So, I have a bunch of content waiting in the wings for the likely very few people who may read this blog. But I am waiting to post it… for reasons. And they are good reasons, but you’ll have to trust me on that. I am endeavoring to be able to post everything as soon as possible.
As an avid fan of Dan Savage, I happened to be listening to this and felt the need to repost it here, as it is … well… shit; It may as well be my story with a couple notable variances. It seems Law School destroying people’s lives is a common theme. Take a listen.
Excerpt from Savage Love Podcast; Episode 479; 12/29/2015 — http://www.savagelovecast.com/ (Dan Savage is a relatively raunchy ‘Dear Abby’ who is spot on a good 90% of the time… the other 10% I end up yelling at the radio in my car while listening; but 90% is still a damn good average)
I feel there has been a relative dearth of holiday parties this year. I’m usually more than happy to make a few treks out for the obligatory halfway-holiday themed networking events that spring up around Christmas. Either I am falling off the better mailing lists that send them out, or there are decidedly fewer happening. Disappointing either way.
Recently I ended up getting the invitation to the local Young Lawyers Association holiday party. Sadly this one required I pay out for the privilege of going, but it wasn’t a significant amount; so I committed the heresy of paying to go to the networking party. As I’ve mentioned before, it is against my religion to pay for CLEs and networking functions (and parking); but as the old maxim says, you have to spend money to make dubious networking contacts with others in similar dire straights which never pan out into any… wait, that might not be how the maxim goes. Regardless…
This party had the added bonus on the invitation saying it was “black tie optional”. Yes… because image is everything; and grabbing up a bunch of very new and relatively broke attorneys and stuffing them into tuxedos and gowns will completely fix the obvious problems of the legal industry. I actually considered wearing a tuxedo. I have one– for no discernible reason other than it was on sale and I like standing in front of my bathroom mirror acting like James Bond. But I just couldn’t bring myself to wear it to what promised to be an array of broke attorneys and law students. My caution was rewarded when I arrived and saw that all of maybe 5 out of a few hundred arrayed were wearing tuxedos, and they seemed to be ill at ease with their decision (and they may have been the hosts too, not sure).
The event was outside. In December. To be fair, I am in a latitude where it doesn’t snow, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t get cold. I’m guessing they got a deal on the venue since no one really wants to hold events outside at this time of year, for good cause. It was cold and really windy, and to make matters more fun, there were several fountains in the general vicinity so the wind constantly sprayed a goodly number of people with a fine cold mist. They had several of the outdoor propane heaters, but the afore mentioned wind kept blowing them out every few minutes. It didn’t really matter as you never really felt the heat due to the wind anyway even when they were lit. There were open bars (I mean come on… its a legal function; do you really expect lawyers not to drink?) Various foodstuffs were in the standard silver serving dishes; nothing was labeled and although I could figure out what most of the food dishes were, even after eating some of the remaining mystery food, I was still unable to decide what it was other then ‘squishy’. To complete the picture there was a big ice sculpture (because… why not?) and a rock band playing, and in the standard poorly considered execution of so many of these events, the band was located right in the middle of everyone so you had to yell at the person right next to you at the networking event to be heard. Great idea.
I showed up and grabbed some food quickly to beat any lines and also so I could actually network with people without trying to eat while doing so. Very shortly into the event I ended up talking with what turned out to be the only decent networking contact I found the whole night, and they weren’t even a lawyer; they worked in one of the ancillary valuation type of fields. They offered to pass along my resume with a good word to several of the firms their company worked with as well as fielding the possibility of collaborating with me on something; it’s unlikely to go anywhere but it at least made me feel like my money wasn’t completely wasted. I ended up talking with them for quite awhile and eventually more people from the firm drifted over and everyone was laughing and swapping stories about hilarious times they were drunk driving (I wish I was making that up), but seemingly fitting for a legal event as we stood no more than 10 feet away from one of the 4 fully stocked and completely open bars.
Eventually we both felt we should work the room a bit so we parted and drifted to other tables. I met up with one of the few lawyers I knew at the party and as with all networking events, if you hold down a table, others will drift in to talk and drink.
One attorney joined us, who introduced himself and handed out a business card and then proceeded to stand silently at table for the next 45 minutes without joining the conversation or talking to anyone. Just hovering slightly creepily and listening in on the rest of the table talk. I’m not that great at networking, but I mean… damn. I’m not that bad. Just to complete the mental image before you assume we were at a large table where you might be able to disappear into the background… we weren’t. It was a standing table that was probably 2 feet diameter, just large enough for four or five people to stand at and put your drink down. And Mr. Awkward was standing right at the table staring silently, pretty much until the party ended.
