New Job

Great changes have been afoot in my working life over the past several weeks. After finishing up at the Tax Center, and taking a week to travel with my wife through London and Scotland, I returned to find that I had been transferred to the military justice section and was to be a military prosecutor (officially titled Trial Counsel).

This exciting move had been much rumored in the weeks before, but there were so many moving parts in our office, between deployments and the upcoming PCS season, it was not entirely clear who was going to end up where.

For the last month and a half, I have been slowly learning the job of military prosecution. I was fortunate to have a few weeks of overlap with my predecessor, so he was able to make introductions to my commanders and brief me on the few pending cases he was unable to close out before his move. I also have had the good fortune to have as a good friend the Senior Trial Counsel, whose office became a second home to me during the months when I needed temporary reprieve from the stresses of legal assistance.

Most of what I do, like most attorneys, takes place outside of the courtroom. My primary responsibility, as a prosecutor, is to build cases, advise investigators, bring charges, and prosecute those cases. Most of our cases are resolved through guilty pleas, which I'll discuss more in a later post, but even these require a good bit of work.

As a Trial Counsel, however, I have to do more than simply prosecute cases. Just as the Staff Judge Advocate is the primary legal advisor to the Commanding General, I am the primary legal advisor to the subordinate commanders in the units I am responsible for. That means I have two brigade commanders, six battalion commanders, and a couple dozen company commanders whose need for legal advice comes straight through me. While they primarily rely on me for military justice and discipline advice, they will often have administrative law, fiscal law, and ethics questions as well. While I often don't know the answers to these questions myself, it is my job to track them down. It has, thus far, made for a very interesting practice.

Taxes and Soldiers

The last month has been perhaps the most exciting and most challenging of my short military career. As a legal assistance attorney, I had the opportunity to listen to and (occasionally) solve the legal issues of soldiers, retirees, and their family members. But the one thing normally lacking in a JAG officer's career is the opportunity to lead soldiers in a position of command. So it was with great enthusiasm that I accepted the assignment as the officer-in-charge of the installation tax center.

Sure, being in charge of a tax center would not strike most people as a glamorous job, and compared to an infantry company it is not the most glamorous command from a military perspective. But it is a great opportunity for me and I have thus far greatly enjoyed the experience. Whether it be working to get soldiers assigned to me from the various tenant units, or this week's training with the IRS, it has been a real change of pace from the legal work I did in my first six months in JAG.

I have sixteen soldiers working in my tax center, and though this has been the first week I have seen them in action, I am already thoroughly impressed. They are bright and inquisitive, despite the fact that federal income tax preparation is considered an annual nightmare by many Americans. The service we will provide our installation during the 2006 tax season is tremendous. Last year, the tax center services saved soldiers, retirees, and their families over $500,000 in preparation fees and processed nearly $6 million in refunds.

So if I have been remiss in blogging, that's the reason. It is also the reason I have not read as much as I would have liked, though my mini-World War I project is going pretty well and I'll be posting on it shortly. For now, just know that I am cruncing numbers, supervising some of America's finest, and loving every minute of it.

The Last Days

I won't be able to blog much today if at all. Just like yesterday, I am busy tying up all the loose ends that go with finishing a job.

I enjoyed my time here, but I can't deny a great sense of relief at being done. No matter how great a job is, thirteen weeks is a long time to live in someone else's apartment, without any of your stuff, without any of your friends, and without your fiancee. So though I'll miss the people I worked with, and at least some of the work I did, I am very excited to go home.

Document Review

I purposefully got put on a big document review project the firm is working on, because I wanted to get a glimpse of what many seem to consider the bane of a young associate's working life. While it is undeniably mindless work, sometimes it can be pretty interesting. Right now I am looking through about a year's worth of a top financial executive's emails, and it is truly a view into a different world. We split the project up between enough people that no one has too onerous a share, so I will have to confess my first experience with document review has not been unpleasant. I'm sure it would be if I had the whole project to myself, or if the documents were less interesting. But it may be a long, long time before that happens.

