The Life of an Economic Psychopath
How Old is 15?

Law, Image, and Entitlement

"The definition of a narcissist is one who creates an identity and prizes it above all other things." Defining one's self in light of one's job is symptomatic of narcissists, and is common in lawyers. As if italicizing one's profession were not enough ("I'm a lawyer"), lawyers must create a stronger bulwark by calling everyone else non-lawyers. You don't hear mechanics speak of non-mechanics, or engineers as non-engineers, or physicists as non-physicists. What a person does is not who a person is - at least if you have a healthy sense of self.

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The worst job a lawyer can have is that of a temporary lawyer. Unlike in other professions, a temporary lawyer is not someone who shows up to do work commensurate with his education. A temporary secretary, e.g., comes into an office to do secretarial work (perhaps while the regular secretary is out on sick leave). A contract lawyer, by contrast, does not do lawyerly work.

A contract lawyer is placed in a small room, huddled next to other lawyers.  There are often cockroaches running around the floor; there is rarely ventilation; and there is never autonomy or independent judgment.

Instead, contract lawyers stare at a computer monitor, reviewing documents to see whether the documents fall under attorney-client privilege.  A contract lawyer must go through 60-100 8.5x11" sheets each hour.  There is no room to think, since there is nothing to think about.  Whether or not a document is privileged is something a smart teenager could figure out simultaneously playing World of Warcraft and listening to an iPod.

After a year or so of contract lawyering, a lawyer is viewed as untouchable. Every heuristic and bias goes against contract lawyers.  "If no one else would hire you to do real legal work, why would I?"  Not every contract lawyer is hopeless.

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For one contract lawyer, there was an out. Guest-blogging at the always-depressing Temporary Attorney Blog, someone with few job options wrote:

A college friend of mine works for Cognizant, a mobile communications technology company. Upon hearing of my plight, he asked me to give him my resume so he could forward it to his friend in the legal department. I hesitatingly did so, knowing in my heart and mind that I would be quickly rejected and laughed at because of all the Contract Attorney experience listed on my resume. My prediction came true: my friend called me a few days after forwarding my resume and told me his friend in the legal department determined that I "didn't have the skill set" they needed. My friend pressed him to define exactly what he meant by "skill set," and he said the following (my friend actually took notes):

1) New York Law School is a joke, a farce. They don't even consider NYLS graduates for attorney positions.

He might be able to get me an interview for a paralegal position though, but it's a long shot. (Mr. Matasar. I AM A LICENSED ATTORNEY, NOT A PARALEGAL!! I SPENT OVER $140,000 TO OBTAIN MY J.D. FROM NYLS AND I'M ADMITTED TO PRACTICE IN TWO JURISDICTIONS!!)

The contract lawyer is desperate for money. Later in the post, he states that he's so desperate that he's going to default on his student loans. His identity is so tied up into his J.D. and bar passages that he'd rather be broke than suffer the destruction of that identity.

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The entitlement mentality of common of narcissism. He passed two bars (ALL CAPS! EXCLAMATION POINTS!). He's a lawyer. None of this matters to anyone but himself. No one owes him a job.

His entitlement attitude is self-destructive in another way. What if he took a job as a paralegal? Consider the possibilities for a minute.

A smart paralegal is usually asked, "Why aren't you a lawyer?" Often a paralegal is a lawyer - though perhaps not a member of the Bar. Some people do not want the stress of being a lawyer, and in California, anyway, a paralegal usually gets paid overtime.

A paralegal who can do lawyer-like legal work will soon find himself receiving more lawyer-like work. A paralegal who works and thinks like a lawyer - and who is also a licensed lawyer will - not long be working as a paralegal.

If this contract lawyer is as good as he thinks, then he will soon have a job doing real lawyering. Yet his fake image of himself as a lawyer will prevent him from ever becoming a real lawyer.

He is entitled to better. Because he is entitled to better, he will receive nothing.

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Many people wind up like the hapless loser contract lawyer. "I won't dare to that!" Well, why not? Because it's beneath you? If it really beneath you, or beneath the false identity you've created?

Interestingly, it's often the person with the strongest sense of self who will do the lowliest level work when it needs to be done. Of course it's economically inefficient for the CEO to take out the trash. Yet many empty trash cans when it needs done. There is no, "What has my identity become?!" narcissistic injury. A person with a strong sense of self is not defined by taking out the trash.

Will you do what you must do? That is good questions to ask ourselves each day. Often we have no good reason for why we won't. If the best answer is, ultimately, "Narcissism," then we're at least on our way to recovery.

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