WRITING SHORT: 15/50

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[Come summer heat, much of my blogging momentum melts away. Hence an experiment until Labor Day: fifty minimalist posts about whatever.]

Between the second and third years of law school, I was one of thirty-two summer clerks at a major Boston law firm. We were all sure what we did and said that summer would determine whether the firm made a job offer. Actually the firm had already decided. It took really bad behavior not to be hired. But we didn’t know that.

To ease our way through the summer, each clerk was assigned a mentor. Mine was a senior associate who’d been a published poet before becoming a lawyer. He didn’t hover. But he was always friendly, helpful and generous with his time when I came to him. One day, a partner made a light remark about one of my research papers as we passed in the hall. I went to my mentor: “Is this something I need to think about?” His reply: “Never don’t think.”

At first I assumed he was telling me how to succeed at the firm. Later I began to wonder whether this intelligent and widely read man had also been offering wisdom about how to live. Never not thinking is not the currently trendy “mindfulness.” It means always looking behind the obvious, the conventional, the clichés and soundbites offered by pundits, politicians, talking heads, even by ourselves to ourselves. It’s hard to do. You can quickly develop a headache just thinking about never not thinking. But if you don’t, aren’t you living a lie?

When I later came back to the firm as a first-year associate, I sought out my former mentor to explore this interesting proposition. He had become a partner. His secretary asked what it was about and said I could make an appointment, but he had a lot on his plate that week and probably wouldn’t have time for a while. I did run into him now and then at the Friday all-lawyer lunches. He would smile, offer a pleasant nod of recognition and move on. I was no longer his assignment.  Now that’s something to think about.

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9 thoughts on “WRITING SHORT: 15/50

    • The secretaries were always friendly to me because I was nice to them, unlike many of the other younger associates, who treated them as furniture, not people. This one was simply being realistic. Summer clerkships are the wooing period: The firm wants the clerk to accept its job offer if it’s made. But as you’re told the day you begin real employment, the only thing a law firm has to sell is time. Time is money. Every six minutes of time is billed, or should be. Every associate was (then) expected to bill (to clients) about 2000 hours a year. (Now I understand it’s more. Of course more wasn’t sneezed at then either.)

      So it wasn’t really a matter of what my former mentor cared to do; he did what he was supposed to do. Which was to be as nice as he could to me over the summer. But that was billed as a cost to the firm. When summer was over, so was his mentoring assignment. No more charging friendly chat to the firm. Back to business. Think about those 2000 billable hours. They exclude bathroom time, eating, department meetings, administrative tasks, continuing legal education, any personal phone calls, required legal reading not related to a case, writing for legal publications, trying to “build business.” They pretty much exclude life. But that’s part of the price of making partner. If you never don’t think, you soon realize that.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. It’s harsh when that happens, isn’t it? I experienced something similar when my contract with my writing mentor came to an end. More than that, I cannot say, except that it left a very bad taste.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Nina, a serious topic to think about. But, I came up with my favorite quote about thinking instead of delving into serious thought. ” Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try!” -Dr. Seuss. Have a great thoughtful week! Christine

    Liked by 2 people

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