Way back when I was immediately out of law school (quite literally the summer / fall after taking the bar) I ended up working… somewhere similar to a clerkship — it wasn’t exactly a clerkship because I set it up myself and I was getting a stipend through my law school, and I was shared between a lot of appellate judges as opposed to just one. The short explanation was that when I graduated, the economy was such shit, law schools were gaming the system by paying a small stipend to any recent graduate unable to find work so that their stats could still say everyone was gainfully employed right out of law school. We just had to go find ‘something’ to do and your law school would pay you to go do it.

Anywho… I got assigned to work for this attorney and I was handed a stack of casefiles day 1 and told to write appellate judicial opinions for them. Not low level mind you. Just out of the block, go write substantial substantive decisions for these cases for the appellate judges.

I was given one exemplar of a very dissimilar nature and told go. So I start trying my damndest. I finish the first one and send it off to them and request comment, thinking I’d get back a redline, I could then better figure out what they want. But instead… nothing. I send some follow up messages throughout the week and waylay them in the hallway and I’m always brushed off and told sometime later. So I keep working. I keep talking to this attorney trying to get comment on my work, and never get anything. Nothing returned to me, no comment whatsoever. At various points this person who is my superior starts (rarely) making small talk about how the other weekend they went from never having any animals to adopting four cats in one day. Seems odd.

The job had some strange caveats to it too, I was supposed to show up late and leave early because I wasn’t given a key to the office. I couldn’t take any work home, I was specifically told I couldn’t use any work I did there even for writing samples. The office operated like it was some sort of high security area… but it definitely wasn’t. Even today looking back on it, I’m not sure if this was actual office policy or what would turn out to be my supervisor’s delusions.

Regardless, weird(er) things start to happen. When I ask one day if they had read through any of the stuff I had been sending them, they get a bit irate and tell me they heard I had asked other attorneys there if they could give some feedback on the work I am doing. She was pissed. I was told I should stop bothering the other attorneys and I was supposed to come into the office, close my office door and do my work and not talk to anyone.

I accepted the hostile work environment and did just that. Came in, closed the door and just researched, typed, and sat in my office. But the walls were literally paper thin… and I could hear her call the attorneys on either side of my office and ask if I was in my office working. (office on the right) **ring**… what.. yeah. They’re here. Uh huh. You want me to get them for you? Oh. ok. Bye” **Ring**… (same conversation from the left office). Rinse, repeat throughout the week.

And then it all fell apart. A bit over a month of working there, I get called to our conference room, which was also the legal library. She was visibly shaking she was so angry. She starts screaming that I was wasting her time. That nothing I had done was usable. She starts losing track of her argument… I read this opinion last week, no I came in early to read it, I stayed late… Her grasp of the timing on when she did one thing or another became fluid and lost. She yelled that I should know how to write appellate judicial opinions because I went to law school. And then she starts throwing books around the room and hurling piles of papers. The fun legal casebooks no one uses, just hurling them everywhere. She then yells that she thought I would be better than the last clerk because she had never used a single thing he had ever written at all. (I had replaced him… and he had been working — for her specifically — for the last year).

This tantrum continued for a good 10 minutes. Although I was a neophyte, I wasn’t an idiot. I quietly and rather detached watched this person lose the strands of their sanity in front of me. Once it reached a lull. I said, “Oh. Ok.” and got up and left. I went back to my office and sat there weighing my options, then picked up the phone and called my law school… although I had set this job up myself, it was a rather impressive position and I was smart enough to know I couldn’t just burn that bridge because it would reflect on my law school too… (politics!). I honestly got 3 sentences in to an explanation and didn’t even tell them yet about what had just happened, and to their credit, they told me almost verbatim “GTFO” and they didn’t give a crap about reputation in such situations. Probably one of the relatively few positive opinions I have of my law school was their immediate reaction to my problem.

I walked into the head attorneys office (whose name at the time was on a great many impressive pieces of paper in that state, and was in effect the name invisibly stamped behind every appellate decision for years in this state) and proceeded to tell him what had been going on and the culmination in the law library just then.

