Once upon a time, I faintly remember, in a distant time and era, a parallel universe if you will, I worked as a lawyer. Some memories of those times returned yesterday, when I visited the partner with whom I’d worked. While awaiting our meeting, standing by a window overlooking a snow-covered playground, I flipped through a magazine and read an article about mindfulness. For a few moments, I was transported elsewhere.
I glanced out the window again and realized that while these offices were quite close to the ground, the firm I’d worked at – in full corporate garb, black suits and heels of course – had been located in a skyscraper around the corner, with breathtaking views from its floor-to-ceiling windows, a long elevator ride into the sky.
I couldn’t immediately recall the minutiae of my daily schedule, the research, contract reviews, phone calls, and the necessity of recording, down to the very minute, all my billable hours. I remembered well how one partner, noticing my friendly relations with one of the secretaries, stopped me in the hallway one day, stating that I was not to socialize with the admin staff.
Still, I’d been fortunate to be tutored and supported under the usually more light-hearted direction and forgiving guidance of SC. And so, even after my sudden departure from the firm, shortly after 9/11 (for reasons not altogether related to the events of that day – though, on some level, certainly so), I remained on good terms with SC. Awhile later, our offices closed; the large international firm, shutting down its offices across the globe a year later.
Now dressed more comfortably in woolies, scarf and boots, I was still caught up in the surreal memories when the door opened and SC walked in. We’d not seen in each other in many years, so we reminisced, discussed wine-making, publishing, charitable giving, health and the whereabouts of SC’s secretary, whom I’d been fond of – and who had re-found love and re-married.
As expected, our conversation touched on the woes that hit legal circles hard this week: A top-tier 40-year old firm, whose partners once comprised high-stakes businessmen, retired chief justices as well as the country’s former head honcho, was closing down.
SC strode over to the large semi-circle window overlooking the street, pointing up to the skyscraper across the street (ahh, the ghetto of blue-chip firms). Those are – were- their offices, he said, almost in disbelief. Most partners had already jumped ship, found new homes for their practices, were moving on.
Once upon a time, Heenan’s was a behemoth, its partners widely respected, honored – and, in some circles, feared. It was sobering, to realize how even the ostensibly powerful and once-mighty may fall…
As I left SC’s building, my scarf wrapped up tightly around my head to ward off the frost, I couldn’t help but feel reassured that the realm of (corporate) law was one in which I’d never truly belonged.
Gazing up at the shiny steel and glass monolithic structure, into my head popped the familiar tune of a nursery rhyme, with lyrics for this day – and, in some other ways, for these times:
Heenan Blaikie billed up its walls
Heenan Blaikie had a great fall
All its firms partners
Some women, mostly men
Couldn’t glue Heenan together again.