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.

 

 

AARP Convention

This week I went all out. I paid money to go to a 3 day legal convention. The why of it was because I am collecting specific CLE credits in one specialization, for reasons I alone care about. So I head down to New Orleans to the Admiralty Law Institute at Tulane. It is one of the larger events for a really small legal niche. This year the topics revolved around the central theme of maritime personal injury; not at all my interest but as I said, it had less to do with the specific topic and more to do with the overarching specialty credits.

The city was deluged with rain the entire time. There was no day you didn’t arrive or leave damp and unhappy. Huge puddles blocked your forward progress no matter where you went, and by puddle I mean a foot or more deep of water that stretched more like disjointed mini-ponds across walkways and roadways. Everyone tried to gauge how far they thought they could safely venture into the puddles so you could potentially jump the remaining several feet to the dry islands in between the water. I walked into one day of the lectures with an older attorney who walked to the edge of one puddle about 5-6 feet across  that stretched for a couple city blocks to our left and right. They hesitated only a moment and then said out loud “Fuck it.” and walked right through the middle of it. It nearly was as deep as his knees. I realized they were probably old enough that an attempted long jump across the water would lead to a more likely serious injury than having very wet feet for the day. I sidled into the puddle carefully and made the leap of faith, barely managing to clear the curb. There was something oddly amusing about an admiralty conference with a water problem.

The evening before the conference 3 large local law firms banded together and had a welcome cocktail reception. As I am still vainly trying my hand at trying to network to get a job, I of course showed up. The reception was at a wonderful venue and as with anything related to lawyers, it had a fully stocked open bar. It also had a band playing in one room, a fortune teller, and a street artist who were also hired to entertain us. But generally with my mind set on the idea of networking, I set about playing the room by randomly joining circles of conversation. All the while keeping an eye out for the singular person I know in the field who I was hoping was going to be at the conference, but they were a no show. Its amazing how lonely you can feel standing in a room filled with people.

I flitted from small group to small group. Mentioning you were looking for a job was a great way to have everyone in the group suddenly find something a great deal more interesting across the room to go investigate. One retired attorney (he had to be at least 70) told me amazing stories about how he did, and still does freediving and spearfishing. He also admitted he was the completely wrong person to network with (for various reasons he explained). Eventually I ended up talking to someone who turns out to be the wife of a big law attorney situated in my city. When the employment question comes up, she immediately says “oh you have to come meet my husband!” Thinking I might have finally hit some networking gold, I dutifully followed. The venue was packed and you had to yell to be heard at the best of moments as you threaded through the closely packed rooms. We finally make it at a slow crawl across the room, and she introduces me to her husband who shakes my hand and says “Good to meet you.” tersely, and then immediately looks to his wife and says “Let’s go” At which point he takes her hand and seemingly half drags her out. As she is being pulled away she says “Find him at the conference” and waves bye. It was really odd, I’m still unsure what I had seen transpire. So now I am again alone and I wander over to another small group who is also standing a bit offset from the masses. We get to talking and they are absolutely the most lovely and friendly people I have met in a long time. They are part of a small plaintiff’s firm (unfortunately nowhere near where I live…). They seem to have had their fill of the reception and invite me along to go find dinner instead. As I had also reached my fill of people wandering away once they decided I had no money, I readily agreed. I had a wonderful time with them and talked with them several more times throughout the conference.

I’m not going to spend much time on the conference itself. It was long, and although I shouldn’t admit it… very boring. The most accurate analogy I can give is the expectation versus reality of a small child when you tell them you are going to take them to a roller coaster factory. I had high expectations (for some reason) and instead I ended up listening to people talking about the benefits and drawbacks of ‘Maintenance and Cure’ versus Workers Compensation. (I may have just fallen asleep momentarily while typing that). My interests and specialty in Admiralty are apparently not representative of the field.

The conference center was quite nice and we were kept well fed at all points. Breakfast and lunch were both provided and both were enjoyable in my mind. I do have a bit of advice for anyone who may be going to something like this for networking purposes however… When you are ushered into a lunch — wait. Let a decent sized line form for the food before you get in line. The reason being: it is perfectly acceptable to approach a nearly full table and ask to sit with the people there… but if you are sitting alone at a table, it seems most people  will choose not to approach you or your table. (*mumble* *mumble* leper syndrome *mumble*). It is better to allow the tables to fill before you decide where you want to sit down, plus you can choose the table that has the nicer suits sitting at it. (yeah, I know… I feel smarmy writing that last bit, but it’s true.)

