Category Archives: Uncategorized

Legal Aid$

Before I begin… I need to preface this post by saying that there are good ones out there; I’ve worked with them. It’s just that for some reason it is strangely difficult to find those good ones.

When I was in law school, sometime during the first month or so, we had one of the ubiquitous free lunches where the coordinator for the local Legal Aid Society chapter came in and gave a presentation. They mentioned at the end that they were always looking for law student and attorney volunteers to come help out. My legal writing teacher made a point to also mention during their classtime that legal aid was a great way to be exposed to new legal issues you might not otherwise come in contact with. (For those who don’t know, legal aid is in itself a specialty within law known as Poverty Law… no kidding.)

Still with that fresh 1L smell on me, I thought this was a great idea. So I marched on down to Legal Aid and started volunteering there. And in the city I was in, it was great. The legal aid society went out of their way to include the law students and volunteer attorneys. The whole office was committed to the concept of legal aid for the masses. If there was a way to increase exposure and their coverage area, they did their damnedest to make it happen. I volunteered so often there I ended up getting an award at graduation for service.

Well, sort of at graduation… my law school being who they were received the award prior to graduation and promptly put it in a desk drawer until 2 months later and then sent it to me through the mail. So it wasn’t announced or in the grad program or anything… if I were a more paranoid person I might think it had been intentional (wink to those who know me). Not that being incompetent is much better, but the option is basically stupid or evil and I am not sure where they fall on this.

Anyway… my point is that I had a very positive impression of Legal Aid when I left law school. What happened next I document here in all its glory. But, then I moved again. Maybe, just maybe, the new city will have a setup more like my original experience. So once I get settled and start plastering the neighborhood with my resume, I decide to contact the various legal aid organizations and see if they can use someone with copious free time on their hands.

The first one I got in contact was again, the one that had at one point been the official Legal Aid Society in the state. It seems they are much like a church, distance and politics cause schisms in legal aid organizations and they become something similar, but different based on the state you are in. A couple emails to people there get me no response and finally a phone call gets me a proper point of contact. The volunteer coordinator there is one of the higher placed attorneys in their organization. I contact her and get sent a bevvy of forms which really don’t apply to me. I offer to call or just show up to talk to someone if its easier for them so I can get setup to volunteer. I get a strangely mixed message about how hectic their office is and difficult to just show up, so why don’t I come show up.  (It seemed like she talked herself into setting up a meeting the further she got into writing the email.)

I show up at the office, which is a lovely and large 4 story office building that legal aid completely fills. I immediately figure that an operation of this size must need a veritable army of volunteers. I am brought up to the coordinator’s office which most notably has a huge map of the state covering one whole wall. I end up talking to the coordinator for the better part of an hour. It turns out the map is to coordinate disaster relief efforts. She tells me how they have a response team whenever there is a natural disaster to go on location and provide services alongside first responders. Which was amazing. I had never really considered legal needs as necessary during emergencies but once brought up, it became very clear how it would be helpful. We also talked about how the money completely dried up from IOLTA based funding in the state after 2008/2009. She told me the actual numbers and the massive drop… it was so bad they petitioned to the state government for funding to stay afloat. The state to its credit buoyed them up and they were now a state sponsored non-profit.  We finally get around to talking about what I was looking to volunteer for. I explain I am looking to do anything. I told her I was open to working in any area they needed more warm bodies, the caveat was that since I had literally just moved into the state, even though I had passed the bar there, I had zero time in their court system so I would need some guidance initially. This was not a surprise to her, it was in my email in a bunch of different places. “Hi, I just moved here and I am seeking to volunteer…”

The reaction I got in return was distaste with a soupçon of disdain. I was then treated to a story. She told me they had a volunteer who came in and offered to volunteer and was very interested in family law but had no experience. So they had them volunteer and taught them all sorts of things coupled with the attorneys there and then, this volunteer up and moved to a different city and got a job in family law. The implication being that legal aid had provided the ability and training for her to get that job.

Now… most people would maybe think, “Isn’t that how it’s supposed to work?” You show interest, you volunteer and gain experience, and then you port that over to a job. Not so from this coordinator’s point of view. She was pissed. It was the same argument small firms make when they don’t want to train new attorneys. “You’ll take our training and go get a higher paying job…” (a fallacy that has somehow become entrenched in the legal world). The difference here was legal aid was getting an unpaid volunteer working for them; and the volunteer was getting something from it as well. Apparently from the coordinator’s view, the volunteer should not have been getting any benefit. Regardless, because of this, they didn’t really want to use me. Wait… what? They didn’t want to use me because I might get better at what I was volunteering for, and be able to use those skills professionally?

The meeting was at an end. Hard not to end it after dropping something like that on someone. I left the offer of volunteering open and the coordinator said she’d send out a note to the different departments to see if anyone needed a random volunteer. About 2 months later I got an email from the coordinator saying she had a half filled out form from me. I refreshed her memory that we had met in person and talked about all the details. Almost verbatim the response was “Oh, right.” and then radio silence.

