Wake up in the morning feeling the anxiety of the unknown. Lie in your bed, a too-short twin from your husband’s grandmother’s apartment from when she died of a heart attack during your third year of law school. Let your husband sleep a little while longer. Other than your anxious dreams, sleep is the one reprieve that you always look forward to. Let your husband appreciate another few moments of unconsciousness so that he won’t wake up to a world where your unemployment and debt make you a burden.
You will never know what exactly you’re going to do at the beginning of the day unless your side-job starts in the dark of the morning, in which case you might be bussing tables during the breakfast rush at the local diner or staggering off to a doc review gig in a windowless basement. If you work at the diner, you will hide from all of your co-workers any details from the last four years of your life. This is important, otherwise the mark of shame—your law degree—will cause everyone to question your place in the world. You will become a suspect—Did you get disbarred? Did you even pass the bar? Are you just dumb?—and you may get fired for being someone other than who they thought you were.
If you head off to a doc review gig, stop by the Starbucks for your fuel. You will point and click for eight or ten hours straight while a taskmaster monitors the speed of your progress. At least the stomach-churning 24-ounce coffee will provide you with a good excuse for a bathroom run. You will have to run.
Debt collectors will call. Let the programmed message go to your voice mail. Fill out your deferment forms, as you do every six months, and watch your debt continue to increase like one of those national debt counters you see in Times Square. Think back to your signing of these rather simple forms four years earlier. Think about how everyone else did the same thing—singing documents for impossibly huge amounts of money that they will never earn—and think about your naïve assumption that the government would only make it so simple to do such a crazy thing without any hurdles whatsoever because there was a realistic probability that you would pay it back. Think back to your financial aid officers telling you that it is not a matter of if you can pay it back, it is a matter of when. Will you pay it off quickly with your six-figure law firm gig? Or will you have the slate cleared when you become a star prosecutor and spend ten years locking up the bad guys and receiving the gift of government forgiveness?
When you finish your side gig, don’t rest. Come home and sit in a room by yourself. No, this is not rest. Think about a way out. Think. Think. You know that a ten-dollar-an-hour job 40-hours a week will do nothing but trigger your full student loan payments, and it will cause the state to drop you from Medicaid. Well, maybe you don’t need to take your medication. After all, you have been told the truth about death. You know that death is the only way out of this life sentence. But you know that your husband would find a way to summon you back from the dead and beat your ass for leaving him alone to face all of this—so death is not a real option.
Find jobs on the internet. Read the crime blotter. Feel free to laugh at the story about the police busting into a card came where four men in their 70s were smoking crack and one guy told the cops, “I’m just playin’ Gin Rummy!” It will be the most entertaining part of your day. Find people in the white pages, send out some advertisements that no one will ever respond to. You may receive an angry call from an old person wondering why “your office” sent an advertisement for domestic abuse defense to his “personal property.” Calm him down, use the matter-of-fact tone you use to tell people to pay you money, tell him it was sent by mistake and that the mail must have been sent to the wrong Daniel Torres. In the future, make sure to only read the blotters with street names or approximate addresses. Search out these addresses on Google Earth to see if these people live in the projects or if they seem to rent or own a Condo, Co-Op, or town house. The browstoners never call—they only hire the most expensive lawyers with skyscraper offices.
After wasting an hour that you don’t have, apply to more jobs. Even though you have been so ineffective at getting work that you don’t even receive rejection letters, keep sending applications and resumes into the black hole of cyberspace. Dutifully send them out each week the way some poor people compulsively buy scratch-off tickets with the last few dollars in their pocket. On occasion, you may get a perfunctory screening interview, as these agencies usually hire internally and put on show interviews. You might even try to volunteer from some of these agencies only to be rejected from volunteering.
