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Monday, February 25, 2008

Life balance and 'Michael Clayton'

I was pleased to see that Tilda Swinton won an Oscar for her superb portrayal of the career-obsessed general counsel of an agricultural products company in “Michael Clayton.” As I have blogged about before, Swinton’s character, Karen Crowder, is a perfect example of someone whose priorities are out of skew.

One excellent scene juxtaposes a video crew interviewing Crowder on taking over the general counsel job from her mentor (who has been kicked up stairs to the boardroom) with earlier scenes of Crowder nervously preparing for the interview as she gets dressed. In the interview, Crowder appears, calm, poised, professional and completely collected. In the preparation scenes, she’s a mess, practically having a panic attack as she grapples with how she will answer the questions. The question that gives her the most challenge is the obligatory one that has to do with life balance. She comes up with the clearly erroneous conclusion that her job is her life balance.

Trying desperately to protect her company and her mentor from some potentially devastating revelations in a class action lawsuit, Crowder crosses the ethical line. Ultimately, she goes so far as to become complicit in a murder and an attempted murder.

Despite Crowder’s obviously wrong choices, Swinton makes the character sympathetic. You can’t help thinking that things would have turned out a lot better for her if she just had more balance in her life.

It put me in mind of Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers, the local group that aids members of the bar with their life issues. LCL is currently seeking a funding increase that would be paid for by adding another $8 on the fees attorneys pay to maintain their licenses. (Minnesota Lawyer has a story this week, password required.) The money would be used to allow LCL to maintain and expand on its excellent work. Sounds like an idea worthy of $8 to me.

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