The author of The Anonymous Lawyer bills his weblog as “stories from the trenches, by a fictional hiring partner at a large law firm in a major city.” Regular readers know the "major city" is somewhere on the West Coast. They also know that the Anonymous Lawyer has an Anonymous Wife and one or more Anonymous Children. Although the Anonymous Lawyer sees his family from time to time, he probably doesn’t see them as often as he should.
The Anonymous Lawyer’s first post, dated March 18, 2004, contained this rather ordinary explanation for the creation of the weblog: “I spend enough time reading what other people are writing that I may as well start my own page.” Since then, the Anonymous Lawyer has been regularly posting missives from his “large law firm” in his “major city.”
Most often, the Anonymous Lawyer posts about summer associates, which makes sense. After all, the Anonymous Lawyer is a “hiring partner.” The posts, though entertaining, are sophisticated in their techniques. In most of the posts, an understated moral or message is generated by the friction created by two of the dueling personality traits (or flaws) that often surface in the musings of the Anonymous Lawyer. On the one hand, the Anonymous Lawyer betrays an attitude of superiority about being a big-firm partner. This superiority makes him alternatively worldly, world-weary, manipulative, sadistic, and matter-of-fact about partner-associate relations. On the other hand, the Anonymous Lawyer is subtly self-aware, so that each post carries an air of shame and embarrassment about being who he is and what he has become.
By deftly balancing these competing traits over a period of five months—a sign of a skilled writer, I think, since one or two false notes might have ruined the façade, to the extent it is a façade—the Anonymous Lawyer has been carrying on an interesting and sustained critique of big-firm life. Although the Anonymous Lawyer makes frequent use of irony, he never engages in outright comedy. Instead, he carefully walks the line between gentle satire and full-blown burlesque, leaving his readers to wonder how much of what he writes is real and how much isn’t.
Many readers append comments to the posts of the Anonymous Lawyer, and at least a few assume that each of the posts contains nothing but the gospel truth, as opposed to a sort of riff or improvisation on the truth. These are readers, I think, without a sense of irony. From wherever he writes, the author of The Anonymous Lawyer must be having a laugh at their expense. After all, he’s been careful—ever since an episode in the early days of the weblog when he admitted to making a lot of it up—to let his readers in on the joke. Now the confession is right there in the banner at the top of the weblog: “stories from the trenches, by a fictional hiring partner at a large law firm in a major city” (emphasis added).
The Anonymous Lawyer is fictional. What he writes is fiction. It says so right there on the weblog in black and white.
But is it all so clear? One might also argue that the tagline is cleverly ambiguous. What exactly is “fictional” about the weblog? Only that the Anonymous Lawyer is a “hiring partner”? Or that he’s a “partner”? But wait—if he’s a fictional partner, it might also follow that he’s also a fictional lawyer: not a lawyer at all.
But would a non-lawyer really be able to lampoon big-firm life so well? No lawyer really wants to believe he could be so transparent and easy to dissect by an outsider. But it explains a concern that runs through the posts from around the blawgosphere about The Anonymous Lawyer: How much is truth and how much is fiction?
One of the ironies of The Anonymous Lawyer is that even if the weblog is entirely fictional, it reads as if it might be true. In other words, the author of The Anonymous Lawyer has co-opted the techniques of fiction to make a larger point about the law. I don’t think that this denigrates the author’s message. After all, isn’t fiction a time-tested method of exploring issues, institutions, and modes of behavior such as the ones being explored by the author of The Anonymous Lawyer?
My only criticism of the weblog is that is has matured to the point that its author can now expand his range to include other issues of big-firm life besides partner-associate relationships and the toll working at a big firm takes on a lawyer’s personal life. The author of The Anonymous Lawyer has readers and a forum for his message: fictional or not, I’d like to hear about the political infighting between the partners, the pressures of competition from other big firms, the way that politically-imposed changes to the legal system might affect big-firm economics, and so on.
These, of course, are only a few examples. The themes and issues that The Anonymous Lawyer can tackle are as wide-ranging and expansive as its author’s imagination.
- In a much-linked-to post, the Anonymous Lawyer explains why big-firm life makes it hard to raise a family.
- The Anonymous Lawyer admits to having a crush on one of the firm's summer associates. “Obviously," he adds, "she’ll be getting an offer."
- The Anonymous Lawyer explains how the best and the brightest are tricked into selling their souls to the big firms.