The Big STory IV – the weird postscript

I hadn’t heard anything from my former boss in forever. I knew he had won the arbitration, I had a general idea as to how much he probably got out of the case (mid-high 7 figures), but there was pretty much radio silence. I figured, as seemed to be the usual with him, he would blow into town, and call for dinner with veritably no forewarning, and we’d catch up for an hour or two and then I wouldn’t hear from him for another year or two.

That didn’t happen this time. Instead I got a call from the primary state Bar Ethics Counsel. To their credit, once they identified who they were, the first thing they said was, “this isn’t a call about you.” Its like getting a phone call from the morgue and the first thing they say is, ‘don’t worry, no one you know died.’

So the pending heart attack at being called by the Bar was averted, but then they told me why they were calling. Or at least, as much as they could tell me about why they were calling. To start, the way they had my name in the first place was because I had signed something they were interested in… never a good start to a conversation like this.

Turns out they were investigating my former boss. I got the general story, half of which sounded like bullshit that had been levied at him by our former law firm, but half of it sounded… well… plausible. Likely even. I had a long talk with the Bar Counsel. In the end, they said I might be required to testify as they were moving on him.

A decent amount of the claim against him was, to me at least, effectively fabricated / generated by our prior law firm. But, there were other things that definitely were not. He had apparently tried to strike out as a solo with a single associate and his paralegals, and he was not organized enough to really run a business. His organization in his office when I knew him involved 2 cardboard boxes, one for recycling, and one for the overflow of important papers falling off his desk. He did not always throw the papers into the correct box. The complaints against him sounded like he had not been able to transition to a more organized business style.

I ended up with another few phone calls with the Bar Counsel. Ultimately I didn’t have to testify, but only because they reached an agreement with my former boss. He was ‘suspended from the practice of law for 5 years.’ Disbarred. Last I heard, he took off and moved across country. I haven’t heard from him since I testified at his employment arbitration sadly.

Et Tu Brute? (I am Milton pt. 2)

She handed me a printout of the email. It was amazingly short for something attempting to end my career.

Basically, the claims office of my former insurance company employer, wrote a note to my brand spanking new employer 2 days before I showed up for my first day of work there. In effect, it stated that they refused to work with me, I was blacklisted, and nothing of theirs should be given to me to work on. There was a phone call or two that the managing attorney admitted to me as well. But the end result was that he decided I was radioactive and maybe I would just disappear on my own if he ignored me.

Before I go farther, I will say that when I left the insurance company, it was on good terms. I had been offered a ridiculously good career move which I would have been insane to decline. I had a small going away party from the other attorneys… I honestly counted them all as friends. I found out the below piecemeal over several months.


The insurance company’s legal office had been expanding and the managing attorney was having difficulty managing the office and the seams were showing a bit, we were crushed with work which was unrelenting and we kept getting empty promises of more help coming ‘soon’; that and a particularly good job market meant several attorneys and staff ended up jumping ship to better and higher paying positions elsewhere. At the time, I think I was the second attorney out the door of what shortly turned into a small exodus. At the end of it, half of the 20 attorneys in the legal office and about half a dozen paralegals left within the short span of 3 months.

I was aware of some of this. I was still in infrequent contact with people there. I had lunch with them from time to time because they were friends. They knew when I got shafted from the BigLaw office, and I even got a half-hearted offer to come back.

What I didn’t know was the backend result of everyone leaving. The office, which had been overloading the attorneys with twice the docket of cases as we should have had, could hardly absorb the excess work left when they lost one or two attorneys, let alone half the office. The overflow of cases was sent to the legal office the next large city over to help with… and it swamped them and spilled over to a third larger city attempting to stem to torrent. All referrals by the claims office to the legal office were halted for 6 months and all new cases were sent to outside counsel to handle (expensive!@!). At the end of it all, the insurance company paid out over 7-figures in legal fees to deal with all their overflow work with outside counsel, as well as an unknown amount in fast settlement of cases which would have otherwise been litigated. In short, they hemorrhaged money over this.

The managing attorney was forced to retire over this ordeal. Apparently, in an attempt to save his job, he pointed the finger at everyone who had already left, stating it must have been a conspiracy to bring down the office… obviously perpetrated by the people who had left.

Relatively fatal to this theory, none of us went to the same firm, nor did we all leave at the same time. Everyone left because they overloaded us with twice the workload that could be reasonably managed, and the job market was booming. My salary was boosted by 1/3 by leaving. It came down to the fact that at the end of the day, they just weren’t a very good employer.

The claims office (which I did not work for) did not see it that way. Apparently everyone who left became persona non-gratis. We were all blacklisted, and some story was generally accepted that we had all left at once to get back at the insurance company for some perceived wrong.

They reached out while I was working for my friend and tried to blacklist me there. When she told them it wasn’t a problem because I was leaving shortly, she made the mistake of telling them where I was going. They then reached out before I even started working at the BigLaw firm to blacklist me there.

I hired an employment attorney.

This did not sit well with my current employer. Suing a current client is rife with sticky ethical problems. The firm was terrified it would lose the contract. On my end of it, I had no other choice. I was being pushed out of the auto defense industry by one of its biggest players for the horrible crime of quitting my job at their company (with like a months notice…)

This all came to a head when I was called in by the supervising attorney again around month 6. He stated in a rather matter of fact tone that I still wasn’t pulling in the hours I needed to be. I looked around the room at the 3 people in the meeting with me, and realized they were all on the email which had circulated. I suddenly became much calmer and said, “well I guess we can all drop the pretense because we all know why I don’t have any fucking work, don’t we.” The meeting was short. They didn’t have any of the other scheduled meetings that day after mine was over.