Post a website, advertise yourself as a solo practitioner, pretend you are something of value. Then take it down. You might realize that you only ever represented someone as second chair during an internship. You might realize that you have never taken a case from initial consultation to final resolution. What if you lose? What if a client accuses you of malpractice? What if you make a mistake? If this happens, remember the overweight boomer lawyers that you have seen at the calendar calls. You cannot be a bigger buffoon than most of them. Remember too that anyone hiring a 29-year-old solo practitioner knows that they are saving themselves some money by hiring someone with less (or no) experience.
After you put the website back online, you’ll get the occasional caller. You will get the hagglers who sound pissed off that they do not qualify for Legal Aid. You will spend time counseling them at first, but learn from this. Learn to hang up on people. Later in the evening, you will get the drunk person with an unwinnable case or with charges pending in a county six hours away. Make up an astronomical price. This person may try to keep talking to you and to tell you about how his sex offense has caused his girlfriend to break up with him as if you are supposed to care. He may try to tell you that his parole was revoked even though he did not violate it—“the drug test was broken!” Tell him that you cannot understand him because he is slurring his words. Hang up.
Try a lead generation service. The salesmen will tell you about the dozens of potential clients that you will receive. Although you are not stupid, you will try anything at this point because, at this point, you will probably only have grocery money for another two weeks. Hang up on all of the salesmen trying to get you to sign contracts. Find a company that charges $50 per lead and requires no commitment. Start receiving a lead a day. Realize quickly that all of them lead to dead ends because the people that give out their phone numbers or addresses to random webpage forms are usually ignorant and broke. Learn from this. Cancel the service.
Finally, you will receive a real call from a real client who is employed. As farfetched as it sounds, lighting sometimes strikes. Take it. Stand tall and proud. Attract all of the electricity in the sky and channel it.
Show up to the calendar call. When the client tries to pay you only part of the flat fee, threaten to walk. Make up something about having very little time and other cases to attend to. Tell him to find some pliers and to pull the gold caps off of his teeth and to sell them down the street at the Cash for Gold place. Of course, he will come up with the rest of the money in the five minutes prior to you signing in for the calendar call.
Do not be afraid of standing before the judge with your client. You must trick these people. You must look confident so that the judge merely thinks that you are a talented criminal attorney working on misdemeanors for one of the small criminal defense firms that boomer ex-prosecutors started in the previous decades. Whatever you do, hide the fact that you really are just some random 29-year-old with no idea about most of what is going on. Nod your head when the judge talks to the prosecutor about unfamiliar motions or procedural stuff.
The $3,000 that the client gave you in a white envelop will be the highlight of your week. The fact that the government cannot garnish this cash will make this food and rent money extra sweet. Fan yourself with the money if you want to. Feel the security for a moment, knowing that you will not be homeless for at least another month.
When you find yourself alone before another free consultation, trying to hold you nose from the thick smell of the courthouse bathroom, look at yourself. Adjust your Hugo Boss suit, which you got for 60% off at the outlet mall, and see that your charming youth is starting to fade. You probably will be dropping weight. Your husband may be nagging you again about the pounds that seem to melt off during the running around to various courthouses. You may drop down to 119 pounds. If you are not completely alone, your loved ones will force you to get a blood test from the doctor. The doctor will tell you that your 20-pound weight loss for a five foot ten inch male is still within the acceptable range, and it is not caused by any illness or medical condition.
When you look in the mirror, do not think about your husband trying to force feed you. Do not look at how your suit is starting to hang off of your increasingly skeletal figure. Do not think about how you simply forget to eat until dinner each day because you literally move non-stop between attempts at clients and meetings at courts and Starbucks for coffee-fueled legal research to understand motions that you’ve never written before. When you think about gaining weight, you may draw comparisons between the gunner in your first year law school section who was 50 pounds overweight even though he chain-smoked during the breaks and the Skadden Arps associate who was your adversary in some personal injury case where you were paid $125 to show up and set a hearing date. The Skadden fatty will have been easily 100 pounds overweight. Six figures must buy a lot of food. At the very least, it buys time.