First Week

I apologize for not blogging last week. Between the training, the social events, and the actual work, I was just plain exhausted by the time I got home. I wanted little more than to put on some comfortable clothes and curl up with Emma for a relaxing evening. I finished that book on Saturday, and have to confess to being disappointed overall. I found her character largely unsympathetic, and was put off by how manipulative and self-centered she was almost right up to the book's conclusion. I was not moved by her supposed revelations, and left the book unconvinced that she really had materially changed. Maybe the first week at a big law firm has made me a cynic. To counteract that, I thought I'd breeze through Treasure Island. Hard to be cynical about pirates!

It was an excellent first week at work. I have already gotten involved in several quite interesting cases. I helped put the finishing touches on a petition for a writ of certiorari, took notes in an internal investigation witness interview, and wrote a memo for a reply brief in one of the firm's biggest cases. Today I'm going to sit on the bench in a moot court for a local lawyer (and friend of a partner here) who will be doing oral arguments before the D.C. Court of Appeals soon. That should be fun.

And this weekend I spent a lot of time laying around, recovering from my first ever week of full time work. I did manage to spend about four hour yesterday morning walking around the city, and visited the World War II and Vietnam War memorials. I took a lot of pictures of the former, and should have them posted in the next few days.

Hello From D.C.!

Well I'm finally settled in (sort of) in Washington! I went from cite-checking to moving out of my apartment to moving to D.C. within a span of 36 hours on Thursday-Friday, but have now finally placed all my stuff into my summer residence and found time to go looking for free wireless. Luckily for me, Tryst is only a few blocks from my apartment (which is off the corner of 19th and California St. NW). I know Yglesias used to blog from here, until he found some place closer to home.

I can not say I am sorry to have not been blogging this week. The news out of Iraq, both on the Abu Ghraib and the Nick Berg fronts is sufficiently upsetting that I have no desire to try and say something original, even if that were possible. The fact that I almost did not have time to exhale in the last week gave me a good excuse for avoiding the news, and it looks like I picked a pretty good week to do so.

I really like D.C. so far. I have not done too much exploring, but I have spent a few hours walking around the Dupont Circle/Adams Morgan area, and it seems a wonderful place to live. Seeing as it is the capital of the free world, it has more than enough excitement for a small-town homebody like me. But it also has neighborhoods with real character, and is small enough that walking from point A to point B is never that big a deal (though in the heat I have felt this weekend, I am glad the metro is always there for backup). Anyhow, I've only been here 3 days and I already like it much better than I ever liked Boston, which always struck me as too cold and reserved. Paris has always been my favorite city, and largely I think for the joie de vivre that was so easy to find in any number of ethnic neighborhoods. Walking around Dupont and Adams Morgan, I feel a vibrancy that Boston lacked.

With all that said, I do not know just how much blogging I'll be doing this summer. With Tryst so close, I'm sure I can promise at least a few nights a week. More questionable is the prospect of blogging at work. Attorneys at big law firms (and summer associates) who blog are already sticking their necks out a little bit, and I fear that the threshold of inappropriate free speech activity might be crossed by blogging from work, even though I am committed to leaving work almost essentially out of my blogging topics.

That is enought about that. I wanted everyone to know I am happy and healthy and all set for starting work tomorrow. I have a long list of places I want to see in D.C., and would very much appreciate any suggestions on events or locations I should check out. I would also love to have lunch or dinner with any readers or fellow bloggers who happen to be in the area. I have already traded e-mails with a couple of you, but if anyone else wants to meet up for a chat, just let me know.

Working For the Man, Pt. II

Yesterday's post about working for law firms generated numerous updates from both myself and Waddling Thunder and I thank him for really pushing me on what started out as a pretty unsophisticated post. It seems that the only real source of disagreement between us is on the empirical question of how many law students show up to law school actually serious about doing public interest work.

However, after really fleshing out my complaint, it seemed to rest almost entirely on autonomy grounds, not on any inherent judgment on the value of working for law firms vs. public interest/public sector. It sounds like WT has been subject to numerous debates along those lines, and has had to repeatedly defend the choice to work in a law firm from self-righteous attacks.