I ended up coming across several listings in the legal journals where this organization was looking for volunteers. Without going into depth, it became clear they weren’t looking for volunteers. They were looking for people to voluntarily write checks to them in lieu of actually showing up to do anything in person. Had I known they didn’t want volunteers and were only throwing out these pleas in an effort to get money… well, lesson learned. Thank you legal aid for this valuable lesson you gave me (for free!!! I bet the coordinator is pissed I learned something from them.)

 

I decided there must be other organizations to volunteer at so I contact another one. I was told I could volunteer there if I showed up to a free 8 hour training CLE. (Woo free credits). So I show up and I get the basics of the whole setup. This one was a specifically immigration related organization. I talked to one of the coordinator’s underlings and asked a few pertinent questions. Namely, do you have meeting rooms to meet with clients? Yes, absolutely. Since most of the immigrants speak Spanish (and an assortment of other lesser known languages) do you have translators. Yes, absolutely.

I told them I am very interested and I would like to volunteer, but I wanted to get some more specifics from the lead coordinator that the underling didn’t know. So they had me fill in my contact info on the sheet of interested volunteers (just a blank legal pad) told me they would get in touch with me, and off I went assuming I would get a call or email with more info. Instead I got an email stating that my name and contact info was passed on to a client who was told I was going to be their attorney. WTF!!! I called up immediately to the organization. I said I was supposed to get more info before I was signing on definitely. Specifically:

#1. whether they covered me with malpractice coverage while working on their case… No.

#2. About those translators… Oh, they are only for use by the organizations employees… and the meeting spaces? Those too? Huh.. I mean I suppose the underling didn’t lie; they DO have them. I am just not allowed to use them. Which is an odd way to construe my question considering I prefaced it by making a point of telling them I don’t speak Spanish.

#3. What if I have questions… you have a list of random attorneys unconnected with your organization who may be able to help answer my questions if they have free time. Are you kidding?

I told them they were crazy if they thought I was taking on a client from them. They were literally setting up the volunteer to fail or worse, censured. And to just tell some random client… oh hey, this person is your lawyer. Go contact them and figure shit out. Christ. Who set this system in place and thought “Yeah, that’ll work, that doesn’t look like malpractice at all.”

 

I did finally find a good legal aid org… but I also suffered for having worked so hard trying to volunteer. I am going to double down on my initial advice from my first posting… the next time someone tells you that as a lawyer you need to give away your services for free, laugh. Laugh at them and walk away.

And I will also add… Before you or your firm donate time or money to a legal aid organization, ask around. Find out which one is actually worth donating to.

 

Networking Failure

I haven’t posted anything recently, mostly because there has been nothing noteworthy to post. No interview offers of late, and very little beyond the standard rejections that have been slowly filtering in to my inbox. I did however get one unsettling bit of information. I’m uncertain what to do with the most recent insight I have been granted into the legal job market. It sorta implies most of my actions have been for naught these past few months in my grand networking pursuit.

I had a horribly enlightening conversation recently where it was explained to me in unvarnished terms exactly how networking is supposed to get you a job.  And it explains my current problems completely. I also think most people are using the term ‘networking’ incorrectly at this point.

So if we assume that at least 50%, if not more, of the jobs out there are un-posted and instead gotten through networking, the old question I started out with still stands. ‘How does one get a job through networking?’

There are actually 2 distinct concepts of networking at play. In the vast majority of cases, when someone says ‘networking’ they are actually referring to making business contacts. The standard concept of mutual benefit in which one party wants to sell you something, and you might want what they are selling. Think in the context of all of the legal luncheons I’ve shown up to where the majority of the guests are consultants: the consultants were selling services targeted to attorneys, and the attorneys were interested in the services because (in theory) the valuation services would get them a higher damage award. You can also think of this type of networking as the social / business meeting where two attorneys in complimentary specialties have an unofficial reciprocal referral arrangement. I send all my bankruptcies to you, and you send all your collections to me (I know, those two are usually linked and not complimentary but use your imagination damnit.) The main concept to take away from this first type of networking is that the relationship is reciprocal and continuing.

The second type of networking is much more ephemeral. It is the unilateral concept of networking. One side has nothing to offer, and the other has everything. You could almost more accurately describe it as a favor. An intern works for you for free (or damn near) and in turn you help them get hired, somewhere. Or the unicorn of the legal world, you meet the well connected individual who goes out of their way to call in a favor to get you hired with a firm; for no other reason than they like you. Now, granted, this type of networking is not completely unilateral. There is the implicit understanding that at some point in the future, you could in turn help the person who helped you. It’s not 100% required, but there is an understood obligation if the need arises.  I guess a bit like organized crime… I will do this service for you, but in return I will come asking a favor of you at some point in the future.

