Review of Anonymous Lawyer by Jeremy Blachman
by Jeremy Blachman
The epistolary novel was a huge tradition back when the novel was first becoming big. I love that blogs have breathed new life into this form. Anonymous Lawyer, based on a blog of the same name, is the somewhat-fabricated record of the hiring partner at a corporate law firm. He shares his views on summer students, employee management, how to get to the top, and family matters. In this character Jeremy Blachman conveys a perfect, supercilious parody of the shark-like, soulless attorney as we know them from popular culture. In so doing he captures some of the truth, gives us a good laugh, and reminds us that the legal profession, like so many others, is riling from a century of accelerated change.
I hate trying to describe why something else is funny, so here’s a sample:
I overheard one of the associates say, "The dog really brings some life into this place. I don't feel so alone." I gave her some more work to do after I heard that. She's supposed to feel alone. This isn't just a regular business, where people can go into their co-workers' offices and chat about the weather or the stock market or their "relationship issues." It's a law firm. Time is billable. Time is money. Small talk doesn't pay the bills. Every minute you're talking to a co-worker is a minute the firm isn't making any money off your presence….
It’s funny because it’s (kind of) true. Lawyers do bill by the hour, tend to be very expensive, and much of one’s success in a law firm is measured in terms of those billable hours. What Blachman does is take that caricature and turn it up to eleven: Anonymous Lawyer says what we think lawyers say to each other behind closed doors.
I like to think Blachman is drawing attention to another, important issue here: the way in which work has changed over the twentieth century. Anonymous Lawyer makes fun of lawyers who expect work–life balance (you can have “one thing” outside of work, whether it’s reading, exercising, spending time with your kids, or—hah hah—sleeping, and anything else is greedy). He also loves how smartphones allow the office to reach associates anywhere and everywhere. He says this all in the most outrageous ways, of course, but beneath this humour is valid social commentary. Many of us, in many professions, are feeling more constrained by our always-on connections. Combine this with the way mass production has extended to colleges and universities, and you become expendable. Don’t want to work seventy- or eighty-hour weeks? No problem! You’re fired. There are twenty-two people waiting in the wings who are just as qualified as you, if not more, and are eager and willing to work that much. Don’t let security taser you on the way out—and have a nice day.
Insert rant about capitalism turning us into capital here—oh wait, been there, did that.
Anonymous Lawyer also provides a fantastic example of an unlikable, and frankly even unsympathetic, protagonist. You’re supposed to hate this guy: he’s self-centred, bigoted, sexist, and overly judgemental. Yet in a kind of feat of literary Stockholm Syndrome, you almost start rooting for him. Even if you want him to fail in the end, you nevertheless come to sympathize with his hatred of the Jerk. It’s a symptom of the blog being from Anonymous Lawyer’s perspective, of course—for all we know, other than his embezzling tendencies, maybe the Jerk is actually a nice guy. This book also gives us a textbook unreliable narrator, right down to the ending that diverges from reality.
This was a very quick read for me—literally read it in a night. So I’m surprised that, a few days later, I can still recall a lot about the characters. Blachman isn’t big on names, using the anonymous conceit to give people monikers like The Tax Guy, The Musician, and The Bombshell. Yet it works—we get to know them by their personalities and actions, or at least what Anonymous Lawyer tells us about their personalities and actions. I appreciate, too, that Blachman develops a plot throughout the novel. What begins as somewhat random observations from Anonymous Lawyer transform into machinations to become the next Chairman. I’m pleased that I predicted the identity of Associate X, and the final few blog posts/emails were a great conclusion to the story.
Read this if you like legal humour and, in particular, want to see the blog-as-novel form done right.