I’ve watched The Firm several times, so of course I knew what to expect with working in a law firm.
Now, two months down the line, I can report back on which bits were right.
The part about the long hours is definitely correct: my husband picks me up from the station after 10pm without a word along the lines of “Where have you been?” or “Who is he?” (Of course, now I know how to do divorces, he’s got to watch his step. He has been warned.)
On the other hand, the part about being given a posh car (in the colour of your choice) is not. Dammit. Still driving the horrible little car with the weird double central-locking that won’t allow the doors to open when the engine is running. I am probably going to die in a vehicle fire.
You do get to go to meetings in nice places, though. I went to see some lawyers down in London – the biscuits were pretty good, and the coffee was real. On the other hand, travel was by train (I thought I’d got lucky with a first class ticket, only to discover that the train didn’t have any first class seats…) not business-class aeroplane, and there were no margaritas on the beach.
Law does have a pretty good standard of ‘strange’, I’m discovering. The guy who asks “Is what I just did a crime?” Answer: “Yes. Of course it is. It’s obvious. You don’t need a law qualification to figure that out. And you’re not asking out of academic curiosity, I’ll bet…” Or the guy that comes in with the legal document that says the exact opposite of what he thinks it does…
The most difficult thing for me, though, is telling people how much things cost. The client is charged over £100 an hour for my time, of which I get 25%. The problem is that much of the work is invisible: hours of research to figure out how to sort out a problem, which can culminate in quite a short letter. Or a lot of short telephone calls – it all adds up.
I know from experience that craft workers have the same problem: people consistently underestimate how long it takes to make an item. And, of course, whether you’re talking law or glass-blowing, there is the skill component. You wouldn’t be paying someone else to do the job if you could do it yourself – so you have to expect to pay that person according to the value of their skill. And if you don’t like it – well, go to law school yourself. It’s only £9000 a year… Glassblowing is probably a bit cheaper, but on the other hand the most common injury for lawyers is probably paper cuts. (At least unless you’re a partner in one of the big firms, in which case it’s back injuries from lifting your wallet).