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.”
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.