I seek to make no such self-righteous claims. One of the reasons I'm really looking forward to working in the Army JAG Corps is not that I think it inherently better to do public service (although I have a few things to say about military service which are unrelated to the employment decision of law students), but that I know it will give me early opportunities to work hand in hand with young soldiers. The early client interaction and increased responsibility are quite appealing to me, and constitute self-interested advantages. I would suggest the more crusading aspect of my interest in JAG is that I have a great deal of concern about the treatment of young soldiers, the opportunities they do and do not have, and the role a JAG officer can fill as a mentor and advocate for them.

I'm sure Waddling Thunder is quite right to point out that great things can be accomplished by lawyers working in law firms, and this is especially true if you believe, as he does, that most corporations are a positive force in our country.

Unlike him, however, I'm not yet sure which path is right for me. Fortunately, I'll get a chance to see both sides, working for a law firm this summer and perhaps for some time after law school, and then serving four years in the Army. What I want to be careful of, and this is a pit that I do think law students fall into, is being seduced by the prestige, money and image that law firms use to lure students in. Their recruiting departments are marketing the firm like any potential employer does. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, but for students who want to make truly informed decisions about the best place for them to end up, I think it important to look deeper and be more conscious of what you're really getting yourself into.

It may turn out that I look deeper into this law firm, absolutely love it, and pine for the end of my Army committment when I can return to private practice. Or maybe it will not be for me, and I'll be glad to have the Army opportunity to better fit my career ambitions. Time will tell.

From the Department of Cosmic Wit

Oh, the humor and irony! The very second I posted my thoughts on "Working for the Man," my roommate walked in with a FedEx delivery notice. I went over to the rental office to claim it, and what do I find? An obscenely large $30 box of cookies from my summer employers, wishing me good luck on my finals. Yum.

cookies.jpg

Even a good liberal can't be expected to resist baked goods, right? For those wondering, the cookies are from Baked With Grace and they're delicious.

Working For the Man, Pt. I

I've been meaning to write some sort of response to Matt Yglesias' post deriding the attorneys representing the Saudi government. I was all set to bluster a defense of the practice, but I've decided not to. Instead, a frank admission of the obvious: almost all law firms make a lot of money representing clients who engage in legally and morally questionable conduct. That's one good reason, after all, that they would need lawyers. And lawyers make their money by denying, excusing, and defending this conduct.

I'm not just talking about the Saudis (whose retained legal counsel, when you count all the various royals individually, encompass much of the DC legal scene, including my firm). I'm talking about tobacco, firearms, pharmaceuticals, insurance, oil, etc, etc. It is guaranteed that behind every big corporation, hated by liberals, stands a law firm (or two or three).

This ought to be a real problem for a lot of young, liberal attorneys and law students, and yet I think most rationalize it away without much regret. The firm I'm going to for the summer, without giving too much away, has a client list guaranteed to raise the blood pressure of any decent liberal.

And yet when Matt made his post, my immediate response was to defend these attorneys, defend the work they do, and chastise him for being naive. I still think he went too far:

I have a very hard time seeing how they live with themselves. Worse, though, is that one imagines they just show up at social events all the time, have friends, etc., when they really deserve a good shunning by regular people.

But his underlying point is quite valid. One of the reasons I was most hesitant to come to law school at all was because everyone gets sucked into working for law firms (read Broken Contract for a spot-on account of this phenomenon). Only when I knew that I'd be serving in the Army JAG Corps, and thus unable to "sell out," did I give in and come to law school.

And what has happened? I've become quite enamored with this law firm. I love the people. I am really interested in the work they do. White collar criminal defense, for example, really interests me. And what is it? What is it really? A few years ago I would have told you it was defending rich people who have stolen money they didn't need and want to use their wealth to get away with it. But it turns out, if you rationalize away the moral questions ("everyone deserves a lawyer"), you can have a lot of fun and make a lot of money doing it. And to your average law student, steeped in debt and bored to death, that is a pretty attractive deal. Irresistible, in fact.

I'll resist of course, because no matter what I want, the 4-year Army committment says so. Even without it, I like to think I would have opted for a more crusading path. But I can't say that for sure. And it is sad to think that I might need to fall back on the fact that I can't work for these law firms, rather than have the strength and courage to turn down the money and prestige out of moral conviction. No more rationalization from me.