So… What I was told is that most positions are unlisted, in fact in many areas, they are completely unlisted. The first run at these positions goes to the nepotism hires (legacies?), the next hit goes to any interns who might be working there. Whatever left is what we are talking about now. A great many firms don’t  bother overtly looking for someone to fill these positions unless it is absolutely mission critical. And most critical positions are higher end lateral positions anyway, so they are out of reach to anyone without 5 yrs of on-point employment. But this doesn’t mean there aren’t open positions at the firm; these open positions are subcritical and can be filled at their leisure. The way these positions are filled is a steady trickle of phone calls from the friends and networking contacts of the partners. Firm A calls Firm B and after some smalltalk says they heard Firm B is looking to fill out some associate positions, and ‘oh hey by the way, I know this great guy who I would love to see working there…’ They vouchsafe credibility upon the applicant in a way a cold resume can’t. But more than that, Firm A has just told Firm B they would like a small quid pro quo. Hire this person and we will continue sending work to you, in fact we will probably send more because I like the person you are hiring.

To give this a more personal flair, I worked at an internship for 2 years continuously, for free and in truth at substantial cost in time and money to myself. The overarching idea was my investment of time for the benefit of the office I was working for would compel an obligation in them to hire me, or possibly work on my behalf to get me hired elsewhere. Although I was initially offered a position, the offer was rescinded as so many others were in the summer of 2009 for a variety of unfortunate economic reasons. The implication then was that the office would actually expend some effort to rectify the situation and reach out to connections elsewhere in an effort to help me secure a position. But that didn’t happen. In fact, nothing happened. No calls on my behalf, no contacts, damn near no interest. A new intern replaced me rather quickly and the office started calling him “the new Azrael.” I stopped by the office sometime later and happened to meet them… they were excited to actually meet their namesake. It was weird and depressing. I had been replaced and ignored almost instantly. Some of the failure to engender any sense of obligation likely was because it was a government position. Imagine trying to get a recommendation from someone at the DMV. Maybe that’s a bit harsh, but you get the idea.

Most of my networking attempts have ended with a half-effort by the networking source. They feel magnanimous for granting you their time and they bestow upon you a handful of contacts seemingly pulled at random from their email address book (which if you are doing your research correctly you have probably already reached out to with a cold resume anyway). But you are at least granted the the use of the source’s name to put in your email and say “oh hey, I had lunch the other day with so-and-so (drop name here) and they said you might have an associate position I would be perfect for…” But the personal phone call and recommendation that actually gets you in the door is reserved for someone else.

So… what is my take away from this? Apparently I need to go hunt unicorns.

I know, that they know that I know they aren’t interested; and other mail

I dislike how so often it seems employers tend to dump your resume / application into a black hole if they aren’t interested in you, and you never ever hear back from them. Why can’t they just send an email saying thanks but no thanks? At least let me know that spending forever filling out your application with all of the exact same information that can be found on my resume was received, perused, and noted somewhere.

In this day and age, sending a response email should be the norm. I’ve run across several variations such as when they even send an email with a scanned letter attachment  as the rejection — I’m looking at you Halliburton. (not sure why… Why not just say ‘No’ in the email? Why the extra step?) And it’s always nice to receive a physical note in the mail, even if it is a bit of an outdated method. For as much as I make light of their responses, I truly do appreciate that the firm / company doesn’t do what so very many do and let you hang in the ether wondering if the application was even received. But some go a bit too far and don’t seem to put much thought into what the letter actually says, and that is where they calmly step over the line of professional courtesy.

#1. I’ve never had a prospective employer spend money to make sure that I knew, that they knew that I knew, that I was rejected. The venerable law offices of King & Spalding apparently want to make sure you are aware that they don’t want you. And they’re willing spend money to ensure it.  K&S sends out certified, signature required letters of rejection. So not only do you find out you’re rejected, but you likely have to trek down to the post office to find out. I initially had the paranoid thought that this might have been specific to me, but using some Google-fu comes back with a lot of the same quizical responses wondering why the hell they would do this (1, 2).

K-S

Thanks for the convenience guys. You spent $6.48 to let me know you aren’t interested…. I think I might need to apply to absolutely everything you have open on your career page. You know, just to be certain.

 

#2.  I applied to a firm which had over 100 attorneys in 5 offices around the country, 50 of which were located at the office I was applying to. The reply:

rejection 1

Small size? In what world is your firm a ‘small firm’ ? I get it if you aren’t hiring, but don’t make something up which is trivially untrue. Maybe they just haven’t bothered updating their rejection letter since they actually were a small firm.

 

#3. I got a rejection from a prosecutors office. The rejection itself had a bit much religion parsed throughout the letter (weird in its own right). But the last line almost seemed like a threat…

home

maybe I’m just paranoid, but it just sounds ominous.

 

Just to show the opposite side of the coin and to give you a story of an amazingly helpful rejection… I sent out an application via email and received a phone call from the partner 2 minutes later from a firm of about 35 attorneys. Sadly, he basically said that unless I had a book of business, they weren’t interested. He could have left it there, but instead he invited me to lunch to pass along advice and some contacts. It took him about a full 2 minutes and cost him nothing, no stamp, no letter. Yet I hung up the phone with a massively better opinion of that firm than any that have sent me letters. I’m not counting the lunch as something prospective employers should do; as that was above and beyond.

