Tonight is the premiere of the 21st season of "Survivor," the CBS reality show that has been hugely successful. The show's been on for ten years (they do two seasons a year, unlike most shows), and even now draws 12 million viewers and ranks among the top 25 shows in ratings. To be sure, I'm the only person I actually know who still watches it (my wife gave up years ago). It's my TV guilty pleasure, and the only reality show I watch (I'm done with "Idol").
And for years, I've been telling people that it's very similar to practicing employment law.
Let me explain:
"Survivor" is incredibly formulaic. Every episode of every season (except the season finales) follow the same exact pattern: Two tribes of castaways in an exotic location bond and caper and plot and fight in their respective camps. Then the two tribes have a contest to try to win some minor comfort (the Reward Challenge). More bonding and capering and plotting and fighting, then another challenge (the Immunity Challenge) to figure out who is at risk for going home. The climax of each episode is the Tribal Council, which is even more ritualistic and formulaic. The losing tribe sits around a fire. The host, Emmy-winning Jeff Probst, goads the players into revealing their fears and suspicions and plans. Then the players cast ballots to vote someone off the island. Probst uses many of the same stock phrases every episode, like "The Tribe has spoken. It's time for you to go."
But despite the repetition over a complete decade and 273 episodes, there is still great drama. (OK, maybe not "great," but drama nevertheless.) It's never boring.
As in employment law.
I've been practicing employment law for 16 years this month. (Paging Molly Ringwald.) I work on the same kinds of cases day in and day out. Noncompetes, discrimination, wage claims, sexual harassment. The usual. Everything I do boils down to people not getting along at work. The lawsuits and agency claims are all basically the same. It's been many years since I've come across a case that was truly novel in any way. I use the same set phrases — "The Tribe has spoken. It's time for you to go. (OK, not really.) — in many of my conversations.
And yet there is still great drama. And it's never boring. To me, practicing employment law and helping companies have gruntled employees and easier workplaces is as interesting to me as it was 16 years ago.
And the reason for that is the same reason that "Survivor" is still interesting:
Because of the people. Every employment-law case or issue or problem, every "Survivor" episode or challenge or Tribal Council is different because of the human variable. It's the people who make it different every time. The different personalities of the players and employees. The different exotic locations, and their effects on the contestants. The different corporate cultures. The people always make it different, and thus interesting.
That's why I still love employment law. And that's why I still watch "Survivor." Wednesday nights at 8 ET on CBS.
What do you think? Is your practice like a particular TV show? Is your tax firm like "True Blood," or your family-law practice like "Glee"? Share your thoughts in the comments below.