Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
July 25, 2006
LAW: Anonymous Lawyer
I'm late to the party here, but I do try to make it a practice to actually read books that are sent to me before reviewing them, and this one actually only hits stores today. So let's talk about Jeremy Blachman's new novel Anonymous Lawyer, based on the (fiction) blog of the same name.
The premise is a look at the life (mostly the work life, as that's all there is) of a lawyer who is the hiring partner at a big LA firm but aches to be Chairman of the firm. The structure of the book is blog form - Anonymous Lawyer posts about his work on his blog, while exchanging emails with his readers and his niece, a Yale Law student. Eventually, as you would expect, the grim picture of his firm that emerges from his writing makes his blog a problem despite its putative anonymity. Consistent with some of the reactions Blachman (then a Harvard Law student who had only summered at a big firm) got, but undoubtedly exaggerated for dramatic effect, Anonymous Lawyer also receives a stream of emails from people at other firms who think he works there.
Now, I should preface my remarks on the "realism" of this book by saying that I probably know as little as it is possible to know about big-firm life after working for a (now very) big firm for ten years; I'm generally the kind of person who is the last to know everything at my firm, being engrossed in my cases, my efforts to stay ahead of the latest developments in the law, and my life outside the job (blog included). And of course, not all firms are alike, notwithstanding the general tendency of large for-profit organizations to have certain basic similarities, about which you need to keep a sense of humor. Still, you don't have to know that much about the big firms to recognize that, while Blachman has some of the mechanics of law firm life down, several of the incidents in the book have a "all the worst things at all the worst firms in one place at one time" feel to them, and the rest are just pure fantasy, and one filtered through the lens of someone who has never actually worked at a firm except as a summer associate.
On the other hand, one thing Blachman has caught on to, from his law school experience, is the same central insight that made Scott Turow's One-L work: that many of the pressures faced by big-firm lawyers, just as with law students, come from the internal, self-imposed desire to keep measuring yourself against other people, to the detriment of having perspective about your life and career. The people who are most miserable in law school and in the practice of law are often those who fall into this trap. The best advice you can give law students and lawyers alike is to make sure to have contact with people outside the law, and interests outside the law, to maintain that perspective. Of course, the characters in Blachman's novel who lack this perspective invariably face crises arising from that flaw.
As long as you're OK with the fact that the book is more of a broad farce than a deft satire, the first half of the book (which I suspect is truer to Blachman's blog) is very funny indeed, as Anonymous Lawyer's gleefully over-the-top misanthropy provides a steady stream of dark humor (such as when he decides to send a summer associate to Belize for no purpose, then calls and tells him that the - nonexistent - case he sent him there for settled). At the halfway point, however, one of the lawyers in the book has a sudden health crisis (I won't give away more), and the book turns away from the episodic humor and focuses on a more conventional effort at a plot, which unfortunately has a surplus of predictable plot twists as well as incidents that push the reader's suspension of disbelief beyond the breaking point. The second half of the book took me a lot longer to read, and while there were still a few grim amusements, it wasn't that much fun.
Anyway, I wish Blachman luck; he's obviously got a way with words and a dark sense of humor, and depending on your taste for that kind of humor, you may well enjoy "Anonymous Lawyer." For more, you can visit Blachman's parody site, "Anonymous Law Firm" here (some parts are actually closer to a dead-on parody of law firm websites than the book is). It's also complete with a bar exam card/taunt feature.
WARNING: Spoilers may follow in the comment section.