UPDATE: Waddling Thunder has some interesting thoughts:

It's not even a moral question for me - the moment lawyers begin making self righteous judgments more than very occasionally about who we are and aren't going to represent zealously, we endanger the rule of law.

I don't really disagree with this, and insofar as the "zealously" is supposed to indicate full and vigorous representation of clients we've already agreed to represent, I agree completely. But I think WT is looking at a different stage of decision-making than I was, though perhaps he's giving a better response to Matt Yglesias' original post. The stage I'm thinking about is when a law student decides where to practice. I think that got pushed aside by WT's modifier of "if I practiced the requisite kind of law." If I'm working in Legal Aid, or at the ACLU, or in the US Attorney's office, or in the Army JAG Corps, or in hundreds of other jobs, then there won't even be an opportunity for the Saudis/Enron/Big Tobacco/et al to try and hire me.

So I was thinking not so much about the discretion an attorney would exercise in which clients to take, but in which jobs to pursue in the first place. I'm not condemning those who choose law firms, heck, that's all my friends. But I do think that something bad is going on, which is this: thousands of law students show up to law school with some notion of potentially doing public service or public sector work. Only a handful do. And in between those two stages, there is rarely a genuine struggle between liberal crusading ideals on the one hand and pro-firm considerations on the other. Instead, crushing debt and seductive recruitment eliminate the need to even make a choice. The whole process literally makes it seem like going to a law firm is preordained destiny, and you have to make a very strong, concerted effort to get off that path. That's what I object to, that most of my friends are going to end up at law firms and they will have never really grappled with a simple question: why?

UPDATE II: WT has responded with further thoughts, which I appreciate, though I think we're starting to talk past each other. Like him, I think that those who have no problems with corporations ought not feel any remorse or guilt about working for law firms representing those corporations. That's where I part company with Yglesias, who thinks that people ought to feel ashamed because he has problems with their clients. That's not what I'm trying to get at with my post.

Instead, I simply regret that many of those who fall into the category of "don't like these corporations" or "may have some problems with some corporations" don't engage in a serious internal dialogue about whether working in a firm is right for them. It is probably safe to assume that those who don't have a problem with corporations in the first place won't have problems with working for a firm, but it is also nice to see them engage in critical self-analysis. WT obviously has, and he has come out thinking that working for a firm can be just as (if not more) morally redeeming as any public interest work. That's perfectly fine with me, I'm not even sure my personal ethics disagree with that, and nothing I said above was intended to suggest otherwise.

However, my objection is that law school does not encourage law students to actively make that choice, to engage in the debate that WT and I (and Matt Yglesias) are engaging in. Instead, there is a one-way locomotive headed for Destination Law Firm. As such, many students never decide that a law firm is right for them. They just go with the flow and that's where they end up. I suppose I'm objecting just on autonomy grounds, lamenting the lack of conscious decision-making.

So much time is spent choosing between firms, and little, if any, is spent actually choosing to work for a law firm in the first place. It is like going to college. I never actively chose to college. When applications became available, I just started filling them out and mailing them in. Spent hours trying to decide which to apply to, and then which to attend. Never once did I have an internal dialogue about whether college was actually best for me, or if I should take a year off before hand. It was a given. And even though I'm pretty sure I would have attended Harvard without taking any time off anyway, I still regret the fact that I let that decision be made without even recognizing all the options. It makes me feel less autonomous. That's how I think law firms are for most law students.

Now for those who share WT's view of big corporations (but not his knack for self-reflection), I guess this is not really such a big deal. They went with the flow, and it took them where they probably would have gone anyway. Kudos to them. I still regret the lack of autonomous decision-making, but it's probably harmless here.

For those who entered law school with different ideals, I do think it objectionable that they end up working for a law firm without having ever sat down and considered why they were doing so. Part of the blame rests with law schools for gleefully submitting to a worldview that sees Big Firm as the top job prospect, part of it rests with the tremendous debt that many have to take on to attend, and part of it rests with students for being so seduced by money and prestige that they failed to notice that their train had changed tracks. It is okay with me if a law student chooses to make that change.

