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“By The Way Did My Secretary Tell You There Are No Positions?” August 27, 2009

Posted by admin in : Tales , trackback

One of my many job search endeavors led me to the NY Court’s website. On it they had a job posting requesting applications for staff attorney positions with the NY Appellate Division 2nd Department . I prepared an application and mailed it in.

After several weeks had gone by I figured the submission probably landed with all my others, either in the Bermuda triangle, or a black hole, because to get an acknowledgement that my resume was received (even though I send out over two dozen a week) is rare, and to get an actual response to the submission is rarer. So when I saw a giant package sitting on the counter in my lobby addressed to me from the NY Appellate Ct. 2nd Circuit, I was surprised to say the least. The size of the envelope the mailing came in was monolithic. It could easily hold two or three telephone books. So what was it that was inside?

I thought to myself…. maybe they were so impressed with my application that they dispensed of the normal formalities usually required to obtain a position. Since they didn’t want to jeopardize losing such a stellar candidate, I postulated, they probably filled the package with all the HR employment papers to finalize the hiring process and the appropriate manuals to explain company policy, vacation time etc., they maybe even threw in an early bonus, in the form of a wad of cash, directly in the envelope to sweeten the deal. What else could it be right? WRONG. What the package contained was… drum roll please …. court documents !

What the package contained was a set of pleadings, reply pleadings, and a response to the reply. It contained a voluminous record recanting a civil court trial regarding a construction accident that occurred during the renovation of a New York City hotel.

This was interesting I thought… but what the heck was it doing in a mailing to me? Oh I get it, the court is so busy they wanted to get me started on my first assignment right away! NOT A CHANCE. What it was… was a mock case with which a customized writing sample could be prepared. As I searched deeper into the packet instructions were provided as well as a DVD which included a one hour long explanation of the exact requirements and specifications the writing sample was to conform. The final paper was to be 12 – 24 pages, and you had at the very least several weeks to complete it and at the most several months (after 3 months it was explained that their office will close your application), and would culminate in an interview if your work product merited one. The project required detailed research and analysis of construction accident case law, since the actual case settled, it could not be consulted in the legal research databases in order to determine the “correct” answer, in addition the facts were chosen because they were ambiguous enough that no NY precedent seemed directly on point. In short it was an assignment that could not be written in a few short hours. The question presented was a substantial legally inquiry that had I still been employed by ELF I would have likely been billed out 12-14 hours (at $435 an hour) to complete the initial draft. Meaning by any Large Law Firm standard they had mailed me a $5,000 question.

I worked long and hard on the $5,000 question, I wrote up detailed case analysis on every published construction law case in NY history, every relevant law review article, ALR note, and other persuasive secondary sources. I read and re-read the record taking copious notes on each relevant point. After I had analyzed all relevant precedent with an eye towards the specific facts presented, I began formulating the appropriate legal reasoning and in what ways it was applicable. After taking several weeks to write the assignment, I bundled up the finished sample and FedExed it off to the Courthouse. Read the complete writing sample here.

Doo doo dee deee doo doo do, doo doo doo do dew dew dew do do do doooo do do do do do do deee doo doo do do do doooo dod (Jeopardy Theme Song).

And another month.

Doo doo dee deee doo doo do, doo doo doo do dew dew dew do do do doooo do do do do do do deee doo doo do do do doooo dod.

And another.

Doo doo dee deee doo doo do, doo doo doo do dew dew dew do do do doooo do do do do do do deee doo doo do do do doooo dod.

Finally, I decided I would call to check up on the writing sample. I was told by the court head Court Attorney that they were backed up but I should be hearing from them soon. Well what do you know, two months of waiting … but the day after I made the phone call I receive another call from the head Court Attorney’s secretary. She stated “the head court attorney would like to schedule an interview with you, when can you come in?” I scheduled the interview for the next week. I got ready for the interview by preparing to defend my written recommendation in the writing sample I put together. I memorized the cases and the positions I took and thought of the best arguments for each side of the case. Sure enough this is exactly what was asked about.

When I arrived I was greeted by a team of interviewers. Not a single interviewer, but every supervisor that works at the court, there were 5 in total. They sat on one side of the table I sat on the other. Inevitably they asked about the layoffs, and about what I was doing in the mean time. I didn’t have much to say on this point except that I attended a few trainings the NY Civil Court had run on volunteer lawyering for debt collection cases and landlord tenant matters and how this led me to pursue some more volunteer work in the area.