(A short addendum relating to silent weird guy: We also all handed him our cards, because… networking. Everyone included their email obviously so we can be contacted on the off chance someone wanted to
buy us offer a job. Instead, I now get the rantings of an insane person in my inbox (in various colors no less; professional!) about how the courts did this or that to him or his clients, and how they were completely wrong and illegal to do so, and how judge X is an insane asshole… usually spanning multiple pages. Google started flagging it as spam without me telling it to do so. The schizophrenic rantings are called his law firm’s newsletter, so says the title. It was amusing, but also scary that he went through law school, sailed through character and fitness, and passed the bar, yet no one noticed he was nuts.)
Another relatively new attorney with a surprisingly similar story to my own wandered over, and they seemed far too excited at the prospect of being a broke solo. I talked quite a bit with them and even setup lunch for a later point. I’m unsure whether we were commiserating about being in a crappy situation or swapping tips on how to survive in said crappy situation. Either way, nice guy.
A newly minted family law attorney joined us who was basically working as the assistant to a seasoned family law solo. They claimed they / their firm specialized in ‘high net worth divorces’. Yeah… right. A tiny solo catches ‘high net worth’ anything? I’m guessing the firm actually specializes in ‘wishful thinking’. It’s one thing to bend the truth to clients… its a whole different matter to try to pass off a lie like that to other attorneys. Better to be honest and say you ‘aspire to X… but deal with a lot of this in the meantime’. And on a completely professional note and without going into detail, when I brought up something which is a very well known standard in the industry (at least among better family law attorneys) they disagreed with the concept emphatically. Which absolutely killed any respect I may have had towards them. I have worked in family law, and as disagreeable as the divorce axiom I brought up, no divorce attorney worth their salt would have taken an opposing position.
The evening wore on. The flyer advertised the party as ending at 10 PM. And oh my, did it end EXACTLY at 10 PM. The bars stopped serving 15 minutes before and started to clean up, which at these types of functions usually make most lawyers leave (no more booze? I’m [going to drive] outta here!) and the party wind down naturally. But instead, at the exact stroke of 10, they shut off the lights (no shit). And someone walked over and told everyone “you have to leave… now”. I guess they rented the venue literally only until 10 and to say we were ushered out is putting far too pleasant a point on it.
I’m unsure what my final impression is of the event. I suppose as with most, it was a slightly surreal experience of a bunch of mostly broke people dressing up and pretending otherwise.
Maybe that’s not so surreal now that I think about it.
You wonder why people think lawyers are slimy?
I ran across an ad for an immigration attorney… It purported to be a position for a charity. General concept was to work pro-bono for illegal immigrants to help get them out of detention. Seems like a noble enough endeavor for a charity. As with all jobs, I poked around to see what this charity was about.
They had a facebook page with photos of people they had supposedly helped. All the employees of the charity had huge smiles plastered on their faces in the photos which had captions like ‘Bob is so happy to be reunited with his family’. The weird thing was, not a single one of the ‘clients’ were smiling. In point of fact, they all looked really miserable.
That’s when stuff got even weirder. Backtracking to see how the charity was organized, you find pretty quickly that it was run as a small side venture of what almost amounts to a bail bond company. I couldn’t figure out what the deal was… it didn’t add up. Then I started checking out the parent company. Turns out they are one of the largest manufacturers and servicers for GPS ankle monitors.
Ahhh… Now it makes sense. The ‘charity’ worked like this: hire down on their luck attorneys to represent detainees but have the condition of release be that they be fitted with an ankle monitor. The Fed. govt. pays for the company to monitor the GPS trackers. The company makes money off every single ‘pro-bono’ case it takes on by being the servicer. And of course they aren’t going to fight to allow the detainees to go free with no GPS bracelet, I would be willing to bet that is a condition of representation in point of fact.
The whole thing is so slimy. Ugh. I am quite sure there are several ethical violations just bobbing around on the surface of this scum filled pool. But hey, go see for yourself on Nexus Services webpage, look for Nexus Caridades. I feel bad for the people who they are ‘helping’.
Have you ever run across something so obviously dumb, you felt it necessary to do something about it; To reach out and correct the stupidity assaulting your sensibilities? But what if when you pointed out how dumb it was, no one you explained it to seemed to fathom the true depths of the stupidity? It makes you question your sanity. I mean, if no one else thinks it is dumb… maybe it’s just me.
