Possibly the worst thing I did…

I was involved with breaking a human being. I think it disturbed me more that I had forgotten this story until recently. In my own defense, there was no way to know what was happening at the time. I think it says more about the profession in general that no one at his firm noticed until it was too late.

I was working on a fatality case. There were big numbers involved based on how the ‘client’ had died. There were also about 6 different corporations being sued. Each of the corporations had hired their own defense firm in one relatively small town. This also meant that the last person to the party got last pick of the defense firms in town, and therefore most likely the better / larger firms had already been hired by the co-defendants.  The last corporation joined in this particular case hired a mid-small defense firm of about a dozen attorneys.

Well, at a certain point in the case, as seemingly with any case with multiple defendants, there came the winnowing. Everyone decided it was time to try to MSJ themselves out. And one by one, the various defendants dropped out. Except one; in particular the last one joined to the case. They didn’t file an MSJ at all.

In fact, it turned out they had not filed a single motion on their own behalf during the entire case. The attorney who had been representing this corp. had gotten his name ‘signed with authorization’ onto all the motions filed by the other corporations’ higher priced firms. When the dust had settled, that one attorney and his client were the only ones left in the suit. Every other co-defendant had taken the opportunity when they filed their MSJ to point their collective finger at the one remaining defendant on their way out the door.

Deadlines were gone, motions had not been adopted by this counsel, his name had been signed on things but nothing of great consequence. In short, he was screwed. The winnowing of defendants also mean that a plaintiff no longer has to use the shotgun method of going after multiple targets. Now we had a single target with a bullseye painted on them courtesy of their co-defendants, and I started sending out our usual ramped up (and trumped up) motions now that we were getting closer to the trial setting.

For those not in the know about shady plaintiff’s work, one of the pre-trial tactics used is to file fast and furious motions. And file lots of them. The more the better; file to strike anyone and anything that supports the other side’s contention. File motions to compel to get the attorneys baby pictures from his mother. File requests for sanctions because you heard a rumor opposing counsel might have possibly have been related to Hitler. It really doesn’t matter what the content is, it is more important that you are sending a lot of them. And make sure to send lots and lots of seemingly levelheaded emails to opposing counsel too… because then you can print them out and attach them to your motions too. Especially when opposing counsel starts sending back emails ranting at you because you are emailing and calling their cell phone constantly (seriously… and a pro-tip for any aspiring attorneys… never, ever ever ever hand out your personal cell phone to another attorney if you can possibly help it).

Well, we started doing just that to Opposing counsel. We realized early on that he was screwed since he had filed no motions during the whole case. Our office was nothing if not efficient at sending these types of crap motions at a breakneck speed.

And then it happened. Opposing counsel replied with 2 motions of his own. They were incomprehensible rantings interspersed with legal argument that wouldn’t be made by a first year law student with a complete lack of knowledge of civil procedure. We immediately set a hearing for our motions at the soonest date possible. I had started to respond to his replies for the hearing. But the hearing never happened.

Two days prior to the hearing, we got a call from one of the partners at this law firm. The partner who had this case had a mental breakdown and was taken by ambulance from his office. He was removed from the firm / partnership. He had been forcibly retired. A partner from the firm  took over and tried their best to salvage what they could from the case. I am quite certain the firm had a fucking ridiculous malpractice case against them after the dust settled, but I never did find out. To my boss’ credit, he reined everything in and told us to stop. The litigation machine was put on hold until they could pick up the pieces of what used to be someone’s life.

In all likelihood if it hadn’t been the case I was working on, it would have just been someone else’s case that pushed this guy over the edge. But it wasn’t. It was me working at the direction of my boss and the firm. And without meaning to, I took part in irreparably breaking another human being. It’s sorta a fucked up feeling to realize that.