Again, just so its clear: if every single law student who came to law school thinking they'd work for Legal Aid ended up working for a law firm because they had actively weighed all their options and decided that was best, I would have no objection. But I think that is far from the reality of what goes on, and that leaves me much room for concern.

Weekender Convertible

Though my girlfriend and I are both spending the summer with great firms that we love, there is one hitch: mine is in DC, hers is in Atlanta. This doesn't really create post-law school problems, since I'll be in the Army anyhow. But it does mean we'll be doing some weekend travel between our two cities, and to Chicago for the 4th of July (Taste of Chicago!!). To that end, I've been on the lookout for a suitcase that I could carry on the airplane without sacrificing internal space to the constraints of a rolling bag or normal backpack. Alas, a solution has been found: the Weekender Convertible from eBags.

One of the best short trip travel packs you'll ever find for the money! Suitcase-style entry; converts to a backpack for easy carrying. Perfect for the active traveler.

Here are some photos. In the picture on the right, you can see that the shoulder straps have been zipped into their compartment for easy storage in an overheard bin, or if you choose (heaven forbid) to check the bag.

weekender.jpg

The bag got rave reviews on the site, and for $40 is an absolute steal if it lives up to its promise. I'll report back after it gets some use.

Wilmer to Merge with Hale & Dorr

I think this a pretty surprising development:

Wilmer Cutler Pickering and Boston's Hale and Dorr are nearing a partnership vote on merging, according to a source close to the discussions.

If approved, the merger would instantly create a 1,000-lawyer behemoth that would rank as one of the 10 largest firms in the country. The combined firm would have offices throughout Europe, as well as a New York presence of about 90 lawyers. In Washington, D.C., Wilmer has 350 lawyers to Hale and Dorr's 70.

I interviewed with and seriously considered going to both of these firms. The idea of them as a merged firm makes them much less attractive to me. The thing I most liked about Hale in DC was the small office. That obviously goes right out the window (and I'm sure some of the people in that office are pretty pissed right now). And one of Wilmer's big advantages was that it is a homegrown DC firm, and that's where the power (ostensibly) would always remain. Not like the two-headed goliath this proposed merger would create.

UPDATE: It's official.

Bizarre Classified Ad

While looking for a summer sublet for my stay in DC, I came across this very strange classified ad and thought it was worth a few laughs:

PLEASE: NO " PROFESSIONAL " PEOPLE. We are looking for simple people. Everywhere we look at the advertisement for people looking for rooms, all we see are people that advertise themselves as either " law students " or " professional " We do not see people advertise themselve as " poor students/interns " or " broken and lost human seeking room " Can you tell us: Why everyone advertises his or herself as a law student in order to get attention? Do you think a landlord would not rent you a room if you do not tell them that you are a "law student" or "professional"?

Anyway, we have rooms available immediately, but we want simple, low maintenance, easy living people. People that want comfortable and safe place to stay, not anything luxury. Some of you have gone to those developing countries as volunteers, Peace Corps, missionery, sleeping in mosquitoes nets in the mudhouses and bamboo shacks helping those people in those thirdword countries. You had experiences with difficult life. You are the kind of people that we want, so come to live with us. We do not want any spoiled and rich people who want only luxurious things, (we do not have that for you anyway) We want a kind of struggling, easy-living people who would not mind crashing on a very comfortable sofa and live very comfortably for FREE, you do not need to pay anything to live here. Free fast internet for you all day all night. Free telephone calls, and extremely cheap telephone calls to your countries in Europe & Russia.

Is this the return of communal living? Is Yekaterina Novosibriskareva really an ex-KGB agent trying to position herself to corrupt America's youth? Should this anti-materialist invective be welcomed on Craigslist, that bastion of free market ideals? We report, you decide.

Military vs. Civilian Pay

Interesting article in this week's Army Times detailing the 2004 pay charts for the military, and the formula for the annual pay raises:

A 3.7 percent raise is the amount called for under a 1999 law that mandates military raises be set 0.5 percentage point above annual private-sector pay increases as measured by the Employment Cost Index. The Defense Department opposed this pay-raise formula when it was created and passed during the Clinton administration, and still doesn't like it.

