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John Quinn Feels Your Pain

The Careerist

June 9, 2016


John Quinn has never struck me as the touchy-feely type. The fearless leader of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan has a reputation for being tough, brash, jockish and ridiculously successful (the firm's profit per partner is $4,420,000).

But my view of Quinn (below) might be too one-dimensional. He has a different side—apparently, a tender side. Recently, he launched the Museum of Broken Relationships in Los Angeles, which showcases personal objects associated with doomed love. So we're not talking about complaints or motions. We're talking about the kind of things that make people cry.

Your museum is all about heartbreaks—the thousand ways people leave and betray their lovers—and it exhibits the odds and ends from a broken marriage or love affair. It reminds me of a weepy country-western song. Shouldn't this be in Nashville?
It could be put anywhere. It's not just about romantic breakups. It's also about the broken bonds between parent and child, friends, siblings. It explores different kinds of relationships and their consequences. These type of traumas are universal experiences.

Oh, this is not ironic? But the museum's location is too much!  You're in the space occupied by the old Frederick's of Hollywood—that legendary purveyor of cheesy lingerie. 
It was hard to find space. People might think it's tawdry because of the location, but we try to show a serious endeavor. We're not looking to collect dollars from tourists. We hope it will be taken more seriously.

You also have to admit that exhibiting household items, stuffed animals, old perfume bottles, etc. seems a bit kitschy. That exhibit of the wedding dress stuffed into an old pickle jar sounds pretty funky.
Wedding dresses are a common donation. People can't bear to just throw it away. But what are they going to do with it? Giving it to the museum can be a healthy way to deal with it.

12.08.01-QuinnAre you personally involved in curating?
I'm not making selections on a daily basis. We have two full time professional staff members—two women. They are gifted people. Before the space was ready, they worked at our law offices and there were donations everywhere. They kept coming in.

Really, so you had no problem collecting momentos of failed love. Did lawyers at your firm add to the pile?
I don't know for sure, but it's possible. Everybody has something from a prior relationship that they've kept . . . I'm surprised you haven't mentioned something that you'd like to donate.

I'll check my closet. But what about you? Did you contribute to the exhibit?
No! I'm a happily married man. I've been so for over 30 years.

Well, that doesn't mean you didn't have your heart broken at some point. In any case, is this museum meant to show your romantic side?
I don't regard myself as a romantic, but I'm interested in relationships. Litigation is all about broken relationship—usually people go into a business relationship thinking that it would last, but then something goes terribly wrong. . . There's something about objects that provoke memory. It's Proustian. And even if it's someone else's object, it has an impact.

This all sounds pretty heavy. Are you concerned that people will come out of the museum depressed?
No. Because the point is that people have gone on with their lives. There were some very sad stories in the exhibit—a couple of suicides—but we try to be thoughtful. We don't want people to leave with a downer. We tried to plan a journey where people tell their experiences and come out at the other end. There's an inherently positive message: Certain relationships don't work out. People suffer and feel alone. But you learn that everyone experiences that at some point. So the takeaway can be positive and cathartic.


Photo: Wedding dress on fire escape, New York, June 2016 by Vivia Chen


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Your museum looks good

They go on with their lives. Someone received a classic white wedding gown at Goodwill....provided a job and a nice size 6 for a bride to be.

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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