Interview #32 – Name Game

I had a few interviews recently, and most of them are going to be posted. I’ve just been banking them up, all the while hoping one would come through.

So one of the more recent ones… I got a call for an interview for an insurance defense position. The phone connection was a bit broken while I was talking to them (not sure if it was my cell, or their slightly odd phone system) but the end result was I ended up missing a few words here and there. Most of the conversation was fine, but I didn’t want to keep saying “I’m sorry, can you repeat that?” too much so at a certain point I just decided I would figure out some of the details after the phone call. So I was able to get the address of the interview and who I would be talking with. I mostly got the name of the company but the phone kept cutting out, but I was 99% sure I had it. Let’s call them Insurance Company X, or InsCoX for short.

So the phone call ended and I decided to look up the pertinent info for the interview at InsCoX while it was still fresh in my mind. Here’s where it got a bit odd though. The address I was given was not for the insurance company’s offices. It was instead for a small law firm called “the law offices of Name1 and Name2”. But, the principals for the firm both had listed under their credentials that they were Staff Counsel for InsCoX.

As I had previously interviewed at several insurance defense firms, this seemed somewhat normal. From the scant information I had, it sounded like InsCoX subcontracted out their regional litigation work to this firm; but there was veritably no information online about the firm (also not too strange… for example try looking up information about consumer collections firms, you won’t find hardly any info… something about having angry defendants show up and send stuff to their offices I imagine).

So armed with very little info about ‘the law offices of N1 and N2’ I head over to the interview. The office was in a seemingly half vacant office building which had seen better days. I arrive at the door which has a modest black and gold plaque outside saying ‘the law office of Name1 and Name2’. I enter the office and the inside of it is just as dull and a bit on the side of run down as the outside parts. I head into the interview and meet with a single older gentleman. The interview starts and he asks me what I know about them.

I answer honestly and say not much as there wasn’t much available online. He looks surprised and says, there wasn’t much info on InsCoX? I say no… there was almost nothing online about your law firm. Now he looks confused, and says ‘what law firm?’ uh oh. Something is wrong. I respond – The law firm of N1 and N2. He says .. Oh yeah, that.

Apparently ‘that’ was a smokescreen. InsCoX puts out a fake law firm name as the place of business and stick up a plaque at all of their litigation offices so angry people don’t show up complaining. Good to know, probably better to know before the interview but how was I supposed to get that information.

Anyways, the interview continues on. He asks questions, I answer. There were a few I legitimately didn’t know and I quickly admitted I didn’t. Most of those, when explained to me, I quickly turned around and ended up saying ‘oh, that is identical to what we do in this other legal specialty and this is how we do it…” So ideally I was at least showing I was competent even if I wasn’t familiar with their specific code sections. Conversely, the interviewer seemed to sincerely dislike admitting they didn’t know something and there were several times during these discussions when I would mention some point of legal specialty he didn’t know and he would claim he did… and then it would become really obvious he was completely clueless when I continued on the topic.

The interview wound down and I wandered back out of the dingy offices. I feel like the confusion as to who they really were may have reflected badly on me, but how could I have known.

Scummy Job Ads

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’.

Interview #31 – Clueless at the Top

Much like the interview, this post will be short.

I applied to a BigLaw opening and somewhat surprisingly got a call back. The HR director gave me a quick run through the position and dangled a truly wonderful salary in front of me. It was supposedly for a real attorney position and in my specific field too. So I was excited at the prospect of working somewhere substantively in exactly what I want to do.

They got my availability and said they would double check with the partner to see when they were available for a phone interview. A week went by, long enough that I tried calling back but got no answer or return call. Finally HR called back and setup the phone interview for a week later. An odd sidenote, but rather than have them call me for the phone interview, I was directed to call them; a little weird.

Doing the usual pre-interview research I decided that if this man asked me to murder someone for the job I would. The job was almost literally everything I could want. At the appointed time, I called in and started talking to the guy. The job was even better than I could have hoped. They actually said they had a hard time keeping attorneys in the position because the corporate clients kept hiring them into higher paid in-house positions. It sounded amazing.

First the job suddenly was downgraded to a staff attorney position; still possible although I am sure the salary was also downgraded. It is possible he was not using the right terms, because he did say something about required billables which usually staff attorneys don’t have, so I’m not sure. Then the real stupid started. You see, it turned out the partner didn’t know the difference between a “Contract Attorney” and an “Attorney-who-does-contracts” (i.e. transactional work). Now, I know how to draft and edit contracts, but apparently they looked at my resume and thought “Wow, look at all the contract work this person has done. They sure do have a lot of experience with contracts!”

The next few minutes were horrible as I had to explain to a senior partner at a huge law firm exactly what a contract attorney actually is. Mind you, I know their firm has probably hundreds of contract attorneys working for them everyday. And this guy had zero clue about what they did or how they were hired (i.e. direct hire contracts versus 3rd party companies who provide contract labor etc.) He actually asked who is “Insert Giant Contract Attorney Provider Company Here”. The interview wound down pretty quickly thereafter. I don’t expect a call back.