Congress approved the ECI-plus-� pay plan in an attempt to reverse a 16-year trend of military raises that generally were lower than pay hikes for private-sector workers.

By 1999, the gap between military and civilian salaries was estimated at 13.5 percent. Today, the pay gap � the existence of which still is widely disputed � has declined to about 6.4 percent and would drop to about 5.7 percent after the Jan. 1 raises.

Apparently the Pentagon opposes the plan because "some grades, such as junior enlisted members and junior officers, make more than their civilian peers of similar age and education levels."

Now it's not really fair to compare the JAG program to law firms, because the work and lifestyle are so different, but here it is anyhow:

Continue reading Military vs. Civilian Pay.

The Light at the End

I finally forced myself to pick a law firm today. The job search, particularly the on-grounds interview process, was the worst thing I ever went through... worse than Army camp, worse than 1L finals (I guess that says a lot about my pampered life). It brought out the absolute worst in a lot of people, some of whom will likely never regain my respect. It took too long, was too opaque, and interfered too much with my long-forgotten role as a student. Still, I met a lot of nice people, saw the insides of a lot of law firms, and had a good deal of success.

A lot of the tangible stuff was pretty fungible between the firms I considered, so as is often the case, intangibles became vital in narrowing things down. The single most frustrating and elusive piece of the puzzle was prestige. It's always been a hard thing to understand, both in its determination and its consequential importance. What does the Vault guide actually measure? Is it relevant that I would never work for the top 5 firms in their prestige rankings? Does that suggest it is measuring something I don't value? Is there a difference in prestige between the 11th and 19th firms? The 19th and 47th? Does anyone else ever care about these things? Will it matter where I summered as a 2L when I look for jobs coming out of the Army in 2010?

Continue reading The Light at the End.

Choosing a Firm

I've had a few angry moments during this job search. Despite those experiences, I've done very well overall and am now in the exciting but difficult position of having to decide which offer to take for next summer (though I still stand by the "bullshit grade-whoring crapshoot" label). Right now I've narrowed it down to 2 D.C. offices, with one callback in Chicago still to go.

The 2 D.C. offices could not be more different, as far as firms go. One is among the very top firms in D.C., a big main office with 300+ attorneys. The other is a much smaller (<100) branch office of a non-D.C. firm. The former has a better reputation in D.C., and probably everywhere but the latter's home base. The former has a much broader practice, but the latter is stronger in the areas that most interest me, trial litigation and white collar crime. The people at the former were friendly, the people at the latter were just plain fun to be around. I feel like the former have decided I'm "good enough" to work for them, whereas the latter see me as a potentially exceptional candidate.

I'm not yet sure whether I want to work in the firms after law school (if the Army lets me go reserve) or whether I just want to do my 4 years active and go from there. As such, it's a tough decision. On the one hand, the bigger office would probably look better on my resume, and might be the better place to go "two years and out". On the other hand, if you told me I had to pick a place I'd work for 10-20 years, I'd take the smaller in a second. I'm trying to narrow it down to one D.C. firm before I go to Chicago, but it's not easy.

Diversity at Law Firms and the DOJ

Law.com has an article about a new study analyzing racial and gender diversity among the lawyers at the Department of Justice:

According to the report, conducted in 2002 by KPMG Consulting (now known as BearingPoint) and Taylor Cox Associates, the Justice Department's attorney ranks are more diverse with respect to race, ethnicity, and gender than the U.S. legal work force overall.

The article doesn't list every recruiting technique that the DOJ uses to bring in (and hopefully retain) minority attorneys, but the ones they do list don't seem to offend any notions of nondiscrimination:

At a ceremony in the Justice Department's Great Hall, Thompson announced that the department was creating a new recruiting position responsible for reaching a broader applicant pool and would begin advertising all attorney vacancies on the Internet.

And to improve morale and retention, Thompson reported that the department would institute a mentoring program for all incoming attorneys, initiate diversity training, and establish a formal career development program.

In addition, the department launched a student loan repayment program that will assist roughly 50 lawyers this year and up to 100 lawyers in 2004.

