AARP Convention

This week I went all out. I paid money to go to a 3 day legal convention. The why of it was because I am collecting specific CLE credits in one specialization, for reasons I alone care about. So I head down to New Orleans to the Admiralty Law Institute at Tulane. It is one of the larger events for a really small legal niche. This year the topics revolved around the central theme of maritime personal injury; not at all my interest but as I said, it had less to do with the specific topic and more to do with the overarching specialty credits.

The city was deluged with rain the entire time. There was no day you didn’t arrive or leave damp and unhappy. Huge puddles blocked your forward progress no matter where you went, and by puddle I mean a foot or more deep of water that stretched more like disjointed mini-ponds across walkways and roadways. Everyone tried to gauge how far they thought they could safely venture into the puddles so you could potentially jump the remaining several feet to the dry islands in between the water. I walked into one day of the lectures with an older attorney who walked to the edge of one puddle about 5-6 feet across  that stretched for a couple city blocks to our left and right. They hesitated only a moment and then said out loud “Fuck it.” and walked right through the middle of it. It nearly was as deep as his knees. I realized they were probably old enough that an attempted long jump across the water would lead to a more likely serious injury than having very wet feet for the day. I sidled into the puddle carefully and made the leap of faith, barely managing to clear the curb. There was something oddly amusing about an admiralty conference with a water problem.

The evening before the conference 3 large local law firms banded together and had a welcome cocktail reception. As I am still vainly trying my hand at trying to network to get a job, I of course showed up. The reception was at a wonderful venue and as with anything related to lawyers, it had a fully stocked open bar. It also had a band playing in one room, a fortune teller, and a street artist who were also hired to entertain us. But generally with my mind set on the idea of networking, I set about playing the room by randomly joining circles of conversation. All the while keeping an eye out for the singular person I know in the field who I was hoping was going to be at the conference, but they were a no show. Its amazing how lonely you can feel standing in a room filled with people.

I flitted from small group to small group. Mentioning you were looking for a job was a great way to have everyone in the group suddenly find something a great deal more interesting across the room to go investigate. One retired attorney (he had to be at least 70) told me amazing stories about how he did, and still does freediving and spearfishing. He also admitted he was the completely wrong person to network with (for various reasons he explained). Eventually I ended up talking to someone who turns out to be the wife of a big law attorney situated in my city. When the employment question comes up, she immediately says “oh you have to come meet my husband!” Thinking I might have finally hit some networking gold, I dutifully followed. The venue was packed and you had to yell to be heard at the best of moments as you threaded through the closely packed rooms. We finally make it at a slow crawl across the room, and she introduces me to her husband who shakes my hand and says “Good to meet you.” tersely, and then immediately looks to his wife and says “Let’s go” At which point he takes her hand and seemingly half drags her out. As she is being pulled away she says “Find him at the conference” and waves bye. It was really odd, I’m still unsure what I had seen transpire. So now I am again alone and I wander over to another small group who is also standing a bit offset from the masses. We get to talking and they are absolutely the most lovely and friendly people I have met in a long time. They are part of a small plaintiff’s firm (unfortunately nowhere near where I live…). They seem to have had their fill of the reception and invite me along to go find dinner instead. As I had also reached my fill of people wandering away once they decided I had no money, I readily agreed. I had a wonderful time with them and talked with them several more times throughout the conference.

I’m not going to spend much time on the conference itself. It was long, and although I shouldn’t admit it… very boring. The most accurate analogy I can give is the expectation versus reality of a small child when you tell them you are going to take them to a roller coaster factory. I had high expectations (for some reason) and instead I ended up listening to people talking about the benefits and drawbacks of ‘Maintenance and Cure’ versus Workers Compensation. (I may have just fallen asleep momentarily while typing that). My interests and specialty in Admiralty are apparently not representative of the field.

The conference center was quite nice and we were kept well fed at all points. Breakfast and lunch were both provided and both were enjoyable in my mind. I do have a bit of advice for anyone who may be going to something like this for networking purposes however… When you are ushered into a lunch — wait. Let a decent sized line form for the food before you get in line. The reason being: it is perfectly acceptable to approach a nearly full table and ask to sit with the people there… but if you are sitting alone at a table, it seems most people  will choose not to approach you or your table. (*mumble* *mumble* leper syndrome *mumble*). It is better to allow the tables to fill before you decide where you want to sit down, plus you can choose the table that has the nicer suits sitting at it. (yeah, I know… I feel smarmy writing that last bit, but it’s true.)

Day 1 ended with… a cocktail reception. And again.. since it involves attorneys… a fully stocked open bar. Different venue than the previous night, but no less opulent. I was excited by this one because it also had food! Unfortunately, I think I got to speak with even fewer people at this one, but I did meetup with a couple attorneys from the city I previously lived and talked a bit with them. The Tulane law students were invited to this one also, so I did get to speak to a few of them as they huddled together at a few of the ubiquitous standing tables. From talking with them it appears Tulane Law School prints up business cards for their students (I think) because they all had the same generic ones they plied upon anyone who would take one. After failing to make any  real inroads in conversation I took it upon myself to instead sample all of the food liberally before leaving.