Enter the Rainman

The firm had decided they were getting serious about getting rid of some people. And at the top of their list was my boss. For almost the whole time I was working at the firm, we had been operating in the blissful absence of “compliance attorneys”. Prior to my start at the firm, there had apparently been some other compliance attorney who had lasted over a year before pulling the ripcord. But since that guy had left, the firm had chosen not to hire a new one… until now. The firm took on a full time compliance attorney about 3 months before I quit. He was a short, angry little man who looked (and sounded) a bit like Dustin Hoffman if you squinted. The recurring thoughts about Rainman aside, he was a rather poor attorney and seemed to survive by getting angry and hoping it made people uncomfortable enough that they would back down. (In fact, I’ll just continue referring to him as Rainman… it is oddly fitting actually).

Rainman’s angry demeanor didn’t work so well when it came up against my crazy boss. Angry just made him stronger, like the Hulk, or maybe tequila. It didn’t work so well with me either, angry doesn’t really do anything to apathetic. The compliance attorney would yell at me (literally) for something, and my response was usually to sigh, or shrug, or generally ignore him. This in turn actually made him actually angry and he would eventually storm off to his office, no doubt to write angry interoffice messages. The pure inviolable feeling one has when you don’t care if you get fired is truly amazing.

The compliance attorney had been given marching orders to try to get my boss fired. He came to me very early on and specifically told me “they” were trying to fire my boss. The problem was, by this time, I had already turned the corner and now I liked my boss. Hang around someone long enough and you start to see things from their worldview, and his was actually pretty interesting, and in a strange way how he operated made much more sense compared to the rest of the attorneys working there.

Initially I did nothing with the information Rainman told me. But this particular conversation would be the linchpin which ultimately made everything fall apart. (much more on this later)

At some point shortly after the first few interactions with the compliance attorney, the powers that be decided I was not being helpful, so I must be part of the problem. This didn’t help matters because the more Rainman pushed and prodded me, the closer I ended up getting to my boss and those of us working directly with him.

My boss started having very contentious ‘conversations’ with Rainman. Many of these conversations involved Rainman second guessing the litigation maneuvering  we were doing on cases. The problem was, Rainman was a crappy attorney. He had recently moved to the state and had waived into the bar, and had no idea about why certain things could or could not be done because of his poor understanding of the local / state rules. Rainman had come from New Jersey, one of the easiest bars in the country (I can say that with confidence having taken and passed it as an afterthought) and he hadn’t been a litigator there. His advice was uniformly off the mark, but he stated it with the confidence of the truly ignorant and self assured.

At a certain point, my boss got tired of dealing with him. So he didn’t. What do I mean? Well, from my perspective, he just stopped showing up… for a few weeks. The armchair psychitrist in me wants to say this was just part of his manic / depressive cycle; first he’d be there 14 hours a day, then no one would see him for days at a time. But I think he just figured out he didn’t have to deal with the crap if he didn’t show up, and let’s be honest, a lot of what we do as attorneys can now be done anywhere given a laptop and internet connection. During this period there was veritably no communication; at best, I would get cryptic text messages which may or may not be deciphered. I would however get near daily visits from Rainman yelling at me for my boss not being around. Because that is obviously within my power to alter. At this point I would always drop my boss a note saying Rainman was wandering the halls looking for him.

This was punctuated by the amusing game which was being played outside my office as well. Rainman garnered a particular dislike for our paralegal. So when Rainman would ask if my boss was in, the paralegal would make something up just to fuck with Rainman. “Yes, he was just here.” / “Isn’t he in his office?” / “He just walked that way (down the same small hallway Rainman had just come from), I can’t imagine how you missed him.” / “You just missed him, he went to lunch.” It became hilarious. Eventually Rainman knew she was lying, but couldn’t prove her wrong on most occasions. Especially when the boss would do a fly through to show his face to one of two people who would verify he had been in that day. It drove Rainman insane.

Unfortunately, Rainman decided the best way to get to my boss, was to create problems for the people working for him. (more to come)

Work (prior) – The surrogate

I began applying to jobs again.

The final straw was when my boss was adamant that a motion needed to be filed that day (i.e. before midnight) and so I ended up at the office until damn near midnight working on it. My boss looked it over and decided they needed to edit it, because they are a control freak and can’t let any written product be filed without a significant rewrite that ends up looking suspiciously like the original draft I handed them.

