So, this is my life.

And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I'm still trying to figure out how that could be.

Thursday, May 19, 2011


1. the act or process of speaking or expressing in words

by virtue of its location, the new cafe that i recently helped to open is frequented by lawyers and legal-job-workers all day, every day. our customers are generally very nice and eager to become friends with us, whether by adding us on the Facebooks or by coming in just to say hello and staying far too long just to chat.  

after fewer than two months, we've already gotten to know a majority of customers' names and their professions (so i'm not guessing when i mention that almost everyone in the building works at a law firm).  i hate to stereotype (no, i don't), but our nicest customers tend to be assistants or paralegals: they love us, frankly, and they want to get to know us and spend time chatting with us -- maybe, in small part, because they're down-to-earth "people-people" to begin with and that's why they have their jobs.  

on the second tier of the great-to-horrible customer ranking system (CRS) that i just invented are the paralegals, office managers and young attorneys (with some of whom i even went to law school): they're not prone to lingering and getting to know us personally, but they're very kind and allow us to get to know them, as they love to talk about themselves.  incidentally, these customers are fun and are often hung over, which necessitates their needing a bagel and segues into their telling us about their crazy night/weekend/bender/date. 

finally, there are the horrible customers, though every tier has its exceptions, and this tier is populated overwhelmingly by lawyers: they don't have time to chat, and even if they have time to stand around and wait, they focus on either their Blackberries and/or the daily newspaper.  they often don't hear us ask how they are today, and if they do, they ask us in return but never, ever wait for the answer ("Good, thanks, how are you?JUSTATALLLATTETODAY.")  they may tip better than other customers, but the interaction with these customers is strictly business and leaves something to be desired after seeing the same person twice a day for two months.  

in sum, most of our customers are fantastic; however, when the occasional rude, hurried, socially retarded man or woman comes in, ignoring other customers and focused on only one specific goal, i often think to myself, "Typical lawyer."

my experience with this clientele is affirming a decision about my self and my future that i made a few months ago.  today i was forced to articulate my decision in front of two lawyers, thanks to a co-worker who put me on blast.

coworker: [turning the conversation to me while speaking with two of the friendlier lawyer customers, both middle-aged, about their weekends ahead, which would inevitably be spent working] Matthew, when you were a lawyer, did you work many weekends?
me: [giving death glare to coworker] Yeah, almost every weekend.
lawyer 1: You're a lawyer? [visibly confused as to why a lawyer serves him coffee.]
lawyer 2: Do you have your JD?
me: I was a lawyer. I practiced for the last three years.
l2: You're still a lawyer.

[at this point, we all figured out that l1 and l2 are also alumni of my law-ma mater.]

l1: So what happened? You having trouble finding work in this shitty economy?
me: No, I was actually one of the lucky ones.  I quit my firm recently.
21: Why? You didn't like the work?
me: I liked the work, actually, most of the time.  I didn't like the people, though.
l1: You didn't like the lawyers you worked for? Where'd you work?
me: I didn't really like the lawyers at my firm or any of the lawyers I opposed.  I think a lot of lawyers are miserable and are genuinely bad people, and I didn't like working with them. [in retrospect, i regret saying that last sentence to a lawyer who is a good tipper and isn't as horrible as most lawyer customers, but i'll get to that in a minute.]

[l1 laughed, then wanted to know where i worked, maybe it was just that firm.]

me: No, it was me.  I just wasn't happy in that environment, and I worked at two firms.  On top of that, I didn't see any other happy lawyers around me.  Every older lawyer I knew was unhappy and unhealthy and their personal lives were messes.  I had no examples of happy lawyers, so the future looked grim.
l1: I'm a happy lawyer.
me: Well, you're one of the few I've met.
l1: [appearing to be ready to back away slowly] Wow --- a disaffected lawyer.  I had no idea. Eh-- you'll go back to law at some point.

that was the end of our conversation.  

in retrospect, i wish that i had better and more simply articulated my unhappiness with the work environment and the spirit of the career, rather than admitting that i didn't like most of the lawyers i encountered along the way.  the "genuinely bad people" comment, while my opinion of a number of lawyers, was also unnecessary.  all i needed to say was, "I wasn't happy."  all that mattered was, i wasn't happy.  


Piney said...

Sounds like a crappy day. Feel better soon Matthew. I'm sure things'll pick up for ya.

Colleen said...

This post reminds me of the old adage I came up with on the spot: the happiest lawyers seem to be the ones who don't get paid to work, and by that I mean people who aren't working as lawyers or people who are working in public interest.

I didn't know you opened a cafe! Next time I'm in Philly I have to check it out. Do you have free WiFi?

I often regret conversations, but I usually wish I had said more. You're very articulate, M, and you said what felt right in the moment.