This might help to explain one of the stranger things I saw in this interviewing season: numerous firm brochures which listed both their nondiscrimination policy and their commitment to a diverse workplace on the same page.

But what I've been wondering is whether opponents of affirmative action would also be opposed to recruiting and marketing drives that clearly target minority groups. Here's a hypothetical, for argument's sake: Firm A is a very prestigious firm, ranks high in all the various lists, and normally recruits only the cream of the crop from the top schools. But it has a problem with racial diversity, having only a handful of minority attorneys. So this fall, the firm decides to interview not only at Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and Chicago, as they do every year, but also at Howard. They make it a policy to hire at least one person from each school. Have they done anything morally and/or legally wrong? Have they violated their own nondiscrimination policies? What about those of the law schools?

UPDATE: Along these lines, Tung Yin points me to Eugene Volokh's law review article on California's Prop 209; particularly interesting is the section on outreach programs:

Continue reading Diversity at Law Firms and the DOJ.

Mistreatment of Legal Staff

As the lawyers of tomorrow, I think we ought to be paying attention to stories like this:

A Paul, Weiss partner, Kelley D. Parker, apparently received a subpar order of takeout sushi. So, according to the memo, she asked a paralegal to research local sushi restaurants. The paralegal took to the task aggressively, interviewing lawyers and staff members at the firm, reading online and ZagatSurvey reviews, and producing a three-page opus with eight footnotes and two exhibits (two sets of menus). The memo concludes by expressing the hope that Ms. Parker will now be able to choose "the restaurant from which your dinner will be ordered on a going-forward basis."

The memo was written more than three months ago, and its studiously formal language suggests it could be a parody. Regardless, it is making the rounds of New York law firms and Web sites like Gawker.com, circulated by associates and paralegals eager to expose what they see as the capricious and demanding behavior of partners. Some believe it illustrates the climate of a large law firm for many paralegals, who may feel compelled to give every assignment the single-minded vigor of a filing in a capital case, even if they are only helping to find some particularly fresh raw tuna.

Is that the sort of atmosphere we want to live in? It's certainly not one I want to create. It'll be a long time before I'm ever a partner in a law firm (actually, it may never happen). But even as a young associate I'll be working with secretaries and paralegals, and mission #1 for me is to ensure I treat them with the respect that they deserve. The behavior seen is stories like these are so antithetical to true leadership and command, it blows my mind. But that's one of the problems with lawyers. They are trained to excel in single combat, and are never taught how to work appropriately in a hierarchy, how to be both a leader and follower, how to avoid the moral hazards of collective action, and how to maintain morale.

UPDATE: At least the partners are sharing the wealth, as seen in this anecdote from the Incompetent Attorney:

The partner asked me to send an e-mail to the client with certain information. He called 10 minutes later and asked why I didn't send it. I explained that I couldn't find my files anywhere and I didn't remember where I put them.

He replied "Oh, they're on my desk. I went through your office last night and took all your files. Come by and get them."

Well that's something to look forward to.

The Upside

Ok, ok, so interviewing does have its benefits.

4 callbacks in 2 days last week, 21 interviews total. Hope at least one offer is forthcoming. I've got two more this Thursday and that will probably be it for me. I just want it to be over. If the least prestigious firm I applied to had offered me a job on September 1, I would have taken it and avoided this whole process. Alas, I have faith that the end is near.

But enough whining from me, how are all of you?

The Longest Month

During the summer of 2002 I spent 5 weeks at Army ROTC National Advanced Leadership Camp in Fort Lewis, Washington. Since then, I was almost certain that would remain the longest month of my life.

I was wrong. September 2003 has been the longest month of my life. I can hardly believe my first on-grounds interview was only four weeks ago. The interviewing process has been absolutely ubiquitous, to the point that I hardly remember life without it.

I'm saving all the nitty gritty details for the day after I receive and accept a summer job offer. At that point, I hope to lift this burden from my shoulders and share it, more for my own relief than any notion of helping future 2Ls (though that's an added bonus).

Band of Brothers was very good, though there's no question in my mind that the HBO mini-series is better. Ambrose wrote a touching tribute, the mini-series became an epic lesson about war, humanity, and, of course, brotherhood.