Phone tag

A minor continuation from the Happy Hour post. As I had mentioned, the Headhunter told me to call and during our conversation they offered some contacts that might prove useful. But out of the few names they gave, they specifically told me to call up one firm in particular and ask for “Mary” (or so we shall call her). Mary as it turns out is the office manager for a small firm who is somehow a ‘close personal friend’ of the headhunter. The headhunter tells me they might be looking to add someone to the firm as their business has ticked up in the past year. The headhunter went so far as to drop Mary an email saying I would be getting hold of her via email and also calling to speak with her.

I was very grateful to the headhunter for this very specific introduction, and I proceeded to send Mary the usual email with my resume and basic info. She responded to my resume with an email stating “please give me a call when you have a few minutes to talk.” Which to me, sounds a lot like a phone screen interview… but then, I am wrong a great deal. Regardless, as soon as possible, I call the office. And the phone rings… and rings.. and it goes to voicemail. So I leave a message. No response for the rest of the day and the next. So I call again. Same deal… rings to voicemail. And another message. This continues for a bit over a week. I call pretty much every other day and get no response.

Finally after about 10 days, I actually get Mary on the phone. And she says, “Oh.. I really wanted to talk to you, but today is not a good day. Can you call back on Wednesday?” I ask when, again trying to nail down a specific time, and the best I get is ‘in the morning’. Then she tells me ” Oh and here is a different number to call me at because I am not often by that phone you’ve been calling.” Ah. Maybe that’s why I haven’t gotten her on the phone… but… that first number was the one she gave me in the email she sent… and is she saying she doesn’t listen to her voicemail or was she explicitly ignoring my calls… maybe it was all just an oversight; right?

So I call back on Wednesday. Ooo.. turns out she’s super busy, can I instead call tomorrow. “Sure” I say. Why not? So I call the next day. No answer, and I am back to leaving messages on voicemail (now on the new and improved number). 3 more days of calling with no humans answering and I finally get a human. A secretary (where the fuck have they been this whole time?) answers and tells me Mary is in a meeting and what is this call in regards to? I leave a message with a human this time, but still no callback from Mary. I make a personal promise since it has now gone on 2 and a half weeks of phone tag, I won’t bother if it hits the 3 week mark. I basically give it one more real attempt to contact Mary. By some stroke of luck, she picks up the phone on the terminal end of my self imposed deadline.

But gosh darnit, don’t-cha know… she has to go do something out of the office. And she says, “You know, why don’t you just show up here. Cause if you’re here in person I can’t just ignore you.” and she laughed sardonically. I said, “yeah, sure. I’ll do that.” or something to that effect and hung up.

I’m not sure what the purpose of constantly telling me to call her back was. I assumed I was calling for a job, but over the better part of a month — I never did find out. I can’t help but be a bit paranoid if this is what happens when I deal with a “close personal friend” if there was some ulterior motive I just can’t see at play. Regardless, I highly doubt the head attorney for the firm has any idea, and I am sure they would be unhappy considering how it reflects on the firm.

Networking of the Damned – X-Mas Edition!

In the continued attempt to network my way into a job, this week I ended up at a legal organization Christmas party. Nothing says festive quite like a bunch of lawyers in suits. It was actually more a lunch than a party. There was a very nice string quartet which almost no one paid any attention to and seemed to spur people to talk louder as opposed to listen to them. One of the few positives of showing up to these things is I get to see the nicer / swankier restaurants around this city. And I also find out which are actually good and which are just overpriced. Sadly, this one was just overpriced and the food and service was really lackluster. I have a feeling they didn’t make many friends in the legal community with this lunch.

The obligatory mingling happened before the lunch, and as with previous networking events, the actual number of attorneys in the room was at best only 50% of the attendees. There were a half dozen law students, but by far the bulk of the people mingling were ‘consultants’ or headhunters. The consultants moved through the room like lampreys hooking onto a shark (an apt simile I suppose). Most were primarily touting themselves as valuation consultants (litigation financial damages guesswork). They would wander over and make a quick introduction, and their eyes would flick down quickly to my nametag seeking the firm or business name to give them an idea of whether I was worth their time. As my tag was blank where the employer should have been, they almost immediately asked who I worked for, and most often once I mentioned I was an attorney looking for work their eyes glazed over and they quickly wandered away to someone else. No money = no interest in talking to you.

People started sitting down for the lunch and as I am surveying the room, an older middle aged woman starts talking to me and then says, “wait… I’ve met you before.” My mind quickly raced through the interviews I’ve had and I couldn’t place her. But she mentioned a few key facts about me from memory so I had definitely met her somewhere. Then it dawned on me. Holy crap. This was the nutty lady from the Happy Hour. She looked different in the light of day, and not half drunk, and not slurring out conspiracy theories. She surveyed the room and said “where do you want to sit?” All I could think was — ‘damnit… Not with you!’ As if by some minor divine intervention, someone a few feet away waved at her and she went to shake their hand and exchange pleasantries. I took the opportunity to head over to a table with only a single chair open, and I sat down next to a nice older gentleman in a tweed jacket. It was probably the best choice I made all day.