Day 1 ended with… a cocktail reception. And again.. since it involves attorneys… a fully stocked open bar. Different venue than the previous night, but no less opulent. I was excited by this one because it also had food! Unfortunately, I think I got to speak with even fewer people at this one, but I did meetup with a couple attorneys from the city I previously lived and talked a bit with them. The Tulane law students were invited to this one also, so I did get to speak to a few of them as they huddled together at a few of the ubiquitous standing tables. From talking with them it appears Tulane Law School prints up business cards for their students (I think) because they all had the same generic ones they plied upon anyone who would take one. After failing to make any  real inroads in conversation I took it upon myself to instead sample all of the food liberally before leaving.

Day 2 was uneventful except for a brief rage inducing moment, wherein a larger firm attorney on a panel discussion made a comment that large scale electronic document review should be left to “young, smart attorneys”, to give them ‘job security’. And then he laughed. And a federal magistrate next to him cluelessly agreed. I had a momentary impulse to stand up and call him out on being an asshole. Probably not quite so politically correct since I would have been effectively doing the same to the federal magistrate. The moment passed and I made a mental note of the firm name.

The day ended with… a cocktail reception. And… etc… etc.. fully stocked open bar. This one was by far the funkiest and most interesting venue. It was specific to young attorneys in the field. Now here is a very, very interesting point… if you stood at the front of the conference hall, and looked out over the crowd, it looked like you were talking to an AARP convention. It was a sea of old, white guys; the average age in the room was probably 55+. There were several moments where a speaker would comment on the general lack of young attorneys in the field in general. I’ve received emails from the organization trying to promote getting younger attorneys to join and seemingly at a loss as to why none are. They know the field has no real young attorneys going into it, and yet they seem clueless as to why. This cocktail reception was a beautiful distillation of the answer, but it seemed no one cared to fix it.

The first answer was simple. No one was hiring. The way you get young attorneys into the field is to hire them, or have internships which lead to jobs. And no one had any. As I mentioned, the moment the topic of who I worked for came up and I said I was looking, it was a death knell and people immediately melted away from the knot of conversation. Absolutely no one asked for a resume to be sent at any point. Similar feelings were expressed by the law students and LLMs hanging around as well. Tulane tried a soft sell by printing up a booklet of resumes from their students, but it appeared to be an exercise in deforestation as very few people actually took them. And lord knows, not a soul at the podium mentioned the booklet or hiring during the conference. This is further held true when you look on Tulane’s own career site (internal or reciprocity); there were veritably zero admiralty jobs available. For a law school which so loudly touts its LLM program, it seemed as if they didn’t care what you did with the degree once you got it — because you certainly weren’t going to get work with it. I suppose that is actually true of all law schools at the moment though. But then again, there was the umbrella organization of the MLA, which has a job portal with a total of one job on it… actually the same job as was listed on it for months and months now. Basically, the simple concept of getting in new blood by actually hiring some mystifies the fuck out of them.

Second, however, was a slightly less obvious reason. Because there were no young attorneys around, none of the organizers gave a single thought about their needs. A law firm generally pays for its attorneys to go to conferences of these sorts, so most of the attending bigger firm attorneys don’t even think about the price tag– It’s covered by firm money. Its a business expense and is tax deductible. A new attorney would have to foot the bill completely on their own. The organization had not even thought about this until 2 weeks before the conference when they noticed NOT ONE younger attorney had signed up.  Then they sent out a hastily scribed email saying they forgot to include the ‘special pricing’ for newer attorneys. (I will admit, that was one of the big reasons I decided to go at the last minute… I could suddenly afford to.) The reception also seemed to be an afterthought because it wasn’t listed on the program or schedule. It got a quick powerpoint slide thrown on the screen after lunch telling us when and where to go. They can’t get anyone new to join because not only do they not cater to younger attorneys, but they almost seem to discourage them from attending.

If I thought anyone actually read this blog, I might be concerned about revealing my identity since there were probably all of a dozen young attorneys at this convention. Yes. Out of several hundred conference attendees… there were 12. Woo! So It wouldn’t be all that hard by process of elimination to know who I was. But, no one does read this and guessing the average age of the attendees, I doubt the internet is really something they are completely comfortable with so I think I am safe.

Conversation at this reception was better, but tinged with desperation. The majority by far were unemployed with few prospects. One of the LLM attorneys was excited I gave them a contact for a potential immigration law position. Yes… someone with a specialist certificate in Admiralty felt they had no hope of getting a job in Maritime so they were happy to dump it for an immigration non-profit. Great job ALI… are you beginning to see WHY there are no young attorneys there yet?

