (http://www.careerbliss.com/facts-and-figures/careerbliss-happiest-and-unhappiest-jobs-in-america-2013/). For more commentary on the unhappiest jobs in America please read: http://abovethelaw.com/2013/03/unhappiest-job-in-america-take-a-guess/
There are plenty of attorney jokes. The hard data to back it up might be found in Bob Sutton’s The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t. It will come as no surprise to anyone in the field that the legal field is an occupation that is rife with over-bearing assholes who engage in constant psychological abuse towards their staff members and co-workers. They may do it by assigning demeaning, meaningless “emergency” tasks that chip away at your spirit little by little, or they may do it in obvious ways such as barking at you like a dog in front of their clients for you to fetch things.
Kevin Dutton’s The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies and Serial Killers can Teach us About Success, lists lawyers as second on the list of occupations that attract the most psychopaths. That is completely believable and certainly comes as no surprise to me. As an employee, the factors that you should be the most concerned about are detachment and lack of empathy. What do you think it will do to you on a daily basis to interact with someone who fails to exhibit human emotions and normal characteristics? I promise you the result is not going to make your life better.
Now you at least know who you will be working for. But what does it really mean? Name calling is great, but what exactly are all these alcoholic, depressed and unhappy, asshole psychopaths going to do to you to make your sheer existence a living nightmare? Let me count the ways.
Why/How the Work Itself is Toxic
Here are my best explanations for how the law firm turns into a practical nightmare for the paralegal.
- Your Work Isn’t Meaningful;
There are so many studies that support the idea that most workers just want the chance to be engaged in something that matters. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/on-leadership/how-to-completely-utterly-destroy-an-employees-work-life/2012/03/05/gIQAxU3iuR_story.html). Paralegals certainly fit this characteristic. You start out all bright-eyed and optimistic at the law firm, thinking that you are going to do good work and make a valuable contribution. You might work like a dog to get a case shaped up and actually achieve that goal of making a valuable contribution. Then, the partners will do one of the most demoralizing things that they can do to a paralegal, which is arbitrarily reassign teams and you will watch as your work disappears to another team, and the lazy paralegal who inherits all the work and research you did will get the credit for your hard work and contribution. Your reward is that you get to keep your job and do it all over again from scratch. Congratulations on your hard work and effort. No one cares what you did, what you are doing, and what you are going to do. Just shut up and keep the seat warm.
What are you waiting for?! Go buy the book!