It turned out he was a retired general counsel who was now teaching. We started talking about various law school topics. He personally knew several of the professors I had, and the conversation ranged from his distaste of laptops in the classroom to exam material. He held a gravitas such that when he addressed the table, everyone stopped talking and everyone listened. He had been a fixture in the area for a really, really long time and everyone knew him. As I am compelled to do, I had a brief sojourn onto the topic of employment and specifically ‘me seeking employment’. (I am a whore, I’m not too proud it admit it…)

He shot a surreptitious glance over to the kids table that had the half dozen law students, and a few unlucky random individuals, and then started talking about the job market. He obviously felt bad about the situation but also didn’t want any students who might be in one of his classes to hear this. He had been a general counsel of a rather large former Fortune 100 corporation. In his own words, circa 2000, if a student came to him for job advice he could pick up the phone and effectively get the person an interview minimally, and sometime a job just with a phone call. He rather wistfully said, but that is all in the past now. He told me that starting around 2002 everything started to taper off, then by 2008 there was nothing. He basically said he had no chance of getting anyone a job at this point.

Worse, he leaned in and told me one of the most depressing things I’ve heard in a long time. He said “I was having a conversation with someone at one of the big big firms. Think Jones Day.” He then noticed that the person next to us was from Jones Day, and he clarified “not Jones Day, but on par.” And he asked them, “How many summer associates do you have this year?” The attorney told him “zero”. He said “what? None?” And the attorney told him ‘We ended our summer associate program some time ago… I thought you knew.” He then asked, “Well how many law grads did you pick up then.” The attorney answered again – ‘Zero.’ They only hired laterals. Exclusively. 

So quite literally, the model being developed for law is this: Corporations only hire from law firms. Law firms only hire laterals from each other. Neither corporations nor law firms train their attorneys anymore. The only avenue open to newer lawyers are small firms. And they are the only place to gain practical experience and training. And they are the least able to financially absorb training costs, and don’t want to expend much money because they feel that if they do, you will just take that training and go to a higher paying firm once you are trained. So now, you are required to work for free at an internship; then get a badly paying job at a tiny firm. All with the hope that you can port those skills at some point in the distant future to a better paying job; all the while deferring your exorbitant loans until you potentially get a decently paying job. Even though this wasn’t how the situation was setup for those who are now enforcing this regime on us. That’s right. They got the benefits and then rolled up the carpet behind them.

The professor had about as rosy an opinion about the future of the legal industry as I do. And he had the benefit of much greater experience and a very connected career behind his words.

The lunch wound down and I ended up talking to a guy who I had thought was an associate at a large firm. The consultants nearly flocked to him when he walked in the room giving the impression that his firm must be leaking money. I had seen him around previously but hadn’t had the opportunity to talk before. I assumed he was with a big firm based on the attention he was getting, but as it turned out, he was a litigation guy from a small 4 person firm. Apparently the consultants had done research and marked out who was more likely to want litigation support and who didn’t. He had graduated at the same time as me and had a startlingly similar story in relation to not finding work. The only real difference was that he hadn’t moved all over the damn country like I have. It was only this year that he had gotten work with the small firm through some previous contract lit work for them. He gave me a bit of insight from the happier side of actually finding work.

I wandered back to my car generally depressed. I don’t think I am going to show up to these lunches anymore; they aren’t good for my psychological health.

Monoculture

I admit, sometimes I am slow on the uptake. I’ve obviously had a lot of time to consider why I’m not getting offers, and why at least some people out there are getting them over me.

Something I realized after the last interview was a bit of a revelation to me, although it probably shouldn’t have been. Law firms, and law departments are monocultures.

A single person often directly holds sway over who gets hired. A law firm’s managing partner; the District Attorney; the General Counsel of a corporation. Each of them is the ultimate decision maker over which attorney gets hired for any given position.

The same could be said for any business unit which has the ability to oversee the hiring into itself. Human resources does not get nearly as much say about who gets hired into the law department as the lead attorney does; and we want to keep it that way. It makes sense. Those who are most knowledgeable about the field should be the ones making the hiring decisions.

The obvious problem is that it creates a cult of personality, centered around a single person’s concept of what they think makes a good employee. The department takes on the flavor of the person who holds the hiring power.  This is also borne out in the interview process. The singular person decides on how the interview should be conducted and what the questions should be… and interestingly they are also the final arbiter of what constitutes a correct answer.

The gaming commission was setup from the ground up by the crazy lead attorney. It made sense that the people who had been hired and survived in that environment were themselves odd and crazy. He only hired from the 4th tier and he only hired people he got along with. Vis a vis – crazy. The most recent DA interview was filled with true believers because the DA only wanted his office to have true believers working in it. Your passion for social justice had to burn with a righteous zealotry to make it into that office. On a more subtle tone, the multi-position interview went badly because the office was effectively built around many attorneys working independently on their own projects and not bothering other people with their work. But this meant no one communicated to form a bigger picture, built in institutional blindness.

The firms and legal departments mirror their originators because that is who hired in other attorneys who fit the same mold. They become monocultures by unconscious design; or maybe better termed egotistic natural selection.

