When I started law school, I swore I would never work in Personal Injury. When I graduated law school, I planned on working in Intellectual Property litigation and patent work and never even considered the possibility that I would work in Personal Injury. As the years have worn on, I broadened my scope and began applying to everything and anything in various sub-specialties in an attempt to become gainfully employed, but still I completely avoided Personal Injury like the plague– it was the one field I never sent an application in for. As you may guess, my most recent interview was for a very large personal injury firm.
My chronic addiction to food has worn down my extreme distaste for PI work, and as it seems to be one of the few legal fields which is actually consistently hiring in this economy I swallowed my pride and my morals and applied to a Plaintiff side PI firm. Not just any PI… no, I sent off to one of the big ones. No late night infomercials advertising the ‘hammer of justice’ who will ‘fight for you’. I suppose a high mark in their favor is that they are a particular, somewhat higher quality PI firm who doesn’t resort to such tactics.
I got a phone interview very quickly from my application and I talked with the recruiter for about an hour. The most interesting tidbit dropped by the recruiter was that if I move up the ranks in the firm I would ‘probably not have to worry about money’ and then gave me some very interesting potential dollar figures. They rather quickly setup an in person interview at the main office. I trekked down to the physical office which was not horribly local to me for a face to face to see what it was that I had been avoiding for the last couple years.
My first thought on arriving at the office was “I thought it would look nicer.” My impression from researching them was the firm makes …. a lot… of money. But the physical office space was, to be nice, cheap. Small waiting room, cheap flooring, chipped paint, sparse / non-existent furnishings… it just didn’t exude money the same way as other offices I have had the opportunity to pass through.
After a few minutes in a tiny waiting room with all of 3 chairs in it, a paralegal comes by and says she’s taking me back to a conference room. We head back and bypass several decent sized conference rooms, with the standard large table and 10+ chairs around them, and instead I’m led to what may well have originally been a large closet. But the closet has a table and 5 chairs around it, so I guess technically it is a conference room for itty-bitty conferences. It was so small that if someone were sitting in one of the afore mentioned 5 chairs, you could not technically walk behind them unless they got up out of the chair, pushed the chair in, and allowed you to pass. What was it with this firm and tiny rooms? It merely lent to the idea of ‘cheap’ even though I still had the impression (hope?) the firm was doing very well for itself.
So after a few minutes, what turns out to be a junior partner, walks in and starts the interview. It was intended to be a sequential interview of increasingly more senior attorneys. The concept of speed dating comes to mind. After a few minutes, one was supposed to bow out, and another come in. The junior partner and I got along famously. The only glaring warning bell that went off was when they asked ‘why I was applying there considering I was very overqualified for the position’, while they sort of waved my resume at me like an accusing paper flag. It’s hard to know whether it was an honest question, but I think it probably was; where the firm is located likely made my credentials stand out glaringly against others from the same locale. Other than that, it was a very friendly interview bordering on just being a fun conversation. They seemed quite happy with me and ducked out to tag in the next attorney.
The second attorney comes in, and starts asking more difficult questions. Quite a few of which I’d heard before… ‘what were you doing between college and law school.’ ‘What is with this or that specialty and why do you have it.’ ‘Tell me about your research / litigation experience with X or Y’, Etc. etc… Had I not heard most of these questions before, I might have been more ill at ease answering them, but since I have had a great deal of time to consider answers to them in light of the post-mortem provided at least in part on this blog… well, I had some pretty good answers.
About 5 minutes in however, another attorney wanders in and sits down and says something along the lines of ‘oh you started without me’. So apparently it wasn’t quite like speed dating because you usually don’t try to flirt with several people at the same time, at the same table; Unless of course you are on some horrible FOX reality TV show. The problem was, they both continued as if they were alone conducting separate interviews. They each had divergent lines of questioning, and they stuck to their own scripts. So one would ask a question, I would start answering and within a few moments the other would break in to try to get you to answer their (generally) unrelated question. The main problem was, the new attorney was asking decidedly negatively themed questions.
This went unabated for about 10 minutes when the door opened again. This time an interesting change in tenor happened. The only way I can describe it is when Norm from Cheers walks into the bar, as the other two shout out his name and start joking around. And the image wasn’t far off… rather than wearing a suit this partner was in jeans and a Bermuda shirt. They wander in and setup at the head of the tiny table. (which of course involved everyone standing up and shuffling a bit so they could actually get to the head of the tiny table). I immediately assume ‘rainmaker’ as everyone was a bit deferential and one of the attorneys actually fistbumped him over a dumb joke he made. It turned out, this guy wasn’t even on the roster of attorneys I was supposed to be interviewing. They were passing by and just decided to pop in for amusement value I guess.
This became an exercise in a bit of the ridiculous as the previous two part unrelated questioning became a 3 part rapid fire non-sequitur. The only difference now was that the rainmaker was also throwing in some off color / bawdy jokes instead of questions or referencing owning high end luxury cars. So I had one attorney who was joking around and asking nothing of import, one who was asking substantive questions, and one who was asking probing and relatively hostile questions. None of which were arranged in any sort of order, so I would finish answering one and the other attorney would start up “getting back to my question…” (which I think we had left 5 minutes previously and I now had little recollection of what you asked after the unrelated conversation inserted between…) Maybe this was some sort of deposition tactic to throw you off guard; maybe it was just several large egos jostling in the same room. Either was legitimately possible. It felt like a ‘good cop, bad cop’ routine with an added ‘Frat-boy cop’ thrown in.
The most irritating concept reared its horrible head from the hostile attorney. They pointed out that I had mentioned in a previous answer that I had interviewed for a job in a different legal sub-specialty… not PI, and followed this up pointing to my diverse array of specialties. And he said that it seemed I was just interviewing everywhere to get a job. There was a beat of silence in the room before I said, yes that’s right. And I explained it was less about the specific specialty and more about the rigor of the work and novelty of cases. I gave a good accounting of this reasoning, and as you might expect, the other two liked my answer and Mr. Negative really did not. His opinion seemed to be that he didn’t want to hire me if I needed a job; he only wanted to hire me if I already had a job and didn’t need a different one. This type of backwards thinking permeates the legal field and it is infuriating.
‘We only want you if you don’t need us.’
Shortly after battling off the hostile attorney the rainmaker decides it’s time to make an exit and takes the hostile attorney with him as he leaves claiming he needed them for something. So I finish out with the original attorney, and they then say there is one final attorney to speak with. He leaves to find this last attorney and disappears for a good 10 minutes before reappearing and telling me the last attorney couldn’t be found and apparently went home for the day so I won’t be talking with them.
I am walked out of the firm and the implication was I would be contacted very soon. I guess I have to decide pretty quickly if I actually want to work in PI. The salary range they gave was pretty damn attractive, especially when compared to other places I’ve interviewed and knowing the salaries of friends who got into firms… I guess the money is spent on the attorneys and not the office. Not a bad system I guess. We’ll see how it pans out.
I never wanted to do this, but at this point, I will.