Recently, I ran straight into the ‘Catch-22’ morass of the illogical that is the State Bar. Yes, the self same that exists in every state in some form. I have oodles of state bars at this point. What few friends I still have, joke that I am trying to collect all 50 states. By and large, in no small part based on the ABA’s model rules of ‘fill in the blank’, most rules of the profession you run into from one state to another are pretty similar. You will run into a few weird ones of course… in California (and a very few others) you don’t have to go to law school to sit for the bar, in Texas you are allowed to sleep with your clients, and then there is pretty much everything in Louisiana — because they like being different. There are lots of examples, but when you look at the big picture, the gestalt is relatively similar from one state to another.
Anyway, I entered a new state last year. Flashcut to a few months ago and I receive a strange letter from a non-profit threatening to revoke my law license unless I show up to one of their CLEs for new attorneys. Now, this is strange on 2 accounts.
Numero Uno: I’m not a new attorney. I’ve been out long enough at this point that… well crap. Read the blog. I’ve been out for a decent amount of time and I no longer qualify anywhere as a new attorney. (I wish the new attorney discounts still applied to me)
Proposition deux: How exactly is a 3rd party unaffiliated with the bar making threats against my continued bar license?
So, as with any good attorney with a question such as this, I called up the bar. First I called up the CLE department, because the letter was in reference to a CLE. I explained my predicament and how I am not a new attorney so why am I getting this. They said they were aware of the course, then said why don’t you call the non-profit and talk to them about it? I explained that I had a legitimate question related to my bar license, and I was not going to take the non-binding word of a 3rd party over the state bar who actually licenses me… in fact I think I am technically barred from taking such advice. Lord knows if you were brought up on ethics charges and used that excuse that some unaffiliated group told me to, they would laugh you right out of the profession. Plus, again, I am not a new attorney. There was silence for a moment as the words sunk in and they realized they (as the representative of the bar) had just suggested asking some random company about a bar license issue; and then they said “you have a good point, but…” it wasn’t their department because it was a condition of licensure… call the Board of Bar Examiners as they are the licensing body within the State Bar.
So I called them. I then went about explaining the same exact things. There was again that horrible pregnant pause while they mulled it over and they said “well.. you have a good point…” but — it wasn’t their department because it was enacted by the Supreme Court sua sponte as a prerequisite for new attorneys and was not itself related to their office. Plus mostly they did bar exam stuff so they had no idea (great). They then pointed me in the direction of the Supreme Court’s rulings related to the course (which I already had; because you know.. attorneys and research) and said that I should call the Executive Office of the state Supreme Court. Oh and did I need the number to talk to the CLE provider about this? (grrrr)
So up the ladder of the Bar I went. This time I talked to what amounted to the highest lawyer in the Bar outside the Supreme Court justices… They listened and I headed off the question trying to shunt me to the 3rd party CLE provider, then explained how I wasn’t a new lawyer. In fact, the Supreme Court rulings related to this course were quite specific that they were supposed to be for law students entering their first year of practice. That last part seemed to come as a surprise, which is shouldn’t because even this attorney referenced the holdings… apparently no one bothered actually reading them; they just liked referencing them and taking someone else’s word for what they contained. I was then informed they had been enforcing this CLE on anyone new in the state for many years, as opposed to only those new to the profession and they were surprised this issue had never been noticed before. They then said the words I had been dreading… “You have a good point… but… The only way to change this was to petition for a rule change directly to the Supreme Court.” I pointed out it wasn’t a rule change, it was merely enforcement of the rule as written as opposed to the expanded interpretation apparently taken by this CLE provider (who had also been given a monopoly by the bar to provide this one particular course).
To add insult to injury, I was then informed that regardless of the petition and decision, if I wanted to make sure to stay compliant, I would have to take the course because the petition wouldn’t be heard until later in the year. Well past when I was being told I’d have to take the New Attorney CLE. So I said fine. I’ll pay and take the CLE, and file the petition so no one else has to put up with this in the future. The CLE was exactly as worthless as you might expect, and I still have heard nothing from the bar as relates to the petition.
I get the feeling they have no incentive to change it, and could care less the inconvenience it causes to other people. My impression of the Bar in general has dropped significantly.
The Barrister’s Ball is the big party thrown by law schools for graduating 3Ls at the end of every school year. It is generally a nice formal(ish) dinner with copious alcohol and drunken dancing. It is also one of the few events in which you get to bring a +1 who is not also a law student. So everyone gets to finally meet all those husbands, wives, and significant others who you heard vaguely referenced throughout the years, but never actually saw.