If I had little to do before, I had even less to do after that meeting. I spoke with the managing attorney a few times, it went about as well as you might think. They apparently decided there was more then enough here for some sort of employment suit so they sat back and decided continuing to pay my salary until I got bored and left was worth the expense. As luck would have it, I still had copies of a lot of information internal to the insurance company, which included email for everyone damn near up to the CEO level. A few emails blasted out to high enough levels got their attention along with a letter from my employment attorney. I never wanted to sue them, just to get them to back off and leave me alone. The generic accord of “we’ll leave you alone if you agree not to file an employment suit” was reached. I told them I didn’t want to sue, I just wanted them to stop fucking with my career over someone’s retarded fantasy. It was signed off by a VP in the company whom I knew.

I had already been applying to other jobs since I had been expecting to be fired for months. The first offer I got, I jumped ship. I probably could have continued on there for quite a bit longer, sitting in the far, small office with no work… forgotten and ignored.

I bought myself a red stapler which sits on my desk to this day as a reminder of my time at that firm.

I am Milton.

I haven’t written in a long time on here… I figured I would add a few posts related to what I’ve been doing in the meantime. I’ll start with a big one… strap in.

So I got hired into a BigLaw shop. They didn’t pay like true BigLaw, but they had the size on their side and are one of the largest in the country. You may have even heard of them. Anyway, the local office is one of the larger they have. It has several floors in a nice steel and black glass building, sitting ominously and incongruously off to the side and separate from any other high rises.

My interview wasn’t all that special. The firm was hoovering up nearly any loose attorney in the area and was growing the office at ridiculous speed. I spoke with the managing attorney. He pulled in another partner and asked if I would be ok also working in other specialties outside my experience, specifically employment, because they might want to use me with this other partner from time to time. I said sure, sounds interesting; I’ve never even looked sideways at employment law but, sure… why not.

I had previously worked as in-house counsel at an auto insurance company, and I was being hired-in primarily to work on auto insurance defense, notably because the firm had just recently acquired a contract to work with my previous company. The obvious conclusion being that I already knew what they wanted, how they wanted it, and also knew many of the names at the insurance company still.

I got a nice little office overlooking the highway, where I could watch the rush hour jam and get a front row seat to more car accidents than you can imagine. For the first month, I did nothing. Everyone kept telling me not to worry and to enjoy the spare time because the work would come, and I would be drinking from the firehose in no time.

For the second month, I did nothing. Everyone told me not to worry, it was busy and likely I would be assigned my docket soon. The managing partner was swamped and between the various lead partners, it would be anytime when the work would be poured on.

For the third month, I did nothing. At this point, other people started to notice. It was sorta that weird sidelong glance, where everyone seems to know something is off, but no one is really sure what is happening.

Now, when I say I did nothing, that’s not 100% accurate. I would wander the hallways of this BigLaw office and just poke my head into several peoples offices whom I had gotten to know, and see if they had anything extra they needed help on. A motion here. An appeal to research and write. Effectively odd jobs other people didn’t have time for. What I did not do, was auto insurance defense. Pretty much nothing. Which was weird since that was what I was hired for. I also did a couple jobs for the employment partner, but that didn’t last long. The reason they had wanted to know if I would be willing to do stuff for him was because it turned out he was infamous in the area (one of the largest cities in the country) for being an asshole. Attorneys who didn’t even practice employment law knew him, and would say “oh yeah. I’ve heard of him… he’s an asshole.” It was uncanny. Anyway, it didn’t take long to verify for myself that he was, in fact, a raging asshole. Everyone who worked with him quit in short order (with the exception of one associate, and although the associate immediately agreed the partner was the biggest asshole he had ever met, had decided to tie his wagon to him simply because the associate quickly became indispensable to the firm because no one else would work with this partner).

After a few run-ins with the employment partner earlier on, I asked the supervising attorney of the office not to assign me work from him any longer. The best part was, he said “why not?” I responded, “you know why.” He laughed, and said “yeah– yeah I do… but I figured I would ask anyway.” It wasn’t an unusual request in the office as it turned out. Apparently, if you were an attorney, you put your foot down and said ‘I don’t want to work with him’ (several partners had apparently said the same thing) or if you were staff, you just quit because you had no choice sadly.

Anyway… I got into a slightly sad routine of wandering the halls looking for something to do. Taking long lunches, and in general surfing the internet. I spoke to the managing partner several times, and I always got the same “be patient, its coming” general statement with no real explanation of when. This explanation however, made no sense. For a short walk from my office was the other attorney who was hired in at the same exact date I was, who was slated to take on half of this insurance defense contract from my prior employer… and he was drowning in work. Yet at one point he told me he wasn’t allowed to give me any files to work on.

Something was wrong. My title had been changed, basically I had originally been hired in as a XXXXX Attorney and now I was a General Practice Attorney. I also wasn’t attached to a partner, which I didn’t actually realize was an issue until the required quarterly Associate’s (grievance) meeting. Basically all the associates were required to show up and air their grievances to the senior associate who theoretically would bring the issues to the managing partner to maybe rectify. Everyone went around the room and introduced themselves and stated which partner they were attached to, and when it got to me, I said I wasn’t attached to anyone and didn’t realize that was an issue but that I might have to talk to the senior associate about that. In a later, conversation she told me to GTFO of the firm ASAP because something was wrong but she had no idea what, but it couldn’t be good.

Month 4… still fuck all. I felt like I had surfed to the end of the internet during work hours. I had been doing motions on esoteric topics I had zero background with, but I was trying to keep busy. During this time, I had an ever changing paralegal. Why ever changing you ask? Well, it became known pretty quickly that I had no docket and therefore very minimal work, so if someone needed a bit of a break, they would be assigned to me. By this point, everyone knew something was wrong. There was more than enough work, but none of it was getting to me. And then the first hammer fell.

The supervising attorney had a meeting with me and told me I just wasn’t pulling the hours I needed to. I looked at him directly and said, well nothing is being assigned to me… at all. He thought that was a little odd, said he’d look into it, but he stuck to the story that somehow it must be me who was not doing something. After this meeting there was about a week of people giving me more work, and once again it tapered off to nothing, regardless of me pestering them.