I think I should have lied.

Interview #30 – Scraping the Bottom

I feel I should take myself out to dinner for hitting the big #30 without finding any real jobs! It was a close tie between this interview and another one which is slated to show up here in the next week or so, but the little law firm was nimbler and was able to setup the interview faster. So here goes…

I responded to an ad for an Associate. It was posted in a relatively legitimate place (i.e. not craigslist) from a small firm of about 5-6 attorneys; even during the interview the number of claimed attorneys at the firm seemed to fluctuate so I am not 100% sure of the actual size. I looked up information on the firm and it seemed to be a niche insurance defense firm, who like so many had one main client keeping it afloat and a handful of smaller cases going in an attempt to stay profitable.

My email was responded to within hours and after a few back and forth, an interview time was setup for the very next afternoon. Now, I would like to say that the emails were completely normal… (I would like to say that, but you know I can’t). Apparently something on my resume sparked a hidden passion within the interviewer, specifically one of the charities I work with is named ‘Saint Someone-or-other’ and the last email setting up the interview has a photo attached which says “I thought you’d appreciate this considering I noticed your work with St. Someone”. I opened the email and was greeted with a photo of what is known as an Incorruptible corpse wearing a mask (that the interviewer themselves was proud to have taken).

Fan-fucking-tastic. First impression is this person is either crazy religious or enjoys sending photos of corpses to people. Neither option bodes well for my upcoming interview. Morbid curiosity had me spend about 10 minutes researching the weird history behind the Saint before filing the whole thing away in the back of my brain with other things I really wish I had never stumbled across on the internet.

I arrive the next day at the office. Nice building, but their office is small and it turns out it is an officeshare situation (two tiny firms sharing a secretary and officespace). Warning flags are waving in my mind already but as I am already there I may as well continue, plus how could I pass up actually talking to the person who thinks it is a good idea to email photos of corpses to potential employees!

The office is sparse, but functional. It is also the first law office I have been in that had a fish tank (a minor plus in my book). It seems like every office in the 1980’s had a fishtank and now almost no one does. Anyway, I meet the person on the other end of the email and they are generally pleasant to speak with. I get the general lay of the firm. I’m told relatively circuitously there is zero upward mobility. There were 2 partners when the firm started many years ago, there are still only the same 2 partners now. I ask about the firm size and the partner leans back and starts counting. (uhm.. what? He doesn’t actually know who works for him?) I’m told the firm loses people on a regular basis; at that exact moment it seemed like they had 5 actual employees and maybe one contract attorney, although it may have been 4 employees and 2 contract…. the partner didn’t seem to know. At one point they had more than a dozen attorneys at the firm, but beyond the core 4 people, they were all contract workers brought on temporarily and were eventually fired when the business slowed again.

Here’s where it started going downhill. I will preface this by saying I found this job posting on a 4th tier Law School reciprocity site, and nowhere else (shades of the Gaming interview?). The interviewer started to nitpick over my resume. ‘Hmm, I see you did this…’, ‘Tell me did you pass the bar on the first try’ (which didn’t work out well for him when I laughed I explained the multitude of bars and certifications I hold) yada yada yada.. They kept poking until they found something they could hook onto. I wasn’t in the top 25%? Gasp! And the interview ended up staring at my resume with a sour look for a few seconds more. (mind you the credentials on my resume beat out the combined resumes of every one of the attorneys at his firm because they were nice enough to post the info on their website).

The interviewer then said, ‘weeellll, we’ve generally found that academics show how hard you are willing to work at this firm so I couldn’t offer you anything better than a contract position here.’ (this from the attorney sitting across from me who couldn’t get in anywhere above 4th tier… and his partner from the same school, and the other 2 permanent attorneys from the same crappy 4th tier law school.

They then go on to say that it would be straight hourly based on billable hours. (which for those who understand, means that it wasn’t a straight hourly job). It also meant if they didn’t assign me work, I made no money. From the trackrecord of the firm, it also meant they were going to hire me short term and fire me in the near future. Oh yeah, and they said they were expecting billable hours of 2400 hours / year. (Again, for those unfamiliar, BigLaw firms generally tack the high at 2100). Which means even if they had the work, they wanted to kill me with hours, then fire me when it started to slack based on the veritable inability to bill out 2400 hours. Nice.

Short version was, they wanted someone to kill themselves with very long hours for little money, no benefits, no job security, and no upward mobility.

I hate lawyers.

Interview #29 – Opposites with the same result

I’m generally at a loss on this one. I was quite sure I had it in the bag… again.

I got an interview request from a blind Craigslist posting looking for an insurance defense attorney. The ad copy itself was probably 2 sentences long and most of the information it contained is in the sentence above this one. Craigslist interviews are almost without fail horrible. Imagine my surprise when this one wasn’t. The firm itself was a very respectable mid-sized firm with several satellite offices in various parts of the state. Even more surprising was when I found out it was also the rival of the firm from Interview #15; both firms worked insurance defense for the same huge client and whatever this firm couldn’t swallow, was given to the firm from Interview 15.