I brought my soon to be fiancee, one of my best friends brought their boyfriend who most of us thought was also a ‘soon-to-be-fiancee’ but unbeknownst to any of us was going to dump them ASAP. As it turned out, they waited until 1 day after the bar exam and told them to move out; apparently they would have done it sooner but didn’t want to fuck up the exam. I suppose that’s a minor point in his favor.
My other best friend walked in to the dinner with a hulking bald, tattooed, and pierced guy trailing behind her. A bit of an odd choice for this venue, but he was a nice enough guy. We all sat down to eat and he shot me a slightly weird glance. He leaned over and said “Have we met before?” I briefly ran through the very short list of anyone I know who might look like him and told him I really didn’t think so. He sorta stared and said “Damn, I swear I know you from somewhere…” Being friendly I said “Well, I’m either at the law school studying or I’m working at the Prosecutor’s Office…” And he snapped his fingers and exclaimed “THAT’S where I know you from.”
This brief exchange was being followed by the table, and once he shouted this everyone became very interested in their food and suppressed a smile. My friend who had brought him grabbed his arm and attempted to steer him away from the subject quickly. I honestly had no recollection of him… Talking to my friend later, she admitted to me that in the few weeks leading up to the Barrister’s Ball, she had to go hang out for far too long at 2 different dog parks to find a date to the dinner.
Amusing stories aside… several of us were mingling (and drinking) and we happened to notice everyone from the SBA grouped over in a corner getting photographed with plaques. I asked someone what was going on over there, and they said something about awards. But the weird thing was, no one I asked knew what the awards were. Flashcut to graduation. All the SBA members who were over getting their photos taken got these random awards plaques presented on stage during graduation. I leaned over and asked the guy next to me in the auditorium… how it was decided who got these awards. He stifled a laugh and said, “The SBA votes on who gets these awards. And amazingly they voted them all for each other.”
When you don’t have a job, it seems that everyone else suddenly feels elevated to a position to offer you worthless career advice of precariously dubious origin.
PRO-BONO. Probably the worst advice I keep getting is that to get a job, I should be doing more pro-bono work. If you ask the person giving this advice when the last time they did a full pro-bono case you will undoubtedly get a very uncomfortable silence from them; and maybe a quip that they aren’t looking for a job (nice!) so… you know, they don’t have to. The idea behind this concept is the more you get out and show your face, the more likely someone is going to be soooo impressed with you and your work, that they will offer to hire you. The main problem with this is that you generally don’t see all of those people who could hire you. Let’s be honest, if you are doing a pro-bono case, it means your client is destitute (or close to it). Based on some rather simple inference, it is unlikely your client will know anyone much farther up the economic ladder than ‘slightly less than destitute’ so there is nothing worthwhile networking-wise along that route. But wait you say… what you are really trying to do is impress the other attorneys and judges etc. you come in contact with while working the case; right? Well, first and foremost, your pro-bono case is probably in a field you aren’t horribly familiar with, so lets scratch the ‘impress’ off the list (be honest with yourself, it will save you a great deal of humbling later). So what it actually looks like is you bumbling through the case with no support or familiarity and a great deal of apologizing as you tell everyone involved ‘this isn’t my field, so please bear with me’ (Impressive!). To make matters worse, the issues connected to pro-bono cases are often connected to lesser income generating law (family law, criminal law, and related civil law). Which means you are going to be rubbing elbows with solos who are barely surviving without going broke, or the lowest of the low associate of some mid-sized firm who is the cheapest billable hour; and who definitely has zero pull at the firm to be able to advise the partners on getting you hired.
But what about the organization who convinced you to maybe sign up to take a pro-bono client? Surely you’ll meet lots of people there who might do something for you? Right? — Not so much. Most are non-profits and require someone to die in order for a position to open up (exact statement from one I spoke with) and they have zero money in this economy to hire more attorneys. Not only that, the general feeling is that once they place the pro-bono client with you, they wash their hands of the whole thing. No help or guidance; the client is your problem and off our books. So don’t expect to rub elbows even with the attorneys in the non-profit.
The best I can say is doing pro-bono work helps you stave off the insanity of your never-ending job hunting / application regimen and allows you a brief respite to do that wonderful thing you spent so much time and money attaining.
