Category Archives: Job

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 I 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 or 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.

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.

Possibly the worst thing I did…

I was involved with breaking a human being. I think it disturbed me more that I had forgotten this story until recently. In my own defense, there was no way to know what was happening at the time. I think it says more about the profession in general that no one at his firm noticed until it was too late.

I was working on a fatality case. There were big numbers involved based on how the ‘client’ had died. There were also about 6 different corporations being sued. Each of the corporations had hired their own defense firm in one relatively small town. This also meant that the last person to the party got last pick of the defense firms in town, and therefore most likely the better / larger firms had already been hired by the co-defendants.  The last corporation joined in this particular case hired a mid-small defense firm of about a dozen attorneys.

Well, at a certain point in the case, as seemingly with any case with multiple defendants, there came the winnowing. Everyone decided it was time to try to MSJ themselves out. And one by one, the various defendants dropped out. Except one; in particular the last one joined to the case. They didn’t file an MSJ at all.

In fact, it turned out they had not filed a single motion on their own behalf during the entire case. The attorney who had been representing this corp. had gotten his name ‘signed with authorization’ onto all the motions filed by the other corporations’ higher priced firms. When the dust had settled, that one attorney and his client were the only ones left in the suit. Every other co-defendant had taken the opportunity when they filed their MSJ to point their collective finger at the one remaining defendant on their way out the door.

Deadlines were gone, motions had not been adopted by this counsel, his name had been signed on things but nothing of great consequence. In short, he was screwed. The winnowing of defendants also mean that a plaintiff no longer has to use the shotgun method of going after multiple targets. Now we had a single target with a bullseye painted on them courtesy of their co-defendants, and I started sending out our usual ramped up (and trumped up) motions now that we were getting closer to the trial setting.

For those not in the know about shady plaintiff’s work, one of the pre-trial tactics used is to file fast and furious motions. And file lots of them. The more the better; file to strike anyone and anything that supports the other side’s contention. File motions to compel to get the attorneys baby pictures from his mother. File requests for sanctions because you heard a rumor opposing counsel might have possibly have been related to Hitler. It really doesn’t matter what the content is, it is more important that you are sending a lot of them. And make sure to send lots and lots of seemingly levelheaded emails to opposing counsel too… because then you can print them out and attach them to your motions too. Especially when opposing counsel starts sending back emails ranting at you because you are emailing and calling their cell phone constantly (seriously… and a pro-tip for any aspiring attorneys… never, ever ever ever hand out your personal cell phone to another attorney if you can possibly help it).

Well, we started doing just that to Opposing counsel. We realized early on that he was screwed since he had filed no motions during the whole case. Our office was nothing if not efficient at sending these types of crap motions at a breakneck speed.

And then it happened. Opposing counsel replied with 2 motions of his own. They were incomprehensible rantings interspersed with legal argument that wouldn’t be made by a first year law student with a complete lack of knowledge of civil procedure. We immediately set a hearing for our motions at the soonest date possible. I had started to respond to his replies for the hearing. But the hearing never happened.

Two days prior to the hearing, we got a call from one of the partners at this law firm. The partner who had this case had a mental breakdown and was taken by ambulance from his office. He was removed from the firm / partnership. He had been forcibly retired. A partner from the firm  took over and tried their best to salvage what they could from the case. I am quite certain the firm had a fucking ridiculous malpractice case against them after the dust settled, but I never did find out. To my boss’ credit, he reined everything in and told us to stop. The litigation machine was put on hold until they could pick up the pieces of what used to be someone’s life.

In all likelihood if it hadn’t been the case I was working on, it would have just been someone else’s case that pushed this guy over the edge. But it wasn’t. It was me working at the direction of my boss and the firm. And without meaning to, I took part in irreparably breaking another human being. It’s sorta a fucked up feeling to realize that.