Then they proceeded to dissect the argument I had made in my paper. This didn’t worry me because I had thoroughly prepared on this point. I cited case law from memory and explained my reasoning. One of the supervisors asked if I believed the defendants had defeated the case against them. I said that it wasn’t defendant’s burden to disprove any of the claims but rather it was plaintiff’s burden to establish a prima facie case that the elements of their claim had been met. She didn’t push any further on this point, but did not seem impressed with my answer (which by the way is a correct statement of the law, so I could not understand why).

In any event there were a few softball questions on the paper asked and then the real shocker was announced. The head interviewer turned to me and said “my secretary told you there weren’t actually any positions available, right.” To which I felt like saying “oh yes right before my hands told you it would only hurt a little when they are squeezing around your neck.” But of course I didn’t say this, I just sat there for a few seconds at a complete loss for words (which as you may suspect doesn’t happen very often to me). I was just in total amazement.

Again I thought … you responded to my application by soliciting a writing sample, you had me complete the quite time consuming writing sample and then invited me in for an interview, you interviewed me and then explained after all that that there are no positions?

Maybe I’m old fashioned but I thought that the very fact an interview was granted (and a job description was posted) implied that a job was in fact available.

As I learned this is apparently flawed reasoning, I should have asked when I was invited to interview whether or not the interview was actually for a real and available position or if instead the interviewer simply wanted to meet and exchange pleasantries, maybe have some tea and crumpets and or possibly discuss ways to improve one’s golf game. Because meetings like that happen all the time, how could I be so naïve to think a position was actually available. Certainly I should have been clearer when I agreed to interview. Here I was (foolishly) hoping to actually interview for a position and not just say “hello” to the entire supervisory staff of the office.

For those of you keeping track, this interview counted generously as .5 in my 2.6 interview tally.

  • Brian

    This is really quite incredible. Did you ever get an explanation as to why they do this?

    All I know to do is tell you to hang in there; its a jungle out there for all of us just starting in the law this year.

  • joblesslawyer

    No explanation as to why was given, my best guess is that maybe they are compiling a list or a pool for when hiring does start up again but that is just pure speculations and I have not heard a peep from them since the interview, positive or negative.

  • TB

    The fact that you were mailed a package, rather than invited for a semi-annual meeting (every April and November, I believe), indicates that they are desperate for people, and that you have a fantastic resume. Let’s analyze what happened.

    First, they asked if you had any commitment to public interest or gov’t work. You told them that you took some volunteer classes, but that didn’t impress them. They wanted to hear more.

    Second, they asked you for a personal, not a legal, opinion about how the defendant presented its case. The work of a court attorney at the appellate division involves writing confidential memoranda explaining the reasoning behind the decisions you’re making. The decisions themselves are very short. The reasoning — legal and common sense — is what counts, and the judges need to know what’s really going on.

    Don’t worry. The job itself is nothing to write home about. It’s in a cubicle, not in the court house. From what I heard, the quota is one case per 2.8 days.

  • Anonymous

    I used to work at the App Div 2nd Dept and went through the same interview process you did. They actually pretty much always tell people that there are no positions available — and generally this is true — but a new position often comes available (as it did for me) shortly after your interview and if they like you, they’ll call you back for another round of interviews with the Judges. I suspect that in this market, people might stay around longer, but I thought it was a pretty cool gig.

  • gus

    I am sorry for your misforture. I have to say though there are some laugh out loud parts of the story. Thanks for brightening my day.

  • TR

    Sounds familiar. Got the same packet with the same case. It took them four months to get back to me but only after I called them to ask what was up. If found the case to be somewhat interesting – lots of conflicting cases and interesting facts – although I didn't even score an interview. Ran into someone later who worked for a different appellate division and she said my biggest mistake was to put an out-of-state address (Los Angeles) even though I was relocating to NYC. She said the out-of-staters rarely get called back. Congrats on even getting the packet. They don't send even send the packet unless you are well qualified (top 10% etc., law review, etc.).

  • chocolegal

    I enjoyed reading your blog! The OAF posting had me spewing out coffee, for reals.

    I went to the 2d Dept orientation a couple weeks ago along with some 30 people of different age groups and levels of experiences.
    And by different age groups I mean people who've been practising for over ten years and asking questions about job grades and pay scale at that level. Not only did I get the impression that we were all competing for the same job, but after reading this blog, I am convinced that there is actually no position open at this time. I remember this place I used to work for went on various on-campus interviews and OCI's even though they were making no offers to anyone, when I asked why they bothered, they said it was for marketing purposes. However, with the 2d department, which needs no marketing, I'm just confused why they would even bother with the orientation and all the interviews.

    After reading your post, I wouldn't be exactly “devastated” if I never hear back from them.

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