He listened quietly. Then basically said that they had noticed she was acting erratically recently. Didn’t realize this had been possibly building for at least the last year. He got up, left me sitting in his office for about 15 minutes… then came back and effectively admitted to me that they thought she may have had a mental breakdown, she was going to go on a break for awhile, and it would be taken care of. Interestingly, of everything he seemed most seriously concerned that they had been working the last clerk for a year without using a single thing he generated; apparently it seemed the managerial oversight in the office was a bit lacking. he made a big point of telling me that was not how the office was supposed to utilize their clerks and this had never happened before.

I was then told that unfortunately, for several reasons, including the fact that this attorney’s name was behind a LOT of case decisions in the state relating to some rather serious issues, they were obviously going to keep this quiet and deal with things internally as best as possible. At which point I was told I was no longer welcome at the office — pretty much for exactly that reason. I was unfortunately part of the “dealing with things”. They basically said they couldn’t force me to not tell anyone about what had gone on, but they would prefer if I didn’t.

I suppose the carrot to that request was that I was told that this rather impressive person would gladly write me a very glowing recommendation to where ever I wanted. I never did take him up on that offer. Partially because it had taken months to setup this position and I had nowhere to go now, but also because I am a paranoid fuck and just didn’t trust this guy considering I had just been tossed out as opposed to just being assigned to another (sane?) attorney.

But, that was how my clerkship ended.

I left it on my resume because it looked impressive, and it is sufficiently disguised as to how long I was there, but so very few people know the backstory.

Interview 54: Back to the familiar

I applied to one of the big insurance companies… Again. I feel as though I have dwindling options of going back if I do. I refuse to ever go near the lizard again. And I told Liberty Mutual to fuck right off in perpetuity after my last interview with them. And I would never work for one of the tiny insurance companies… so the field is definitely shrinking should I actually go back. Anyway, one of the few acceptable candidates called me back for an interview. So I trucked across town to a Regis rent-an-office for the interview.

This was by far the longest interview I’ve had… god… in forever. It may only be beaten in length by the insane interview(s) #14 about a decade ago. It went over two hours. I personally knew some of the attorneys currently working at this place, and pleasantly, one of the interviewers was someone I had done several cases with some years ago.

Anyway, after a few pleasantries, we got into it pretty quickly and pretty deeply. It wasn’t just a ‘tell me about yourself’, it ended up being a back and forth conversation (and at times, disagreement) over case strategy and practice, and generally speaking insurance defense work and corporations. Part of why the interview went so long was actually some of the disagreements over case management and discussion of specific cases and trials. It went into the weeds pretty quickly.

One would think having a high level conversation like this would at least put you in a position where the interviewer might admit you knew wtf you were talking about. During the back and forth regarding some of the trial work I had done, it became obvious that I had done things the senior attorney interviewing me hadn’t even done before. (I’m a lightning rod for the weird so it’s not that horribly unusual truly). There was the usual name dropping to prove you actually know the town and the attorneys and specifically mentioning other attorneys they will know.

Ultimately at the end of the interview, the senior attorney basically said something to the effect that I was one of the smartest attorneys he had met, but that he wanted to make sure whoever he hired, and then he corrected himself and said “if he even hired someone”, would be a good fit for the office. He seemed weirdly reluctant to even admit there was a position open. Which brought up the whole question of why the hell I was possibly interviewing for a position that might just be hypothetical. They then dropped a rather atomic insult and after discussing the past decade or so of work that I had done, they casually said “well I only see 2 years of experience here in what we do” (mind you I worked for a bigger insurance company than this one for 3 years). This was either specifically to try to lowball salary, or was a legitimate insult. Either was I completely ignored the statement and merely filed it away.

To make matters even less desirable… I asked what the average number of trials the office does per attorney, which is a very valid question usually… This however appeared to be a sore point. The senior attorney ended up lamenting that they were not doing more trials and that at one point they had been at the top of the rankings of all the legal offices for the number of trials they did, and now they were near the bottom. There was a long moment, before I finally asked… “And I take it you think that is bad?”

Its never a good sign when the direction the management wants to go is to be difficult and hostile, just because. I’m hoping a different job comes through before this one gets back to me.