This concept begins to break down the larger the firm / department becomes. The singular personality can no longer exert full influence over who gets hired. A multi-state firm begins instead to behave more like a corporation with several hiring individuals and a rough homogenizing edict, but the variety begins to seep in over time. It’s an interesting concept which I don’t think I have given much thought to prior to the latest interview.

Clueless

Minor follow-up to the Boiler Room interview. Today I got a weird follow up phone call. The last interview ended with them telling me they were going to get in touch with me within about 2 days, and then never did. The phone call started out normal enough.                (AH = Angry Headhunter)

AH: “Hey is this Azrael?”

Me: “Yes, speaking.”

AH: (in a very snarky tone) “Hi, this is Tracy with (Angry Headhunters Inc.) You were supposed to send me your resume through email a long time ago.”

Me: “Uhm.. what?”

AH: “You were supposed to send me a resume so I could setup an interview with you.”

Me: (pause…) “yeeeah… I already did both of those things.”

AH: “What?”

Me: “I already sent in a resume, and I showed up there and had an interview with you guys.”

AH: “WHAT!” (Tracy was now noticeably angry) “Who did you have an interview with?”

Me: “I don’t remember her name, but it was a black woman…”

AH: (cutting me off) “A tall black woman?”

Me: “Uhm. I guess so, but I am pretty tall so I don’t usually notice such..” <click> “Hello?….”

So apparently the place which didn’t seem to know where they put my resume, or have any idea I was showing up for the interview they scheduled; also forgot that I ever showed up. It sounded somewhat like someone was trying to steal clients within the headhunter group and there is some bitter infighting. But I am just guessing.

McGuireWoods

Reference interview #24

I am breaking with my unspoken rules and specifically naming this firm. Why? Well, this part of the story doesn’t quite work unless there is a name attached.

So… As is most likely obvious, I was rejected. But why, and some of the other information that came up later only percolated to the top afterwards. So the position I was applying for was a Staff Attorney spot. I have spoken at some length about the lowest of the low of legal positions, document review. The next step above that is a Staff Attorney (see exemplar chart, what the chart doesn’t say is that everyone on the right side, is effectively considered lower than everyone on the left side). Similar caveats apply to working as a staff attorney; if you stay in it too long you’ll never get out. It is non-partnership, low paying, and generally speaking you never go any higher or get anything decent out of it. But it is better than doc review…

So prior to my interview I was talking to a friend who is an associate at a small to mid 30 attorney firm. I had 2 interviews in the same week and I was stoked. One was for the higher paying staff attorney position at McGuireWoods, and the other was for an actual associate position at the collection firm but it would pay about 1/3 less. I trust my friend’s advice so I was talking to them about what would be the better position to have. Basically, the conclusion was reached almost instantly that the associate position would be better by far, even if at first I would be making less money.

Anyway, we were discussing this, and my friend told me to ask McGuireWoods if it was possible to move up from a Staff Attorney to an Associate after a few years in the position. A seemingly, cogent and career focused question one might well ask in an interview if you were serious about working for a firm. The type of question that shows you are looking to stay with a firm and put in effort to impress. So I walked into the interview and had my questions locked and loaded and let that one fly early on in the Q&A. Their answer was a brief silence, and then one interviewer basically said “No.” He then went on to say that to his recollection there has only ever been one person in the firm (across all offices) who moved up to associate from staff attorney.

I didn’t think much of it. So I would have to lateral to some other smaller firm to be an associate. No big deal. A few days later I got a call from my friend. “Crap, please tell me you didn’t have the interview yet…” Obviously it was too late, so I asked why? At their office they had recently had a position open up for a staff attorney. They interviewed 2 people. One was a young guy who was very sharp, driven, and intelligent; he had ambition and wanted to move up in the firm. The other was an older guy, whose only request was that he be treated with respect and not disrespected for being a staff attorney. He was not nearly as smart or as driven, but he didn’t want to go anywhere beyond being a staff attorney. My friend’s firm hired the older guy. They were calling to warn me not to ask the question.

Flash cut to now.

I had a fantastic conversation with another attorney. My failed interview with McGuire was brought up and why I  was likely rejected. And he sort of leaned back and said “That was definitely why you were rejected, and I know because I used to work for McGuireWoods.” He then told me two very interesting stories about McGuireWoods.

The first was directly related to him. He had originally started at McGuire as a legal assistant prior to going to law school. You might well assume that it had some direct bearing upon his decision to go to law school. Now, there are 2 types of companies. There is the company that fosters growth from within; We’ve all heard the story of the guy who started in the mailroom and worked his way up to the boardroom. And then there’s the other type of company. The one which enacts strict delineations and discourages anyone who ‘doesn’t know their place’ and attempts to move up. I was told by this attorney that if you attempt to move between the strata at McGuire, they find a reason to get rid of you. Movement between the pay grades is not allowed, but not only are you gotten rid of, but you are effectively blacklisted from working there ever again. Nice.