Day 2 was uneventful except for a brief rage inducing moment, wherein a larger firm attorney on a panel discussion made a comment that large scale electronic document review should be left to “young, smart attorneys”, to give them ‘job security’. And then he laughed. And a federal magistrate next to him cluelessly agreed. I had a momentary impulse to stand up and call him out on being an asshole. Probably not quite so politically correct since I would have been effectively doing the same to the federal magistrate. The moment passed and I made a mental note of the firm name.

The day ended with… a cocktail reception. And… etc… etc.. fully stocked open bar. This one was by far the funkiest and most interesting venue. It was specific to young attorneys in the field. Now here is a very, very interesting point… if you stood at the front of the conference hall, and looked out over the crowd, it looked like you were talking to an AARP convention. It was a sea of old, white guys; the average age in the room was probably 55+. There were several moments where a speaker would comment on the general lack of young attorneys in the field in general. I’ve received emails from the organization trying to promote getting younger attorneys to join and seemingly at a loss as to why none are. They know the field has no real young attorneys going into it, and yet they seem clueless as to why. This cocktail reception was a beautiful distillation of the answer, but it seemed no one cared to fix it.

The first answer was simple. No one was hiring. The way you get young attorneys into the field is to hire them, or have internships which lead to jobs. And no one had any. As I mentioned, the moment the topic of who I worked for came up and I said I was looking, it was a death knell and people immediately melted away from the knot of conversation. Absolutely no one asked for a resume to be sent at any point. Similar feelings were expressed by the law students and LLMs hanging around as well. Tulane tried a soft sell by printing up a booklet of resumes from their students, but it appeared to be an exercise in deforestation as very few people actually took them. And lord knows, not a soul at the podium mentioned the booklet or hiring during the conference. This is further held true when you look on Tulane’s own career site (internal or reciprocity); there were veritably zero admiralty jobs available. For a law school which so loudly touts its LLM program, it seemed as if they didn’t care what you did with the degree once you got it — because you certainly weren’t going to get work with it. I suppose that is actually true of all law schools at the moment though. But then again, there was the umbrella organization of the MLA, which has a job portal with a total of one job on it… actually the same job as was listed on it for months and months now. Basically, the simple concept of getting in new blood by actually hiring some mystifies the fuck out of them.

Second, however, was a slightly less obvious reason. Because there were no young attorneys around, none of the organizers gave a single thought about their needs. A law firm generally pays for its attorneys to go to conferences of these sorts, so most of the attending bigger firm attorneys don’t even think about the price tag– It’s covered by firm money. Its a business expense and is tax deductible. A new attorney would have to foot the bill completely on their own. The organization had not even thought about this until 2 weeks before the conference when they noticed NOT ONE younger attorney had signed up.  Then they sent out a hastily scribed email saying they forgot to include the ‘special pricing’ for newer attorneys. (I will admit, that was one of the big reasons I decided to go at the last minute… I could suddenly afford to.) The reception also seemed to be an afterthought because it wasn’t listed on the program or schedule. It got a quick powerpoint slide thrown on the screen after lunch telling us when and where to go. They can’t get anyone new to join because not only do they not cater to younger attorneys, but they almost seem to discourage them from attending.

If I thought anyone actually read this blog, I might be concerned about revealing my identity since there were probably all of a dozen young attorneys at this convention. Yes. Out of several hundred conference attendees… there were 12. Woo! So It wouldn’t be all that hard by process of elimination to know who I was. But, no one does read this and guessing the average age of the attendees, I doubt the internet is really something they are completely comfortable with so I think I am safe.

Conversation at this reception was better, but tinged with desperation. The majority by far were unemployed with few prospects. One of the LLM attorneys was excited I gave them a contact for a potential immigration law position. Yes… someone with a specialist certificate in Admiralty felt they had no hope of getting a job in Maritime so they were happy to dump it for an immigration non-profit. Great job ALI… are you beginning to see WHY there are no young attorneys there yet?

I ran the gamut of the room. Talked to a caricature of a far far right republican, to the point that I thought they were going to tell me it was a joke. They made overtly and over the top homophobic and racist statements and then told a story about how he was insulted someone called him racist. Weird, right? I also ended up talking to the nepotism millionaire hire; their family had some serious money behind them and ran a decently sized corporate empire so it sounded. They were hired by their family for a short time then lateraled to a big firm… who’d have thought, right? There was also a platinum blonde who rasped like she had a pack a day habit, but they seemed to dislike when people talked about trying to find work as she already had a job. Then there was the recent mother, who had taken off a year after law school to have a kid and was now back in the mix to get a job. Good luck with that because as soon as you mention ‘child’ in this industry, your interview is over.

The last day ended with the professionalism lecture. You would have thought someone pulled a fire alarm. As soon as the speaker stood up to talk, a good half or more of the conference stood up and left. I suppose I understand, but it was somewhat telling. I suppose if nothing else, I left the conference with the CLE credits I was initially going for, even if the networking potential was in the negative numbers.

But hey, there’s always the next convention! Or at least there will be for a few more years, because with the average age the way it is, ALI has the same problem as FOX news… their constituency is dying faster than they can replace them.

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