Before you think this was some massively important motion or appeal… it wasn’t. As every lawyer knows, there are motions which are nearly rote and you don’t put much effort into them. There are the daily ones which require a bit of research, put in the legal standard and the three part test for whatever, but nothing onerous. Then there are the appeals or big case MSJ type of ones where the whole rest of the case rests on your one writing.

This particular motion was basically a rote one. I had a good serviceable motion. Which Twitchy Mc-A.D.H.D. felt the need to give the gift of their own TLC. (And they were also apparently avoiding their spouse who called and yelled at me… because, you know… I was there and apparently complicit in their personal argument, at which point my boss took the phone from me and hung up on his wife.)

I was stuck waiting while they nervously twitched out edits onto the draft in front of me. For over two hours, and then it went past midnight.

Which means, it didn’t matter that I / we had stayed there so god damned late, because now the filing date was the next day. I could have done all of this the next day and it wouldn’t have mattered. But instead they just shrugged it off and kept revising and then reverting the copy. I finally looked at them and said I was going home, and I left without looking back. I, and the motion, were being used as some sort of surrogate excuse in an ongoing marital problem. Awesome.

I began applying to new jobs right after this.

Return from Vacation

So I’m putting the site back online. It’s been off mainly because I was being cautious. I think I should be good now though. In short, I gtfo from my previous employer. I was already halfway out the door on my last post but I had to make sure at the time I was free and clear from them. Shortly after I quit, so did the attorney I was working for. But when partner level attorneys quit, it becomes messy. In short, they were being forced out and they left the firm taking most of their clients with them, and then a flurry of lawsuits between the firm and the prior partner (which I’m not sure are ever going to be resolved) and I had been given the heads-up I might get roped in and deposed and possibly used as a witness in the inevitable courtroom drama.

I may still, these things take a long time. But I have distanced myself professionally and geographically from all the crazy so I think I don’t care much about what goes on with those people anymore. So I am back to posting my rantings about sub-par work environments and the vagaries of working in this industry.  And I’ve been in an all new job for the past year slowly racking up stories so I should have some decent material to work with.

Azrael

 

minor update… I’m going to post a bunch of the stuff from the previous job and then move on to my current job.

Work – I was warned, but never expected…

You always hear about ethics issues in law school. Everyone sorta knows lawyers are ethically questionable, but I always assumed it was more associated with the concept that we choose to go into a profession that represented criminals and other assorted horrible people for money.  It’s like a more erudite form of prostitution. We’ll do almost anything for money; no check that, after working here I know that lawyers will do anything for money.

I probably should have figured the ethics in the real workplace were going to be nasty. I made it thorough a retelling of merely one of these stories to a friend who is an associate elsewhere, they told me I was obliged to quit immediately. I explained to my friend I had this pesky addiction to food which I could only satisfy with those little green slips of paper the law firm gives me so long as I keep showing up.

So, what have I witnessed so far? I’ll start simple.

My boss’ desk is stacked with papers. Mostly because they tend to never be in their office. Which is part of the problem with the affidavit issue, if they are never there, they never end up signing those all important time sensitive documents. But don’t even suggest they appoint an authorized signor; this other arrangement is better. I watched a paralegal take an unsigned affidavit, sign it for an attorney then proceed to cut-and-paste the seal and signature of a notary onto the affidavit and submit it to the court. I know, you’re probably thinking this is maybe one bad actor… not really. I also saw another attorney who ‘could sign the absent attorney’s name better than the paralegal could’ sign an affidavit in front of the office notary, who then signed and notarized it. If you can think of any permutation of this arrangement with an office full of paralegals and attorneys, I watched it happen. The office notaries would notarize any document with any name on it, no questions. I think they just really liked to use stamp; I’m sorta surprised they didn’t just stamp random objects around the office with it.