Enter the Rainman

The firm had decided they were getting serious about getting rid of some people. And at the top of their list was my boss. For almost the whole time I was working at the firm, we had been operating in the blissful absence of “compliance attorneys”. Prior to my start at the firm, there had apparently been some other compliance attorney who had lasted over a year before pulling the ripcord. But since that guy had left, the firm had chosen not to hire a new one… until now. The firm took on a full time compliance attorney about 3 months before I quit. He was a short, angry little man who looked (and sounded) a bit like Dustin Hoffman if you squinted. The recurring thoughts about Rainman aside, he was a rather poor attorney and seemed to survive by getting angry and hoping it made people uncomfortable enough that they would back down. (In fact, I’ll just continue referring to him as Rainman… it is oddly fitting actually).

Rainman’s angry demeanor didn’t work so well when it came up against my crazy boss. Angry just made him stronger, like the Hulk, or maybe tequila. It didn’t work so well with me either, angry doesn’t really do anything to apathetic. The compliance attorney would yell at me (literally) for something, and my response was usually to sigh, or shrug, or generally ignore him. This in turn actually made him actually angry and he would eventually storm off to his office, no doubt to write angry interoffice messages. The pure inviolable feeling one has when you don’t care if you get fired is truly amazing.

The compliance attorney had been given marching orders to try to get my boss fired. He came to me very early on and specifically told me “they” were trying to fire my boss. The problem was, by this time, I had already turned the corner and now I liked my boss. Hang around someone long enough and you start to see things from their worldview, and his was actually pretty interesting, and in a strange way how he operated made much more sense compared to the rest of the attorneys working there.

Initially I did nothing with the information Rainman told me. But this particular conversation would be the linchpin which ultimately made everything fall apart. (much more on this later)

At some point shortly after the first few interactions with the compliance attorney, the powers that be decided I was not being helpful, so I must be part of the problem. This didn’t help matters because the more Rainman pushed and prodded me, the closer I ended up getting to my boss and those of us working directly with him.

My boss started having very contentious ‘conversations’ with Rainman. Many of these conversations involved Rainman second guessing the litigation maneuvering  we were doing on cases. The problem was, Rainman was a crappy attorney. He had recently moved to the state and had waived into the bar, and had no idea about why certain things could or could not be done because of his poor understanding of the local / state rules. Rainman had come from New Jersey, one of the easiest bars in the country (I can say that with confidence having taken and passed it as an afterthought) and he hadn’t been a litigator there. His advice was uniformly off the mark, but he stated it with the confidence of the truly ignorant and self assured.

At a certain point, my boss got tired of dealing with him. So he didn’t. What do I mean? Well, from my perspective, he just stopped showing up… for a few weeks. The armchair psychitrist in me wants to say this was just part of his manic / depressive cycle; first he’d be there 14 hours a day, then no one would see him for days at a time. But I think he just figured out he didn’t have to deal with the crap if he didn’t show up, and let’s be honest, a lot of what we do as attorneys can now be done anywhere given a laptop and internet connection. During this period there was veritably no communication; at best, I would get cryptic text messages which may or may not be deciphered. I would however get near daily visits from Rainman yelling at me for my boss not being around. Because that is obviously within my power to alter. At this point I would always drop my boss a note saying Rainman was wandering the halls looking for him.

This was punctuated by the amusing game which was being played outside my office as well. Rainman garnered a particular dislike for our paralegal. So when Rainman would ask if my boss was in, the paralegal would make something up just to fuck with Rainman. “Yes, he was just here.” / “Isn’t he in his office?” / “He just walked that way (down the same small hallway Rainman had just come from), I can’t imagine how you missed him.” / “You just missed him, he went to lunch.” It became hilarious. Eventually Rainman knew she was lying, but couldn’t prove her wrong on most occasions. Especially when the boss would do a fly through to show his face to one of two people who would verify he had been in that day. It drove Rainman insane.

