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We have all been guilty of it: blurring the lines between reality and fiction. Most of us contribute by forwarding a questionable e-mail. Perhaps we have forwarded that mile-long e-mail that takes 10 minutes to scroll to the bottom, only to laugh at some soon-to-be-unemployed associate who accidentally hit “Reply To All” and sent his uncensored complaints to the entire law firm. Almost all of us are guilty of visiting the Greedy Associates Web site to revel in stories about purported associate abuse. Some of us have even contributed to blog gossip relating to law firm life. We spend a lot of time in this electronic community, but do we ever stop to think whether this community is real or fictitious? One Harvard Law blogger had everyone fooled. Twenty-five-year-old Jeremy Blachman anonymously detailed on the Web an imaginary life as a spiritless, depressed partner in a large law firm. The New York Times intimates that Blachman “chronicles the soulless, billable-hours-obsessed partners, the overworked BlackBerry-dependent associates and the wrecked families that are the dark underside of life at [a] large firm in Los Angeles.” Blachman himself was surprised people believed and identified with his fictitious life because his stories were “so outlandish” and were only exaggerations of the “worst things [he] saw” when he was a summer associate. What made people believe Blachman’s fictitious blog? The answer is obvious: People wanted to believe it. Lawyers across the country must have been comforted by the revelation that their own lives were better than someone else’s. As musically described in the hit Broadway show “Avenue Q,” lawyers, like other people, suffer from (or thrive on) schadenfreude — making me feel good that I’m not you (enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others). Our own situation does not seem so dismal by comparison when another person has more egregious horror stories to relate. Yet Blachman’s description of law firm partners, the Greedy Associates Web site or even forwarded e-mails fail to depict an accurate description of the daily lives of lawyers. Much of the electronic world we now live in bears little resemblance to reality. Yes, the e-mails and blogs are momentarily entertaining. Group e-mails and bloggers can facilitate serious, intellectual debates with no page limits or censorship. No one doubts the benefits of lightning-speed, egalitarian communication. However, these electronic communities composed of people who participate, often anonymously and from anywhere in the world, can revolve around griping sessions and hyperboles. Griping sessions only reinforce negativity that is all too pervasive in the legal profession. Anonymity encourages personal anecdotes that are, more often than not, exaggerated or even sometimes outright lies. To make matters worse, Blachman secured a book deal — his stated goal from the outset — which indicates that we are willing not only to participate in fictitious communities, but also to spend time reading about them. To be sure, the self-help books that preach the power of positive thinking appear to have missed the bookshelves of most lawyers. The truth is that lawyers, for the most part, can be instinctively cynical and may tend to revel in other people’s miserable experiences. Such a mind-set breeds negative feelings which can only multiply when we are surrounded by exaggerated descriptions and images that do not reflect our reality. For example, television and Hollywood overglamorize the legal profession. “L.A. Law” and “The Practice” mislead the public into thinking that many lawyers lead exciting lives on a daily basis. Law school applications skyrocketed during “L.A. Law” ‘s success due to the public’s false perception of the daily life of a lawyer. Even so-called reality TV, with its staged events, further blurs the line between reality and fiction. The more we blur the lines between reality and fiction in our profession, the more we generate negative feelings about our profession and ourselves. When we compare our lives to false images portrayed on television or on the Web, we fail to confront the reality of our everyday lives. Associates in law firms do mundane work, just as professionals do in every field. But associates can also have exciting days: when motions are granted, transactions close and pro bono clients are vindicated. The readers of Blachman’s blog may not have stopped to realize that the law firm culture reflected on Blachman’s Web pages is even farther removed from the realities of today’s law firm. With the help of the dot-com era and relaxed Silicon Valley attitudes, greater opportunities have been created for lawyers outside of traditional law firm circles. Younger associates are perceived to be less willing to disrupt the balance of their personal and professional lives and to be less motivated by the lure of partnership in law firms. A National Law Journal article, “The ‘Gen Y’ Equation,” even suggested that managing partners must rethink motivational strategies to capture the attention of young associates. So before you forward that e-mail or respond to the depressed partner in the blogosphere, ask yourself if you think you’re actually reading the truth. You might be better served if you participate in a community that more accurately reflects your own. Natasha Kohne is an associate in the New York office of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld. She can be reached at [email protected]

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