THE BUSINESS PLAN. Oh. My. God. There is no conversation related to getting work that doesn’t inevitably flow down the sewer that is the ‘Perfect Business Plan’. Everyone ends up waxing poetic about how best to start your own business– even if you specifically say you would instead prefer to work for someone, it doesn’t matter… the ethos of ‘be your own boss’ is a siren’s call to many; none moreso than those who have never started their own business. I think it is a common daydream that someday they might strike out on their own and be done with their oppressive overlord of a boss, but in the meantime let me share my grand design with you and zealously defend its shortsightedness with a fervor unseen since 1936 Germany.
What’s that you say? Unrealistic because it requires 5 other attorneys in similar straights and mindset who are willing to tie their financial fortune to you? Bah.
Unrealistic because my plan requires at least half a million in seed capital with no concept of how to acquire said seed capital with no collateral? You’re just not committed enough, there’s always a way. (why would I be complaining about being broke is I had half a million laying around?)
Unrealistic because what I have just described is either a ponzi scheme or the next iteration of multi-level marketing? You have no vision.
Unrealistic because there is no way to actually charge money for what I have just described? You can get in on the ground floor!
Unrealistic because it is highly unethical and likely illegal and would almost certainly result in becoming disbarred? Nah… I don’t think it is, I’m pretty sure I heard someone else was already doing it…
All this and more will be pitched to you as the “perfect business plan” by various well-wishers. But don’t even deign to assume they might instead offer you a job, they’re not hiring. And why don’t they take their own advice and use their foolproof idea to start their own business? Because it is a daydream with no reality, and they have a paying job which offers security. (and you don’t).
THE NETWORKING BRUSH OFF. When I first started looking for a job, I didn’t understand or realize when this was happening to me. I’ve gotten a bit better at seeing it in medias res. You’re talking to someone and you bring up the topic of looking for work, and they decide at some early point in the conversation that it is time to bail out in the most eloquent way possible.
“Let me give you the name / number of this guy I know who you should reach out to…”
This is what you want right? The networking contact directly on point who can maybe either hire you or put you in touch with someone who might be looking! Well, no… not really. There are networking contacts you would like to get in touch with, but the vast majority of the ones handed to you are horrible dead ends. It’s a way for the giver to feel like they are some beneficent helper who has bestowed something of value on you out of the goodness of their hearts, without actually exerting any effort. Seemingly, most networking contacts are given as a way to end an unwanted conversation related to you trying to get hired in a field the listener is only vaguely aware of. But in the corner of their mind, they think, ‘hey… didn’t that one guy I met a few months ago also do something like that? I’ll give them that name and be done with it….’
Networking in Action: Think I’m making this up? I’m going to use the great story telling technique of a bookend scene and bring this back to the beginning of this post.
I have signed up for a handful of pro-bono organizations, again, on the advice of others who keep telling me I need to ‘get out there and be seen’. This particular pro-bono opportunity was open to be used by a very small number of people who met incredibly specific criteria, so much so that we were even told the likelihood of ever being called was pretty slim. I figured if nothing else, it would be a good resume one-liner. Unfortunately, upon reflection, I later realized it was so oddly specific it would be like a weird conversational magnet on my resume during interviews. And since I had never done anything for this organization besides being listed on their potential pro-bono roster, I really had very little idea what I would be doing should I be called let alone being able to talk intelligently about it during an interview. It ended up being safer to leave it off my resume and forget about it. That is.. of course, until someone called me to represent them.
The conversation was stilted and horribly disjunct. The client was difficult to talk with but they did actually meet the requirements for the pro-bono representation, but the one few things they did get clearly across was the statement “This judge friend of yours gave me your number…” Now, I don’t have any friends who are judges. And no judge I’ve stood before would have been so keen on me as to take down my phone number. That was when I figured out the judge had pulled up the pro-bono roster and given the client my number. No problem there, that’s technically what I signed up for.
Skip forward a few weeks. I get an email, for a brand spanking new attorney… just passed the bar (still that new lawyer smell!) and happily assuming they were walking into a wonderful friendly profession. They sent an email with their resume attached that looked quite a bit like one of my own “please hire me” emails, and a request to have a conversation with them about how to ‘break into’ one of my specialties to make a career of it. They referenced this judge who had previously handed out my name to the pro-bono client. Mind you… the judge still, has not met me and has zero knowledge about my professional background beyond the fact that I am listed as someone who is available for pro-bono indigent work of a particular type. Yet, I was somehow their professional networking go-to for this new attorney.
This, is the unfortunate reality of real-world networking in action.
In an effort to do something, I’ve continued to try to find something to do in the realm of pro-bono work, which led me to a free CLE which was handing out a bunch of credits and lunch. Who could say no to that? I will grant you that showing up to many of these ‘bunch of free CLE credits’ put on by non-profits generally comes with the caveat that you agree to signup for at least one pro-bono case. Considering I wanted some sort of case, this seemed like a win-win.
