Weekly, we read in the legal media about lawyers in career meltdowns. Allegedly they embezzle, become drunks, distribute child porn, sexually harass employees, and use electronic devices in court when the judge says nonono.
And we wonder how could they wind up in such messes. After all they had intellectually stimulating work, status, good compensation and, usually, families to support. Also, lawyering is all they know how to do. If they lose their license, they could become unemployable.
Well, in 2013, award-winning author Jonathan Dee explores that mystery in the form of a novel. The book is "A Thousand Pardons."
In it, Ben Armstead is a middle-aged partner in a prestigious Manhattan law firm. He handles estates. On the surface, he has it all.
But, his marriage to Helen is dead. He isn't engaged with his adopted teenage daughter, Sara. And, as he tells the marriage counselor, he is bored, with every aspect of his life. As he says that, in front of Helen, he weeps. But Helen doesn't know how to awaken his spirit. It seems she's consumed by her own pain.
The way he finds relief is through a mental sexual obsession with a summer intern. Colleagues informally tell him to back off. But he winds up taking her to an expensive hotel. He requests she take off her clothes. She does. Again, he weeps. No sex happens.
However, on the way out of the room, her boyfriend is waiting. He beats Ben up. Long story short, the drunk Ben winds up in an accident. Along with the DUI he is charged with sexual assault. The juicy story of a BigLaw partner's fall from grace is front-page news in the New York media. In his bedroom community he is a pariah.
Through a kind of Saul Goodman as a lawyer, he gets out of most of his legal trouble. No other lawyer will take the cases. He serves only about a month in jail.
Once out of jail, he begins to find a path leading somewhere, anywhere. Under the table, he helps that Goodman type of lawyer with an estate case. He reunites, first with his daughter, then his wife. He is trying to figure out how to resume making a good living.
Not that Ben morphs into a fine human being. He's still self-absorbed, arrogant, and entitled. What he has learned, though, is that it's up to him to make his life interesting. And he becomes confident he can do just that.
That might be the takeaway for all lawyers tilting toward self-destruction: The burden is on them to create a life they can enjoy, without losing everything.