Mark Levy: The Perils of Big Law Life and the Consequences of Careerism

October 22nd, 2009

The ABA Journal has a tragic, yet touching story, about the life and death of Mark Levy, a high-powered attorney with a stellar career who took his life last Summer. H/T Professor K on Facebook, who provided an apt caption: “A well-written description of the consequences of careerism.”

Levy, 59, was one of the most skilled appellate lawyers in the country. He was of counsel at the firm and chair of its Supreme Court and appellate advocacy practice. He had argued 16 times before the court and in January had posted a 9-0 victory in an em­ployee-benefits case for DuPont.

Relentlessly upbeat, if a little uptight, he was passionate and enthusiastic about even the most arcane aspects of the practice of law. An impeccable dresser, he always looked like he was ready to go to court.

If he was distressed with the arc of his career, even his closest professional colleagues had no inkling—and they certainly had no idea that he would sit down in his office chair the morning of April 30 and, with a .38-caliber handgun, fire a bullet into the right side of his head.

Mark Levy had a loving family. He seemed financially secure. He had earned the admiration and respect of his peers.

What Levy did not have, however, was a job.

Just days before he killed himself, he found out that he was being let go by Kilpatrick in a round of cost-cutting driven by the unraveling economy. He had been one of 24 lawyers nationwide laid off by the 500-lawyer firm.

This attorney seemingly had everything. Money. Power. Prestige. A loving family. But what could drive a person to such ends?

More after the jump

Big Law is a difficult mistress. I have many friends who have graduated law school in the past few years, and went to work for big law firms. I have seen them change right in front of my eyes. The sparkle in their eyes and passion for life is slowly replaced by the need to bill more hours and impress partners who show no appreciation for their hard work. Where does this career lead a young attorney? In the case of Mark Levy, he followed the path to the pinnacle of success, and when he reached the top, the firm spit him out.

In many firms with up-or-out policies, an associate can work every waking hour for 6-8 years. If he does not make partner, he will be unceremoniously asked to leave. In this poor economy, even if an associate does everything in his power to be a successful associate, his actions may not be enough.

I pray for the Levy family, and all of his friends. This event is tragic, but unfortunately, not entirely unpredictable.

Perhaps one of the saddest aspects of this situation was the Out of Office message Levy activated on the morning of his suicide:

In death Levy was, as in life, sending messages of encouragement to those he loved and the first to share news. For those who e-mailed him the morning of April 30 after word spread that someone, yet unidentified, had committed suicide in the office, he replied with an out-of-office automated message: “As of April 30, 2009, I can no longer be reached. If your message relates to a firm matter, please contact my secretary. … If it concerns a personal matter, please contact my wife. … Thanks.”