The CLE was held at United Way. I’ve heard some relatively negative things about United Way regarding their use of the charitable funds, generally related to massive administrative overhead. United Way apparently isn’t itself a charity exactly, it is a clearinghouse for charities and UW is the middleman who takes a cut of the funds for themselves, and then gives the rest to the connected charities. I’ve also heard weird things about how UW makes businesses sign non-competitive contracts such that your business can only do fund raising for UW and no other charity if you choose to go with UW. (odd that a charity would want to squeeze out other charities). Anyway this is all leading up to this next point…
I show up for the CLE at United Way. The UW complex was massive. It was effectively a mid-sized convention center complete with its own multistory parking garage. It was slick and high tech and expensive. I looked around and thought, ‘Huh… charity apparently pays very very well.’ I looked up at the electronic scheduling board (think airline arrival wall of monitors) and found that we were in one of the farther auditoriums. The CLE was really badly advertised and I only happened to notice it in an email newsletter about a week before the actual date. Coupled with the bad advertising was a complete lack of a syllabus or schedule even on the organization’s own website. So I was walking in a little blind as to what I was going to be sitting through.
The organization putting on this CLE was titularly a shelter org against domestic violence. But they only spoke relatively briefly, probably 2 short presentations on their organization and they wanted to have people signup on their list to possibly be called by the court to take a pro-bono appointment for a particular type of case. The lions share of the CLE was split by none other than both of the organizations outlined in my Legal Aid$ posting. Yes, the one who had refused to bother training, and the one who provided no support.
The Legal Aid (LA) attorney gave their presentation before lunch and then proceeded to try to assign cases to people. Now, the problem with this, is we didn’t show up to take on the cases from LA. No, we showed up for a Domestic Violence CLE and already had our names down to do pro-bono work for them. And the LA attorney acted as if we had to take these cases. She kept reading off the case synopses until she got the the end of the list and when no one else volunteered, she started over with the first case. And she continued harassing everyone and yelling out the synopses during the lunch break. Now don’t forget, the moment you took a case from her… no longer her problem and you would get no help. She told me so, in so many words. Apparently, other people in the room had also been burnt by her charms as she only foisted off a half dozen cases on the unwary. The second group after lunch was the immigration organization who provided no translators, or insurance, or anything else. They had the decency to mention they had need for people, but didn’t beat the dead horse. They did however beat us into submission with one of the more boring lectures I’ve heard at a CLE in a long while (and I had just come back from my AARP convention, so that was quite a feat.)
On a racial tone… I was the only white person there, other than some of the presenters and assistants to the presenters. What bothered me was the general implications of this imbalance. A great many less pleasant concepts percolated right below the surface, about who ran these organizations, about who they primarily used to do free work and potentially for whom, about the likely income disparity of the attorneys in the room and those curiously absent. Food for thought.
I signed up to do some work with the Domestic Violence org which will start later in the year. I avoided the other ones like the plague. I think I am going to skip the too-good-to-be-true CLEs for awhile now. I think I have fully explored the pro-bono options in my current city at this point.
This week I went all out. I paid money to go to a 3 day legal convention. The why of it was because I am collecting specific CLE credits in one specialization, for reasons I alone care about. So I head down to New Orleans to the Admiralty Law Institute at Tulane. It is one of the larger events for a really small legal niche. This year the topics revolved around the central theme of maritime personal injury; not at all my interest but as I said, it had less to do with the specific topic and more to do with the overarching specialty credits.
The city was deluged with rain the entire time. There was no day you didn’t arrive or leave damp and unhappy. Huge puddles blocked your forward progress no matter where you went, and by puddle I mean a foot or more deep of water that stretched more like disjointed mini-ponds across walkways and roadways. Everyone tried to gauge how far they thought they could safely venture into the puddles so you could potentially jump the remaining several feet to the dry islands in between the water. I walked into one day of the lectures with an older attorney who walked to the edge of one puddle about 5-6 feet across that stretched for a couple city blocks to our left and right. They hesitated only a moment and then said out loud “Fuck it.” and walked right through the middle of it. It nearly was as deep as his knees. I realized they were probably old enough that an attempted long jump across the water would lead to a more likely serious injury than having very wet feet for the day. I sidled into the puddle carefully and made the leap of faith, barely managing to clear the curb. There was something oddly amusing about an admiralty conference with a water problem.
