Balancing the Bar

Happiness and the Practice of Law

Bankrupt Lawyers…is anyone surprised?

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Today’s New York times featured an article about a former Big Law partner who filed for bankruptcy.

The title says it all A lawyer, a partner and also Bankrupt.  For anyone who has been an attorney for any length of time and who as spent time in a firm environment this story is not that unusual.

Is it so hard to fathom that lawyers have financial issues just like the rest of the world.  Look at GM or any large corporate bankruptcy.  Bankruptcy is financial reorganization and sometimes it is the best way to put a failed marriage or law partnership behind you.  Lawyers are not immune from financial peril.

The dark underside of the “appearance of partnership” is something many of us know about.  It is often said that there are finders, grinders and minders.  Not all partners can find clients and some can’t interact well enough to maintain a client relationship they inherit.  So these attorneys are grinders.  These are the guys who do great work and have  value to a firm.  When there is a glut of business they stay busy and increase everyone’s bottom line.  The key is there must be enough work.  These guys are not generating clients so when the economy takes a nosedive they are left to pay for being a partner without generating fees.

The attorney in this article was a grinder and he suffered through the collapse of a firm and well an expensive divorce.  A double whammy.  The true reality is that many practitioners are in his shoes.  Big firms are full of grinders and when the economy contracts they are laid off or see their income fall.  It’s not easy to imagine yourself struggling financially even if you are a finder or minder.  Its tough out there.

Alas, the practice of law is not a gold mine.  Gone are the days where you go to a firm and become a little worker bee, make partner, and then retire at the mandatory age or matriculate to an in house position.  Most lawyers work at numerous firms over their careers.

Many of us struggle to make ends meet consistently on our own.  And yes, some attorneys seek relief in the bankruptcy court.  Sadly, I am sure this is not an isolated incident but a reality check on the illusion that a legal career is a way to financial stability.


Author: Tabitha M. Hochscheid

Attorney since 1995, interested in Attorney Health and Well Being and related issues for lawyers and the general population. Developer and Committee Chair of the Cincinnati Bar Association Health and Well Being Committee.

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