Interview 53: The best in a long time

Got an email asking me to come in for an interview for a municipal position. Notably, same municipality as Interview 38 and 49. Anyway, I had finally come to the realization how this office operated. You could apply to any position, but whatever position you applied for had little to no bearing upon what they would actually bring you in to interview for. This led to such weird interviews as my prior one… because the interviewer never mentioned that they were interviewing me for a job I had never applied to…

I had figured this out in advance of the interview however because after that last interview, I had mostly stopped applying to positions with them. The last position I had applied to was many months prior… so they were either about 6 months behind on interviewing, or they were just using a resume bank to pull in applicants regardless of the actual application process. This was pretty much verified when I was contacted prior to the interview and asked for a current resume.

To the credit of the interviewer, they sort of embarrassedly starting trying to explain the above before I stopped them and told them this wasn’t my first rodeo with their office and I understood, and then asked them what position I was there to interview for. It was suddenly like a weight was lifted off the interviewer and they relaxed quite a bit. Without going too far into details, it was one of the more fun interviews I’ve had recently. We were honestly laughing and joking around quite a bit. I had enough of a background with their work that I understood a fair bit of the crazy that came along with it.

At the end of the interview I asked a question as we were all headed towards the door. I said, how many other applicants are you interviewing for this position. The section chief sorta got quiet and then said, “uhm.. well… you’re it.” They then added whether you view that as a positive or negative is up to you. Which just sparked more laughter and I said, well I will take it as a positive until proven otherwise.

At the end of the day… I think I’ll take this job if they do end up getting the offer over to me. There is a big… BIG… positive about working with people like this that you can laugh and get along easily with.

Interview 52: I finally saw one in person…

I’ve been to very expensive BigLaw offices and weird flyby night solos. And after all this time I finally ended up in a conference room with Smartglass windows. The cool windows that are clear and then turn opaque white at the flip of a switch. I’ll be honest, it was probably the highlight of this interview.

Midsized firm was looking to add a litigation associate. I wasn’t that interested, but a headhunter had contacted me and sorta pushed the interview and I finally relented and agreed to be submitted to the job. The interview request came pretty quickly and I showed up at a nicely decorated office. Notably, the lobby had been decorated with a rather large painting of 4 wolves. It was so amazingly obvious and cringeworthy that the partners fashioned themselves the “wolf pack”. And juvenile. Did I mention juvenile? Anyway… The secretary honestly looked to be about 17. Braces and all, and she ushered me into the conference room and flicked the switch on the cool windows. We talked for a few minutes about the windows actually once she did.

I will mention that as cool as the windows are, I was slightly disappointed. When they were translucent, they still had this slightly foggy appearance to them, almost like someone had washed the windows with a dirty sponge. I’m guessing that happens over time, which I guess is good to know. But still pretty cool.

Several partners came in to interview me. Notably, not one person there was a partner who I had been informed was going to be interviewing me. Basically they sent in the second string for the interview, which made me wonder a bit about how seriously they were actually looking. At the end of the interview I was even informed that the senior partners may want to have me back to a second interview. I was half showing up for fun, so it didn’t really phase me but it was worth noting.

The interview was amusing, but not for the right reasons. One of the partners was sharp enough to at least note some of the weird movements between firms that I’ve done and I got to regale them with a couple stories listed on this blog. Never great for a serious interview, but they were all damn amused by the stories. Had it been a job I was more interested in I probably would have camouflaged everything a bit better, but I was already mostly checked out of the interview pretty early on. The main talker of the partners had said they wanted about 2000 hours but that I would definitely have more because they were drowning in work and then they started talking about how this one had billed 260 that month and it wasn’t even up and the other guy had done the same or more… they had wanted to hire someone in to dump a ton of hours who would live at the office the same as them. I nodded and of course said absolutely I could, but that was the death knell for the interview in my mind. So telling them some incredible industry stories didn’t really change what was going to happen.

I left and wasn’t going to show for any further interviews. They may have felt similarly because I didn’t get invited back for the senior partner interview either.

The Odds Are good that the Goods Are Odd

I think most people start at a baseline assuming they are relatively normal. In the legal world of huge egos, money, and what is honestly a rather highly educated segment of the population what you instead start to see is that you are more often dealing with the fringes than with normal. The problem is a lot of attorneys on the fringe still see what they do as normal, and in the echo chamber of their mind things gets really weird, really quick. Here are just a very, very few that I have dealt with.

