I feel there has been a relative dearth of holiday parties this year. I’m usually more than happy to make a few treks out for the obligatory halfway-holiday themed networking events that spring up around Christmas. Either I am falling off the better mailing lists that send them out, or there are decidedly fewer happening. Disappointing either way.
Recently I ended up getting the invitation to the local Young Lawyers Association holiday party. Sadly this one required I pay out for the privilege of going, but it wasn’t a significant amount; so I committed the heresy of paying to go to the networking party. As I’ve mentioned before, it is against my religion to pay for CLEs and networking functions (and parking); but as the old maxim says, you have to spend money to make dubious networking contacts with others in similar dire straights which never pan out into any… wait, that might not be how the maxim goes. Regardless…
This party had the added bonus on the invitation saying it was “black tie optional”. Yes… because image is everything; and grabbing up a bunch of very new and relatively broke attorneys and stuffing them into tuxedos and gowns will completely fix the obvious problems of the legal industry. I actually considered wearing a tuxedo. I have one– for no discernible reason other than it was on sale and I like standing in front of my bathroom mirror acting like James Bond. But I just couldn’t bring myself to wear it to what promised to be an array of broke attorneys and law students. My caution was rewarded when I arrived and saw that all of maybe 5 out of a few hundred arrayed were wearing tuxedos, and they seemed to be ill at ease with their decision (and they may have been the hosts too, not sure).
The event was outside. In December. To be fair, I am in a latitude where it doesn’t snow, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t get cold. I’m guessing they got a deal on the venue since no one really wants to hold events outside at this time of year, for good cause. It was cold and really windy, and to make matters more fun, there were several fountains in the general vicinity so the wind constantly sprayed a goodly number of people with a fine cold mist. They had several of the outdoor propane heaters, but the afore mentioned wind kept blowing them out every few minutes. It didn’t really matter as you never really felt the heat due to the wind anyway even when they were lit. There were open bars (I mean come on… its a legal function; do you really expect lawyers not to drink?) Various foodstuffs were in the standard silver serving dishes; nothing was labeled and although I could figure out what most of the food dishes were, even after eating some of the remaining mystery food, I was still unable to decide what it was other then ‘squishy’. To complete the picture there was a big ice sculpture (because… why not?) and a rock band playing, and in the standard poorly considered execution of so many of these events, the band was located right in the middle of everyone so you had to yell at the person right next to you at the networking event to be heard. Great idea.
I showed up and grabbed some food quickly to beat any lines and also so I could actually network with people without trying to eat while doing so. Very shortly into the event I ended up talking with what turned out to be the only decent networking contact I found the whole night, and they weren’t even a lawyer; they worked in one of the ancillary valuation type of fields. They offered to pass along my resume with a good word to several of the firms their company worked with as well as fielding the possibility of collaborating with me on something; it’s unlikely to go anywhere but it at least made me feel like my money wasn’t completely wasted. I ended up talking with them for quite awhile and eventually more people from the firm drifted over and everyone was laughing and swapping stories about hilarious times they were drunk driving (I wish I was making that up), but seemingly fitting for a legal event as we stood no more than 10 feet away from one of the 4 fully stocked and completely open bars.
Eventually we both felt we should work the room a bit so we parted and drifted to other tables. I met up with one of the few lawyers I knew at the party and as with all networking events, if you hold down a table, others will drift in to talk and drink.
One attorney joined us, who introduced himself and handed out a business card and then proceeded to stand silently at table for the next 45 minutes without joining the conversation or talking to anyone. Just hovering slightly creepily and listening in on the rest of the table talk. I’m not that great at networking, but I mean… damn. I’m not that bad. Just to complete the mental image before you assume we were at a large table where you might be able to disappear into the background… we weren’t. It was a standing table that was probably 2 feet diameter, just large enough for four or five people to stand at and put your drink down. And Mr. Awkward was standing right at the table staring silently, pretty much until the party ended.
(A short addendum relating to silent weird guy: We also all handed him our cards, because… networking. Everyone included their email obviously so we can be contacted on the off chance someone wanted to
buy us offer a job. Instead, I now get the rantings of an insane person in my inbox (in various colors no less; professional!) about how the courts did this or that to him or his clients, and how they were completely wrong and illegal to do so, and how judge X is an insane asshole… usually spanning multiple pages. Google started flagging it as spam without me telling it to do so. The schizophrenic rantings are called his law firm’s newsletter, so says the title. It was amusing, but also scary that he went through law school, sailed through character and fitness, and passed the bar, yet no one noticed he was nuts.)
Another relatively new attorney with a surprisingly similar story to my own wandered over, and they seemed far too excited at the prospect of being a broke solo. I talked quite a bit with them and even setup lunch for a later point. I’m unsure whether we were commiserating about being in a crappy situation or swapping tips on how to survive in said crappy situation. Either way, nice guy.
A newly minted family law attorney joined us who was basically working as the assistant to a seasoned family law solo. They claimed they / their firm specialized in ‘high net worth divorces’. Yeah… right. A tiny solo catches ‘high net worth’ anything? I’m guessing the firm actually specializes in ‘wishful thinking’. It’s one thing to bend the truth to clients… its a whole different matter to try to pass off a lie like that to other attorneys. Better to be honest and say you ‘aspire to X… but deal with a lot of this in the meantime’. And on a completely professional note and without going into detail, when I brought up something which is a very well known standard in the industry (at least among better family law attorneys) they disagreed with the concept emphatically. Which absolutely killed any respect I may have had towards them. I have worked in family law, and as disagreeable as the divorce axiom I brought up, no divorce attorney worth their salt would have taken an opposing position.
The evening wore on. The flyer advertised the party as ending at 10 PM. And oh my, did it end EXACTLY at 10 PM. The bars stopped serving 15 minutes before and started to clean up, which at these types of functions usually make most lawyers leave (no more booze? I’m [going to drive] outta here!) and the party wind down naturally. But instead, at the exact stroke of 10, they shut off the lights (no shit). And someone walked over and told everyone “you have to leave… now”. I guess they rented the venue literally only until 10 and to say we were ushered out is putting far too pleasant a point on it.
I’m unsure what my final impression is of the event. I suppose as with most, it was a slightly surreal experience of a bunch of mostly broke people dressing up and pretending otherwise.
Maybe that’s not so surreal now that I think about it.