In Which I Compare Myself To Crazy Russian Cat Lady

This video from Russia depicts a sad sight, that of a lady who has allowed her house to be taken over by over 130 cats.

Metaphorically, I am Crazy Russian Cat Lady. And each of the cats is one of my clients.

The cat food she throws about is my ability to render competent legal advice to my clients. Notice how the cats all respond in a panic when they see her. “Feed me!” They all say. They jump over each other, and cry and whine, leaping at the food. That is how my clients act towards me.

Pushing the metaphor further, the combined smell of the urine of 130 cats, which must surely be present in Crazy Russian Cat Lady’s house, is the stress which adheres to me. Because a real cat, when unfed, will miaow and maybe scratch while begging for food from its human. An unattended client will sue his lawyer.

The presence of 130 cats, all simultaneously jumping and mewling for attention and food, makes Crazy Russian Cat Lady happy on some level. She can feel like she is being generous and kind to the cute creatures. She cannot see the ultimate cruelty of keeping so many pets in such close proximity that no single animal can possibly receive adequate care.

But I can see the analogy. And the analogy to me of being Crazy Russian Cat Lady and the cats being my clients and the food being my ability to pay attention to them and the risk and stress of the situation being emotional equivalent of the smell of the combined urine of one hundred and thirty cats makes me want to consume unhealthy amounts of gin and Scotch and then curl up in the fetal position, the better to whimper pathetically.

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.


  1. I have never wanted to be a lawyer less than I do at this very moment. Thanks… I guess ???

    Good luck at work tomorrow.

  2. I think this is an awesome post. Thanks for the peek, Burt.

    • Indeed. If this post saves even one person from sharing my fate, then it will all have been worth it. My fate, and the student loans which still haunt me nearly twenty years later. Law school: don’t do it!

  3. The competent are forever importuned by those who aren’t. Driven to madness by the shrieking and hollering of the helpless and clueless, the competent must obey the stern laws of entropy, leaching out every calorie into the abyss of uselessness and chaos. There is no compensation or insulation for the effects of these thermodynamic equations, monetary or otherwise.

    Though, as Dr. Saunders observes, scotch helps.

  4. “The presence of 130 cats, all simultaneously jumping and mewling for attention and food, makes Crazy Russian Cat Lady happy on some level.”

    I disagree. I don’t think the cats bring her happiness. I think the lack of the cats would result in a high degree of unhappiness; their presence mitigates this. I suppose we could define the absence of unhappiness as happiness, but I don’t feel those are one in the same.

    Does your work with clients bring you happiness? Or does it mitigate the unhappiness that a lack of clients would create (likely in the form of diminished earnings, unemployment, and/or taking on a job you enjoy less)?

    I generally enjoy my work (Pre-K teacher). If I won the lottery and never needed to work again, I’d probably still opt to work with young children in some capacity. I would likely not opt to be a full-time head classroom teacher.

    If you didn’t need to work, would you still opt to offer legal services to clients?

    • If you didn’t need to work, would you still opt to offer legal services to clients?

      No. Providing legal services is way better than digging ditches, I realize, or any of a long list of other sorts of things people do for their paychecks. But if I possessed sufficient capital that I didn’t need to work for a periodic paycheck, then I’d split my “professional” time between managing that capital (and educating myself about how to do so competently) and researching and writing about things that interest me. Which might include law or might not, depending on whimsy.

      Sufficient capital = freedom to choose, within broad but reasonable limits. Insufficient captial = selecting the least bad of the reasonably available lifestyle tradeoffs. Sufficiency of capital = about 40% more than you have right now, regardless of how much you actually do have.

      • Interesting.

        Do you think this is inherent to the practice of law (or at least the way law is generally practiced in the US)? Specific to your specialty? A result of the demographics of your clientele? That is to say, accepting “practicing law” as “the least bad of the reasonably available lifestyle tradoffs” is the specific manner in which you practice law itself “the least bad of the reasonably available” legal professions?

        • Well, I’m sure there’s plenty of lawyers who really, really love what they do and find the level of stress induced by the practice to be at an optimal rather than supra-optimal level. Most lawyers I know have more stress than they really want.