Round about month 5, I was talking to my paralegal du jour, she was the 7th-ish paralegal I’d had by this point. And she told me that she was quitting the firm. I looked at her and asked if it was anything I had done… she laughed and said how could it have been anything I had done since I don’t have any work. I also laughed and said, well, you never know — I just wanted to be sure.

Without going into detail on some of the personal parts of her story, she was attractive, and had been hired in to work for the managing attorney over the objection of the HR manager of the office. The HR manager then started spreading rumors that the paralegal was sleeping with the managing attorney and that’s how she got her job. This continued until eventually the ‘home office’ got involved and basically slapped down the HR manager (yet somehow didn’t fire them!?). Apparently it was only a short reprieve because the HR manager was just quieter about spreading the rumors. The managing attorney chose to distance himself by sending the paralegal over to work with me, the other person who was apparently damaged goods in the office.

I initially asked why she was quitting, and at first she didn’t want to say. I told her I wasn’t long for the office either as I was going to either get fired or would have to quit. She asked why, I told her I had no work and thus no hours so it was only a matter of time. Without missing a beat, she looked right at me and said, “Well, you know why, don’t you?” I said no. And without pausing she said, when you first came on there was this email…

Interview 45 (&46) – The Cheapening

I had an interview the other day. This one doesn’t deserve the whole write up I normally do. It was with a firm I had a prior relationship with; basically in my last position they were an outside panel firm and were an option when we had to send a case outside. I had sent a fair number of cases to them and knew one of the main partners decently well from the referrals and also working as co-counsel on cases.

Once the recent crap bonanza happened to me, I reached out to the partner I knew at this firm because they had at one point attempted to poach me with promise of marginally more money. (I said no at the time because the marginally more money was also linked to zero provided benefits, which worked out to paying me significantly less). Anyway, the firm seemed to be setup in a most peculiar way since every partner there had their own mini-practice in which none of the other partners were much aware what transpired.

I was interviewed to work with one (and only one) partner; and it wasn’t the one who I had known. During the interview the partner lamented her commute time and told me she was hiring an associate to take care of cases and also be a warm body in the office, because they were not going to be showing up hardly anymore once they hired someone. The partner had decided they could more effectively use their time by working at home rather than commuting everyday.

As a sidenote… for any who are unaware. It is a rare person who can effectively work from home. More often than not, the above is code for “I don’t want to work as much as I used to, so I am hiring you to hold down the fort and I will only show my face when absolutely necessary.” I’ve seen it many times and the transition to working primarily from home is very often a bad sign. The second warning bell was that the career paralegal who took care of this partner had just quit and the partner had only now figured out that paralegal was doing the work of three people and now the partner was screwed trying to fill multiple positions for the one person who quit
(whoops).

Anyway, I got an answer to my interview in an odd manner. The partner who I did know, called me up to see if I was interested in working on a contract basis because the firm had decided I was too expensive to hire permanently, but they could pay me as a contractor what I was asking. (once again… no benefits). Apparently the nearly exact sentiment of the partners was that I was rather experienced, likely worth the salary I asked for (which was not exorbitant in the least… I know exactly what I am worth in this location and market and I am asking on the low end… esp because I had recently been getting the salary I was asking for and was merely asking for a match) but they didn’t want to pay that. Again a fun quote I was given was that they wanted someone less experienced they could pay less.

I’d like to say this was an anomaly but I had an almost identical circumstance happen at a second panel firm I knew, for the same reasons as above, 2 weeks later.

Interview #44 – perfectly Strange

The more I think about this one, the stranger it becomes.

This was the first time I’ve ever had anything come back from a ziprecruiter posting. Basically it was one of the postings where you apply directly through ziprecruiter and not through the firm site; if you’ve never done it you effectively upload your resume and it may ask you 2 or 3 yes/no questions and that is the whole application. Definitely initially easier on the applicant, although it turns out, might not be so great in the long run.

So I apply for a litigation position. The firm is a nice sized large firm of a few hundred attorneys with several offices in various cities. The posting was generic and just wanted a mid level lit associate. I got a call back requesting an interview and I show up to a nice modern mid-high rise done out in all white (cleaning / keeping these places clean must be a bitch). I’m assuming the firm had more than one floor of the building considering the number of people supposedly at that location, but I get ushered into the front conference room and never actually see the offices.

The interview was with the section lead attorney and one of the partners. Introductions were made and they sat down and pulled out a single page with my name in large letters across the top, and a few lines in large print on it. I’m quiet for only a moment before I say “What is that?” Apparently ziprecruiter had sent a synopsis page, and they had never seen my full resume… which was very strange because there was no way I would get an interview based on what looked like a 100 word synopsis with no real information on it. We all conclude that someone somewhere in the firm must have seen my full resume because an interview would not have been given off the short synopsis we were all looking at. Being prepared from my many weird interviews I always have half a dozen copies of my resume; its amazing how many people have never seen your resume and don’t even walk into the interview with a copy. So I pass out copies to the partners and we start talking.

As you might guess, the section lead is the person making the decisions. The other partner is largely silent for the whole interview. But damn, what an interview. It went amazing. They didn’t just want me as an associate, they were talking about putting me at Sr. Associate and we had been talking regarding time required for partnership by the end of everything. At the end of the interview the section lead asks me to hang around for a minute and they send in the HR rep who starts the paperwork. They have me fill out background paperwork as well as a conflicts check. At this point I think it’s over. I got the job and I just need to wait for the compliance dept to go over everything and finish the background check.

Over the next week I get a followup from the compliance team to verify a few things, and I also hear from one of my references that they got a phone call.

Finally, I get a call asking me to come in for a second interview. Wait… what?…

But hey, I’m game for whatever. So I show back up almost 2 weeks after the first interview for a second interview. I’m told this time I’ll be meeting with 4 attorneys. I check who I’ll be meeting with and from what I can gather this is the ‘social interview’ with other people on the team I’d be working with. But the strange part is, I’m being interviewed by 2 partners… and 2 first year attorneys. As in… they graduated last year and apparently have been working there for all of 6 months or so. Which could be a sign that the firm values the opinion of their employees… or possibly they just want to show them how it’s done? I feel both ideas are likely wrong, but I can’t for the life of me figure out why these associates would be in on this if I was likely to be hired over them.