The evening before the conference 3 large local law firms banded together and had a welcome cocktail reception. As I am still vainly trying my hand at trying to network to get a job, I of course showed up. The reception was at a wonderful venue and as with anything related to lawyers, it had a fully stocked open bar. It also had a band playing in one room, a fortune teller, and a street artist who were also hired to entertain us. But generally with my mind set on the idea of networking, I set about playing the room by randomly joining circles of conversation. All the while keeping an eye out for the singular person I know in the field who I was hoping was going to be at the conference, but they were a no show. Its amazing how lonely you can feel standing in a room filled with people.
I flitted from small group to small group. Mentioning you were looking for a job was a great way to have everyone in the group suddenly find something a great deal more interesting across the room to go investigate. One retired attorney (he had to be at least 70) told me amazing stories about how he did, and still does freediving and spearfishing. He also admitted he was the completely wrong person to network with (for various reasons he explained). Eventually I ended up talking to someone who turns out to be the wife of a big law attorney situated in my city. When the employment question comes up, she immediately says “oh you have to come meet my husband!” Thinking I might have finally hit some networking gold, I dutifully followed. The venue was packed and you had to yell to be heard at the best of moments as you threaded through the closely packed rooms. We finally make it at a slow crawl across the room, and she introduces me to her husband who shakes my hand and says “Good to meet you.” tersely, and then immediately looks to his wife and says “Let’s go” At which point he takes her hand and seemingly half drags her out. As she is being pulled away she says “Find him at the conference” and waves bye. It was really odd, I’m still unsure what I had seen transpire. So now I am again alone and I wander over to another small group who is also standing a bit offset from the masses. We get to talking and they are absolutely the most lovely and friendly people I have met in a long time. They are part of a small plaintiff’s firm (unfortunately nowhere near where I live…). They seem to have had their fill of the reception and invite me along to go find dinner instead. As I had also reached my fill of people wandering away once they decided I had no money, I readily agreed. I had a wonderful time with them and talked with them several more times throughout the conference.
I’m not going to spend much time on the conference itself. It was long, and although I shouldn’t admit it… very boring. The most accurate analogy I can give is the expectation versus reality of a small child when you tell them you are going to take them to a roller coaster factory. I had high expectations (for some reason) and instead I ended up listening to people talking about the benefits and drawbacks of ‘Maintenance and Cure’ versus Workers Compensation. (I may have just fallen asleep momentarily while typing that). My interests and specialty in Admiralty are apparently not representative of the field.
The conference center was quite nice and we were kept well fed at all points. Breakfast and lunch were both provided and both were enjoyable in my mind. I do have a bit of advice for anyone who may be going to something like this for networking purposes however… When you are ushered into a lunch — wait. Let a decent sized line form for the food before you get in line. The reason being: it is perfectly acceptable to approach a nearly full table and ask to sit with the people there… but if you are sitting alone at a table, it seems most people will choose not to approach you or your table. (*mumble* *mumble* leper syndrome *mumble*). It is better to allow the tables to fill before you decide where you want to sit down, plus you can choose the table that has the nicer suits sitting at it. (yeah, I know… I feel smarmy writing that last bit, but it’s true.)
Day 1 ended with… a cocktail reception. And again.. since it involves attorneys… a fully stocked open bar. Different venue than the previous night, but no less opulent. I was excited by this one because it also had food! Unfortunately, I think I got to speak with even fewer people at this one, but I did meetup with a couple attorneys from the city I previously lived and talked a bit with them. The Tulane law students were invited to this one also, so I did get to speak to a few of them as they huddled together at a few of the ubiquitous standing tables. From talking with them it appears Tulane Law School prints up business cards for their students (I think) because they all had the same generic ones they plied upon anyone who would take one. After failing to make any real inroads in conversation I took it upon myself to instead sample all of the food liberally before leaving.
Day 2 was uneventful except for a brief rage inducing moment, wherein a larger firm attorney on a panel discussion made a comment that large scale electronic document review should be left to “young, smart attorneys”, to give them ‘job security’. And then he laughed. And a federal magistrate next to him cluelessly agreed. I had a momentary impulse to stand up and call him out on being an asshole. Probably not quite so politically correct since I would have been effectively doing the same to the federal magistrate. The moment passed and I made a mental note of the firm name.
