Monday, September 26, 2011

Love and law firms

I was chatting with Puck today and they were interviewed by the campus newspaper about gay marriage. And it occurred to me that the institution of marriage is to relationships the way a traditional law firm is to lawyers.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the traditional law firm, it’s very similar to investment banks, consulting firms and even PR agencies, where I’ve spent about half my working life. Most law firms are set up as limited liability partnerships (LLPs) or limited liability corporations (LLCs) in order to protect the personal assets of the partners from being seized in a legal action against the firm itself. In such an arrangement, the highest rank one can achieve is to become a Partner, thereby securing an equity stake in the firm. It’s like becoming a tenured professor at a university, and usually means your name gets added to the firm’s official name.

So the employment structure at law firms is what Human Resources specialists call an “up-and-out” – meaning you have to continue to move up in the ranks until you make Partner, or you will eventually be out of a job. Unlike big corporations where someone can stay in one mid-level position for decades, partnerships are constantly turning over employees, seeking superstars that fit with the firm enough to make Partner. And when you make Partner, you are in effect, marrying the firm in a legal sense. You legally join the partnership that controls the firm.

The institution of marriage and the ripple effects it has on the way we relate to people also work as an “up-and-out” design when it comes to love. For many people, meeting potential partners is akin to a law firm hiring new graduates, getting to know them and their work, and working the way up the ranks to “boyfriend/girlfriend” before finally becoming “Spouse/Partner.”

But if you don’t get to that top spot, the relationship is jettisoned in favor of finding someone else who can achieve it. You are, in the words of Donald Trump, fired from the relationship. As always, I’m not saying this is wrong or bad. It’s just an observation on how things work in the larger world that I don’t personally subscribe to.

In my world, love does not need to compete. It doesn’t need to conform to a specific ideal. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. In my world, if I love someone and they love me, we can find a way to make things work so that everybody has a job at Michelle Inc. for as long as they want it.