I ran the gamut of the room. Talked to a caricature of a far far right republican, to the point that I thought they were going to tell me it was a joke. They made overtly and over the top homophobic and racist statements and then told a story about how he was insulted someone called him racist. Weird, right? I also ended up talking to the nepotism millionaire hire; their family had some serious money behind them and ran a decently sized corporate empire so it sounded. They were hired by their family for a short time then lateraled to a big firm… who’d have thought, right? There was also a platinum blonde who rasped like she had a pack a day habit, but they seemed to dislike when people talked about trying to find work as she already had a job. Then there was the recent mother, who had taken off a year after law school to have a kid and was now back in the mix to get a job. Good luck with that because as soon as you mention ‘child’ in this industry, your interview is over.

The last day ended with the professionalism lecture. You would have thought someone pulled a fire alarm. As soon as the speaker stood up to talk, a good half or more of the conference stood up and left. I suppose I understand, but it was somewhat telling. I suppose if nothing else, I left the conference with the CLE credits I was initially going for, even if the networking potential was in the negative numbers.

But hey, there’s always the next convention! Or at least there will be for a few more years, because with the average age the way it is, ALI has the same problem as FOX news… their constituency is dying faster than they can replace them.

Dinner and a show

There is an ongoing CLE lecture series I have made it a point to show up to whenever possible. It is the most amazing CLEs I have come across. The series is sponsored by one of the big law firms, and they don’t mess around. They hold it in one of the best venues in the city, valet parking, hors d’oeuvres, wine and a limited bar, then the lecture followed by a dinner (and more wine). Did I mention it was free? All of it. It is fabulous. (you know how much of a fan I am of free food…) I fear the secret might be out however. The first lecture I showed up to several months ago probably had half as many attorneys as showed up at the most recent one. I hope this trend doesn’t continue because they might start limiting who is invited. Anyway, on with the stories.

The lecture series is partially linked with a local law school, and as such there are always the handful of professors in attendance who also bring along a few interested law students to mingle with the crowd. Being linked to a law school also means there must be the various notables who parade by the podium to issue congratulatory proclamations upon whomsoever has gifted the most money recently. Probably the more amusing personage is the dean of the law school. I’ve shown up to several CLEs sponsored by the law school and they always manage to show up, smartly dressed for about 3 minutes to welcome everyone and then invariably makes some statement such as “I’m so sorry I can’t stay for the lecture, but…” I guess that’s what they are paid for. To show up and show their face to the money, but after seeing them bail on every single event put on by the law school — I seriously begin to wonder. You have to shake hands and pump the guests for money at some point, you can’t just thank everyone for showing up and then run. Maybe I am expecting too much from the position, I don’t know.

Anyway, one of the talking heads during the congratulatory circlejerk introduced the general counsel of a huge company. While introducing him, they gleeful remarked that this managing attorney held 6 intern positions only for students of their university and primarily hired from that singular law school when hiring corporate counsels. The lovely concept of nepotism just got a nice round of applause from the audience. I was a bit unhappy that I now knew a strong primary reason why I never heard back from any of my applications to that company. Awesome. I was already in a bit of a foul mood because I had missed all the hors d’oeuvres because the parking garage entrance was damn near camouflaged, and this was just making my mood darker.

The lecture itself was pretty basic, which seemed a little out of place considering the prior lecture in the series was on a topic so specific to minutiae within the specialty as to be nearly incomprehensible to anyone not already an expert in the field. The lecture ended with more self-congratulatory remarks to various individuals and we were finally ushered in to the dinner.

All of these types of events have one thing in common. A near absence of tables. No doubt some sociological study somewhere made some proclamation that providing actual sit down tables during a professional / networky dinner was a big mistake. So now we are all consigned to hover around the handful of tiny standing tables with a plate of food in one hand and a drink in the other, wishing you had somewhere to put it down so you could eat. The theory is that you will flit from group to group talking and not become inured to sitting and never moving from one table, and thus only conversing with one small group of people. Think of it as enforced networking maybe. I was one of the lucky few who got in early and I took a spot at one of the tiny standing tables.

The first group to flit about the table were some big corporation counsels. They seemed rather disinterested in talking and eventually wandered off. The second group was a more mixed bag. There was one attorney who was a recent empty nest mother who had not been practicing and had decided that now was a good time to rejoin the legal community; As a solo. No one said word one, but I am nearly sure everyone else at the table thought she was insane too.

