Reference interview #24

I am breaking with my unspoken rules and specifically naming this firm. Why? Well, this part of the story doesn’t quite work unless there is a name attached.

So… As is most likely obvious, I was rejected. But why, and some of the other information that came up later only percolated to the top afterwards. So the position I was applying for was a Staff Attorney spot. I have spoken at some length about the lowest of the low of legal positions, document review. The next step above that is a Staff Attorney (see exemplar chart, what the chart doesn’t say is that everyone on the right side, is effectively considered lower than everyone on the left side). Similar caveats apply to working as a staff attorney; if you stay in it too long you’ll never get out. It is non-partnership, low paying, and generally speaking you never go any higher or get anything decent out of it. But it is better than doc review…

So prior to my interview I was talking to a friend who is an associate at a small to mid 30 attorney firm. I had 2 interviews in the same week and I was stoked. One was for the higher paying staff attorney position at McGuireWoods, and the other was for an actual associate position at the collection firm but it would pay about 1/3 less. I trust my friend’s advice so I was talking to them about what would be the better position to have. Basically, the conclusion was reached almost instantly that the associate position would be better by far, even if at first I would be making less money.

Anyway, we were discussing this, and my friend told me to ask McGuireWoods if it was possible to move up from a Staff Attorney to an Associate after a few years in the position. A seemingly, cogent and career focused question one might well ask in an interview if you were serious about working for a firm. The type of question that shows you are looking to stay with a firm and put in effort to impress. So I walked into the interview and had my questions locked and loaded and let that one fly early on in the Q&A. Their answer was a brief silence, and then one interviewer basically said “No.” He then went on to say that to his recollection there has only ever been one person in the firm (across all offices) who moved up to associate from staff attorney.

I didn’t think much of it. So I would have to lateral to some other smaller firm to be an associate. No big deal. A few days later I got a call from my friend. “Crap, please tell me you didn’t have the interview yet…” Obviously it was too late, so I asked why? At their office they had recently had a position open up for a staff attorney. They interviewed 2 people. One was a young guy who was very sharp, driven, and intelligent; he had ambition and wanted to move up in the firm. The other was an older guy, whose only request was that he be treated with respect and not disrespected for being a staff attorney. He was not nearly as smart or as driven, but he didn’t want to go anywhere beyond being a staff attorney. My friend’s firm hired the older guy. They were calling to warn me not to ask the question.

Flash cut to now.

I had a fantastic conversation with another attorney. My failed interview with McGuire was brought up and why I  was likely rejected. And he sort of leaned back and said “That was definitely why you were rejected, and I know because I used to work for McGuireWoods.” He then told me two very interesting stories about McGuireWoods.

The first was directly related to him. He had originally started at McGuire as a legal assistant prior to going to law school. You might well assume that it had some direct bearing upon his decision to go to law school. Now, there are 2 types of companies. There is the company that fosters growth from within; We’ve all heard the story of the guy who started in the mailroom and worked his way up to the boardroom. And then there’s the other type of company. The one which enacts strict delineations and discourages anyone who ‘doesn’t know their place’ and attempts to move up. I was told by this attorney that if you attempt to move between the strata at McGuire, they find a reason to get rid of you. Movement between the pay grades is not allowed, but not only are you gotten rid of, but you are effectively blacklisted from working there ever again. Nice.

(minor update: This very issue was the topic of a wonderful post on The People’s Therapist, entitled ‘The Little People’… quite wonderful.)

But, he told me, that wasn’t the story he wanted to tell me. No, the story he wanted to tell me was about associates at McGuire. He worked in the Charlotte, NC office — the original headquarters of the firm. He added the caveat that it is possible not all the offices follow suit, but considering it was the main office he assumed they all had the same marching orders.

At some point, all associates will end up asking for time off. Be it for a family emergency, a vacation, or any number of other possible reasons. The partner always granted the time off. But then on the evening of the first day off, they would get a phone call. If the associate didn’t answer, they had failed the test and would be gotten rid of by the next evaluation date. If they did answer, they would be told that there was some emergency that needed their direct attention and they needed to come back to the office immediately to handle it. If they didn’t come to the office, they were gotten rid of. Because apparently you aren’t committed enough.

He said he saw this happen to multiple associates. And there was never any emergency. It was just to see how much they could fuck with their lives. How far are you willing to go for us…. It was like a frat house that fucks with people’s lives and livelihood.

Needless to say, he didn’t have much good to say about the firm.

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