Just how accurate is Michael Clayton?

Just how accurate is Michael Clayton?

If the recent success of Michael Clayton is any indication, the public perception of lawyers breaks down into four archetypes, each represented by a character in the movie: brutal (Sydney Pollack), disappointed (George Clooney), psychotic (Tom Wilkinson) and criminal (Tilda Swinton). It’s probably no coincidence that Clayton’s only Oscar went to Swinton. A piece on the film and its effects on legal culture in last Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal Law Blog reprised a review from Slate:

Michael Clayton offers an only slightly exaggerated portrait of a profession undergoing a kind of slow-motion existential crisis,” read the review. “It does so at a time when in the real world, midlevel associates are dropping out in droves.”

And in seeking to balance this rather grim view, the blogger, Dan Slater, solicited comments from his readers: “I must be at the wrong firm,” wrote one, “because I love my job, love the people I work with, make well into the six figures, and don’t have people trying to blow up my car.” Um, doth he protest too much?

For a Canadian angle on this ever-darkening plain of juridical existence, try Alec Scott. He left a high-paying job at a Bay Street firm and discovered that he was not alone in his dissatisfaction. His testimonial appeared in a recent issue of this very magazine:

My feelings about the law are not unique. Many of the lawyers of my generation are unhappy with their working lives. At parties, they tend to admit how they gain their livelihoods reluctantly, usually with quick disclosure of other mitigating facts—a taste for jazz, an interest in architecture. You’d think they were in the porn industry, given how little they talk shop, how ashamed they seem of their day jobs.

And that, my friends, is just the tip of a very large iceberg.

• Exile on Bay Street [Toronto Life]• What Does “Michael Clayton” Say About Law-Firm Life? [Wall Street Journal]