Double Billing is a memoir by a Harvard Law graduate who spent a few years in the 1990’s as an associate at a large (fictionalized) law firm in New Yo...moreDouble Billing is a memoir by a Harvard Law graduate who spent a few years in the 1990’s as an associate at a large (fictionalized) law firm in New York City. I bought this book for my fiance’s father, who enjoys legal thrillers by the likes of John Grisham. He had most recently been telling me about Grisham’s book The Associate. So, I thought, here’s a bird’s eye view into the world of a first year associate at a large law firm, a true story told by the former associate himself. The cover looked intriguing and mentioned the usual exciting suspects: greed, sex, and lies (although I wasn’t sure what the pursuit of a swivel chair part was all about).
After my fiance’s father read it, I decided to as well, because it seemed timely. I was working at the local office of a large law firm where I wasn’t happy. I thought that reading this book would help in a “misery loves company” kind of way. (Disclosure: By now I work at a small civil law firm, where I am much happier, so I am biased!)
The contents of Double Billing, however, not only disappointed me but, more often than not, annoyed me. I found the writing to be mediocre and the narrator to be self-indulgent. At some points I wondered if it was the author’s intention to upset the reader, because the book contained some sexist and racist comments, as well as downright condescending ones, such as this little gem:
“In the hierarchy of criminal practitioners, federal prosecutors are at the top, state prosecutors at the bottom . . . In the civil bar, personal injury lawyers—those who handle “slip and fall” cases—are at the bottom; lawyers at large firms who represent major clients are at the top . . . If you asked a personal injury lawyer whether he considered himself at the bottom of the civil law food chain, he would probably deny it and protest vigorously. On the other hand, his denials would have a strong whiff of defensiveness.”
I wondered what made the narrator think he knew so much about the practice of law when it came to making such blasé comments, when throughout the book, he makes a big deal out of the fact that he knows nothing about being an associate at a big law firm. (When given a document review assignment, he lies to a senior associate about having done one before, messes the process up due to his own ignorance, and then remarks, “There was no course called Document Production at Harvard. No one explained ‘Bates stamping’ or making multiple copies or reproducing file labels or sitting in a warehouse sweating your ass off.”) He also comes off as extremely immature at times, and almost disrespectful. (“We drove to the hearing in White Plains in [a partner:] Caroline’s Lexus. On the drive back to the office, I drew stick figures on the air-conditioned window while Caroline spoke to [another partner:] Eric on the car phone.”)
Having worked at a large and a mid-sized law firm, I had a pretty good idea what Stracher was writing about. Granted, I never worked—-and know by now that I wouldn’t want to work—-as an associate at a large law firm in New York City, but I have had many similar experiences as Stracher. He spends the first few months with little to no work, supposedly reading law review articles all day, which in my experience means you are either lazy or that the partners find you undesirable and you will eventually find your way to the door, by yourself or with an escort. After awhile, however, he does pick up some work, mainly a lot of document review and some discovery requests and responses, which is pretty typical of first year associate work. He even gets to help with a trial, which is a rare experience for a new associate that he at different points in the book appears to appreciate and take for granted.
Much of Double Billingcame off as whiny to me, and perhaps I have been numbed by the corporate law firms to which I sold my soul, but I don’t think anything he described was that bad. For one thing, as far as his rant about document production goes, paralegals have done the "bates stamping and multiple copying and reproducing file labels" work at all three of the firms where I have worked, and I can only imagine a large law firm having even more support staff on hand for these types of tasks. The “lies” he mentions are basically instructing a witness not to speculate about a situation if he or she doesn’t remember what was said or done, and playing discovery “games” with the other side by stalling or objecting before producing important documents. These situations and others have bothered me at various points in my career, but, as Stracher pointed out, that’s the way that practicing law sometimes works, and nothing that he saw violated the law or any professional or ethical rules. He also talks about partners giving busy work and tasks that he himself views as unnecessary to associates so that the firm can keep billing as many hours as possible. This complaint also has merit, but one person’s “busy work” is something another person deems necessary, and I wanted Stracher to deal with these important issues in a better way than casually mentioning them and then moving on.