The second interview did not go quite as well as the first. Generally, the more people interviewing you, the less effective it is. You can’t follow one train of thought to its conclusion and instead you get peppered with non-sequitur questions which don’t lend themselves to explanation. This one was no different. And again, they all walked in with that weird synopsis sheet (even though from interview 1 they knew it was wrong and now definitely had the full resume), so again I go about handing out my resume which they’ve never seen and commenting on how I have no idea what ziprecruiter sent over (WTF? seriously… just send the damn resume). What made this interview much worse however was the interplay between the 2 partners. One of them kept cracking jokes about how old the other one was. The older attorney was annoyed, which was obvious as he never made any return comments. And of course the young associates would laugh at the jokes about the older attorney compounding the unease in the room.

Being the applicant, you don’t join in. Ever. You don’t know the playing field, so don’t join in the game. It may be harmless joking, it might not be. What I will say is that about halfway through, the older attorney left with the excuse that he had a phone conference he had previously setup and had to go. I’m uncertain whether he left because he really had a phone call, or he was sick of the other partner joking at his expense. So, now its down to the one partner, and 2 associates. Here’s where it got weirder. One of the associates took this as their cue to shine and basically they took over the interview for the remainder. So now I am being questioned by someone who has been in the working world for about 6 months… and has never actually been involved in a trial, interviewing me for a litigation position, for which I would likely be their superior. Their questions reflected their ignorance unfortunately.

Even through all of this, the interview didn’t go badly. It just did not flow nearly as well as the first. A social interview is usually just a formality. The decision is already made and unless you do something egregious during the interview, you’ve got it.

Well, another week goes by and I get a generic email saying I didn’t get the position. I’m at a loss. I’ve never heard of a firm which spends the time and money, as well as contacting your references, on a ‘maybe’. It was as if whoever was running the interviews knew the various parts of the hiring process they needed to do, but not in what order. As near as I can tell, they wanted to vet me before they sat down to make a decision. It was a grand waste of time, but hey I got to be interviewed by a first year attorney for a senior position. That’s a new one for me.

UPDATE: Wow, so this one went from odd, to off-the-wall. When I really like somewhere I interview, or I get very far in the process, if the firm ends up rejecting me I usually send along a short note asking for feedback as to what happened. Most of the time you get the standard GLOMAR response, but every once in awhile, you get something useful or alternatively, just completely crazy. This falls under the latter category. I sent out the request for feedback, mostly because I seemed to have been damn near hired, and then it disappeared and I could not figure out the misstep. But then I actually got an email back. The gist of it was, one of the partners who interviewed me took exception to the fact that I used the lord’s name in vain, when describing something I said “Christ… something something something” in an exasperated tone. Turns out, the partner was a wee bit of a religious zealot and blocked me from being hired for that… Not hyperbole… not joking. BTW… I’m not christian, or any religion for that matter. So basically I was denied employment, not merely because I don’t share the religious affiliation but also the fervor that this partner does. Why this was admitted to me in an email? I don’t know. This seems like a very unwise thing to send to the applicant that they were denied for religious reasons. I’m going to have to consider this a bit more as to whether I should do something.

Deep down, I knew it was too good to be happening to me

I was there a week.

I think my phone had rung twice while I was there that week. Once from the practice group head who was in another city calling to welcome me to the group. And then once from a compliance attorney.

The compliance attorney called on Thursday. It was odd because I had handed over all my compliance paperwork over a month ago. It seemed weird that they would suddenly find an issue now, but they were calling up to verify something which had only been noticed recently. That arbitration… the one I had mentioned to literally every single person during my interview process… they had some questions. Actually, that might be overstating it. They had one question.

Did I know any confidential information regarding either party from the arbitration.

This is an odd question. The answer could be anything you want it to be… the case involved a law firm and billing arrangements and fee structures and client statements regarding all of the above and hours worked by whom and for what purpose, where people were at different times… trivially, there was lots of confidential information since it involved a law firm. Lawyers keep confidences as part of the job. The problem was, I was only a fact witness relating to a small part of the suit. I had no idea of the big picture of the case and who may have known what. No clue. How could I actually know what one side knew and the other might not. I gave my testimony and I was done with my part, and honestly I wanted nothing more to do with it once I had testified. Not only that, but I was out… my testimony had been taken and I was done.

My answer was pretty much the above. Sure, there was confidential information, because it involved a law firm and its inner workings and clients. Do I have any idea if I have information that one side or the other doesn’t? No clue. Nearly exactly what I told the compliance attorney. I explained the bare facts of the arbitration in about 30 seconds and that I was only there one afternoon as a witness. The compliance attorney (much like the HR admin and the two partners) pretty much said “oh, ok. Probably nothing then.” but then they also added, “I have to kick it up to my supervising attorney for the final word though.”

Huh.

Seemed unnecessary, but whatever. I put it from my mind as literally everyone there has already stated it is a non-issue.

Monday rolls around and I show up bright and early. I had spent the last week going through sporadic orientation and training. I was supposed to be assigned real work starting today. I was apprehensive to see what I would be doing to merit the fabulous surroundings, yet excited to start. But wandering the beautiful hallways, I wasn’t finding anyone. The partners seemed to be MIA. So I waited in my office… and waited… and eventually after lunch a partner came and got me and said “come on down to my office to talk.”

I assumed I was finally going to be read in on a case and start actually doing something. Nope. We got there, and he told me that he’s never seen this happen before, but that they had to let me go.

Yup. One week of sitting in a wonderful office and being trained to use all the amazing things they had to offer, and it was suddenly yanked away. I asked why. I was told they felt there was a conflict of interest with the plaintiff’s law firm I had previously worked for, and had basically been an adverse fact witness at the arbitration.

