This post is my third installment about law career issues raised by the movie Michael Clayton. My two previous posts in this series are located here (#1) and here (#2). See #1 for my review of the movie. Today's subject of choice is George Clooney's role as a "fixer" in his law firm. And my point about this fixer role is this:
I think the law firm "Fixer" is like the Boogeyman: disconcerting and a bit scary, but also not real.
I practiced in a big law firm for a number of years. I never, ever heard of--let alone met--a law firm "fixer." I don't think they exist. And if they do, then like the Loch Ness Monster they probably want to stay hidden.
Think about it: the math just does not add up. There certainly are people in law firms who are good at fixing problems, but that does not mean problem-fixing rises to the level of a practice area, like complex litigation or corporate mergers and acquisitions. In fact, large firms are so driven by the billable hour that lawyers who do not bill most of their time would have a hard time surviving, let along thriving. Plus, in my experience, clients are not a bad set of people, and they get in trouble no more often than a firm's own lawyers. So is a full-time "fixer" really needed? I doubt it. If a law firm needs a fixer, surely it has bigger problems, like criminal indictments against its partners and the like.
However, Clayton's job as a fixer fits well into the hyperbolic landscape of the film. (See my previous post on this point.) Clayton is trapped in his job: the firm does not have to make him partner because he is stuck--he can't readily move to another firm--but the partners do not want him to leave because of all the secrets he knows. So while it does not comport with the facts of law practice, the role of fixer works within the confines of this movie, and it helps to move the plot along.
On second thought, though, perhaps solving problems is a separate law practice specialty. Except the people who specialize in it are not called "fixers"--they are called "management." The problems they grapple with, however, are things like how to staff a case, who to promote, how to fire someone, etc. Not sexy Hollywood stuff. Unlike Clooney the Boogeyman.