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The 5th Response (The School Desk Firm) October 12, 2009

Posted by admin in : Uncategorized , trackback

schooldeskIn one of my recent posts I talked about how I had resorted to craigslist to offer my services as an attorney. I mentioned how four out of five of my responses were not fruitful but one actually seemed promising.

It was an offer for part time work, and it was real work. Not just document review, in fact as far as the initial e-mail went no document review was even mentioned. It seemed like a legitimate chance to do substantive work at a contract rate of $30-$50 an hour, which is a decent wage for legal work. Although it wasn’t full time and the firm was relatively new and had very little reputation, I still felt it was a great opportunity. In fact, one of the only opportunities I’d received in 7 months of being unemployed. It would be something to put on my resume as a gap saver and a chance to learn and work on substantive legal issues. I was certainly on board.

The strangest thing about the e-mail though, was that it was worded in such a way that led me to believe that if I wanted it, the work was mine without even a formal interview.

“I believe you could be a valuable addition to our firm as we have a growing litigation practice involving sophisticated commercial litigation matters and bankruptcy matters.  While it would not be a salaried position, we could pay you a portion of billable hours”

The e-mail said. What a coincidence, I believe I could be too!

Then the e-mail talked about how the firm’s lead litigation partner had over 10 years of experience at prestigious firms stating:

“I am certain he would be an excellent source of mentoring and training.”

It looked as if some parts of the e-mail were in a different color font and style than the rest, leading me to believe it was a form letter that was just tweaked. But I didn’t really mind because the offer seemed solid and what really is it to me if the same offer was being made to others?

After e-mailing back and forth a few times the firm’s founder invited me in to meet the partners. I had previously put in a late application to an LLM program at Georgetown (which I believe was just a revenue generating scheme, because they were the only ones to accept late applications but then they basically told me there were no actual spots—despite cashing my application fee check). So I wanted to make sure that I heard from Georgetown before I accepted any part time work in a different state. So I told the firm’s founder that I would get back to her in two weeks if that was ok. She said that it was fine and to e-mail her then.

So I e-mailed her then.   No response. It took two e-mails from me and then finally a response

“I will revisit the issue with my partners and let you know what our current needs are.”

Then no response for a few days again.

So I decided to send her my references, transcripts, and writing samples—materials that I never submitted during our first contact. This did the trick. She responded

I apologize for the radio silence, but we’ve been focusing on integrating a couple of new partners in both offices.  I am certain that we will have work and plan on discussing your availability and interest during our partners’ call tomorrow afternoon.”

Wow certain that you will HAVE work !! Excellent…. Because I am certain that I NEED work. What a great pairing.

An interview seemed like a formality at this point from the way our correspondence went but I was happy to meet the people I could eventually be working for. The next day we scheduled a meeting at the office for me to meet the partners.

Coincidentally, this was the same day Obama was giving a speech at the UN summit in NY regarding climate change. Little did I know at the time this would present a major problem for both me and the interviewer.

s_subpizza1I never like to take the subway to job interviews (in fact I really try to avoid it whenever possible, when I commuted to ELF every morning I took the bus straight up third avenue), in general its sort of a dismal place to be but for interviews it is particularly hot and stuffy and causes me to sweat in my suit. Call me a male primadona or whatever you would like but this is just how I feel about it.  However, on this particular occasion this was a big mistake. I was on my way to the interview and it took longer for me to get from Third Ave. to the FDR drive (a distance of about 4 blocks) then it would take for the rest of the trip downtown. This was because someone felt the need to close down half the entire island of Manhattan because Obama was in town.

Despite the fact I left 45 minutes early I was still on my way to being late. So I e-mailed the partner from my iPhone, to let her know I could potentially be 5 to 10 minutes later than expected.

She wrote back:

“I feel your pain…I’ve been stuck in an airport/airplane since this morning trying to get to NY. I am not sure I will make it before you leave but I am sure my partners will be a suitable substitute for me.”

I arrived about 5 minutes later than expected (not too bad considering). When I walked into the office there was a long carpeted hallway that led to a small student style desk. You know those desks you had in high school with the metal legs and the black composite compartment where students would store books (and by books I mean old chewed gum).

narrowhallwayI thought this was an interesting desk for a secretary, as it didn’t make a great impression and it was kind of in the middle of nowhere. The long hallway created this awkward entry where you were able to see someone staring at you (from the small desk) when you walk in but you are too far to see exactly who it is and too far to talk to the person without screaming. So you are forced to kind of slowly creep up on this person trying to figure out who it is and what their function might be and finally greet them when you are in earshot. I finally made my way up to the small desk. I explained to the person sitting at it that I had a meeting with the partners. The person sitting behind the small desk said “I am one of the partners why don’t you go take a seat in the conference room.” I was surprised a partner would be sitting in the hallway but thought after what I have been through in the past few months anything goes and I didn’t particularly care. At least the conference room didn’t have a computer from which the interviewer could e-mail me a concocted assignment during the interview (if this doesn’t make sense to you read my  OAF post).

trumpwaterThe conference room was interesting, it had a nice table but phone lines were draped all across the room in an effort to get a working phone from the jack at the back left corner of the room to the front right corner of the conference table. There was also an opened cardboard box that had luke-warm bottled waters in it. The brand of which I had never seen before but vaguely reminded me of this Trump brand water I had gotten in Atlantic City once with the The Donald’s face plastered on the label and looking all out of place. I had a water and waited.