I quickly retorted that being a fact witness (adverse or not) does not create a conflict. It literally can’t. It can’t even create an imputed conflict for their firm. Effectively they said they didn’t care. Someone had also checked in with the employment counsel present at the arbitration who had given their opinion regarding the substance of my testimony (which seemed like more of an ethical violation than the conflict we were discussing… but I digress). The crazy part was, this firm which was operating as employment counsel, had a large defense practice which was constantly opposing counsel to the plaintiff’s firm on personal injury cases… as in concurrent and ongoing cases where they were opposing counsel. All the while, representing them in a multitude of employment cases.

My guess was an overly officious (or maybe overly cautious) compliance attorney had contacted the client / plaintiff’s firm and informed them of the potential / but not really conflict of interest our of an abundance of caution. What they couldn’t have guessed was that the plaintiff’s firm likely then told then they would find new employment counsel if I was allowed to stay there. The firm weighed the (likely) million plus dollars in billable hours versus keeping me on at the firm, and they made a business decision to get rid of me.

(sidenote… merely because I was curious and irritated that the firm was sticking to this ridiculous conflict story when most any first year law student could have told them it wasn’t a conflict, I submitted a request for decision to the Supreme Court Ethics panel. The panel did not write a decision (for reasons the ethics counsel told me on the phone, basically since these are all in the form of a hypothetical, they didn’t know who the huge firm was, but they were apprehensive of blowback from the wrong people), but the Ethics Counsel specifically called and spoke with me stating that there was a unanimous agreement on the panel that there was no conflict of interest with any party, and that I was removed for “a political reason”. Cold comfort to know I was right, but honestly, I really just wanted affirmation. I wasn’t going to do anything with the information regardless of how / in what form I got it.)

I was handed a severance package and told they would deny I ever worked there. Before signing, I made one request. I asked the partner if I could get a confidential letter that I could show to employers during interviews which would give a very generic “it wasn’t anything Azrael had done / not done. There was an undiscovered conflict related to prior clients which the firm could not resolve.” A simple, generic letter which any attorney would recognize and say “oh damn, that sucks. Sorry.” The partner said, (and yes this is a quote) “I don’t see why not. It’s a very reasonable request.” I signed the severance paperwork, at which point the partner took the paper and added,”But you must know, I am not the one who makes those decisions ultimately or who would write / sign it.” He hastily added, “But I can’t imagine they would say no, it is very reasonable and you’ve been very professional about this whole thing.”

I needed some proof to show potential employers why I had mysterious quit my job where I had seniority. The Big Law firm made it very clear I couldn’t put them down on my resume, so I had to have something that explained why I suddenly quit my job and had nothing lined up afterward. That usually doesn’t spell good things on a resume when you mysteriously quit a job without another one lined up.

But hey, they were definitely going to get me that letter. And the partner also said they had some career placement services inter-office that might be able to give me some good leads. He made it sound like the various large firms traded job information between each other and he was going to get me a golden job sheet that was non-public that I could use to get a jump on finding something new.

That’s not how it turned out. I got a curt email stating they wouldn’t be giving me the letter. No explanation. And when the partner eventually got around to sending me the job sheet, I actually laughed. It was a three page xerox which was mostly jobs in other states and had zero useful information. Half squinting at any single Indeed.com page would have given better job leads than what I was sent. It was pathetic.

I almost forgot to mention… everything was finalized and I was fired just about a week prior to Thanksgiving. Which meant there would be zero real job interviews until January after all the holidays. Perfect.

Ever since being offered the glamorous job, I had a strange foreboding that there was something waiting in the wings; I just couldn’t have guessed at how truly and completely they were going to fuck me over. I suppose they paid me some money to walk away, that was something at least, but at this point I had a gaping hole in my resume, and in theory, nothing to explain it.

Icarus


And for a moment I got to admire the glory of the sun at its brightest… Without a single care of the consequences. And without as much as feeling of regret, I am falling from the graces of the sky, from Helios, the sun god’s domain. Falling beyond my station into the depths of the abyss.

I generally operate under the philosophy that you work to live, not vice versa. Part and parcel to that, no job defines my life nor does it take over my life. And I’m never so invested in a job that I couldn’t quit if I wanted to. 

Regardless of the above… This one hurts.

So for the past few years I’ve been working as an insurance defense trial attorney. Not a fabulous job to be sure, but it was great career experience and was definitely a resume booster. Plus it helped that it was for a company with very high brand recognition.

The problem was, the city I was working in had one of the more dysfunctional offices this company had (at least from apocryphal stories we heard). I’ll end up coming back in the next few weeks to stories from this office, but today’s story is not about that. You see, one of the overriding issues at this insurance defense office was the workload (for a plethora of reasons). It was huge. So big in fact that as an attorney, you couldn’t actually manage the caseload. Internally it was referred to as managed malpractice — initially as a joke and later as accepted truth throughout the office.

Many attorneys left over this. I ended up having a conversation with the managing attorney which convinced me I needed to leave as well. So I began my job search in earnest yet again. It is significantly easier to find a job when you have a job, you’re basically considered to be already vetted if you are working for someone else. I had a handful of interviews before I landed the seemingly impossible.

A top 25 firm — As in the biggest of the big worldwide. I usually don’t bother applying because normally they don’t seem to even get back to me to give me the time of day, but hey why not. I originally applied for an associate position, but the HR rep got back to me and said they weren’t really looking for someone like me for those positions (not 100% sure what that meant… but whatever) but they did have a counsel position (non-equity track) which I seemed to fit the bill for and they suggested I apply for that. So I did, and lo and behold they setup an interview post haste.

The interview process almost seemed fasttracked. After the suggestion to apply for counsel, the interviews were setup nearly the same week.  I showed up to the firm for the interview and was surprised to find it was the same place I had shown up for the arbitration a couple months before. I got off the elevator and it hit me where I was. I hadn’t really taken note of the firm name when I had shown up before… mostly because of the above reasons that they never hired people like me.

