I recently read Unbillable Hours, by Ian Graham. The book is a memoir by a former associate at mega-firm Latham Watkins’ L.A. office.

Here is the book’s description:

The story—part memoir, part hard-hitting expose—of a first-year law associate negotiating the arduous path through a system designed to break those who enter it before it makes them.

Landing a job at a prestigious L.A. law firm, complete with a six figure income, signaled the beginning of the good life for Ian Graham. But the harsh reality of life as an associate quickly became evident. The work was grueling and boring, the days were impossibly long, and Graham’s main goal was to rack up billable hours. But when he took an unpaid pro bono case to escape the drudgery, Graham found the meaning in his work that he’d been looking for. As he worked to free Mario Rocha, a gifted young Latino who had been wrongly convicted at 16 and sentenced to life without parole, the shocking contrast between the quest for money and power and Mario’s desperate struggle for freedom led Graham to look long and hard at his future as a corporate lawyer.

Graham captures the plusses and minuses of life at a big firm without coming off as bitter. Great observations include:

  • like many people, he went to law school because he got in and didn’t know what else to do; [how true is that?]
  • a big salary can lead to golden handcuffs; [ditto]
  • blame rolls downhill in a law firm; [I think a better observation is that credit rolls uphill in a law firm]
  • litigation is bathtub learning with the plug pulled when the case is over; and
  • when he left Latham in 2006 only five of 47 in his starting associate class remained.

Think about that last statistic.

The good news is that Graham and Latham won Rocha’s case and corrected a huge miscarriage of justice. That part of the story makes the book worth reading for lawyers and non-lawyers alike. Lawyers will enjoy the look at law firm culture.

This was a quick, entertaining, well-written read. I give it two thumbs up.