(minor update: This very issue was the topic of a wonderful post on The People’s Therapist, entitled ‘The Little People’… quite wonderful.)

But, he told me, that wasn’t the story he wanted to tell me. No, the story he wanted to tell me was about associates at McGuire. He worked in the Charlotte, NC office — the original headquarters of the firm. He added the caveat that it is possible not all the offices follow suit, but considering it was the main office he assumed they all had the same marching orders.

At some point, all associates will end up asking for time off. Be it for a family emergency, a vacation, or any number of other possible reasons. The partner always granted the time off. But then on the evening of the first day off, they would get a phone call. If the associate didn’t answer, they had failed the test and would be gotten rid of by the next evaluation date. If they did answer, they would be told that there was some emergency that needed their direct attention and they needed to come back to the office immediately to handle it. If they didn’t come to the office, they were gotten rid of. Because apparently you aren’t committed enough.

He said he saw this happen to multiple associates. And there was never any emergency. It was just to see how much they could fuck with their lives. How far are you willing to go for us…. It was like a frat house that fucks with people’s lives and livelihood.

Needless to say, he didn’t have much good to say about the firm.

No good deed… (or) I am my own worst enemy

I had a roommate in college — his uncle was a white guy from West Virginia. In the early 80’s, his uncle had been a facilitator of a consortium of corporations making inroads into China. Basically, he was a fixer. If a company wanted something done in China, he smoothed things over and tried to get the government to do it. He was one of the people responsible for the construction of a large swath of interstate highways in China, and had also paved the way for Coca Cola to enter China and setup shop there. The uncle was killed in a car accident on the interstate he helped build, in a collision involving a Coca Cola semi-truck. The extended family often joked that he had committed suicide in a very circuitous way.

—–

So I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what went wrong with this interview. It had gone amazingly well and I had been told point blank they wanted me. After replaying the interview in my mind as I am want to do, I realized what happened.

Anyway, with my copious amounts of free time I finally hooked myself in with a legal aid situation wherein I actually have some pro-bono work. It took far more wrangling than should truly be necessary to volunteer, but I persevered. I had been trying for a while now to get into a legal aid organization so I could actually do something meaningful with my free time and growing pile of licenses and certifications. I’m not going to get into specifics, but the legal air organization is religiously affiliated; to the point that there are nuns (in habits) roaming the hallways of the legal aid office. (Several of them are attorneys too!) It’s well funded and well known and everyone universally agrees it is a great organization.

So as I had mentioned in the original posting, at one point in the interview, I was asked if I voted for Obama. Fantastically illegal, but it was thrown out there. I deflected the question, but to some people’s minds that is proof one way or the other. A little later I was asked if I had any outstanding cases, and I admitted that I only had one connected to a pro-bono representation. Now, I never really thought doing pro-bono work was considered a ‘liberal’ passtime. What you don’t know apparently can hurt you.

One interviewer in particular became a bit too interested. I told them it was completely unconnected, legal specialty-wise, to the position I was applying for, so there was no cross over or conflict. I was pressed a bit more. (Other attorneys might note that one attorney pressing for information about another attorney’s case is considered very poor form, as they are effectively asking you at the minimum to bend privilege for them.) I was then asked if I would be willing to drop the case. This again, is a very very weird question. There is no bar association in the United States which doesn’t laud the merits of doing pro-bono work. To have an interviewer try to convince you to drop a case you have already filed appearance for, in addition to the fact that it was a legal aid case connected to a well known organization full of adorable nuns… It should have hit my warning bells harder than it did. I told them I would rather not drop it if possible, but if it was really deemed necessary I would.

The issue seemed to be dropped, until the end of the interview when the ‘concerned’ attorney handed me a conflicts sheet and asked for the pertinent details of the case. This was being attached to my resume which was being ‘sent up’ as the candidate of choice.

I got the rejection almost 3 weeks later. No reason given. I tried to contact the managing attorney to find out what happened, but to no avail. As if by some cosmic joke, I was driving in my car and a news story came on NPR. It was the head attorney for this state office… he described his job as “waking up everyday trying to find new ways to sue Obama.” My application had to be rubber stamped directly by this man. Suddenly my rejection made sense. I had been rejected because I had taken a pro-bono case which was politically adverse to this man’s politics. He was a rabid republican. I was just trying to find something substantive to do with my free time… I am not politically motivated. But it didn’t matter. I was determined to be ‘too liberal’ for the office.

I talked to another attorney who verified the state office was rabidly partisan. Much like my roommates uncle, I was my own undoing. My unemployment led me to try to do something legally related while waiting for work, and that endeavor ultimately led them to reject me from actually getting work. I literally can’t win.

Meatcake

I generally post my ramblings and horrible things that happen to me in my professional life on here. So I figured, for once… I would share a funny (albeit still sorta horrible) story for a change.

A bit of background is in order however. When you work at a legal summer internship, the firm you work for will usually also attempt to pay homage to the whole “work life balance” joke that is often bandied about in most firms’ propaganda; and they setup a handful of outings for the interns. The popular one is everyone goes to a baseball game.. or something of that sort. Some of the higher priced firms go all out in an effort to engender envy among peers back at law school and attempt to create mystique through the retelling of the amazing events put on for the benefit of their interns. These fun outings are always limited to the summer months when the greatest number of interns are churning.