Unfortunately, Rainman decided the best way to get to my boss, was to create problems for the people working for him. (more to come)

Work – I was warned, but never expected…

You always hear about ethics issues in law school. Everyone sorta knows lawyers are ethically questionable, but I always assumed it was more associated with the concept that we choose to go into a profession that represented criminals and other assorted horrible people for money.  It’s like a more erudite form of prostitution. We’ll do almost anything for money; no check that, after working here I know that lawyers will do anything for money.

I probably should have figured the ethics in the real workplace were going to be nasty. I made it thorough a retelling of merely one of these stories to a friend who is an associate elsewhere, they told me I was obliged to quit immediately. I explained to my friend I had this pesky addiction to food which I could only satisfy with those little green slips of paper the law firm gives me so long as I keep showing up.

So, what have I witnessed so far? I’ll start simple.

My boss’ desk is stacked with papers. Mostly because they tend to never be in their office. Which is part of the problem with the affidavit issue, if they are never there, they never end up signing those all important time sensitive documents. But don’t even suggest they appoint an authorized signor; this other arrangement is better. I watched a paralegal take an unsigned affidavit, sign it for an attorney then proceed to cut-and-paste the seal and signature of a notary onto the affidavit and submit it to the court. I know, you’re probably thinking this is maybe one bad actor… not really. I also saw another attorney who ‘could sign the absent attorney’s name better than the paralegal could’ sign an affidavit in front of the office notary, who then signed and notarized it. If you can think of any permutation of this arrangement with an office full of paralegals and attorneys, I watched it happen. The office notaries would notarize any document with any name on it, no questions. I think they just really liked to use stamp; I’m sorta surprised they didn’t just stamp random objects around the office with it.

Back to the avalanche of papers on my boss’ desk… I got a motion to compel (our) discovery through service. When I started looking, it seemed like we never sent the discovery out, and thus missed the deadline by a month or (much) more. I asked if anyone knew if it had gone out. A helpful paralegal said, of course it went out, I sent it out in the mail myself. I will admit, I thought that was odd considering we e-serve everything, but hey, who knows. I was relatively new, and this was an old file. It was possible they sent paper copies previously, recently… maybe? So I told opposing counsel it had been sent out, but I’d be happy to email over a copy if they couldn’t find it; I emailed it over and I put the issue out of my mind. Opposing counsel might have figured out something was wrong but my understanding was they ended up in rehab the day after I sent the email… so they had other things on their mind. Weird coincidences like this seem to happen way to often in the legal world, I chalk it up to the weird as fuck characters who populate this profession. I didn’t think much of this incident… until it happened again.

But this time, it was a little different. This time the firm definitely didn’t send it out. This was an issue because it was in at a highly litigious point in a high value case and opposing counsel seemed to have forgotten they requested the information; but if they figured it out, we would have had limitations placed on our objections  blah blah blah (legal mumbo jumbo no one but lawyers care about so I won’t keep explaining). The paralegal again says, don’t worry, we have ways of fixing this. Then they open their desk and start rummaging through and pull out a handful of metered stamps with backdates on them, like many months backdated. They take the discovery, put it in an envelope to send out, and put a backdated stamp on it to make it fall within the discovery period. I brought up the issue with the senior litigator that technically we were late and out of time. The paralegal looked at the senior and said “don’t worry, we fixed it with a stamp.” The senior said, “oh, then no problems.”

Continuing on… How about something more malpracticey? The lit group sent off one of any number of continuing motions in one of the multitude of cases in our section, only to have it bounce back from opposing counsel with an email saying “this case was dismissed… why are you filing into it?” This was news to us, so we looked into it. The case had been dismissed when the opposing side had set a docket control hearing about 2 months prior and our firm was a no show. For those who don’t know, these things are usually a formality handled by a paralegal who just calls in to it. It might require an in-person hearing, but that’s rare and usually only for contested issues. Well, the group looked into it and here was what we found… the opposing counsel had the phone number, email, physical office address, and was actually personally acquainted with the senior litigator in our group from a previous job. The court for some reason did not have current contact information for the senior litigator; mind you, contact information is, at a minimum, listed at the end of the original complaint, and also on every motion filed into the court, and on all the discovery docs sent to opposing counsel. The court did however have the contact info of the Senior Litigator at a previous job, so they sent it there, and in the best fashion possible, messed up the address so it wasn’t even served properly on them. At the court hearing, opposing counsel did not attempt to contact the senior litigator or anyone else in the office, instead they just said “we have no idea what happened” and let the court dismiss for want of prosecution. The correct thing to do is to call on your cell and ask where counsel is, not to lie to the court and say they have no idea how to contact them or where they are. Things don’t (and aren’t intended) to work in that fashion.

