Interview #18 – Reduction to the Mean

Reduction to the mean… the lowest common denominator… stupid… dumb… idiotic — take your pick.

On my latest foray to attempt to find a job, I doubled down and was able to schedule an interview a day before my ill-fated second interview of Interview 17. This interview was for an Asst. District Attorney position. I figured I had a pretty good chance considering my background which involved working for a DA previously.

This particular DA’s office handled both misdemeanor and felony for the county (i.e. the Cook County system). I had primarily previously been working in a non-unified system, and dabbled later a bit with the civil side in a unified system, so I was familiar with the concept but the painfully bad execution was something new to me. Anyway, I arrived and was interviewed by a division chief of the DA’s office.

It was possibly the worst sounding legal job outside another stint in document review.

Here’s how it went down. First, they explained how the place was setup and where they fit as a cog within the vast machine that was the office. At this point they looked at me and basically said “Why would you want to work here considering what you have on your resume?”  Uh, oh… this has already started off on the wrong foot. Specifically they were pointing to my IP / Patent background and also various specializations. I deflected and basically turned it back to my experience working in criminal law. I talked about my experience and went into my background working in both criminal and civil law. How I had an extensive background doing exactly what they were looking for. Then I talked about my appellate experience and how I enjoyed specifically that I could see a case all the way through to the end, all the way from trial court to the supreme court if it was appealed that far.

They interrupted me. “Yeah, you wouldn’t be doing that here.” Huh? Howso? It turned out that they had a completely separate appellate division and that anything appealed to anywhere, from anywhere went to them. So no more following your case from inception to its ultimate end. Huh… well I suppose that would make it slightly easier for the trial attorney. You wouldn’t have to worry about researching and writing appeals; even though that was one of the more interesting parts of practicing law in a criminal court. Then they told me that they don’t hire directly into the appellate division, so I would not be doing any appeals if hired there at all.

They mentioned something about my materials and I piped up, that if they needed anything else, I could send it to them, and oh yeah I’m not sure if it was included in the packet of information but I have a writing sample and if they want more I have others. I got as far as pulling it from my valise and I had just started to move my hand toward their desk when they waved it off and said “No need. You won’t be doing any writing.”

uhhhh… I was sorta frozen with the pages drooping from my fingers as I struggled to comprehend what they just said. As an attorney… I would not be writing at all… and they didn’t care about my work product. The gears in my brain finally caught and I said, “I’m not going to be doing any motions practice either?” And they said, “Sure you are, but it’s all oral and done on the fly in court.” So, no writing appeals, no written motions. I’m beginning to be confused by what I would actually be doing.

At some point, I went into my trial experience, a great portion of which was summarily dismissed by the interviewer as ‘merely plea bargaining’. They then proceeded to explain what the position would entail, which effectively was significantly … plea bargaining, or at least exactly the same as the experience which was apparently not valid per the interviewer.

Here’s where it got dumb. No matter who you are. No matter your experience and background. This particular office shoehorned you into doing traffic tickets and nothing but when you started. You could be a 10 year veteran appellate partner from a firm, and if you were a new hire at this DA’s office, you got stuck into the lowest position doing tickets. No writing. No appeals. No thinking. You then had to stick it out for a year before you were promoted upward. Each move up, you were given marginally more responsibility. It could legitimately take you 3+ years before you had to write a single page of legal work product for the office based on the career outline they laid before me.

Quite literally, they seemed very proud of the fact that merit had little to do with promotion within the system. Here, then, was the epitome of a government office. Which meant that mediocrity rose in the ranks, because anyone who was worth their salt, left and went onto better jobs. I asked what the attrition rate of the office was… apparently it was high, with ‘someone leaving every week or so’. But that was ok, because it was a big office, and the interviewer was sure they were just leaving because they could get better money elsewhere.

Here’s where it took a turn for the surreal. The interview was winding down, and I asked when they would be making a decision on who to hire. Seemingly a simple question. Well, not so much as it turned out. The system worked like this… The office made offers to graduating law students in the area; some who had interned there and some who had not (the ‘some who had not’ concept was anathema where I had worked previously, for a wide variety of reasons). These positions were guaranteed so long as they passed the bar. Any open positions were filled first by those offerees, and the remainder were filled by outside applicants. I then asked, how many positions they were filling… and this is when they dropped the WTF. They weren’t sure. In fact, the interviewer admitted to me that it was entirely possible that all positions would be fulfilled by the guaranteed positions to the offerees.


So.. I just applied and had an hour long interview… for a job which doesn’t even necessarily exist. What is it with local governments interviewing for non-existent positions. I feel like these job postings should include a warning in fine print *Caution: This job may or may not actually exist.*

So I was applying for a job which may not exist, which required significantly less ability than what I had done as an intern, and would take me years to work up to actually using any cognitive processes, promotion would be on seniority as opposed to merit, and you will be paid badly.

Awesome. Where do I sign up.

At the end of the interview I was walked out of the office to the lobby, and the interviewer met the next attorney waiting to be interviewed for the likely-imaginary job posting. I wish the bar or the ABA would fucking bother to do something about this.


** one of the better moments came when the interviewer told me the market was so bad, that they had fully licensed attorneys working in the office for free as interns. I had a moment wherein I was about to ask about the legality of that and if they were being covered by the office’s liability insurance… and then I thought best not to completely ruin my interview for the imaginary position. Their employment violations are their own concern, and any attorney who hasn’t considered what could happen as a result of this is foolish at the minimum.

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