The office…

  • There was an attorney who hit the list of ‘the usual suspects’ of frequent filers. He had a good referral base, somehow… Several of us had theories as to what happened with him, but it seemed like he hit a mid-life crisis or had a quiet breakdown and no one around them cared. He started fashioning himself as an artist and painter, and maybe only a lawyer secondarily. His office was decorated with his work, and it was definitely interesting. He  painted during depositions. We used to warn clients to completely ignore it and pretend he wasn’t painting because it ticked him off if they pretended it was normal and didn’t ask what he was doing. There was nothing he wanted more than to talk about his painting to people. (it only took once as the opposing counsel to make the mistake of asking to realize you should never ask again). In line with being a misunderstood and frustrated artiste, he also smoked a fair amount of pot… like in the parking lot of his firm. And he’d offer some to you. Beyond the ‘art’ in the office, the most notable thing about the office was that it was a dump. Many legal offices have a pretty decent budget to keep a nice veneer on the place for clients. Not this guy. The furniture was ripped and falling apart. Weird stains (not just paint) on the carpeting. It was nasty. I remember leaving a deposition with the court reporter who looked back at the building with an odd glance and said to me “It looks so nice from the outside…”
  • On the topic of offices. One attorney had his whole office done up like an Egyptian tomb. Gold wallpaper, hieroglyphics. And of course a bunch of golden mummy sarcophaguses lining the wall. Because.. I don’t know… Obviously?
  • I had to negotiate with an attorney who had a life size clown mannequin hovering strangely menacingly over the back of his office desk. His whole office looked like a slightly menacing TGIF with very strange things on the wall which you would not expect (nor want to find) in an attorney’s office.

The attorney themself…

  • While I was negotiating with opposing counsel they broke into song and started to serenade me. Not just once either, I got both an in person and an over the phone. It was actually pretty amusing, I’ve got to admit, they had a surprisingly good voice. Definitely someone you want to hang out with for Karaoke, maybe not the most normal in the middle of a law office. I had been warned by others at my firm that this counsel was “off their rocker”  but I got along with them surprisingly well. Unrelated to the singing but shortly after my interactions with them they ended up having federal fraud and racketeering charges levied against them specifically and a couple other at their firm. I think they plea bargained out and turned on the managing partner of the firm. Didn’t really follow the gossip on that one.
  • One of my favorites… Opposing counsel had such a bad toupee that we decided he had to be wearing it as some sort of psychological tactic to throw the witness and opposing counsel off their game. He was another one that we warned clients about so they were prepared for the view. It looked almost like he was wearing a wig backwards, and just sorta dropped it on his head like a hat. And what made it even better was the failed attempt to dye the sparse hair on the sides to match, making it about a million times more obvious.
  • Quite awhile ago… partner I was working with was involved in a lengthy deposition. One of those that actually goes the whole allowed time listed in discovery rules. Anyway, as the associate, I was in and out of the room — taking care of getting things that might be needed as well as containing the business of our other files which might pop up during the day so it didn’t intrude too much. Anyway, opposing counsel seemed relatively normal until our paralegal walked into the room to hand a message to the partner… and  opposing counsel completely lost his ability to concentrate on anything . He suddenly started stammering and losing his place. It was very noticeable. So much so that the partner took a 5 minute break to go out and talk with me and the paralegal about whether we had also noticed it… and to see if we could figure out what had caused it. So the game within a game started and we tried again… and had the paralegal come in a few minutes later and hand the partner a blank note just to see if it would happen again. And lo and behold, he lost his place and sort of kept staring down at the floor… at her feet — the entire time she was in the room. The paralegal was wearing strap sandals, and as we figured out, opposing counsel had some sort of foot fetish. We laughed like hell about it and the paralegal decided to walk in barefoot a few more times just to fuck with him. We filed that information away for the next time we had to deal with the guy. Weird as hell. I mean people can have a fetish, don’t get me wrong, but don’t perv out in the middle of the work day.

The business

  • There are niche fields which exist which you have no idea about. Things you never even knew existed and yet they are a niche that can totally support someone’s career. The people who operate in these fields are sometimes a specialist of One. As in there is only one person in the whole state who does what they do. I met, and had a strangely fascinating conversation with an attorney during a case whose specialty was representing incarcerated prisoners who had been in auto accidents while riding in a prison bus. That’s all they did. That was their entire business, and apparently business was pretty decent. I asked how they got clients and they laughed and said word of mouth, the prisoners have nothing better to do with their time so they are happy to sue just to break up the monotony and her number got passed around every prison in the state. It was incredibly strange.

