Dear Mr. Schaeffer:
I’m a third-year associate in a firm of 2,500 lawyers. Each day I leave for work at 6:00 a.m. and drive about forty-five minutes to get to the office. As I’m driving, my mind begins to wander. I think about the court deadlines I’ve missed, the document productions that are overdue, the phone calls I haven’t returned. I get so caught up in my worry and despair that when I get to work, I have no idea how I arrived. And that’s my problem: it’s as if I’ve completely blacked out.
This has been happening for more than a month. Two weeks ago, in a neighborhood I pass each morning on my way to work, a woman was murdered in her home. A week ago, it happened again in a different neighborhood I pass each morning. Since I live in a crime-ridden city, I thought nothing of these murders. But this morning as I was signing onto Westlaw at 7:00 a.m. in the firm’s law library, another associate pointed out that I had blood all over my shirt.
I looked down. She was right. It took me nearly an hour in the bathroom to return my starched white shirt to its previous luster. Later in the day, I heard the news that another body had been found along my route.
Even as I type this letter, my hands are shaking. My God, Mr. Schaeffer, do you think I could be the murderer?
Signed, Frazzled in Phoenix
Lawyers have faults more numerous than our nation has federal judges. Even so, very few lawyers are murderers. Please try to calm down. If you don’t, you’ll soon have yourself so worked up over nothing that you’ll drive to the police station and confess to the murders. The desk sergeant will quickly conclude that you’re too much of a pansy to have committed murder. Once he learns that you’re a lawyer, however, he’ll arrest you anyway on the theory that you’ve probably got a number of other heinous crimes under your belt. And he’ll probably be right.
I would suggest, in fact, that this is precisely your problem. The guilt you feel as an associate in a large law firm is being projected onto a series of murders for which you are completely innocent. What guilt, you ask? I spotted it immediately when you wrote in your letter about “document productions.” It’s the guilt you feel obeying your ethical obligation to turn over damaging documents to your opposing counsel even though your clients insist time and time again that they just won’t do it.
Let me set your mind at ease. If the other side has requested the documents and they’re not privileged, then you’ve got to turn them over. It’s as simple as that. Sure, your clients will yell and scream and call you an idiot, but that doesn’t make you a murderer. Part of your job as a young associate is persuading your clients to play by the rules. Otherwise, you’ll all end up in jail, with or without any dead bodies bearing your fingerprints.
What about the blood on your shirt? It’s reasonable to conclude that if you’ve been failing to concentrate when you drive, you’ve also been failing to concentrate when you shave. You must have nicked yourself and bled on your shirt. From now on, use soap underneath the shaving cream, keep a tight grip on your razor, and change your blades at least once a week. Finally, try to get more sleep.
Your friend, Evan Schaeffer
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