Back to the avalanche of papers on my boss’ desk… I got a motion to compel (our) discovery through service. When I started looking, it seemed like we never sent the discovery out, and thus missed the deadline by a month or (much) more. I asked if anyone knew if it had gone out. A helpful paralegal said, of course it went out, I sent it out in the mail myself. I will admit, I thought that was odd considering we e-serve everything, but hey, who knows. I was relatively new, and this was an old file. It was possible they sent paper copies previously, recently… maybe? So I told opposing counsel it had been sent out, but I’d be happy to email over a copy if they couldn’t find it; I emailed it over and I put the issue out of my mind. Opposing counsel might have figured out something was wrong but my understanding was they ended up in rehab the day after I sent the email… so they had other things on their mind. Weird coincidences like this seem to happen way to often in the legal world, I chalk it up to the weird as fuck characters who populate this profession. I didn’t think much of this incident… until it happened again.

But this time, it was a little different. This time the firm definitely didn’t send it out. This was an issue because it was in at a highly litigious point in a high value case and opposing counsel seemed to have forgotten they requested the information; but if they figured it out, we would have had limitations placed on our objections  blah blah blah (legal mumbo jumbo no one but lawyers care about so I won’t keep explaining). The paralegal again says, don’t worry, we have ways of fixing this. Then they open their desk and start rummaging through and pull out a handful of metered stamps with backdates on them, like many months backdated. They take the discovery, put it in an envelope to send out, and put a backdated stamp on it to make it fall within the discovery period. I brought up the issue with the senior litigator that technically we were late and out of time. The paralegal looked at the senior and said “don’t worry, we fixed it with a stamp.” The senior said, “oh, then no problems.”

Continuing on… How about something more malpracticey? The lit group sent off one of any number of continuing motions in one of the multitude of cases in our section, only to have it bounce back from opposing counsel with an email saying “this case was dismissed… why are you filing into it?” This was news to us, so we looked into it. The case had been dismissed when the opposing side had set a docket control hearing about 2 months prior and our firm was a no show. For those who don’t know, these things are usually a formality handled by a paralegal who just calls in to it. It might require an in-person hearing, but that’s rare and usually only for contested issues. Well, the group looked into it and here was what we found… the opposing counsel had the phone number, email, physical office address, and was actually personally acquainted with the senior litigator in our group from a previous job. The court for some reason did not have current contact information for the senior litigator; mind you, contact information is, at a minimum, listed at the end of the original complaint, and also on every motion filed into the court, and on all the discovery docs sent to opposing counsel. The court did however have the contact info of the Senior Litigator at a previous job, so they sent it there, and in the best fashion possible, messed up the address so it wasn’t even served properly on them. At the court hearing, opposing counsel did not attempt to contact the senior litigator or anyone else in the office, instead they just said “we have no idea what happened” and let the court dismiss for want of prosecution. The correct thing to do is to call on your cell and ask where counsel is, not to lie to the court and say they have no idea how to contact them or where they are. Things don’t (and aren’t intended) to work in that fashion.

We filed to reinstate the case and I was sent to the hearing. While preparing for it, I found a notice for the docketing hearing we had received a month before the docket control hearing. I brought it up to the paralegal (who was supposed to be responsible for scheduling it) and the senior litigator. They specifically said “we never received that” and proceeded to delete it from the network. Everyone involved had unclean hands. It is so god damned icky working around these people.

I was sent to the court to argue the very narrow statement “Senior litigator person had never gotten the hearing notice” (which they had). The judge was ticked and handed me a copy of the email they had sent us (you know, with the copy of the DCC that no longer existed on our computer network?) Anyway, I basically said the senior litigator had never gotten it personally (because they never actually check their own mail themselves, so technically true). The judge was really not happy, but then, opposing counsel jumped in and said they too had problems getting hold of senior litigator and it must be a problem with our phone / email systems.  Opposing counsel was now lying to try to make themselves look better for intentionally not contacting my firm at all. The judge was now stuck with two lawyers effectively lying about the same thing… They were outnumbered and gave up, but basically said you only get one fuck-up in their courtroom and made sure I would pass along that statement to the senior litigator.

I could keep going, I think I will in later posts about the shady as fuck goings on, but for now these last few will have to suffice for a bit.

Ex Part-“OK” Communications

I’m starting to get to some of the better stories, so I figured I would give a bit of (dangerous) insight into the shady as fuck legal ethics I have the honor of seeing.