I think I might have to do several of these types of posts. There are oh… so, so many of these weird little stories.

Interview 51: It’s bad to cheap out when you’re in trouble.

This interview was one of those places I’m not really sad didn’t go better. A multistate construction company called me up about an application I had sent in.. truth is, I had actually applied there a couple times, but as I was to find out there was a reason I never heard anything back from them.

So I get a call from HR on a Friday afternoon and we start talking. She was a very easy person to talk to and I had enough interesting and pertinent things to bring up so that I was able keep the conversation moving along. At a certain point the HR person sorta hesitates and asks “So… uh… how much do you know about our company?” I sorta laughed slightly and said I had researched them enough to see that they had their hands full with a number of significant legal issues. In fact, there were a great number of recent news articles talking about some horrible employment issues they were being sued over and certain government offices were getting involved as well as some other internal strife that sounded as if a subsidiary was suing the parent company. It sounded like a really big mess.

The HR person suddenly acted as if a huge weight had been lifted off of them and the information came gushing forth. Apparently they had been worried because their marching orders were to ignore the information unless we were already aware of it. In effect, the HR person was a decent person because she was worried whoever she was interviewing wouldn’t know what they might be stepping into. It had turned out that the company had this job posted for several months prior, but no one in the legal department had the time over the last 3 months to look at a single application due to the massively increased workload brought about by the afore mentioned issues. That was in addition to the attrition of a couple people who decided the better course of action was to jump ship at that opportune moment.

So I was aware. It didn’t phase me mostly because I understood the litigation cycle they were going to be subject to and probably how to navigate it and reduce or at least ease the workload. So the HR person decided to fasttrack me to someone in legal after our interview. Almost as an afterthought they asked what I was looking for in terms of salary. I gave them a fair range, which honestly was on the rather low end for in-house; in fact the range included me taking a pay cut from my prior positions. Two days later I get a call back, and the call started by saying, before we get too far in, I wanted to tell you the salary range for this position. They said 70-80. I actually laughed slightly and said, “Oh.. no. Sorry. I’m not interested in anything close to that.” I followed it up saying I made more than that in my first job as an attorney, and considering what they were currently dealing with, they should seriously consider what caliber attorney they would be onboarding for that salary.

The person on the other end of the phone quite literally sighed. And said… ‘yeah. This isn’t anything I don’t know.’

Ouch. Sounds like I was dodging a bullet on this one. At least I saw it coming a mile away though.

Random Stories

One of the senior partners I used to work for had reached that unfortunate age when regardless of how good your eyes used to be, you now need reading glasses or bifocals or what-have-you. I too have sadly reached that point, but I digress. He didn’t wear glasses normally so he was able to get by with wearing those cheap reading glasses you buy at drug stores on the spinner rack.

The way he even found out about the cheap reading glasses was our paralegal had the same problem, and she used to buy the cheap reading glasses and had introduced him to the concept.

Unfortunately, the senior partner was also horribly absent minded about some things. And as mentioned in other posts on here, his organizational methods were… not organized. He would put down his reading glasses on his desk and they would in effect, be nearly instantly covered by a small avalanche of paper, disguising them from view until someone attempted to move the mountain of papers.

As luck would have it, our paralegal had effectively the same strength reading glasses as the senior partner and they were rather fast friends, so he would often borrow her glasses. The problem was, her reading glasses were purple rhinestone bedazzled spectacles, and the senior attorney was very absent minded. So he would put them on to read something, completely forget he had them on, and then walk into a deposition or client meeting wearing the purple bedazzled spectacles, generally looking insane.

The paralegal thought it was hilarious and often just didn’t mention it to him. In truth, it made my day a little brighter as well.

Interview 50: Mixed Messages

I had an interview recently with a huge multinational corporation. Had the standard phone screen and got passed up the chain until I had an interview with the General Counsel for the Americas and Asia. It was a very interesting interview primarily because the corporation was a European based corp, the counsel I was talking to was in S. America, and I would have been working remotely but based in a state across the country on paper.