We filed to reinstate the case and I was sent to the hearing. While preparing for it, I found a notice for the docketing hearing we had received a month before the docket control hearing. I brought it up to the paralegal (who was supposed to be responsible for scheduling it) and the senior litigator. They specifically said “we never received that” and proceeded to delete it from the network. Everyone involved had unclean hands. It is so god damned icky working around these people.

I was sent to the court to argue the very narrow statement “Senior litigator person had never gotten the hearing notice” (which they had). The judge was ticked and handed me a copy of the email they had sent us (you know, with the copy of the DCC that no longer existed on our computer network?) Anyway, I basically said the senior litigator had never gotten it personally (because they never actually check their own mail themselves, so technically true). The judge was really not happy, but then, opposing counsel jumped in and said they too had problems getting hold of senior litigator and it must be a problem with our phone / email systems.  Opposing counsel was now lying to try to make themselves look better for intentionally not contacting my firm at all. The judge was now stuck with two lawyers effectively lying about the same thing… They were outnumbered and gave up, but basically said you only get one fuck-up in their courtroom and made sure I would pass along that statement to the senior litigator.

I could keep going, I think I will in later posts about the shady as fuck goings on, but for now these last few will have to suffice for a bit.

Work – Institutional Ignorance

I have noticed a strange propensity at my firm. I think it exists in the wild in our profession almost everywhere. There is a complete lack of appreciation for specific knowledge of the individual. This is an odd claim for what in effect is a profession of ‘knowledge workers’ such as attorneys, where specialized knowledge is supposed to be our raison d’être.  It is a simple concept, firms very often don’t use the people with the most knowledge for the specifically on-point task that knowledge would most benefit. For example…

Several months ago I was given a research task. Our litigation group was expecting a radioactive motion to be dropped in our lap by the opposing counsel any day. We knew it was coming, and we generally knew what the legal theory they would be arguing was going to be, and that it would be bad for us. But beyond knowing the outline of the problem, no one in the firm had done any in-depth legal research into the topic. The onus fell on me (for a variety of political reasons above my paygrade) to untie the Gordian knot of a state law which had basically been enacted as a complete bar against what we were arguing in the case. It was a big case, and I was aiming to impress.

I spent what was very likely, collectively, days researching the topic. We knew the motion would show up at some point, but until it did, I kept researching the issue. I had read every case dealing with the particular statute, I knew the loopholes, I had read the legislative floor session for the bill, I knew who was currently arguing similar cases in the state and had even reached out to other law firms to speak to attorneys who had lost a recent case on the issue to see where they thought they went awry. In short, I knew the issue better than anyone in the firm. I kept researching the issue, because the motion we were all expecting just never seemed to materialize.

But finally, the day came. The motion showed up with exactly the argument I was expecting. I gave a short presentation on the topic to a combined litigation group and talked about strategy and how we might attack it or maybe even sidestep the issue. It all seemed to be very well received and I came in the next day ready to write an amazing answer.

But, instead it was assigned to a different associate from a different group who hadn’t researched the law at all. I handed them a respectable pile of research notes and caselaw, which I am fairly certain they never looked at considering the answer he wrote was so poorly constructed. He argued a very weak point, that was at its core… just… wrong. It wasn’t merely that I disagreed with how they attempted to approach the issue, it was that it was legally incorrect and showed a profound misunderstanding of the central construction of the law at issue.