So I mentioned previously, where I am currently working, it seems to be the rule that the judges are significantly bought and paid for. Of everything I’ve posted, this is probably the most disturbing (and potentially dangerous) thing to put online. I have worked closely with many courts doing criminal and family law previously, and most experiences are very positive; but every once in awhile you walk away realizing how much power a bad judge can have over an individual leaving little recourse to the client (or attorney). Which is why I hesitate to put this online, but hey, in for penny in for a pound.

The firm has a pretty decent hand in bankrolling judges’ election campaigns. And it seems, if you are a favored judge, you just never seem to have much competition come election time. I will freely admit, this is not something I could prove, I have been told as much but it may merely be firmly based supposition. What I do know is there is deference paid by judges to literally anyone who works for this firm. And woe to any out of town attorney who thinks they can try to transfer venue out. Because that’s how the big money is made. You get yourself a friendly judge, and amazingly all your motions hearings seem to work out in your favor. You ‘win’ enough motions, and the other side has to come to the table, hat in hand with a hefty settlement.

What do I mean? I think I had previously mentioned walking through the court house with one of the litigators only to have a judge stop and strike up a conversation only to find out we were there to drop off a discovery motion in their court. The judge then told us how they would rule. Just… outright, in the hallway, on a motion set to be heard a week later. Opposing counsel had no idea we already knew the outcome. We could have changed the motion and killed them with that motion because… well, we were playing with house money at that point. Granted, it was a discovery motion, so you can only do so much damage with that. How about something a bit more personal.

So I had to walk a motion over to the court, because sometimes the filing system is down, someone is on vacation, or it needs to be done immediately and it is just faster. There is a reason law firms are clustered around courthouses. So I walked my motion over to the court only to find out the court coordinator was on vacation. But the judge was there, and it was fine to give them the motion directly and ask for a preferential setting… directly. The judge pretty much gave me anything I asked for, and then pulled out their business card and wrote their personal cell phone number on it. In case I needed to get hold of them in the future, on their personal cell phone…

This is again one of those judgment calls where A) the much older judge was trying to pick me up, or B) I used my sub-par social skills and read too much into the situation. But, I don’t know many judges who hand out a personal number to young associates.

I thanked them and walked out with my mind racing. This was not something my Professional Responsibility class had ever prepared me for. I don’t like showing up in that judge’s courtroom much anymore, its just slightly uncomfortable.

But don’t think this is specific to this firm. Oh no… There is a decided home-court advantage to law firms. When we go traveling to other areas the exact same shenanigans happen to us. Every motion we file is denied no matter how legitimate. Every minuscule communication must be done in person at the court, meaning you have to travel significantly (and local counsel doesn’t). And oh yeah, local counsel gets advance notice of all decisions, potentially weeks in advance of you. Because they have the home-court advantage and the judges there are bankrolled by the opposing firm, and not ours. The door swings both ways. This is also a very valuable bit of information for anyone who is considering hiring an attorney. If you don’t care why you win (and honestly, who would) then make sure you pick the big local firm who would have the contacts to swing the opinion in your favor. It can be worth millions to have this kind of influence. Quite literally.

Work – I know what you’re thinking…

The powers that be at my firm had apparently suddenly woken up after many months of ignoring the inner workings of the firm; and apparently they woke up cranky. Over several days there were at least one meeting per day wherein some higher overlord at the firm had chosen on a whim to show up and yell in the general direction of large assemblages of the peasants who work here. I sat through multiple angry meetings, none of which as it turned out, applied to me. But yelling at 5 people is significantly less cathartic than yelling at 50 people, so we were all stuck listening to senior individuals rant. Apparently the ranting was not completely impotent as I found out later a number of people had also been fired. I talked to a higher up slightly more candidly later and they said it was likely because the senior people had noticed a slowdown in the money stream and felt they were running too low, so it must be time to stoke the fires.

