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“Keeping the Dream Alive” was the title of the Skyroom event at San Francisco, Calif.’s Hastings College of the Law, as well as the phrase of the day, on November 15 when, in the public interest, public interest lawyers talked to future public interest lawyers about how great it is to be public interest lawyers. The buzzing energy was not just jitters over the classes we were cutting, the memos we weren’t writing or the outlines we weren’t doing. The packed Skyroom was indicative of our shared purpose: to one day return to the Skyroom as a public interest attorney, to spread the good word, to keep the dream alive — or, at least to make sure that not everyone who went corporate killed the dream and packed it into their BMW glove compartment, stuffing it between the diamond they just bought for their mistress and the cocaine they just bought for themselves. Hey, if you can’t enjoy spending it . . . But “Keeping the Dream Alive” wasn’t some mere moosehorn-trumping liberal propaganda. The speakers were honest; like any career, public interest law carries with it certain aspects that aren’t so hot, i.e. the several tax brackets separating public interest lawyers from their corporate counterparts. Mulling over what would happen to my life if I were seduced by the Dark Side of the Force, I began envisioning the corporate law counterpart to “Keeping the Dream Alive.” First off, it would be called something entirely different — something far more suggestive of its lucrative nature: “Buying the Dream — and Keeping it Alive With the Life-Support Machine You Bought With Your Earnings From 2-4 p.m. Last Thursday,” for instance. Let’s make some comparisons. At Hastings’ “Keeping the Dream Alive” event, students flocked to the speaker who most interested them. By contrast, at “Buying the Dream,” corporate raiders would flock to kiss the ass which would be the most fruitful to a budding career of moolah-munching and power-playing. “Where should I brown my nose first? Hmm … his Armani costs more, but her firm provides free razor blades and mirrors…” Ah, the choices of law school in the free world. At “Keeping the Dream Alive,” one public interest lawyer told us how she meets fellow Hastings alums all the time, alums who aren’t smarter than her or better than her or even more important than her in the eyes of God — but they make about six times what she does. That was OK, she told us, because every day she goes to work believing in what she does, always wanting to do more of it. I doubt that at “Buying the Dream,” the same thoughts would be expressed. I doubt whether cool, killer corporate lawyers and other masters of the universe would speak of the enriching fulfillment and personal satisfaction their careers give them. Of course, we all play to our strengths — or buy them. Perhaps I should pause and give thanks. I owe something to my opulent brethren, reeking as they are of billable hours and powder-puff noses. Big firms are doling out the dough so frigging outlandishly to first-year associates, a.k.a. $125,000 gopher goons, that more and more lawyers seduced by the Dark Side are turning away from public interest jobs. Consequently, there is less and less competition for public interest jobs. Perhaps I shouldn’t give thanks, after all. I doubt that priests are thanking sinners for all the work they provide. One glaring question: Why do people spend their lives doing something that they don’t want to do? A legal career, unlike the last presidential election, is not a choice between two equally disgusting paths, both of which lead to years of therapy, confusion, angst, stress and acceptance of “the real world.” All of us at Hastings — and other law students out there — have pivotal choices before us. “Keeping the Dream Alive” made me think very carefully about whether public interest law or corporate law is what each is cracked up to be. Public interest law claims to offer justice and satisfaction; people don’t question those. Corporate law offers money; I question that. As many of us at Hastings did not come from money, some of us share this perspective; I was brought up by a single mom, and during our best year I think we made $35,000. That was plenty. It was enough for a mortgage, a neighborhood without too many killings and a dog not meant to scare the bejesus out of potential prowlers. So if I take that prosecutor’s job at $39,000 or so, I’ll be making more money my first year out than my mom did after many years. Plus, I’d be doing a job I like. There’s your American dream! Or I could make four times that salary by working for an uber-firm. Now big firms are maxing out at $160,000 (including bonus), leading me to ask my other glaring question: What is all that money for? My God, we could bomb Panama for a good two minutes with that money — not a speck of dust left. We could feed the starving children — all of them — long enough to allow Sally Struthers to film a new commercial. What the hell are you supposed to do with so much money? Sure, there are lots of pleasures out there with hefty price tags. A bed with satin sheets, a marble-sized diamond ring, a wife with a reconstructed, perky butt. (Remember, med schools have their Dark Side seductees too.) It’s not that I’m willfully or wholly ignorant of the pleasures of money. I’ve been around the rich. I’ve been in their homes, their beds. I’ve traveled with them, eaten their food, drunk their wine. I’ve seen their lives. It’s pretty. It’s nice. And they aren’t any more or less fulfilled than the middle class bozos who dream of being rich. I bartended in college. Bars are the assembly lines of alcohol consumption — a man for each job along the bar. One guy orders the liquor, another one stacks it, I served it, they drank it. A civilized cooperation