It didn’t make any sense… why have the person with the greatest background in a given topic, NOT work on that topic? I was actually angry I hadn’t been given more work to do, because that should have been my work. But it obviously isn’t only me this happens to.

This institutional ignorance is probably shown nowhere better than during an actual trial. It seems no matter the firm, the story plays out the same. I’ve had a chance to watch it unfold several times. Most recently another litigation attorney at the firm had a case actually reach trial. A few days before trial was set to start, they were kicked from first to (effectively) third chair. Instead, the managing partner effectively waltzed into a trial and took over the whole of the litigation from the attorney and associates who knew the background and intricacies of the case. I watched the managing partner proceed to question witnesses about generic topics, eating up the majority of the time grandstanding, and leaving only a few minutes for the other attorney who had been working the case for 2-years to try to clean up the facts and the record before the witness was excused. Apparently, a brief conference room meeting is all it takes to get caught up on a complex litigation case.

(to name drop a little) I also watched it happen at Reed Smith. The exact situation played out, and the senior associate who had been in the case and elbow deep in the paperwork quite literally every day for months, was relegated to spectator seating (not even at the attorney tables) while 2 senior partners argued the case instead. It almost seems like the British Barrister / Solicitor system.

The same thing happens at the firm I am at during meditations. A senior partner would decide to show up and continually ask questions (during the mediation) and then make snap judgments without the benefit of knowing why certain arguments (or settlements) were ridiculous and potentially hurting the mediation.

In effect, for the political benefit and cachet of parading in front of the client to show that “the big guns” are on the case, the quality of the representation takes a hit as those with the least knowledge decide to take it over. I am in awe of the stupidity, every time it happens, and yet it happens so often in so many ways.

Work – the Rift

I will say, I honestly think my paralegals are working more than I am. But the work itself is very different, so it’s not quite equivalent. I am spared (a fair amount) of the weird busywork involved with complying with capricious internal company policies, because it falls on the paralegals. But… I’m going to sound like an elitist here, so go ahead and get good and indignant now… Although they are very good at what they do, many (most) don’t quite understand what we (the attorneys) are writing. There is an education gap which I didn’t fully appreciate until I saw it in action. We often pass off our motions to the paralegals to check over for spelling / grammar / (copy-paste) errors. But in terms of the actual content, it may as well be ancient Greek. Most paralegals have only a high school education and potentially got a paralegal certificate at a community college somewhere. I found this disconcerting when I realized the massive understanding gap when I would be asked if I had misspelled a word, only to explain what I used was a correctly spelled word they had never seen, or when one told me they had no idea what I had written — but it sounded good.

I am an elitist, by philosophy. But in practice, it made me feel very uncomfortable. I really liked talking and joking around with my paralegals, but there really was an invisible yet palpable rift in understanding.

Most attorneys use a paralegal to run the scheduling, call the court, and generally try to keep up with the deadlines which are connected to literally everything we file. There is little doubt that a fair number of them have a better handle on the deadline portion of civil procedure than I may have for years to come. We also use them to copy / paste rote motions which don’t change except for the named individual and the pronouns, notice of depositions, LOPs, and all manner of industry specific paperwork which doesn’t really need the attention of an attorney except for a quick glance and a signature.

There is a line though, as I said above, there is a benefit for going to college and law school which paralegals do not have. Where I work, there are a fair number of senior litigators who have associates, in fact some have multiple associates working for them. But there are also the unfortunate few who have none.

One such unfortunate at my firm assigned out a complicated (research) motion to their paralegal to write. The paralegal rightly told the senior litigator that they had no idea what they were doing and didn’t understand it. The litigator looked at their paralegal and said “Google it” and walked away.

If anyone reading this is ever considering hiring an attorney for a complex issue, ask beforehand how many associates work directly under / for that attorney. If the answer is none, find a different attorney. Otherwise you will probably end up getting the best legal advice google can offer.