I call this one the ‘Low Rent Interview’.
As I get increasingly desperate for a real legal job, I have ended up applying to everything. Absolutely everything; whether I want to work in that sub-specialty or not, I send out an application if they are looking. Back when I had just graduated, I would apply selectively to the jobs I wanted in the specialties I was most interested. I would maybe send out 2 or 3 applications a week. Most days now I send out at the bare minimum 5 a night. The last ‘entry level job’ that I matched perfectly in terms of skill and interest I ended up receiving a rejection informing me that there had been over 700 applications for the one position offered. I was talking to a friend of mine several states away in Chicago who as it happened also applied and was rejected from the same position. We joked that we were now part of the 700 Club.
But I digress. This interview was garnered from a Craigslist posting looking for an associate attorney. That really was the extent of the ad. No firm name, no salary info. Just firm looking to hire an associate. Okay.. I’m game. I threw out a resume, and the next day I get a callback for an interview. I setup the interview and get the firm name to do the standard pre-interview research on the firm and attorney(s) I’ll be talking with. Its a very small firm and their practice areas seem a bit eclectic, but hey, so is my skillset so maybe it would work. So the night before the interview I am wrapping up my short research on the firm, and I run across a marketing video the firm put out 2 years ago. I start watching it.
“How would you like to work from home as an attorney?” uh oh… The video in a nutshell was the closest thing I’ve seen attempting to create a multi-level marketing / Ponzi scheme out of a law firm. The basics ran like this: you would be given the moniker associate. But there were no partnership tracks. Instead it functioned like an office-share situation wherein you gave the Named Partner a not so insubstantial administrative fee every month, they also took 50% of everything you made from fees. Oh but wait! You get to set your own fees… so long as it was minimally $150 an hour. For all of this wonderful access, you basically setup your own solo firm under this person’s letterhead with no actual training or help from the ‘firm’.
Crap. This looked more like a scam. And I had to drive over an hour to get to this guys office spending the better part of a day going there and wasting gas. I was considering bailing on the interview. On the flip side… I would have an interesting story to share with people if I went… and write this entry for this blog. So of course I went.
The office was in an industrial park. Not a commercial space. No… when I mean industrial park, I mean when I entered the office you could hear the lathe and other machinery in the spaces on either side. I’m also going to sound like a bit of an elitist here… but an attorney’s office is supposed to look professional. I get that solos often don’t have a lot of money, especially starting out. But this guy had apparently been in business for more than 15 years. His office was in the lowest rent area you can put an office. And the entire interior was very obviously put up by him. Drywall, flooring, carpeting and all. And I hope he was a better attorney than handyman, because it was not well put together. Think the skill level of your dad who fancies himself a plumber / carpenter, and now no faucet turns the same direction and no door hangs level in your house. So I sit down and wait. After nearly half an hour I am contemplating leaving. There is no one in the office. The sole secretary has answered 2 phone calls stating that ‘attorney so-and-so is in a meeting.’ There is no meeting, and no one else in the office. Finally, the partner / solo attorney I am supposed to see comes out.
We go back to his office and I note that there is a decided lack of any sort of files anywhere in the office. Now, I know that we all move toward reduction of paperwork and putting everything into a digital format… but even so… lawyers generate paper. Tons of it. Even with the best digital storage system you have paper files and boxes and boxes of papers. I’ve never been to an office which didn’t. Until now. There are no papers, no files, no boxes, no filing cabinets. That seems ominous. So we start talking. He remarks (often) on the breadth of my resume. Everything from IP to Admiralty and all sorts of random specialty law in between. I explain that I feel it best to have a great diversity of training to offer employers, so that I can be used in a wide variety of tasks. And if they are looking for a specialist in one or two things, I likely already have experience in them and can focus on only those they want me to. We start talking about my prior training; courtroom experience and the like. He keeps saying “well that’s where everyone starts”. The problem is, he says it 4 different times… about 4 completely different things. I’m beginning to suspect he doesn’t have some of the supposedly basic training that I do.
He then asks me how I would start my practice there. Wait… what? Start MY practice at HIS firm? I double back and ask the question that is looming large in my mind. Is this a straight salary position? Yes (seemingly conditionally but we never got to that). His expectation was that I would be setup in the office in a practice area in which he didn’t practice, and that I would then go out and act like a solo under his name. So same concept as the video, except with a salary. I explain to him that I don’t have the experience building up my own practice and getting my own clients. And then I added, if I did, why wouldn’t I just hang out my own shingle?
And then he hits the one issue he has been sorta skirting the whole interview. He tells me that he thinks that even if he hired me, I would leave. He seems very intimidated by the fact that I have multiple bars in neighboring states; that I am very well traveled; that I have a very diverse skillset; and in his estimation, no roots to hold me to the city. In his mind, if I wanted to, I could just leave on a moments notice. In other words… he thought I didn’t need him. He was from a 1st tier school. I had looked through the other two ‘associates’ at his firm and they were both from a 4th tier that was recently ranked as pumping out the most unemployed / unemployable lawyers in the country. Compared to his other associates, my skills and prospects are damn near rosy. He wanted to hire attorneys who literally couldn’t leave his firm. Ever. I saw that the interview was over. The decision was made before I walked in the room, technically by both of us. I wouldn’t work there even if offered, and he wouldn’t be offering. The interview wound down through the obligatory pleasantries and I left.
I said it before and I’ll say it again… Are there any normal solos / attorneys who work in small firms? Where are you hiding? Why am I only getting interviews with the mixed nut section of the legal world.