The interview went fantastic. In truth, I haven’t had an interview like this in forever… if ever. The two of us seemed to hit it off instantly and we were both bouncing around conversation topics, both professional and some personal related, with extreme ease. Our conversation was so interesting that we blew through the interview time and talked a fair bit longer and had to reconnect with another zoom call to keep going. Eventually, another appointment intruded and the GC had to finally go, but they specifically mentioned it was one of the highlights of interviewing that they’ve had. And it definitely was for me as well.

I sent along a very thought out thank you note and a few days later I got a phone call from HR. I had technically applied for 2 positions with the company. One as a Sr. Counsel and one as Lit Management attorney. HR called me up a few days after the interview with the GC to tell me that they were going to remove me from the applicant pool of the Sr. Counsel position… and that I might get a notification that I was rejected, but to ignore it as that was just how their system worked.

Now, to me… that seems like a very good sign. I was being removed from the applicant pool of one job, one might assume because they were planning on hiring me for the other one. Right? Stands to reason.

Well we would both be wrong apparently. A couple weeks later I got an email rejecting me for the Sr. Counsel position, and then another email a handful of minutes later rejecting me from the Lit Management Counsel position as well. I’m not really sure what happened, but it seemed like I had the job and then somehow behind the scenes, it was taken away from me. Sorta sucks. The company sounded fantastic to work for.

Interview 49 – Variety

This was one of those odd stories where I honestly would love to know what the reason was that I was had been brought in. There had to be something, but I doubt I’ll ever find out. So I had previously applied for a fair number of jobs with the local municipal entity. I had prior background working for several other larger cities so I vaguely figured they would pick me up for something. They never did. Not that I didn’t interview with them from time to time. At this point, I think I had interviewed with some department or another on probably 3 different occasions.

Anyway, this particular time… I didn’t apply to anything. Instead one of the senior attorneys reached out to me directly and asked me to apply to a position. Far be it for me to look a gift horse in the mouth, so I rightly assumed they were interested in hiring me for this position specifically, based on seeing my resume in the general pool. So I shoot off the application on the city website and rather quickly have an interview setup.

I show up, and as this happens to be in the midst of COVID we are all sitting in a large room, strangely distant for each other. This wasn’t the 6 feet everyone was asked to give.. no. There were 3 interviewer, the senior attorney and two counsel, and a paralegal. And they were arrayed about 20 feet apart from each other in a circle, a very large circle, with me in the middle.

The interview went very well. It was a litigation position so we started sorta going back and forth on cases we had done. The senior counsel was asking questions which were basically just to show that you knew WTF you were talking about regarding the local scene. I.e. how many trials, what firms were you most often opposed, what’s your opinion on judges… basically things you’d only know if you actually worked in the area for awhile. The short version is I answered correctly and ultimately we were joking a bit back and forth about some of the opposing counsel and some judges. I had been working the state and federal side more than enough to be able to match anyone in the room. The interview went really well.

I never heard anything back from them. I don’t even think there was a rejection. Just silence. I think I was brought in to interview for a position they already had a candidate for, but they needed to pad the paperwork to show that they interviewed more than just their one person. I will never know, but that is my guess.

Interview 48 – Bad Timing

Sometimes, the right thing comes along at the wrong time.

I had just quit my more recent firm job because of COVID and conflicting family commitments. (read small children with no daycare). Anyway, without knowing how long things would be in the state they were with COVID, I figured I should try applying to jobs because it usually took months of applications and multiple interviews at various places before a decent offer was presented. In this case, I was wrong.

So within the first week after I start sending out applications I get a response back. A small construction company was asking me to interview for a general counsel position. It seemed interesting so I showed up and talked to everyone involved. It was a small operation, but they usually had a large workforce. Construction often has a core operations group and hires (potentially hundreds) of contract laborers when they are staffing up for a job. The company was nice, it had some rather clear ideas of where it wanted to go, had a good revenue stream, and everyone seemed super friendly (which is damn rare)… and they really wanted me. Within 2 days they sent me an offer.

The problem was… I had literally just quit my other job 2 weeks ago because there was no daycare to be found, and I was going to handle the kids until things started opening back up more normally. It would have been an awesome opportunity and I really liked the company… unfortunately it was the most perfectly bad timing. I really killed me but I had to turn them down because I didn’t actually expect anyone to move that quickly in the hiring process.