As far as “sex” goes, there was little to none, and certainly not enough for a book that has the word in its subtitle. One of Stracher’s co-workers is secretly dating a paralegal. (How exciting.) More puzzling to me are Stracher’s sporadic mentions of his own personal life, without ever letting the reader in to the whole story. The book starts when he’s out to dinner with his girlfriend, having just passed the Bar, and ends when his girlfriend finally persuades him to change jobs. In the middle, there are random mentions of times when he has to cancel plans with her or leave her lonely at home because he has to work so much, and other times when she nags him to change jobs and stop working so much. Apparently they had been together for quite awhile and I kept waiting for some detail into their relationship beyond this surface level, and especially for resolution one way or the other-—a marriage proposal or a break up—-but there was none. I was left wondering why he even brought the girlfriend into the book at all.
And the swivel chair in the sub-title? Another disappointment. The entire story can be summed up as: his chair broke and he had to put in a request with the office manager, which was last on her list because he was a lowly associate and not a partner, and eventually, right before he quit, he got his chair. This plot line about sums up the excitement contained in the book as a whole.
If you are an attorney who has worked at a large firm before, or probably any sized civil firm, you will be able to relate to many parts of this book. At some points I was like, “Oh, yeah, exactly,” but other times I was bored because it was so commonplace. If you aren’t an attorney, but are interested in legal books, movies, TV shows, etc., you may like the insider’s view that this book presents. My fiance’s father liked it and it gave us some good conversation material, such as billable hours and different types of attorneys and areas of practice, etc. The book is definitely an easy and fast read. I wonder, though, if some of the legal mumbo jumbo may be confusing or frustrating to non-attorneys. The way that Stracher tries to describe legal issues was pretty annoying to me, full of dramatic language and unnecessary capitalization. (“Imagine: you’re the General Counsel of a Very Big Corporation that has just been sued by an Extremely Nasty Corporation for Unimaginable Injuries.”)
I assume that the intended audience of Double Billingis the general public—-readers who want to know what it’s like to be a young, big wig attorney at a large law firm. On that premise, this book does deliver, although I think the entire “spend a lot of hours doing seemingly useless work, until you can pay back your law school loans and go in-house” spiel could have been told with a lot more excitement.
I recommend this for people who are in law school or thinking about going to law school because in my opinion it gives a realistic portrayal of being a junior associate at a big law firm. The problem is that those big law firms are boring and stuffy, so the book is a little bit like that, too. Still, I think many people go into good law schools (and a lot of debt) with a lot of ambition and high hopes, only to find out that they must sell their souls to large law firms to be able to pay for their education, and this is not the kind of work or the kind of environment they had in mind when they signed up for the gig in the first place. A bit depressing, really, but also remember that not all law firms/ law jobs are like that. In my opinion this book seems to accurately depict large, big-city law firm life. To that I can only say "blah" -- to the idea and to the book!
Rating: I give this book two and a half stars -- I didn't really like it but some people might and it's not absolutely horrible.
It's hard to read, let alone review, a book about rape, but I think that this book it is an important one. Lucky is a memoir about a college student w...moreIt's hard to read, let alone review, a book about rape, but I think that this book it is an important one. Lucky is a memoir about a college student who was attacked and raped in the park by her campus. Despite its difficult subject matter, Lucky reads smoothly. I feel that this is an accessible book for people to read who would like to understand better how to deal with rape, and to see all the ways that it impacts someone.
For me there were four distinct parts of this book (although the writer did not designate them as such – it just felt to me to read like that). The first part was the beginning, in which the actual rape sequence is told right up front. It is hard to digest but is written very clearly and directly. I really felt for the narrator in the next scenes, which immediately follow the rape, in which she goes to the police and is examined and has to tell her friends and family members what happened. At one point she describes something that I imagine must be almost as horrible as the rape itself – having to live the rest of her life as a rape victim:
“I knew exactly what had happened. But can you speak those sentences to the people you love? . . . That question continues to haunt me. After telling the hard facts to anyone from lover to friend, I have changed in their eyes.”