The day ended with… a cocktail reception. And… etc… etc.. fully stocked open bar. This one was by far the funkiest and most interesting venue. It was specific to young attorneys in the field. Now here is a very, very interesting point… if you stood at the front of the conference hall, and looked out over the crowd, it looked like you were talking to an AARP convention. It was a sea of old, white guys; the average age in the room was probably 55+. There were several moments where a speaker would comment on the general lack of young attorneys in the field in general. I’ve received emails from the organization trying to promote getting younger attorneys to join and seemingly at a loss as to why none are. They know the field has no real young attorneys going into it, and yet they seem clueless as to why. This cocktail reception was a beautiful distillation of the answer, but it seemed no one cared to fix it.
The first answer was simple. No one was hiring. The way you get young attorneys into the field is to hire them, or have internships which lead to jobs. And no one had any. As I mentioned, the moment the topic of who I worked for came up and I said I was looking, it was a death knell and people immediately melted away from the knot of conversation. Absolutely no one asked for a resume to be sent at any point. Similar feelings were expressed by the law students and LLMs hanging around as well. Tulane tried a soft sell by printing up a booklet of resumes from their students, but it appeared to be an exercise in deforestation as very few people actually took them. And lord knows, not a soul at the podium mentioned the booklet or hiring during the conference. This is further held true when you look on Tulane’s own career site (internal or reciprocity); there were veritably zero admiralty jobs available. For a law school which so loudly touts its LLM program, it seemed as if they didn’t care what you did with the degree once you got it — because you certainly weren’t going to get work with it. I suppose that is actually true of all law schools at the moment though. But then again, there was the umbrella organization of the MLA, which has a job portal with a total of one job on it… actually the same job as was listed on it for months and months now. Basically, the simple concept of getting in new blood by actually hiring some mystifies the fuck out of them.
Second, however, was a slightly less obvious reason. Because there were no young attorneys around, none of the organizers gave a single thought about their needs. A law firm generally pays for its attorneys to go to conferences of these sorts, so most of the attending bigger firm attorneys don’t even think about the price tag– It’s covered by firm money. Its a business expense and is tax deductible. A new attorney would have to foot the bill completely on their own. The organization had not even thought about this until 2 weeks before the conference when they noticed NOT ONE younger attorney had signed up. Then they sent out a hastily scribed email saying they forgot to include the ‘special pricing’ for newer attorneys. (I will admit, that was one of the big reasons I decided to go at the last minute… I could suddenly afford to.) The reception also seemed to be an afterthought because it wasn’t listed on the program or schedule. It got a quick powerpoint slide thrown on the screen after lunch telling us when and where to go. They can’t get anyone new to join because not only do they not cater to younger attorneys, but they almost seem to discourage them from attending.
If I thought anyone actually read this blog, I might be concerned about revealing my identity since there were probably all of a dozen young attorneys at this convention. Yes. Out of several hundred conference attendees… there were 12. Woo! So It wouldn’t be all that hard by process of elimination to know who I was. But, no one does read this and guessing the average age of the attendees, I doubt the internet is really something they are completely comfortable with so I think I am safe.
Conversation at this reception was better, but tinged with desperation. The majority by far were unemployed with few prospects. One of the LLM attorneys was excited I gave them a contact for a potential immigration law position. Yes… someone with a specialist certificate in Admiralty felt they had no hope of getting a job in Maritime so they were happy to dump it for an immigration non-profit. Great job ALI… are you beginning to see WHY there are no young attorneys there yet?
I ran the gamut of the room. Talked to a caricature of a far far right republican, to the point that I thought they were going to tell me it was a joke. They made overtly and over the top homophobic and racist statements and then told a story about how he was insulted someone called him racist. Weird, right? I also ended up talking to the nepotism millionaire hire; their family had some serious money behind them and ran a decently sized corporate empire so it sounded. They were hired by their family for a short time then lateraled to a big firm… who’d have thought, right? There was also a platinum blonde who rasped like she had a pack a day habit, but they seemed to dislike when people talked about trying to find work as she already had a job. Then there was the recent mother, who had taken off a year after law school to have a kid and was now back in the mix to get a job. Good luck with that because as soon as you mention ‘child’ in this industry, your interview is over.
The last day ended with the professionalism lecture. You would have thought someone pulled a fire alarm. As soon as the speaker stood up to talk, a good half or more of the conference stood up and left. I suppose I understand, but it was somewhat telling. I suppose if nothing else, I left the conference with the CLE credits I was initially going for, even if the networking potential was in the negative numbers.
But hey, there’s always the next convention! Or at least there will be for a few more years, because with the average age the way it is, ALI has the same problem as FOX news… their constituency is dying faster than they can replace them.
I gots me some big networking events coming up. And I just know I’m going to come out of them with some more cracked stories of this horrible profession. Stay tuned for the crazy!