An early legal-ish interview story

Quite awhile ago I interviewed for a quasi-legal job at one of the multitude of Bank of America’s offices. This was shortly after I was out of law school and I still assumed that a great legal job was right around the corner. But I was starting to have suspicions already that all was not quite what I thought it was in the job market since I was now desperately broke and no one was hiring me. So I decided I should try to come up with a back channel to be hired into an attorney position somewhere. I had heard an apocryphal story of some distant friend of a friend who was an attorney and got hired as a paralegal and soon was promoted to be a real boy an actual attorney with the firm. To be considered a paralegal, you need to have gotten a paralegal certificate (which can be ordered thru the mail from late night infomercials, though I will admit there are a fair number who get them from more legitimate sources – usually community colleges.) And preferably a GED, though not necessarily required. That’s right… I was trying to game the system by applying for a position that was open to high school drop outs.

So with this thought in mind, I noted paralegal positions in my area and applied to a few. One got back to me. Bank of America was running a mass mill review of mortgages they held (*cough* I wonder why…). Anyway, I show up to the interview and find out it is an abandoned shopping mall. Sidenote – why is it that no one else I know has interview stories which include statements like “the law firm was in an industrial park” or “an abandoned shopping mall”… I can’t be the only one. I walk down the eerily empty mall to the BoA office, which is now occupying what looked to have previously been a Macys or some similarly sized department store. The front of the store is now walled off completely with one corner converted into a reception area behind a small wall of security glass and buzzed doors. Apparently today was not just interview day for me, but also for about 300 other people as well. The waiting room was stacked with about 10-12 people waiting, and a new person arrived every 15 minutes or so. There were multiple interview rooms churning through people so you might think this was a well oiled machine; nothing could be farther from the truth.

I will say that while I waited, we were provided entertainment in the form of watching the current employees attempt to use the revolving security door. It was fantastically broken and yet it was the only door they were supposed to be using, so rather than use the regular door 3 feet to the right, they were all trying to use the revolving door. It involved swiping their ID card and the door would start revolving. Ideally it was supposed to revolve sufficiently so you could get to the other side. It didn’t. I watched at least half a dozen people get locked in between the rotation and that was when it worked at all. It seemed that the door was very successful at keeping the employees locked inside the office. An hour and 15 minutes into waiting in the small room that was getting progressively more crowded I decided it was time to call it. I should have left 45 minutes prior, but being broke can help you to put up with a lot. So finally after the umpteenth person pounding on the rotating door to be let out, I stand up and hand my ‘Visitor’ security badge to the secretary who had obviously graduated from the DMV Charm School, and as I turned to leave, I kid you not, the door on the far wall opens and a woman calls my name. I had a moment where I considered remaining silent and continuing to walk, but I was here so I might as well do the interview regardless of my thoughts at that moment.

The office inside was exactly what you would imagine a department store would look like if you emptied it of all the clothes, and instead filled it with half-cubicles from wall to wall. It was like staring at what Dante may have thought up if he had a slightly more sadistic concept of purgatory done up in beige, lit with flickering fluorescent lighting, and scented with a miasma of depression. As the woman is taking me back to a small office we pass by a set of escalators set in the middle of the huge open room which apparently led up to an identical floor above us. I laugh slightly and ask “Was this place previously a department store?” The woman looks back at me and confirms the guess that it used to be a Macys / Sears / etc, and then asks “Why do you ask?” I reply,”well the escalators in the middle of the office sort of give it away.” She then confounds me and says “Oh no. We put those in here.” Protip: If your office has a weird feature in it. Don’t become so complacent that you think it is normal and lose sight of the fact that normal people will find it odd upon witnessing its weirdness, acknowledge that it is weird, but then say ‘hey it works’… and move on.

So I end up in a small office across a largish oval table from two women. One identifies herself as one of BoA’s attorneys who is part of a group that titularly oversees the mortgage mill. The other is identified as someone from HR, she never spoke the entire interview. So the attorney starts talking to me about the job and about how I am a new attorney applying for this legal-ish position and how they (supposedly) have quite a few JDs working on the project (note she said JDs, not attorneys). She told me that she used to be an in-house Counsel for a small chain of gas station convenience stores. I thought that decidedly odd at the time, yet now I would gladly shank my grandmother for such a job. I found out rather quickly that my idea of a back way into the legal department was DoA at BoA because apparently this was likely the first and last time I would see an attorney for BoA as their offices were not in the same building and I would never really have opportunity to schmooze with them to try to get hired. She went thru some of what would be required for the job and then she came to a bit of a sticky point. Apparently there was the very real potential that they would want me to negotiate with homeowners and / or attorneys relating to various issues, specifically as in mediation. This struck me as odd, and decidedly an action that an attorney would do and not a paralegal. So I brought up the point that as a barred attorney I thought it would be a bit confusing and potentially bordering on malpractice to enter negotiations with another attorney or a pro-se party in a legal proceeding such as a mediation or arbitration relating to legal documents operating as a non-attorney, when I was in fact an attorney. Not to mention confusing to the adverse party that they would be dealing with an attorney who was not operating as an attorney, but working for attorneys but with no actual authority. I voiced this concern to the attorney and asked if there was either provided coverage or indemnity for such an issue. The attorney laughed (yes she laughed at a question one attorney posed to another about potential malpractice) and looked over to the HR person and said “Oh new attorneys are so concerned over losing their license.” (WTF?!) She claimed there was no problem and not to worry about it, but no they didn’t offer any coverage. Now, I am pretty sure every law school teaches that you are an attorney 24/7 and that yes… yes you can be held accountable even if you do something malpractice worthy in an unrelated job. She must have been a bang-up in-house Counsel. But hey, now you know something about the ethics of BoA attorneys. (maybe that explains some of their current issues…)

Anyway, being new to the whole legal interviewing thing and not realizing I was up against people who may or may not have graduated high school, I had brought a writing sample I had written which was filed into a Federal Circuit Court in the not so distant past. She took it and leafed thru it as you would if you had drawn a stick-figure flipbook on the side corner before returning it to the center of the table and saying dismissively “well its nice that you helped work on this…” at which point I cut her off mid-sentence and forcefully poked my finger into the brief and said “I did not help work on this, I WROTE this.” The interview literally ground to a halt. I could have sworn the only thing that could have dropped the temperature in the room faster than what I had just done is if I had slapped her across the face. The interview had been going badly already, the attorney kept stumbling over information in my resume as if she had never heard of any IP related terms and somehow she seemed to have little command over motion practice and what it constituted (what the hell did she do as an in-house? Transactional and nothing else?). This was pretty much the near official end of the interview. She backed off realizing she had effectively just lobbed a rather dismissive insult at me and I had instantly grounded it. She wound the interview down to the obligatory goodbyes and I walked out of the office and I was left wandering out of the abandoned shopping mall.

I don’t really recall hearing back from them, but I am pretty sure neither of us would have said yes to me working there regardless.

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