I had already had one meeting that day, primarily directed at paralegals, but again, better to complain to everyone so that the attorneys could then individually complain to their own paralegals later I suppose. (How are those TPS reports coming along…)

The morning meeting was amazing in its complete tone-deaf quality wherein some senior attorney decided the best way to increase productivity was to get dictation machines into every attorney’s office and setup the paralegals with the dictation machines with the footpedals etc. Because… you know… its 1970. Where do you even find these anymore? A fucking time machine set to 1980? Really it just showed the shortcomings of the senior attorney as it turns out they were the singular person using a dictaphone (along with their poor paralegal) in the entire firm. SO obviously, that must be the key to productivity because he was doing it. It also showed that they were completely computer retarded and never learned to touch type like the rest of the world has done with the computer revolution.

Imagine my joy when just as I was headed out for a late lunch that same day I am waylaid and told that an associates only meeting is happening immediately with no notice. So I briefly look toward the exit contemplating a jailbreak and gauging just how hungry I am before heading over to the conference room.

All the associates gathered expecting to be summarily yelled at for some random issue which probably wasn’t our responsibility again. But this meeting was different. The senior partner started complimenting us and saying how we added value to the firm and were the ‘boots on the ground’ for the litigation attorneys. And then, the senior partner went about it in a different tack. He said, raise your hand if you have ever done this… keep it up if you’ve ever done this… This game went on for a bit.

Each time he said another thing, more hands dropped. Why? Because of the *ahem* ‘minor’ employee retention problem. So being an associate here for only a few months makes you a defacto senior associate due to the turnover. And being the senior associate means you get more responsibility because everyone else quit and its now only you are left to do the work you previously didn’t know how to do.  (this is apparently what this firm means by “training”) Within short order playing this game only three people still had their hands up. And then he started asking if anyone had done some pretty specific things. Like, oddly specific. So specific in fact, all but one of the hands dropped. And that person was the senior partner’s associate. Young, blonde, female.

It is worth reiterating that this is the same senior partner who has slept with, married and divorced several of his paralegals (and other paralegals in the firm). It is also worth noting that this was one of the very very few female associates, and he specially picked her to work for him.

The senior partner then ‘awarded’ her an all-expense paid, weeklong (far flung) resort vacation for two. It is also worth mentioning that at no point in the history of this firm have they bothered to give out bonuses or prizes or gifts of any sort to the associates. And the senior partner doesn’t even know the names of at least half of the associates. Sooo… draw the obvious conclusion. We were basically all forced to show up and clap for the tax write off vacation he bought for his affair. “Everyone give a round of applause for this bimbo I’m going to bone.”

Nice.

I told this story to a friend and their response was “You know maybe if you fuckin put out a little more you’d get to go to the resort too.” Hm.. decisions, decisions…

I felt bad. First because if she was actually sleeping with the guy… ugh. yuck. That seemed like a particularly onerous punishment far in excess of whatever sins she may have (ever) done. For the mental visuals – the partner was older, very short and bald. (Think Napoleon with less hair but the same ego.) Second, because if she wasn’t sleeping with him, everyone at the office was now firmly convinced that she was sleeping with him. Which has its own political ramifications obviously. Oh yeah, and he’s married, cause, obviously.

Everyone in the room who had been at the firm for a a hot minute knew the score. You could tell something was off because the room cleared out really quickly and no one really said much to the ‘winner’. It was just super uncomfortable to have to witness something so obvious and ridiculous.

I need a new job. Anyone hiring? I might even put out for the right job (and a resort vacation)…

Work – Institutional Ignorance

I have noticed a strange propensity at my firm. I think it exists in the wild in our profession almost everywhere. There is a complete lack of appreciation for specific knowledge of the individual. This is an odd claim for what in effect is a profession of ‘knowledge workers’ such as attorneys, where specialized knowledge is supposed to be our raison d’être.  It is a simple concept, firms very often don’t use the people with the most knowledge for the specifically on-point task that knowledge would most benefit. For example…

Several months ago I was given a research task. Our litigation group was expecting a radioactive motion to be dropped in our lap by the opposing counsel any day. We knew it was coming, and we generally knew what the legal theory they would be arguing was going to be, and that it would be bad for us. But beyond knowing the outline of the problem, no one in the firm had done any in-depth legal research into the topic. The onus fell on me (for a variety of political reasons above my paygrade) to untie the Gordian knot of a state law which had basically been enacted as a complete bar against what we were arguing in the case. It was a big case, and I was aiming to impress.