The second part of Lucky: A Memoir, for me, described the weeks and months following the rape. I found this part to be lacking because it seemed to me that the narrator wasn’t really dealing with her true feelings. I suppose that that is how it actually happened, though, and she did a good job of making me feel like I was right there with her in that time and that space, even though I often wanted her to do things differently. At times it seemed like she was pushing the rape out of her mind completely, and writing about her college classes and other things that any book about any college student would include. I wanted her to focus more on the issue, but perhaps she dealt with it by not focusing on it. In this part the theme of writing was introduced, which I did enjoy. Sebold dealt with her emotions by writing poetry and fiction. She took classes and seminars by Tobias Wolff and Tess Gallagher. Tess Gallagher is actually a pretty central character in the book, who accompanies Alice to court when she has to confront her attacker (although she’s disappeared by the end of the book without explanation, leaving me to wonder what happened).
The third part of the book, which I really liked, moved on to show how the narrator was intent on prosecuting her attacker. It was easy to cheer for her and she showed a lot of strength and wisdom. She describes the legal process well and at one point she mentions wanting to go to law school so that she can prosecute other criminals (she later decides to pursue teaching instead, and says it became her lifeline and salvation). It seems very fulfilling that the narrator finds some kind of justice and closure in the midst of all her suffering. At the same time, she is still human. I could tell that the rape had affected her and that in some ways it had changed her in a negative way. She seems to use men for own reasons and disregard what they must be feeling. She has a strange relationship with her father that she never quite explores in depth the way I wanted her to. (At times she has a close bond with her mother, who is always anxious and has panic attacks). Through all of these shortcomings, however, for most of the book she seems strong and like someone to whom most readers would be able to relate, despite the horrible thing that happened to her.
The fourth and last part of the book, though, takes a strange turn. I don’t want to include spoilers so suffice it to say that the narrator is no longer the intelligent, strong fighter that the reader had gotten to know and admire. This made me feel like my hunch was correct that she hadn’t been dealing internally with the aftermath of her rape. I was disappointed at her downfall but, more than that, it didn’t seem to make sense to me. I thought that the writer should have spent more time on the last part of the book and less time with the mundane intricacies of college life. I felt there were issues left unexplored in the book.
Overall, I “enjoyed” reading Lucky: A Memoir, although that is a strange thing to say about a rape memoir. I thought it was well-written and that it dealt with some very important social issues. I especially liked how it explored the subject of how different women deal differently with rape, and the need for there to be open dialogue about it. The writing in parts is flourishingly poetic, which was a strange offset for the subject, but it usually worked. I would like to read another book by Alice Sebold to see whether the tone works even better with a lighter subject matter (although, from what I understand, her novel Her Lovely Bones has anything but a light subject matter). I give Lucky: A Memoir three and a half stars and would recommend the book, but be forewarned that the subject matter is obviously difficult.
I had high hopes for The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton. (Maybe I had such high hopes that I had raised the bar too high?) I had read somewher...moreI had high hopes for The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton. (Maybe I had such high hopes that I had raised the bar too high?) I had read somewhere that Ms. Clayton used to be a corporate transaction attorney at a large law firm. After she ceased practicing law, she wrote this book. As a lawyer and aspiring writer, I was drawn to it from that angle. Then there was the fact that the book is about a group of aspiring writers, who form a writing group and try to publish. That sounds like me, so I thought I could relate. Finally, the book takes place in San Francisco starting in the 1960's. The interview I'd read with Ms. Clayton said she'd scoured old newspapers and magazines for historical tidbits to include in the book. How exciting! I thought.