Anyway, the first contact with them was a little odd, the first contact email listed a date and time for the interview and basically just said ‘Can you make it? Respond yes or no.’ I fear if you said no, you failed the interview right then. But as I am fabulously unemployed, I was of course available. So I showed up on a Thursday at the appointed time at a nice mid-sized high-rise office.

The office was quite nice. On the slightly smaller size, but I think that has more to do with the fact that they do not have many client meetings. It was primarily all litigation contract work from their big corporate clients, although I was told they did have some one-off cases / clients from time to time.

I interviewed with the most junior partner. They told me since they were the lowest of the partners the interview was going to be more of an informal affair, effectively what counts as a social interview. Or to put it in their exact words, it was to make sure I / the other interviewees were not functionally retarded. I get it, I’ve been kicking around enough to run into quite a few weird as fuck people (as shown in glorious detail here) to know that this profession is full of interesting characters.

The interview started off as most all others do, talking about my background and skills. The partner was very forthcoming about the firm and told me they paid crap, but better than working as a prosecutor (which is decent but not great). They also said most people leave within 3 years because they get paid crap and go on to much better paying jobs from their firm. Maybe a little too honest?– but I was still more than willing to work there. Then we started talking a bit about family and personal life, and it turned out we had so much in common it was crazy. Within a few minutes we were talking and joking about some very similar and very particular shared experiences. We ended up having a conversation for most of the interview and topped out at an hour and a half until they said they had to go as they had already taken too much time.

As I was leaving they told me I would definitely be back for the interview with the head honcho and I would hear back really soon. I sent out the standard ‘Thank You’ card followup for the interview and waited expectantly. Flashcut to Tuesday and an email is dropped in my inbox that says in brief, ‘Thanks but we hired someone with more experience.’ Which would have been easier to swallow if I hadn’t also been told they had quite a few people working there who were straight out of law school.

So I hit a grand slam perfect interview with the low tier partner, and it got me absolutely nowhere. Because… I have no idea.

The Bar is set rather low…

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.

Woo bureaucracy!

Student Org.s – A microcosm of your future

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.”

 

Advice for the Damned

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.

 

Interview #28 – Quick and dirty

I answered a Craigslist ad and for the first time in forever, I got a real response from an actual firm. The ad was a blank slate and offered no information beyond they were hiring an associate related to litigation. So I sent off a relatively sparse email and resume. About 2 days later, I got an phone call with an interview request.

The pre-interview research didn’t turn up too much. The firm’s website had possibly less information on it than the actual craigslist ad. It appeared they had intended to actually fill out the site with information, but had never actually gotten around to it. Most of the information sections just said “coming soon” once you clicked on them. They were located about 45 minutes away down a long straight shot highway from where I live, so I dressed in my standard interview suit and headed out to find their office.

I will admit, for the first time ever, I arrived late to an interview. Not by much, but walking in 10 minutes late is never good. I was held up trying to finish with one of the rare clients I have as a solo without looking like I wanted to bolt for the prospect of an actual paying job. I showed up at a mid-to-downscale officepark and walked into a really small office suite the firm was occupying.

Occupying might have been a bit too fancy a word. The office was veritably barren beyond the functional furniture. It was obvious whatever job they had in mind wasn’t going to involve client contact at the office itself. I came in as another interview was finishing, made my apologies for being slightly late and got down to business. This as it turns out was going to be a screening interview. The only 2 people in the room were the office manager and the other office manager (?).  I was a little unsure of what the deal was, but I quickly figured out, one of the women interviewing me was the office manager, the other one was local office partner’s wife. I’m not sure what her specific job title was, but that’s never a good sign. The wife did most of the talking and told me they were doing the screening interviews before setting up the interviews with the attorneys. (great).

There was nary a substantive question asked. It seemed to all be a question of whether this one woman (the wife) got along with you, as the office manager rarely spoke up. The firm had recently gotten a new contract which was causing the whole firm to double in size. (it was a small firm that was instantly moving into the mid-size territory with these hirings.) A little concerning that a single client was causing them to hire so many so quickly… there was a pregnant question of what would happen if they lost that client, but I chose not to ask towards such bad omens. They didn’t bat an eye when I asked for the salary, so I definitely was hitting the right mark.

The interview itself however was probably all of 15 minutes… maybe. And there was already someone waiting in the lobby. They had literally blocked out the interviews into 15 minute sections and scheduled quite a few of them. Apparently, they just weren’t that sure looking at resumes what they wanted, so just had a whole bunch of people come in to see if they couldn’t figure out on the fly. Having an attorney sit in, or even look at the resumes might have helped in this regard, but I’m guessing the wife thought she was all over this one; even without the benefit of a legal education. One of her wonderful ‘legal’ questions was if I had done any federal legal work. It took me a moment to realize that she seemed to think that “federal” was a specialty and not the incredibly vague question it really was; it seemed a revelation when I said of course and then told her all sorts of federal law unrelated to whatever she was fishing for.

Very quick, very venial. Not the best impression of the firm.

Paying for your free lunch

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.

 

 

Law School – A very expensive mistake….