The HR lady came out to greet me and I mentioned that I had been a witness at an arbitration here a few months ago to her. It is passed off as interesting coincidence and nothing more by HR. I’m brought down to talk with 2 partners individually. I have really good interviews with both, but randomly I end up also mentioning to each of them that I had just recently been there for an arbitration as a fact witness. I talked very briefly about the case and in fact they joked with me a bit about it since we all knew the various players (at least peripherally) involved; and it was again dismissed as a slightly interesting story and little more. One of the partners told me that their firm actually handled the employment issues for my previous firm from the arbitration… and “oh boy did he have a lot of employment cases with them.” (i.e. my prior firm was consistently and constantly sued for employment issues… no big surprise there). 

I was offered the position within the week. I put in notice shortly thereafter at my current insurance job where I was considered to be a mid-senior attorney at this point. Part of the paperwork to onboard at the big firm was conflicts paperwork. They wanted a list of every case I had been involved with in the past several years, which was substantial considering my workload at the insurance company. Included in that listing were also a fair number of cases from the plaintiff firm (which had as defendants most of the larger companies in this state), a handful of probate and immigration cases, and of course I put on the list that I was a fact witness for the arbitration. Because, well, I don’t really know; for completeness sake I suppose, plus I had already mentioned it multiple times and no one cared… anyway… it can’t be a conflict since I was a non-party and had no representation of any party and again… I was just a fact witness (this is actually true from a legal and ethical standpoint… there is zero conflict of interest for any party involved merely because an attorney is a fact witness in relation to a client’s case. Unless I specifically, not the firm as a whole, was going to be representing the client in the matter I was testifying about… this is actually a horribly short restatement of an actual ethics decision; also of note would be that I was working in a completely different section and had nothing to do with the employment section at all).

Anyway, I show up at the firm and it is everything you see in movies about law firms. The office was at the top many floors of one of the tallest buildings downtown. All the attorneys had a windowed office with a nameplate out front. When I showed up on day one, my name was on my office door. The breakroom was something I had previously only dreamed about. Huge, it had couches, it had a large coffee bar, it had a soda fountain, there were snacks… all of it free. It was just there in case we wanted anything. I had staff… coming from the insurance company which was setup to feel like we were working as solo attorneys in a weird office-share situation, this was incredible. All you had to do was think you wanted something and it showed up for you. The law firm was the size of a small city. It had a fair sized postal service in it, just for the firm; it had a massive staffed copy center, just for the firm. It had training rooms and staff working to do nothing but training you and your personal staff, it had a full library with more librarians working in it that most public libraries have at one point in time. It had event and catering staff… for the firm. None of this is hyperbole. It was crazy what I had access to. You want a digital subscription to (literally fill in the blank with anything) they already had a corporate subscription and here is the login and password. I literally couldn’t think of something that had I asked, wouldn’t have been provided very quickly from staff within the firm dedicated to doing just what I was requesting.

To say that the firm was oozing money was an understatement. unlike certain other firms I had interviewed at, none of the money here was being spent ostentatiously. It was all focused on business. Everything had a business purpose, there was no extraneous decoration in the office and it didn’t look like they were spending money just to spend money. No, they spent money on a massive server farm several floors down to create a network most universities would be jealous of. And this was mirrored in their other offices. It boggled the mind. I literally couldn’t believe how lucky I was to have been hired here.

I was let go one week later.

The big story III – Dipping my toes back in the crazy

I didn’t hear much from my former boss after that. He happened to be passing through the city I live in and we met up for dinner. It was social, he specifically said he didn’t want to talk about the case on the chance he might need me to testify. I thought he was being overly cautious. I had a phone call or two from the paralegals who were friends of mine as well. But overall, I had figured the case had been settled, or died… I never really looked into it. I was happy enough to be out of the whole situation.

In truth, in my new job doing insurance defense work I ran across a fair number of attorneys who had worked at the shady plaintiffs firm. Some contemporaneous with me (some who even knew of what had been going on at the time through the rumor mill there) and others who had worked there before or after my tenure. We almost had a support group. None of us had good stories about the place. Even among this group, mine stood out as a cautionary tale.

Two years after I quit, I got a call from my former boss.

“Hey, Azrael… my employment case finally came up. It was dragged over into arbitration but its finally time. What are you doing on Monday?”

I figured this was it. This was the bookend to finally end this stupid chapter so I could forever forget I ever worked at that firm. I told him I’d be there and he gave me an address to show up to. It was on the top floor of a highrise downtown… sorta an odd location but I had no idea. I was just told to show up and tell the front desk I was there for the arbitration. Easy enough.

I’m not going to go into my testimony. Not here at least… it went on for about 3 and a half hours though. I will say that the attorney defending the law firm made a fatal mistake in his questioning of me and I quickly cut him off at his knees early on in his questioning and he never recovered his footing. It was fantastic… it was something out of a movie, and a little part inside me wishes I had a video of it.

At the end of it, I got a quick handshake from my former boss and he said he wasn’t really going to be able to talk to me much until the thing was finalized. I figured maybe he’d buy me dinner the next time he was in town. I haven’t seen him in person since… dinner is still a possibility at this point.

I walked out feeling lighter since I wouldn’t have to deal with any of this mess ever again.

So I thought.

THE BIG STORY II – The Fallout

It got ugly fast.

My boss confronted the managing partner about the whole thing. It didn’t go well. From what I can tell, my boss left the managing partner’s office and immediately started consolidating his support with his clients. He had the loyalty of his support staff and basically said screw the rest of the firm.

We started having substantive meetings at lunch, or in hallways, or outside the building. Anywhere there wouldn’t be eavesdropping. The harassment continued, and in truth increased now that the jig was up and they could be as blatant as they wanted.

