Double Billing

Yunah Kim reviews 'Double Billing: A Young Lawyer's Tale Of Greed, Sex, Lies, And The Pursuit Of A Swivel Chair' by Cameron Stracher


Yunah Kim
January 16, 1999 1:00AM (UTC)

Despite this book's lurid title, the stories of an overworked lawyer are not really much more exciting than, well, stories of an overworked lawyer. Cameron Stracher's "Double Billing" soberly continues where Scott Turow's "One L" left off. But the grown-up concerns of a modern young lawyer are hardly the stuff of gripping drama. Getting called on in Contracts class can be tense; researching contract liability is considerably less so.

Based on his own experience and interviews with other associates in large firms, Stracher presents a composite portrait of a large New York law firm (all names have been changed to protect the guilty). His adventures at work include an excruciatingly detailed summary of "fraud on the market" theory underlying a securities case and a three-page description of near-catastrophe when his computer freezes before saving a document. As for the promised sex in the title, he delivers only an account of glimpsed groping between colleagues.

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On the other hand, reminiscences of pursuing a swivel chair will hold boundless allure to those aspiring to be overworked lawyers. Stracher gives the genuine Sisyphean flavor of his assignments, including the mindless clerical work he must perform as well as the gleeful abandon with which partners delegate endless and often pointless tasks in order to prepare for all contingencies. The basic coldness and hypocrisy of law-firm life are perfectly illustrated, from indifferent partners to the absolute necessity of face time (e.g., "His burning lights [left on after going home] were like the ski-lift tags kids wore on their winter coats so their classmates would know where they had been").

Law students may want to skip the passages critical of the law as a profession. Who wants to hear that you're just another great mind flocking to law school like a migratory bird blown from your true course by prevailing winds, namely, the promise of stratospheric salaries? Although it's hard to drum up sympathy for Stracher when he's making six figures, it's harder to deny that law school, as he writes, "has become the graduate school for the great unwashed, the final resting place for a plurality of college graduates without an employable degree."

Stracher's most incisive observations focus on the rigid hierarchy of gender and race within the plantation life of a law firm. Even in the age of supposed diversity, the elusive carrot of partnership is still largely reserved for white men. Similarly complected associates depend on a support staff of women and minorities from the outer boroughs. Nor do the firm's associates escape Stracher's scrutiny: His workaholic colleagues are mostly social misfits who share late dinners in a conference room almost every night.

Oddly, Stracher offers the reader no lesson drawn from his stint in golden handcuffs. He paints a harsh picture of his experience, yet is respectfully grateful to his firm for catapulting him into law nirvana -- an in-house position at CBS (where he will presumably have a crack at some really meaningful legal work). I guess if you get out alive, you can wear your years of law firm tenure as a Purple Heart.

In our generation, lawyers have multiplied faster than Tribbles. It doesn't mean their stories make fascinating reading for those who've successfully evaded their fate. Then again, the 40,000 new Tribbles graduating law school every year should find "Double Billing" more illuminating than any firm risumi.


Yunah Kim

Yunah Kim is a recovering attorney and freelance writer in New York.

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