          Some of it is indeed derived from the discipline in which I practice, which is litigation. High stakes gambles, interpersonal conflict and disagreement, accusations of all sorts of nefarious conduct (including some directed at me without adequate grounds), personal risk for the practitioner, endless strings of deadlines, obscure pitfalls for the unwary, absorbing sharp criticism verging on abuse from authority figures like judges, support staff unable to meet performance expectations, and frequent concerns about clients unable to pay for the services, are all part of what it is to shepherd a client’s case through the courts. Not that other jobs don’t have their own stresses, some of which are reasonably similar to what I complain about here.

          Sometimes, a nice in-house corporate job reviewing contracts can look pretty good.

          • “Sometimes, a nice in-house corporate job reviewing contracts can look pretty good.”
            So why not pursue that?

            As mentioned in my initial comment, if I didn’t have to work, I’d still seek opportunities to work with children. I LOVE my time with children. I get most bothered by things like waking up early, having no control over my schedule, having to deal with parents, having to deal with colleagues, having to deal with administrators, etc, etc, etc. Every job has its crap work. If you could wittle away all the crap, would the purer aspects still lure you in? If you could host a call in radio show where you give people general advice but otherwise avoid all that crap you mentioned above, would that be appealing? Do you love “the law”?

          • Do I love “the law”? Depends on what you mean by “the law,” I suppose. If “the law” is the assembled compilation of statutes and case law decisions, the assembled rules that govern society and are enforced by the government, then not particularly, because these are the sometimes arbitrary and sometimes political choices made by society and rarely do they embody justice without human beings breathing life and meaning into them by applying both the black letter rules and the ideas behind them into particular situations. If “the law” is a system of looking at the world, ordering and controlling what actions are permissible, and the civilization that results from it, then pretty much yes, because the rule of law is a foundational part of my world view. If “law” is a process by which disputes are resolved, then yes and no, for the reasons stated in the previous two sentences.

            The radio call-in show idea is creative and I appreciate the thought that went into it very much. But it sounds like it would be an excelent way to filter out the enjoyable facets of what I do, and instead to focus my mental energy on “feeding the kittens” as described in the video. Then again, I may be cynical as at this exact moment, needs must I divert my attention away from this pleasant corner of the blogoverse where intellects may exchange ideas freely and collegialy, and devote myself to yet another kitten that needs feeding.

          • Thanks for indulging my probing. I’m generally curious about the paths people pick in life and how we end up where we end up. Despite all of the gripes about what you do, you and millions of other still pursue lines of work in that industry, so there must be SOMETHING to it, and presumably more than just making a decent living.

            The call-in show was my outsider guess at a profession that might allow you to dabble in aspects of the industry without going full board. I might be (and probably am) dead wrong on it scratching your itch. I’ve listened to similar shows and find them interesting and informative, even with the general caveat that the advice is INCREDIBLY general. If you were to do one, I’d find it that much more interesting and informative.


          • Especially if I could be snarky about it (a la Judge Judy) instead of being the lawyerly equivalent of Dr. Drew, which is kind of closer to my natural personality. Maybe I should think that through a little more.

          • Heh. The snark would be fun. But I think Dr. Drew is one of the smarter guys out there, at least in pop media. When he’s not being pompous, of course. Being the him of legal advice wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. Or maybe it would be. IANAL. OACL.

  5. Quick word — don’t share these feelings with your clients.

    • What, you think they might take it the wrong way if I compared them to desparately mewling, obnoxiously annoying, piss-covered, semi-feral beasts? Can’t imagine why, but I’ll give the idea some further thought.

      Seriously, when it gets bad enough that I make a post here, you know things have reached a fever pitch. My normal stress coping mechanism is to keep it all bottled up inside and so the stress can boil up, ferment, and incude acid reflux, because that’s much better for business. Oh, and sometimes I hit the sauce.

      • This comment just made me realize that my job can’t be nearly as bad as I imagine it to be, as I’ve just realized that I’m far more likely to “hit the sauce” after a particularly bad game in goal than I am after a particularly bad day at work!

        Here’s to hoping things ease up for you.

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