I spent what was very likely, collectively, days researching the topic. We knew the motion would show up at some point, but until it did, I kept researching the issue. I had read every case dealing with the particular statute, I knew the loopholes, I had read the legislative floor session for the bill, I knew who was currently arguing similar cases in the state and had even reached out to other law firms to speak to attorneys who had lost a recent case on the issue to see where they thought they went awry. In short, I knew the issue better than anyone in the firm. I kept researching the issue, because the motion we were all expecting just never seemed to materialize.

But finally, the day came. The motion showed up with exactly the argument I was expecting. I gave a short presentation on the topic to a combined litigation group and talked about strategy and how we might attack it or maybe even sidestep the issue. It all seemed to be very well received and I came in the next day ready to write an amazing answer.

But, instead it was assigned to a different associate from a different group who hadn’t researched the law at all. I handed them a respectable pile of research notes and caselaw, which I am fairly certain they never looked at considering the answer he wrote was so poorly constructed. He argued a very weak point, that was at its core… just… wrong. It wasn’t merely that I disagreed with how they attempted to approach the issue, it was that it was legally incorrect and showed a profound misunderstanding of the central construction of the law at issue.

It didn’t make any sense… why have the person with the greatest background in a given topic, NOT work on that topic? I was actually angry I hadn’t been given more work to do, because that should have been my work. But it obviously isn’t only me this happens to.

This institutional ignorance is probably shown nowhere better than during an actual trial. It seems no matter the firm, the story plays out the same. I’ve had a chance to watch it unfold several times. Most recently another litigation attorney at the firm had a case actually reach trial. A few days before trial was set to start, they were kicked from first to (effectively) third chair. Instead, the managing partner effectively waltzed into a trial and took over the whole of the litigation from the attorney and associates who knew the background and intricacies of the case. I watched the managing partner proceed to question witnesses about generic topics, eating up the majority of the time grandstanding, and leaving only a few minutes for the other attorney who had been working the case for 2-years to try to clean up the facts and the record before the witness was excused. Apparently, a brief conference room meeting is all it takes to get caught up on a complex litigation case.

(to name drop a little) I also watched it happen at Reed Smith. The exact situation played out, and the senior associate who had been in the case and elbow deep in the paperwork quite literally every day for months, was relegated to spectator seating (not even at the attorney tables) while 2 senior partners argued the case instead. It almost seems like the British Barrister / Solicitor system.

The same thing happens at the firm I am at during meditations. A senior partner would decide to show up and continually ask questions (during the mediation) and then make snap judgments without the benefit of knowing why certain arguments (or settlements) were ridiculous and potentially hurting the mediation.

In effect, for the political benefit and cachet of parading in front of the client to show that “the big guns” are on the case, the quality of the representation takes a hit as those with the least knowledge decide to take it over. I am in awe of the stupidity, every time it happens, and yet it happens so often in so many ways.

Work – the Rift

I will say, I honestly think my paralegals are working more than I am. But the work itself is very different, so it’s not quite equivalent. I am spared (a fair amount) of the weird busywork involved with complying with capricious internal company policies, because it falls on the paralegals. But… I’m going to sound like an elitist here, so go ahead and get good and indignant now… Although they are very good at what they do, many (most) don’t quite understand what we (the attorneys) are writing. There is an education gap which I didn’t fully appreciate until I saw it in action. We often pass off our motions to the paralegals to check over for spelling / grammar / (copy-paste) errors. But in terms of the actual content, it may as well be ancient Greek. Most paralegals have only a high school education and potentially got a paralegal certificate at a community college somewhere. I found this disconcerting when I realized the massive understanding gap when I would be asked if I had misspelled a word, only to explain what I used was a correctly spelled word they had never seen, or when one told me they had no idea what I had written — but it sounded good.