Do not think about the way you look, the veins popping beneath your arms like a drug addict’s. Wait for everyone to leave the restroom so that you can make eye contact with yourself in the mirror. Start to talk to yourself the way actors portray go-getters in movies. Think of Kevin Spacey portraying Jack Abramoff at the beginning of Casino Jack. Think of E. Lee Ermey as the drill sergeant at the beginning of Full Metal Jacket. You will get that client to sign a retainer agreement! Sir, yes sir!
You may consider seeing a psychologist to get some kind of happy pills with the added benefit of having severe side effects—especially weight gain. Fortunately, this thought will pass. Your insurance won’t cover such frivolousness, and the medication’s side effects—impotence—would interfere with one of the few pleasures after coming home from pin-balling between courts and cheap clients.
You husband may complain about you spending the few free minutes at the end of the day on your computer, spending an hour or two researching and writing an article for a scamblog. Tell him that it is important. Tell him that you have dissuaded a handful of people from attending law school after they emailed you about which school to attend. Point out that he spends the same amount of time on facebook bullshit. It will shut him up.
Write more articles online. If you receive personal criticism or you fail to inspire actual discussion, don’t sweat it. People are mad. You are mad. You can relate. Even if they are mad at you, it is better for them to have somewhere to vent. It is better than you having nowhere to go.
Of course, you won’t actually be going anywhere. Sometimes, you will see a few promising rabble-rousers suggest actual protests. Warning labels. Shanty-towns. Independent surveys of graduates a few years out of school to show how bullshit the nine-month employment statistics really are. Don’t get excited. No one will follow through. No one will break his or her anonymity. You will never meet any of these people. You will never even talk to them on the phone. Most of them live double lives, perhaps raising families and working corporate jobs. Most of them want no one to know their dirty secret—that they write for a scamblog.
Let’s face it: you may use an abbreviated name to sign your writing and to keep clients away from knowing about the hardships that you protest against. Clients want to think that they have an expert. When they pay thousands of dollars, they want the illusion of being a high roller. Some will admire that you have accelerated so fast and that your talent is so great that you have your own law firm at a relatively young age! You want them to think this way. You need them to think this way. If they don’t believe, they don’t pay. Don’t ever lie to them, but they will never ask you a direct question about your past, so don’t feel the need to offer anything except the one clause in your retainer agreement that states that the client is aware of counsel’s prior experience and good standing in the state bar.
You will come home to some of the few pleasures of life. Sex and money. Not the kind of get-out-of-debt money that you need, but food, clothing, and shelter money. Your husband will play hard and fast with you because he wants to move on and to count through the wads of various bills and to find out if a client gypped out on $20 bucks here or $8 there. Your husband will ask you why someone would gyp out on $8 from a $2,000 payment. Who the hell knows? Most of these people are not smart…
You will spend your increasingly small amount of free time—outside of writing about the bar association cartels, the scam deans, and the corrupt judges who want to cling to the bench into their 80s—teaching yourself to do your...job? Other than your side gigs, do you have a job? You will not have the first idea of what your motions are supposed to look like, how long they should be, and how you should frame your best arguments. Don’t worry, you will learn quickly. When you see how a judge will sit on the bench and skim through your 16-page Motion to Dismiss, you will know never to exceed 8 pages unless you have a class C felony or greater. You will learn to stop judges before rulings and to recite a one-liner about the facts of a binding appellate case—this is the only way to not have them treat you like an annoying bug. So you will have to research every night, even if you have only one case, to understand what you’re doing the next day.
Around midnight, you will still be awake in the dark of your studio apartment, your eyes straining to read case law in the glow of the computer screen. Before going to bed, you might read the comments of your readers, your compatriots…your friends? You will try to lie down and spoon the love of your life to rid yourself of the insomnia caused by total exhaustion. You will want to protect him, to provide a future, to at least be useful. If you actually fall asleep because your mind is finally as exhausted as your body, you will dread waking up the next day and not knowing how much more time you can buy.