Strange demands started being levied against our group. “We need your boss’ company cell phone. Where is it?” As if somehow I would have the answer to this, I was vaguely aware he had one but that was the extent of my knowledge about it. My boss was probably one of the more paranoid people I’ve known (although he still didn’t hold a candle to my own free floating paranoia). He hated using the company cell phone and he had solid evidence that the firm was tracking location of the phones as well as anything put on the phones (including photos — there’s a story to this one, but it is too identifiable.) They physically rummaged through his office while he wasn’t there trying to find it. They sent people to his house to try to have him hand it over. I don’t know what they thought was on the phone… but it must have been something really interesting. I’m not sure they ever found it… if they did I’d be willing to be it had been professionally scrubbed prior to them getting their hands on it; again… the paranoia he had was laudable but also apparently merited.

I felt like I was missing some over arching plan. Some of what the firm did was capricious, some just weird. We had a few cases that were losers… as in the law was firmly and completely against us; proven several times over. We’re not even talking maybe some wiggle room… just dead set against us. We requested that we be able to close down the files, instead we were told to string along the clients and keep the file open even though we knew nothing would come out of them.

The firm started trying to concoct a narrative my boss was having an affair with the paralegal… then with a client. Then that he was on drugs. Then that he was using someone else’s drugs. At this point, we weren’t being given more cases. My work had significantly dried up and there were many days I came into work and watched Netflix on my phone until I went home. My boss wasn’t there, I had no work, and the rest of the office had been told to stay away from the lepers. During the day I caught up on TV shows I had missed, and at night I applied to anything that looked halfway passable as a job.

Eventually, the firm got lucky. It was a combination of continued harassment and lucky timing. Although, if you keep up the harassment indefinitely eventually something will happen that can be taken advantage of, and that’s exactly what transpired.

Due to a particularly identifiable bit of malpractice done by the firm (which I won’t go into) one of our cases blew up right before a vital expert deposition. The case value had dropped from a mid-high six figure estimate to approximately zero. My boss had the wind sucked out of his sails and with nothing left on the near horizon, he went on a prior planned vacation. While on vacation, he contracted something almost fatal and ended up in the hospital abroad and then transported back home. This was apparently the perfect time to move against him, and the firm acted quickly.

If I had thought I had nothing to do before, I was about to see what nothing really was. Every case was reassigned. The prognosis was that my boss would be back in about a week, two at the most. None of the cases had anything happening in that time frame. I was there as the associate who had all the info and had been dealing with the cases and could hold down the fort. If needed, I could get my boss on the phone. But no. Everything was assigned away. A legal fiction was being created to support firing him for going on a pre-approved vacation, then for getting ill. Then for not telling them he was in the hospital (delirious). It was tenuous, but it seemed like they thought it was workable. It came fast and furious.

In the midst of all this, I got a job away from the crazy. I put in my notice pretty close to when my boss came back. Most of the files came back. My boss went to go knock some heads, but at this point he knew what was going on. It wasn’t even hidden anymore, why bother. When I left, he told me that at some point he was going to file suit and he’d probably call me up, if I was okay with it, and bring me in as a witness. I told him I’d be happy to… the firm had made my working life hell on a daily basis for months with their weird vendetta.

About 2-3 months after I quit, they fired my former boss. When he left, he took all his staff and clients with him. And he filed a massive employment suit against them. The firm retaliated and filed against him as well. It was a clusterfuck. But I was out… mostly.

The Big Story I – the setup

A very long time ago, I promised a story once I had a real conclusion to it. I finally had enough of a conclusion that I can write it up. 

So, for those who may not have read the small novel of the background on this site… I had moved to a new state and set about getting a position at a firm somewhere. Unfortunately it wasn’t going well, one of the benefits of sticking around the city you graduated law school is a bit of nepotism granted by local firms to your school. You graduated from the same place as them, therefore they will give you a shot as a little bit of ‘giving back’ to the school, as well as a slight bond of common experience. I can’t tell you how many times I talked to someone who graduated from my school many years prior and we’d both laugh that we both had the same contracts professor… because he was seemingly immortal and had been working there as long as nearly anyone could remember. Anyway, once you move, you lose that link and actually end up behind the curve, because you are now fighting that nepotistic impulse from whatever law school is local.

In my new city I was having zero luck getting a position, I had sworn to never work in personal injury when I started law school, but it is amazing what needing money can do to a person. I ended up applying to literally ONE personal injury firm. And fate being the cruel and ironic mistress that she is… I was hired… at a pretty good salary too. I quite literally had no reason to say no. Unfortunately it turned out to be a horrible situation, for a huge number of reasons. So I started to try to escape. About 5 months in I had reached a fever pitch of applying to literally anything to get out. My addiction to food kept me working there, but there was no day I didn’t think about just walking out and never coming back. 

But before I get to the fun part, I have to fill in some of the back story. The firm originally had a compliance attorney. I had never met him in person as they had quit probably 6 months before I ever started working there. Their legacy however was still felt… everyone there remembered the guy and he was universally despised; the attorneys would damn near spit on the ground after saying his name. But then there was a reprieve… he quit and hadn’t been replaced. In truth, it had seemed like the firm owner had gone MIA for an extended period of time and just hadn’t been keeping track of things. That changed quite suddenly one day and the named owner was suddenly in everyone’s business overnight. Several attorneys hypothesized his bank account had gotten lower than he was happy with and was now very involved again to try to fill the coffers to allow him to go on some more extended absences again.

The reprieve from the compliance attorney was apparently only a brief respite as the managing attorney eventually got around to hiring a new one, the previously mentioned Rainman, in fact shortly after hiring Rainman they hired several more compliance attorneys… it seemed odd that they went from one to none to half a dozen overnight… I’m sure there’s a story somewhere there but I don’t know it.