Well... I have to say that the beginning of The Wednesday Sisters: A Novel really didn't meet my expectations at all. I found the first third of it quite dull. The characters all seemed stereotypical and flat to me. And it seemed like the story was dragging and almost nothing was happening! I pushed on, thinking a big part of it was that I just couldn't relate to these women. They admitted that they had put their dreams on hold, or permanently curtailed them, to marry their husbands, and their lives revolved around their children. It's not that I didn't want to read a book about housewives, but I think that many housewives, in real life and in books, are awesome. Many have confidence, charisma, interests and hobbies. But these women were so self-defacing that it was annoying. The main character, Frankie, tells the entire story, and she's always saying things like, "I can't imagine that I could actually write a book... I'd like to, but I'm no good, and what would these other women think?" We're not talking about writing a masterpiece novel here, or publishing, just writing in general. I wanted to scream at her, it's not that hard, just get a little self-esteem and try it! I really didn't understand the big deal.
Knowing the author's background, and that she was both a lawyer and a mother, I started thinking that maybe the problem was that she was writing what she didn't know, and it didn't seem real. But even the historical parts weren't that interesting in the first third of the book. The characters were on the outskirts of society, seemingly purposefully left out from everything exciting that was going on. They would see feminist protests on the news, but not attend. (Then Frankie would couch the events by saying something like, "We didn't know what to think of these crazy women on TV... we are just little stay at home moms who don't know anything about the world." Honestly, if I were a housewife I would be offended at the way that women in my profession/position were portrayed by the characters in the book!) Then there would be tidbits of history dropped in all too conveniently, like, "we read in the news that this happened..."(couched by Frankie in terms of "not that we understand what it all means, of course"), which to me isn't all that exciting. It's like too much historical data was given without the main characters really being a part of the context.
I kept reading The Wednesday Sisters since I had had such high hopes. Towards the middle, the book started to get better. And then the last third turned into a pretty good read. I think it's because the characters were actually doing something, making decisions instead of letting life just happen to them. For the first time, some of them seemed like separate characters, instead of all being lumped into one stereotypical housewife. (Some of them still fell flat to me even during the exciting parts). And they also went out into the real world and took part in some of the historical goings-ons, which made the historical parts a lot more interesting.
In the end, I think that the best parts of The Wednesday Sisters make for kind of a stereotypical chick-lit-for-mature-chicks read. Like, ladies that belong to knit clubs and church socials would probably like some of this book. But I bet even they'd be bored with a lot of it. It just doesn't go anywhere, or do anything, until near the end, and I don't know if a lot of people would hang on that long! I hate to give negative reviews, so I'll throw in something positive and say that this book has a lot of interesting parts about writing and the writing process, and it includes some good quotes and tips from famous writers. But even that part is annoying, because one of the women, Bret, will say things like, "Well, you know, Mark Twain always said..." at the beginning of their writing groups, causing Frankie to must out loud "How does Bret have such a good memory and always remember what all these great writers said?" Still, The Wednesday Sisters has some appeal for writers, so I recommend it, with reservations, to other writers. For this reason I give it two stars.(less)
Disclaimer: I neither read nor enjoy much bestselling contemporary fiction. There are exceptions (I like Elizabeth Berg, John Grisham, and some Stephe...moreDisclaimer: I neither read nor enjoy much bestselling contemporary fiction. There are exceptions (I like Elizabeth Berg, John Grisham, and some Stephen King) but in general, these books are not my cup of tea because I feel that they sacrifice good writing for popular plot twists and edge-of-the-seat drama. I especially steer away from "chick lit" and even more some from family-based drama that is about a mother and her children, because I usually find that it's overly cutesy and I just can't relate to it.
But. My mom had been telling me I need to read My Sister's Keeper, and she sent it to me. Even my sister, who hates to read, read and enjoyed the book. Then, a movie was coming out about it with a concept that looked new and interesting: one sister was created so that her other sister could live. I thought, I'd better read the book.
Well. What can I say? I guess My Sister's Keeper was everything I had expected to be. It had an interesting theme and some dramatic plot twists, but lacked good writing (for the most part) and character depth.
The main character is Anna, who is supposed to give up a kidney to save her sister from dying from cancer, or at least to prolong her life a bit longer. Anna has been doing similar things since she was born and her umbilical cord was used for a transplant for her sister. Her parents had purposefully created her to save or prolong her sister' life. At the beginning of the book, Anna has decided to fight back and has hired a lawyer to file a lawsuit for rights over her medical decisions (the legal aspects of the book are pretty murky).