O Pioneers! was very touching and beautifully written, and it was interesting to note the similarities to Pearl Buck's Good Earth, especially the use of the land itself as a main character around which the story revolves. I think I liked Cather's character study in My Antonia better; she almost had too many characters to deal with in O Pioneers!, and though she doesn't neglect any of them, none gets the stellar treatment that Antonia and Jim receive.

Now I'm plowing through Doctorow's Ragtime, which stirs strong responses in most who see me reading it. Within 5 minutes I heard "I hate that book, I hate Doctorow" and "Fantastic book, though I'd already seen the musical and kept singing the songs while reading it."

Well I had previously tried reading Billy Bathgate, and disliked it so much I gave the book away. So this is Doctorow's last chance. And so far, it's not that bad. I'm still trying to piece together the themes, which are easy to lose in his somewhat plotless vignettes, but at the worst it's an easy and humorous read that takes my mind off interviewing.

I'll be up in D.C. for the rest of the week doing callbacks, but hopefully I'll return with good news.

Interviews

On-Grounds Interviews begin this week. Naturally, I'm a bit nervous... these are my first job interviews. Reportedly summer associate job interviews such as these are much more interactive and friendly than the standard Q&A job interview, so that should provide some relief. I bought a new suit last week (now I own 2), a dark navy blue three-button, very conservative. I've also somehow ended up with only blue ties, which I may try to turn into an idiosyncratic style choice.

The whole process is pretty strange, since everyone being interviewed is either a friend or acquaintance. I'm not competitive enough to wish misfortune upon even my most distant acquaintances, yet I do want to get these jobs. I ended up applying to a relatively narrow band of firms (<20), and that means I am that much more excited about and invested in almost every firm I interview with. It's a tricky position to be in, and requires a lot of delicacy, subtelty, and compassion for the stress that the process puts on all of us. Best of luck to everyone at UVA Law and all over the country that will be running the gauntlet this fall.

Law Firms, Interviews, Blogging

I've finally narrowed down the 120 D.C. law firms coming to UVA for on-grounds interviews to a respectable 29. Here's the list; I'd be grateful to hear any insights you all might have on any particular firm:

Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld
Arent Fox Kintner Plotkin & Kahn
Arnold & Porter
Baker Botts
Boies, Schiller & Flexner
Bracewell & Patterson
Covington & Burling
Crowell & Moring
Dickstein, Shapiro, Morin & Oshinsky
Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson
Fulbright & Jaworski
Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher
Hale & Dorr
Hogan & Hartson
Jones Day
Latham & Watkins
Morgan, Lewis & Bockius
O'Melveny & Myers
Piper Rudnick
Shaw Pittman
Shea & Gardner
Sidley Austin Brown & Wood
Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom
Steptoe & Johnson
White & Case
Wiley, Rein & Fielding
Williams & Connolly
Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering
Winston & Strawn

In narrowing down the list I looked primarily at the size of each firm's white collar crime and legislative practice areas. I think there are ~20 firms on the list I'd be really excited to work for, and the rest we'll call "backups".

I'll try to keep everyone relatively updated about the job search, but I won't make particular comments on the firms I interview with unless something really egregious occurs. I also probably won't be announcing what firm I'm working for, to maintain a certain amount of privacy and anonymity, though I may ask for advice if I need help narrowing it down (assuming I get more than one offer).

The other thing I should mention is that it's unclear how much blogging I'll have time for during this next semester. I was able to do a lot of blogging during the day last semester, and I think that ought to remain true. Nonetheless, with an additional class, interviews, two papers to write, and law review cite checks, I will be a bit busier. So we'll make a go of it. I have the fullest confidence that it will be a wonderful semester.

The Job Hunt

There are 129 law firms from the District of Columbia coming to do on-grounds interview this fall, and I'll be damned if I can really tell much difference. I know I'm not qualified to do IP law and uninterested in tax, so that helps me knock off the 10-20 firms that seem to focus heavily or exclusively in those areas.

Beyond that, I'm a little lost. I think I want to do litigation, and white collar criminal defense certainly sounds appealing.

Any advice?