Shortly after Rainman was hired, he was making the rounds of the office and came to speak with me. It’s always a ‘great‘ sign when someone walks into your office and closes the door because they need to talk. Rainman wandered in and shut the door and sat down across from me in my tiny office. He then stated in a colorful euphemism that ‘they’ were looking to fire my boss in the near term. This drew a disinterested grunt from me. At the time I was of very mixed feelings about my boss. Apparently, this was not the reaction that Rainman had hoped for and after about 5-10 minutes of chatting he left. An even more abbreviated version of the conversation happened a few days later with similar results. Honestly, I don’t understand what the guy was fishing for… I had nothing to offer and hadn’t been there all that long myself. Shortly thereafter though is when the petty and irritating harassment started. 

The first salvo I noticed was that our lit group’s emails started being intercepted / copied to the compliance attorney (we found out however because someone forgot to remove the old compliance attys email address from the compliance@lawfirm.com generic email… and every single email that was copied to Rainman sent back a reply to me stating “old-compliance -attorney@lawfirm.com is not a valid email address.”) The short lesson is, don’t try to be sneaky with tech if you don’t know how to use tech. Eventually someone fixed the error so I have no idea how long they continued monitoring our email, probably until the end is my guess.

Every single one of our files got audited, which involved poring over paperwork to make sure no random pages were missing and ultimately taking up at least half the day sitting in a conference room defending decisions which were made on the file to the compliance attorney… who was not a litigation attorney and not from the same state — so Rainman had no real basis for criticizing, but that of course didn’t stop him from doing so, or offering his sparkling commentary which further showed he had no worthwhile advice to share. These audits also meant you weren’t able to work on your usual work either, so it created work, and prevented you from doing your current work, with the added benefit of irritating the fuck out of you.

In a multitude of ways, our group started to become isolated and harassed. Other employees didn’t want to associate with us because apparently we had become marked. Normal business expenses started being denied… but only for us. The firm started making esoteric rules, that only applied to us and no one else. Keep in mind, I had been hired and assigned to this attorney, I had no choice in the matter but now I was persona non-gratis. I had started to become friends with my boss and honestly all of the harassment just made our whole group stick closer.

My boss despised Rainman. Rightfully so. And eventually he apparently decided the best course of action was to avoid him. It was absolutely hilarious to watch. Rainman would walk over and demand to know where my boss was, I would look up from whatever I was working on and just say “I don’t know…” because why the hell should I be keeping tabs on my boss. That’s a weird thing to expect from a subordinate. Rainman would chastise me and say I should always know where my boss was. He then turned on his heel and confronted the paralegal with the same question.

She on the other hand, handled Rainman in a much more amusing manner. Our paralegal didn’t put up with people’s shit. Rainman had made several racist and sexist remarks directed toward this paralegal and at a certain point I think she just gave up being civil to him (there was one incident where I thought she was actually going to throw a punch at him before I intervened… But I digress). He asked her where our boss was, and she would always point him down the hallway with wonderful statements like:

  • He just walked down there, I bet if you hurry you can catch him.
  • (whipping her head in the direction Rainman had just come from…) He literally just walked down there, I don’t know how you could have missed him.
  • At lunch
  • He went to go have a quick meeting with XX Attorney. (this was made all the more fun because we would call up our boss afterward and he would make sure to show up and talk to Attorney XX just to fuck with Rainman).

In effect, every time Rainman walked away from us, we would text our boss that Mr. Creepy had been looking for him and our boss would make sure to show his face to the right people around the office just so there was a verifiable trail that he had been doing what we said he was doing when Rainman inevitably followed up. I recall at least once my boss left a physical note on Rainman’s desk when he knew he wouldn’t be there that said “hey I heard you were looking for me, we must have just missed each other.” It drove Rainman insane. I’ll also admit, watching this happen was poetry in motion; I am not ashamed to admit it gave me no small satisfaction to watch and, in small ways participate.

Eventually, Rainman gave up on harassing our boss and turned his attention on me and the paralegals. His opinion was that if my boss wasn’t there, then he would do the next best thing and attack his support staff.

If my boss wasn’t there I would be forced to sit for file audits and the compliance attorney would pepper me with questions about why decisions were made one way or another in the handling of the cases. Many of which had not been active in the time while I had been working there. Plus, as an associate at this firm, I didn’t decide the litigation direction of the cases. So when asked why do this as opposed to this other thing… I usually just shrugged and said I don’t know I had nothing to do with that decision. Sometimes the audits were done on a moments notice, surprise audits. A couple times I had been at lunch when this happened (likely it was done this way on purpose) and Rainman would drag the two paralegals into the audit to complain to them about the file. Which made no sense, because now you are talking to non-lawyers about the file and what was going on in the case.

This continued on for a few months. It had turned out Rainman had been tasked with attempting to get my boss / his staff to quit; because if you quit, in theory, it was volitional on your end and therefore no employment issues (I guess?). The alternative was to collect some evidence on my boss to legitimize firing him. There were many things that happened which were just as grievous as the above, but the above gives a good flavor without getting lost in the weeds. There is a whole other side story about the firm tapping phones and keeping tabs on people through the work cell phones which had RATs installed.

One afternoon, I was out at lunch with my boss and one of the paralegals. At some point while we were eating in an exasperated sigh, he said to no one in particular, “I don’t know why they are doing this…”

I was busy eating my sandwich, but between bites I said, “Because they are trying to fire you.” I wasn’t looking up, so I didn’t see his face. I do know that he got very quiet. And then he said “why do you say that?” I recognized I’d said something notable at that point. But, seriously… how could he not know? Everything that was going on, all the crap pointed right at him with both barrels. It was so obvious for so many reasons, but there he was with a quiet rage across his face as if the concept had never even crossed his mind.

In a sort of offhand manner I replied, “Because Rainman told me…”

I swear if our table hadn’t been bolted to the floor I think he would have flipped it. I had inadvertently lit a powder keg. Once he stepped back and looked at the situation, the obviousness of it washed over him. He had been in full freak out mode, and after a few minutes of this, he became calm and said he was taking the afternoon off because he had a few calls to make. You could see the gears in motion. He was planning out his next ten moves and counter-moves like an expert chess player.

Law School – A very expensive mistake….