There was an associate from a small firm of half a dozen who offered to send overflow work / one-off cases to me if I was interested. I thanked them and said absolutely (and although I appreciated the sentiment, it is a horrible idea to actually follow through on because the only cases you will get from a small firm are the ones they trying to get rid of… no money, crazy client, malpractice magnet, etc.) It was a nice offer, but one that is taken up only by the desperate… and there are a fair number out there who are. It was made a bit more difficult to swallow because this attorney was supposed to be a soft-IP attorney and they asked the table if anyone had ever heard of website XX (basically a site on similar par as The Pirate Bay) as they had some recent case issues related to it. The way they referred to the site pretty much conveyed they had no idea what they were talking about nor what they were in for if trying to accomplish anything against it, which also conveyed that they were a really crappy copyright attorney. I’m always surprised by how technologically inept some people who practice IP actually are.

The last at the table with me was someone from a real firm, and we struck up a pretty decent conversation which ended with an actual offer to try to get me an interview at their firm. I truly hope something comes of it, but I no longer count on such things.

Eventually, group 2 started to leave and I decided to mingle in the remaining pockets of attorneys scattered around. I ended up at a table with a law student who had some very enviable offers by law firms. I was talking with them about random things and a bit of the bitterness from the other side of our degree. As we are talking, a guy who looks just like Jamie from Mythbusters (completely bald, mustache with a soul patch, AND a flat hat) saunters up to the table and puts his manpurse down on the table. He’s drinking tea from a teacup and alternately putting it down onto the saucer he is holding.  Something was off. The law student and I were talking, but Mr. Mustache was just standing there silently watching without introducing himself. The law student is shooting me a glance, and I take the cue to introduce myself to the guy. He is a solo (uh oh), and he starts talking about the lecture and how he was showing up only because he needed one more credit to be CLE compliant and this wasn’t his area of law at all. But he’s also slurring. quite. a. bit… Yup, he’s really drunk. Which in and of itself was a feat — the hors d’oeuvres only went on for half an hour, then an hour and a bit long lecture plus all the functionaries talking. It would have taken some serious drinking during that half hour to get to a point where you would still be drunk almost 2 hours later. Granted, he could have hit a few more glasses after the lecture, but damn… it would require some doing.

In a most uncomfortable 3 minutes, Mr. Mustache went from introducing himself in a normal tone, to veritably yelling about how there was still no cure for baldness but they have a cure for erectile dysfunction. He made a point of saying erectile dysfunction at least 3 times quite loudly. The law student had a slightly wild look about his eyes and obviously wanted to bolt. Both of us were now standing a good 2 feet away from the table increasingly trying to back away, as behavioral avoidance started to kick in and we tried to put as much real distance between us as possible. Mr. Mustache seemed to realize the lack of conversation and took this as a cue to say it was late and he was going. (yes… he was going down to the parking garage to drive home.. fucking awesome.) I gave the drunk about 10 minutes to get far enough away from where I might be driving to also decide the night had come to an end. While waiting for the valet to bring my car, the law student  came down. I laughed and said somewhat rhetorically “Why do the drunks always find me at these things…” The law student said he thought the drunk was attracted to us because we didn’t have a protective buffer of a larger group of people to ward him away.

He’s probably right. I need to experiment at the next lecture to test the theory.

Law Journals

When I was in Law School, I was an editor of one of the legal journals. I also published in it as well. The journal I was part of went through a bit of a transition while I was there. At one point in time, it had been a nationally recognized journal; a first of its kind. At the beginning, it had the possibility as the first on the field to take over as the singular journal for this niche of the law. But, as many things do in academia when left to its own devices, it floundered and lost relevance. By the time I joined on, well… it was not quite what it once was.

The first journal meeting I went to, the originator of the journal from many years ago showed up. They had long since graduated and actually had become a professor elsewhere in no small part due to the esteem of the journal (at least, the esteem at the time they were hired). The originator was a short, sharply dressed woman who dressed and moved like a motivational speaker. She made some vague proclamations about how she was going to be super involved even though she was no longer at the law school and was teaching at another university. As you might guess, I saw her only one other time… ever. She seemingly disappeared 2 months into my 1L year. After a few months, the head of the journal couldn’t get in contact with her by email or phone and she was written off as never coming back. I’m sure if I was really interested I could find her online and figure out the mystery of where she disappeared to… most of us assumed she got a job in another state and moved without telling anyone. At a certain point, we just didn’t care anymore; it would have been easy to communicate via email but she obviously couldn’t even bother to do that. There were probably only about half a dozen people who were actively working on it by the time I joined up. Of those people, there was only really one person who was honestly keeping the journal from falling into obsolescence, the current head of the journal. To give you an idea of the journal’s standing… The journals all shared a very large office, and you could tell the relative importance of each based on the square footage of deskspace allotted. Originally, we had none… and after a great deal of wrangling, I do believe out of the whole office, we got (in toto…) 3 X 2.5 ft of desk, and a chair (but no computer, and no office supplies, and no… well you get the picture — it was a slab-o-desk and nothing more). Although it did have a very shabby pinned label above ‘our’ spot identifying it as the official physical residence of the journal.