As I worked at a government office, there was no money for fun (or fun outings….Or nearly anything else for that matter). They setup a few events, usually by calling around to other government offices where they could call in a favor and get a tour of somewhere interesting; and if you think about everywhere that has government money invested in it… well, some of the tours were actually pretty cool. Others… well one was going to a Medical Examiners office for an autopsy. Bets were always made about which new intern would puke first.

Other invitations to the interns were weird. I got invited to come to a softball game where my office was playing in an all lawyer intramural league made up of a bunch of the other firms in the city. Now, most people would think that this means they wanted me to play; maybe I read too much into the invitation of “Hey Azrael… you definitely need to come out to the softball game tonight.” I showed up and awkwardly sat watching the game for about 40 minutes, made all the more akward by the fact that I was classmates with several of the interns on the other team (whose firm I guess wanted them to play…) Ultimately I wandered off and left wondering why I had been asked to show up.

But that’s not this story. No. This is the story of the meatcake. Towards the end of the summer, the wrangler-of-interns pops their head in and tells us that there is a lunch in our honor with the mayor in about a week, and that we have to make sure to be presentable on the day of. This wasn’t a big issue since most of us were in and out of court on a regular basis and therefore always in suits. So the day rolls around and the couple of legal interns in our department join up with the handful of legal interns in a related department and we head off to City Hall for our lunch with the mayor.

There were only about a dozen legal interns. I will tell you honestly… I thought we were going to be going out to a restaurant to thank us for working for free all summer and we would have a nice lunch with the mayor. We show up at city hall and are met at the door by the attorney whose job it had been to setup most of the internship program and activities. We’re ushered inside to see that the main foyer of city hall had been filled with round tables and chairs, and at the other end had been setup a serving table for food. All of us were slightly confused. There had to be about 300 chairs… our keen intellect told us something was a bit off.

So our group of a dozen or so soon-to-be attorneys wend out way to a middle table and sit down. The atrium is empty except for us. Within a few minutes, the main doors open and a veritable flood of young teenagers come in and start sitting down. They’re wearing your usual jeans / T-shirt that you would expect. It was at this point that we knew something was definitely off. The intern wrangler walks over and talks to someone by a podium for a minute and then walks back and sits down with us again, at which point she says…

“I think I’ve made a mistake. I saw the lunch for interns on the calendar and thought it was for us, so I signed all of you up. Although it is for interns, it was more geared to the high school programs.” The crowd started to settle down, and someone started walking to the podium. And with that the intern wrangler stood up. She then looked at us at added… “I’m going to leave. But you all have to stay…. Sorry.” At which point she veritably sprinted away from what she had wrought upon us. It may have been more fitting if she cackled hysterically as she retreated.

So there we were. A table of much older, nicely dressed law students; sitting in a sea of high schoolers. To say we stood out was putting it mildly. We sat through several (thankfully) short speeches thanking us for our volunteer efforts, and then we were invited to go get food from the serving table.

None of us are horribly happy about how things are turning out, but as I mention many times before… free food is free food, and I am not one to say no to such a thing. So I eventually get to the front of the line and I am greeted with a large, white frosted sheet cake. I’m slightly confused, because I thought we were having lunch, but whatever. Cake is good too. I then notice something odd about the cake… what I had initially mistaken for colored frosting piping on top were actually very thin strips of bell peppers. Before I could ask “what is that?” the server plops a large piece on my plate. I look at it for a moment somewhat confused, but the line is moving so I take my cake, a handful of potato chips, and a dixie cup of red fruit punch back to the table.

I no sooner sit down than 3 people say “Don’t eat the cake.” This obviously piques my interest. Someone has already figured out what the mystery cake is… So I ask “So… what is the cake? And why shouldn’t I eat it?” I prod it slightly with my spork trying to figure out what I am looking at. The answer was horrifying.

The cake was a 3 layer cake. The filling of each layer was a different lunch-meat-salad– tuna salad, chicken salad, and chipped ham… uhm.. salad (is that even a thing?). Each layer was separated by an extra thick piece of bread. This whole pseudo-sandwich was then frosted (as you would a sheet cake) with mayonnaise. And more mayo was randomly thrown in as a binding agent wherever they felt it necessary. I’m not sure who came up with this idea, but hell has a special place just for them.

As with any group, there was one person at the table (not me) who decided to be the human garbage disposal and voiced his opinion that it wasn’t half bad between bites of this mayonnaise monstrosity. No one else ate it.

We waited an acceptable amount of time and then got the hell out. I will admit, before we left, several of us availed ourselves of one of the more amusing attractions of the luncheon. If you wanted, the mayor was taking pictures with anyone who was willing and they would send you the photo. About 3 weeks after the luncheon, I got a mailer to the department containing a lovely autographed photo of me and the mayor.

I still have it. Framed no less. And I smile and think of the meatcake every time I see it.