towards liver-hardening. Some of the regular barflies didn’t have a roof; others had Rolexes. (Here’s one for you: “Rolexes” is in Hastings’ school computers’ spell-check dictionary.) And the barflies and the Rolex-wearing guys were equally miserable. The only difference was that some could afford top-shelf liquor. I don’t get it. I’m asking someone — anyone — to tell me what all that money is for. First-year corporate lawyers are pulling in six digits. It’s loads of fun. But truly, after that new equilibrium settles in, after the secretary knows how you like your coffee and when to remind you to remind her to order your wife some flowers on her birthday, what is it for? So I asked the future and current corporate law kids, and they told me this: “You make money, and you screw more.” Ah, of course. While I don’t have any sexually transmitted diseases named after me just yet (though Artman-Acquired Syndrome does have a catchy ring), I suspect mothers will be hiding their daughters from me even when I’m “only” grafting $39,000. “You make money, and you’re doing what you’re supposed to do.” Stop right there. Doing what you’re supposed to do means one thing to me: doing what you want to do. I’d rather the reader who would be happier sitting on the dock of the bay instead of feeding the poor just as soon not feed the poor. Really, if the Dark Side makes you happy, fly with it. It’s just that I rarely see that kind of passion or happiness about working for the Masters of the Universe. “You make money, and you live more.” Yeah, right. All those poor bastards, working 80 hours a week on cases they don’t believe in for clients they don’t like are living more than me. Money may open plenty of doors to expensive “living,” but it makes you ignore other doors for real living. People on their death beds, who say they’ve truly lived, don’t need a box of receipts and pay-stubs as back-up. Part of the reason firms pay so much is because the life of a corporate lawyer sucks. And they need to compensate you for that. It’s not just a matter of competition driving up salaries, or their paying you lots of money for working many hours. They’re paying you lots of money because you work too many hours. They’re paying you so much because most people would rather eat crow than grind out 80 hours a week. Torts tells us there’s a value for the loss of the enjoyability of human life. Maybe they pay so much so you can gain some pleasures to make up for the many more you sacrificed. If that be the case, it’s not just any pleasures you’re supposed to seek out to make up for all that drudgery. If you’re paid lots of money to make the work worth the sacrifice, you’re supposed to spend lots of money to enjoy yourself. On the other hand, if you enjoy yourself without spending heaps of money, then what do you need the killer job with the killer salary and therefore killer hours for? The real reason the Masters of the Universe spend their money on frivolous ostentations is that only by spending all that money do they create a need and purpose for it. And that need justifies you grinding out more and more billable hours for The Firm. In creating a purpose for your money, you create a purpose for your cruddy work. When people with huge-ass salaries say they need their leviathan wages for their monstrous lifestyle, they mistake cause for effect. They don’t need money to maintain their lifestyle; they need their lifestyle to maintain the frittering away of their money. Consumerism isn’t the lie that people need stuff to be happy. Consumerism is the lie that people need money to be happy. And here we have our other civilizational assembly line: the conspiracy of fortune-fiends. Uber-firms are an assembly line of money-makers, with a person for each job. Customer has money, and wants to make more by getting around the detour called The Law, so he gives money to The Firm. The Firm squeezes answers out of its Poor Bastards, its associates, sucking their time away and their minds dry, and to compensate, gives them a cut of Customer’s money. These Poor Bastards sacrificed much of their happiness in the process, so to compensate themselves, they take the money and spend it at Customer’s store. Customer is doing really well by this point, so he must have more legal problems, like proving his tires didn’t kill more Americans than David Koresh, so he goes back to The Firm. It all adds up to a civilizational conspiracy towards heart-hardening. I have a final proposal: People who make $39,000 a year are rich; it’s just that many don’t know it. Public interest lawyers can afford to eat any food they want whenever they want. They live in safe, comfortable homes and offer their kids an opportunity to go to college without getting up at 4 a.m. to work in the family bakery. They can travel, read, screw, and enjoy cheap drugs. They can go to the symphony or the redwoods. They can see the Giants once in a while, or the A’s all the time. There isn’t much that they want to do that they don’t. All this money makes corporate lawyers happier in the long run. But corporate lawyers aren’t any happier later than now — and they aren’t happy now, either. All this money gives lawyers autonomy and makes them free. But lawyers don’t live like they’re free. All this work and sacrifice will be worth it when they retire and live out their elder years. But lawyers don’t have particularly long life spans — and, with all those divorces, they usually aren’t enjoying those golden years with the love of their life. Am I wrong? Just tell me. Mitch Artman, a Hastings 1L, plans on beginning his own firm called “Anti-Shysters.” He likes law school because being around law students makes him remember to follow his dream. His e-mail address is [email protected]

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