I am an elitist, by philosophy. But in practice, it made me feel very uncomfortable. I really liked talking and joking around with my paralegals, but there really was an invisible yet palpable rift in understanding.

Most attorneys use a paralegal to run the scheduling, call the court, and generally try to keep up with the deadlines which are connected to literally everything we file. There is little doubt that a fair number of them have a better handle on the deadline portion of civil procedure than I may have for years to come. We also use them to copy / paste rote motions which don’t change except for the named individual and the pronouns, notice of depositions, LOPs, and all manner of industry specific paperwork which doesn’t really need the attention of an attorney except for a quick glance and a signature.

There is a line though, as I said above, there is a benefit for going to college and law school which paralegals do not have. Where I work, there are a fair number of senior litigators who have associates, in fact some have multiple associates working for them. But there are also the unfortunate few who have none.

One such unfortunate at my firm assigned out a complicated (research) motion to their paralegal to write. The paralegal rightly told the senior litigator that they had no idea what they were doing and didn’t understand it. The litigator looked at their paralegal and said “Google it” and walked away.

If anyone reading this is ever considering hiring an attorney for a complex issue, ask beforehand how many associates work directly under / for that attorney. If the answer is none, find a different attorney. Otherwise you will probably end up getting the best legal advice google can offer.

 

Work – Phone Home

There has been a consistent issue the whole time I have been at this firm regarding my boss which involves communication. It is an odd dichotomy because it is both too little, and far too much.

As with everyone in an office environment my boss has a phone sitting on his desk which is equipped with voicemail… which they staunchly refuse to use. Why doesn’t he want to use the office phone? Well, because the office records phone calls, and he is fantastically paranoid because he thinks they are out to get him (which he’s actually correct about as it turns out, more on that later). Instead my boss has 2 cell phones and therefore he never picks up the office phone unless absolutely necessary… as in the name flashing on the caller-id is the top boss is calling. He will by preference not ever call on his office phone; even in the office; even if his cellphone is almost out of power and the short charging cord leaves him stuck in a hunched position near an outlet like Golem caressing his precious… it must still be a call through his cellphone. He carries both cell phones at all times, but almost never uses the firm provided cell phone because of his paranoia, which brings up the excellent question of why he has it, or carries it around. I’ve been told multiple times by him that the firm has GPS tracking enabled on the phones to keep tabs on their employees, which although possible, starts to hint at the state of mind with regard to my boss.

He asked me at one point how to check his voicemail on his desk phone, which I showed him how to do hovering over his shoulder with the speakerphone on, only to find over 60+ messages from as far back as 8 months prior (now closer to a year). As soon as he heard the date on the first voicemail from 8 months ago he immediately hung up the speakerphone, and looked away and said he would take care of it later. The voicemail light is still blinking on his phone to this day. He knows, hell everyone knows, that is a huge ethical breach to do this, but he decides to ignore it anyway. His opinion is that anyone who matters has his cell phone number(s). He also hates calling other peoples offices for the same paranoid reasoning, thinking the conversations are being recorded. Thus I end up in uncomfortable conversations with OC offices trying to convince a secretary or paralegal to hand over their boss’ cell phone number to me… because obviously this is normal.

Which brings us to the flip side of the communication with him.  If you provide him with your cellphone number… may lord have mercy on you. I have text messages which are not merely multiple text messages in length… no, they are literally pages upon pages of text. You will get phone calls at all hours. Text messages appear almost daily after midnight and at odd hours asking about random matters and scheduling (as if I have the firm calendar in front of me), because I guess he thinks that’s acceptable and that everyone who works for him is on call 24 hours a day.

Oh yeah, its not like its just me he or the paralegals he does this too either. Opposing Counsel has actually stated on the record that they were getting messages from my boss on their phone at 3 in the morning. We had another OC who told him point blank to stop calling and texting their phone or they would complain to the judge about the harassment. If you are a client, you don’t exist unless you have his cell number, mostly because you will only ever be routed to his office phone by the secretary, and we all know it will be a cold day in hell before he answers that phone.

Law School – A very expensive mistake….