The night demons stop howling and a weak sun pushes some of the darkness from the offices. It is morning in the most prestigious law firms of Wall Street, and the capital markets attorneys have begun to file in.
They are all well-dressed and well-groomed. They take the elevators past the busier and less well-groomed floors and glimpse enviously at the bustle and billable hours of their litigation and bankruptcy counterparts. They must continue up to their own floor — the Department of the Superfluous.
The Department of the Superfluous is a quiet floor. Phones are rarely heard, many offices remain empty, and client meetings are nonexistent. The lawyers shuffle out of the elevator and take meandering walks to their offices, stopping to talk to their secretaries for too long before taking their desk seats. They connect their laptops, turn on monitors, ready desk phones, cell phones, blackberries, iPads, tablets — and wait for the onslaught of pings and messages and calls that never arrive.
New attorneys were hired as summer associates during the golden era of 2021. The summer of 2021 — when Plutus turned his golden smile on our markets and rained upon us a glow of endless alerts and billable hours. When any bachelor’s degree holder in Silicon Valley or fraudulent biotech company could draw up liquid gold from the aquifer in exchange for only their translucent shares. The aquifer runs deep and has channels all throughout the country; the rich liquid flows through it endlessly from the faucet of the Fed and dusts even the retailers in gold. And the SPACs — those dirty words headed by celebrities—who could drink the gold just by saying “We’ll pay you later” — and their constituents eagerly threw them roses because it would be profitable. And they were right; everything was profitable.
Then in 2022 the aquifer went dry. The waters slackened their tides and then dried up all at once as the faucet of the Fed closed off and began to draw its gifts back up into itself. Where these waters used to flow are the empty, cavernous arteries of our markets — inflated and stagnant. Barren, dry, empty but for the cave dwellers who feed on leftover fat and dead insects — these arteries are the office halls of capital markets attorneys.
These halls are the promenade for our frequent trips to the break rooms and lounges and neighboring offices. We amble about these halls, nearly blind from darkness, hoping to bump against another attorney so we might strike up a rehearsed conversation on The Market and the Fed and SEC and when things will pick up again — it will surely be in January, where bankers have pushed all their deals to try for a bonus that is a lost cause for 2022.
The hallways occasionally open into clearings—the many lobbies on our floor once used to signify power and taste to our clients. In each lobby of our firm there is a television set to 24/7 coverage of the markets with pundits parroting the conversations we have alone with ourselves at odd hours of the night. We dart quickly by these screens for fear of hearing about more downturns and more capitulation. The only exception is when we all slink from our offices to gather for ominous speeches from our Overlord — the Imperial Fed — to bring us yet another interest rate hike. Not long ago, we began covering our televisions with black sheets.
Lunch hour. The attorneys saunter out with empty briefcases. We have ample time for lunches; sumptuous lunches taken far from the office in quiet establishments away from the typical haunts of the financial intelligentsia. But we must take our lunches alone — to take them together would be an admission of the hours we have not worked and our failure as shepherds of the economy. We take head-bent walks after our lunches and return hastily to the office, muttering to our coworkers about needing to get back to work on deals that have long since gone dormant.
Back in our offices, the attorneys have taken up strange hobbies. Office shelves are now dotted with high-maintenance tropical plants and kinetic motion sculptures. The associates have taken to trimming expensive bonsai trees at their desks; the partners have taken to crying under their desks. Many of us look forlornly out of our windows and daydream about those heroes of the Depression who threw themselves from their windows when everything came down. Late afternoon turns to evening and the attorneys peek from their offices to see who will break ranks and leave first. Often, we wait beyond dusk so that our litigation and bankruptcy counterparts will not see us as we slink through the office. The building is closing and the darkness from the office begins to push the sun away. And we must go home to recite to our partners the demanding work we’ve done that day.
The attorneys arm themselves with bundles of paper and letter openers and begin their descent to the lobby. They will hold formation as they exit the building to fend off the terrors that lurk between the great edifices of Wall Street. The last weak light of dusk fades and the night demons resume their howling.
Hugo Amador (he/him) is a junior in the College of Arts & Sciences. Yves Darkbloom (he/him) is a graduate of Cornell Law School. They can be reached at [email protected] and [email protected] respectively. Hugo’s column, Portraits Of A Man runs every other Monday this semester.