The head of the journal had taken it upon himself to attempt to return relevance to the journal. He had gotten the ball rolling to make it a physically published, accredited journal. Actually getting any momentum for a project in academia is the hardest part. Once the project overcomes the static inertia, it starts moving on its own accord. He ended up graduating just in time to see the journal become accredited. The next head of the journal did not make any friends and nearly destroyed the groundwork that had been laid, but that’s often how things go with student run enterprises. The new leader took the reigns and started out by changing the name of the journal, then appointed his best friends to run the journal even though they had no background in the legal niche it was based on or editing at all for that matter. But, that’s a different story.

Gaining accreditation also meant we now had a real faculty adviser connected to the journal. They were decently well known in the outside legal field, and since we were trying to gain more legitimacy for the journal we asked if they would submit something we could publish in it. Initially we were told they would think about it, but behind closed doors the editors were told flatly no. They wouldn’t give us anything to publish because the professor felt the journal was too unimportant and it would tarnish the professor’s brand if they did. Yes, our own faculty adviser had just told us the journal sucked, in nearly as many words, and that’s why he refused to put his name anywhere near it. Worse than that, we were told they had openly expressed that opinion to other faculty so when we approached these others, we got the same response. Nice.

As one of the editors, I had been given a (supposedly) simple task. Since we were now officially recognized and accredited, we were entitled to a (very) small allotment of funds related to publication costs. I had been charged with finding out how much, and getting those funds. It took over 2 years. The truth is, I actually never got the funds while I was in law school… they only finally showed up about a year after I left. Somewhere early during my 3L year, I went to our faculty adviser to see if they could do anything to help speed the process that was going so interminably slow regarding the funding, and then also to talk about the new journal head who was taking it upon himself to fuck everything up with no consideration for how much work others had done before.

The adviser sighed, shut the door to his office, and proceeded to explain the inner politicking of the faculty. You see… there were limited funds. The faculty adviser of the Law Review felt that any other journals watered down the importance of his law review journal by distracting outside attention to lesser journals. So he went out of his way to block disbursement of funds and resources to competing projects. He had an unofficial agreement with the faculty adviser of the Health Law journal, the supposedly second most influential journal at the law school (in line with the imagined importance of the professors themselves.) The Health Law journal would receive unobstructed funding  (effectively so long as it was less funding than the Law Review) and they would both act as a unified bloc when confronting anyone who may threaten to diminish the funds to either. The journals as a whole received a fixed amount of funding, and it was divvied up amongst the multitudes, as it were. So the more journals, the less funding to each one. This meant that a new player on the field was a threat to all, and everyone was immediately allied against you. To make matters ever more petty, both of these journals also had endowments which added to their totals. There were already a small assortment of lesser journals which were an affront to the Law Review adviser’s sensibilities, and the indignity of one more was just too much to bear.

This actually played out identically in tenure hiring as well. An incredibly well liked Tax professor was up for tenure. They had done some amazing work and had started up a truly unique program at the law school. They apparently tipped their hand by presenting an idea for the creation of a whole Tax specialty department at the law school. The other departments were threatened by the possibility of a reduction in their funding, and lo and behold the Tax professor was kicked to the curb by a voting bloc of faculty who were trying to get rid of competition to their meager funding, as opposed to trying to make the law school better. Before you side too much with the ‘meager funding’ crowd, it might be valuable to know these entrenched professors were making over $200K per… so, you know… meager.

Getting back on track though… The adviser then addressed the second issue. He told me he felt the new leader of the journal was not doing a good job. He agreed with my complaints. And he said there was nothing that could be done, because… if a complaint was put forward, it would end up before none other than the faculty adviser of the Law Review, he also just happened to be the Academic Dean who oversaw complaints; who would then seize upon the opportunity to shut down the competition. Our adviser looked at me and said “Go ahead and make a complaint, but know that if you do it will end the journal.” He then thanked me for bringing it to his attention, and that was the end of our conversation. At one point in time, I had held this professor in high regard… not so much thereafter.

My involvement with the journal waned a bit thereafter. I still participated, but I cut my time commitment way, way back.

Law School – A very expensive mistake….