The story is told in different first-person points of view, with each chapter being told by a different character, whose name is plastered on top, and, get this, the font type and style even changes with each chapter so you know it's being told by someone else. Gag.
I felt that Anna's voice was interesting and pretty convincing for a young teenage character. This made it feel like a young adult novel, but hey, I like young adult novels so I wish the entire book were told by Anna; I might have liked it a lot better. I hated the parts that were told by the mother because I was mad at her for having a baby for her own selfish purposes-although some may not think that keeping another child alive is a selfish purposes). Try as I might to grasp it by reading her sentimental and overly-protective dribble, I wasn't convinced that a mother, let alone this mother who was telling the story, could really do such a thing, and feel no shame or doubts about it. My own mother could relate to the mother of the book more than I could, so maybe it's a mother thing. Still, the mother came across as a self-righteous know-it-all to me. I didn't believe that she had had a successful law practice before beoming a mother, and I didn't feel any real love between her and her husband.
Speaking of the husband, the chapters that were told by him and his son, Anna's brother, read horribly for me. I just wanted to skip them. He's a fire-fighter, which I thought was conveniently contrived and also very unrealistic (who is paying for this family's luxury when the father is a fire-fighter and the mother is a stay-at-home mom who only practiced law briefly before having kids and is therefore probably in a lot of student loan debt?). He seems more ambivalent about the family's decision to have one child to save another child, but he comes across like a spineless wimp who's afraid of expressing his opinion to his wife, or, worse, like he doesn't care enough to do so. And the brother, Jesse, is a juvenile delinquent, which also feels very contrived, who is out roaming the streets and starting fires that his father has to put out without knowing that his son started them (see the irony? har har). His character does the best job of capturing the anger and angst that I'm sure Anna was feeling and that most of the readers would be feeling. Still, he comes across as superficial and stereotypical. The voices all blend together and do not sound like individual characters, a pet peeve I have when an author tries to do different points of view. Anna's came across as the strongest but the rest of the narrators--including the guardian ad liten and Anna's lawyer, both of whom get a turn--all jumbled together into one indistinguisable or trying-too-hard voice.
The legal sub-plots of the book didn't seem realistic, although I did enjoy the character of Anna's lawyer and his German Shepherd dog named Judge. He (the lawyer, but also his dog) seemed to be the only rationale character while the rest of them were floating around in no-man's-land.
I did enjoy the plot of the book and it was a very easy read. I read it during a rainy camping trip where I had the luxury of laying in a tent all day. I wanted to find out what happened, and at times there was a piece of beautiful writing included. Most of the time, however, the writing was gimmicky and overly sentimental and I felt like I was just pushing through to see what happens, like in a movie, not a well-written book. And then when I got to the end I was so annoyed that I seriously wanted to throw the book out into the mud. I won't include any spoilers but it was the worst ending I think I have ever read, and such an easy way out that I htink Picoult should be ashamed of herself. I hadn't planned to read any more of her books because I was more interested in the concept of this one than the writing, but, having gotten to the end only to be let down as a reader in such a huge way, I am 100% sure that I will never read anything else by her. Yes, I was that mad at how she wrote the ending! Grrr.
So, I give My Sister's Keeper two stars because there were parts of it that I enjoyed, but the rest of it was downright awful. I cannot in good conscience recommend it, but I think it's one of those books that people read because everyone else is reading it and talking about it (which is never a bad thing, people talking about books), and because there's a movie, all of which were reasons I read it, so, read it and see whether you agree with my many critiques or if you find something redeeming in it. By the way I later watched the movie and enjoyed it. The ending was much better than in the book although they did leave some things out from the book's plot that I missed. I would recommend the movie over the book, which I rarely do, but, there you have it. I guess in the end my foray into popular family-drama chick lit proved to be what I thought it would be: mostly empty, with a few splashes of interest and annoyance. (less)