I thought to myself it’s funny to come from a firm that had a whole department that’s sole purpose was to cater conference rooms before meetings, providing just the right refreshments at just the right temperature for just the right amount of people. It didn’t bother me though. Maybe the wasteful spending was what got my old firm in trouble. I didn’t need special catering, a warm bottled water was good enough for me.

The interview went surprisingly well, I met with two partners and it actually turned out that I knew one of them from this volunteer lawyers program I participated in over the summer. We had met at a meeting on housing law and had a few laughs about the profession afterwards. He was a good guy, a sincere guy, someone you wouldn’t mind working with—someone who was nothing like the OAF. The two partners took an interest in my stories and the interview proceeded how a normal interview should proceed, they went down each section of my resume asking me about my experiences, and then telling me about their firm.  The interview lasted nearly two hours. I left copies of my publications and left.

I sent my thank you notes off that night as I typically do, the partner at the small desk did not write me back, but the lawyer who I had met before wrote:

It was a pleasure meeting with you.  I hope we have the opportunity to work together soon.”

And although I didn’t get a chance to meet the founding partner (she never did arrive) she responded:

I hope we can be in touch soon with a few projects.”

When I left the firm I thought to myself that I kind of liked the idea of working for a firm with a conference room that did not have a mini-fridge and that did not have a special department for attorney development, and a separate marketing department, and billing department and a ton of overhead. These lawyers had to do it all- they had to develop themselves, market the firm themselves, and bill clients themselves. It was sort of humbling to see that, and I thought to myself I would be honored to work with them.

Unfortunately, with this job, a job which I thought interviewing for was a mere technicality, I still have not heard from the firm in over two weeks.  I can’t tell at this point if something turned them off during the interview or if the work they thought would “certainly” be there wasn’t yet? Or if the founding partner just needed some more nudging like she did to schedule the interview? Oh well, I remain hopeful but will continue to chug onwards.

  • SWT1

    At least you weren't trying to get into Dos Caminos that day… or you may never have made it. (see picture)

    Perhaps Obama has stopped in for some guac.

    Anyway, I hope this works out for you and you can get some work with this firm! It seems like these are the types of firms that will be able to thrive in this economy because they can charge lower rates to clients. You may want to bring your own desk in though…

  • Tom

    Sorry to hear about this. Yes, working for a small “nimble” firm may have its advantages, but there's something to be said for organization. Good luck & keep us updated!

  • angelthelawyer

    You are such a sweet Pollyanna type. No matter what warning signs you saw, you tried to look at it through rose colored glasses. I wish I was that way. From what I can see, they are probably just another low life firm that is trying to take advantage of a smart guy who is down and out. They haven't contacted you in 2 weeks? What if that's how they treat their clients? Something is fishy in New York City and it's not the East River–if you ask me. Their range was questionable too. $30 to $50? With a portion of billable hours? Sounds like it's $50 to get you in the door–but ultimately $30 or less with a portion of your billables–if they ever bill you out at a decent rate or collect. BEWARE! http://butidideverythingrightorsoithought.blogs

  • Anonymous Contract Lawyer

    Uh, boy. Let's see. Law firm with no secretaries, no files, no desks that haven't been rescued from the PS 150 surplus sale. They contacted you on Craigslist. Spidey sense is tingling–this is not going to result in a job offer. This will not result in paid work (not even lowly doc review). If you had a huge book of business they would be in contact with you. Nothing they said suggests they have a job or work enough to bring you in.

  • tb1

    My take on it is that they're trying to land, or are closing to landing, a client, and if and when they do, they'll call you in. I think you aced the interview, you've done everything you could, and it's now out of your hands.

  • Name

    While you are looking for work, why don't you offer your services free to a legal clinic? You will have better luck finding a job if you network with people who are actually working with clients. You've done it before…It would be good for your self-esteem to be helping people. You could sleep at night, knowing you were at least practicing law, and moving the energy forward.

  • Kris

    I hope this works out for you. A couple of months before the recession began, I found a job on Craigs List. I interviewed and started working there as a contract attorney. It turned out to be a well respected downtown boutique, and the firm didn't even know it had advertised for jobs on Craigs List. A recruiter had posted the ad to which I responded. Anyway, two years later, I am an associate at the same firm. I have gotten wonderful experience and training here, and, despite the bad economy, I am very busy.

    I took a big chance (Craigs List, firm of which I had not heard), and it worked out fine. Congrats for thinking outside the box. I hope your creativity is rewarded. If this doesn't turn out, try not to get too discouraged.

  • TC

    Just go to work for yourself. Head down to the coast and sue everybody for global warming:

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