Monday, September 20, 2010

My First Day Practicing Law

Shortly after graduating with my masters of law, I got a job offer at a boutique law firm downtown. There were four male partners ranging in age from mid-fifties to probably shouldn't be working anymore, and one female associate that was about fifteen years older than me. I was part of their plan to swell the ranks.

During my interview, the main partner told me that he was impressed that I got straight As in law school and my masters of law program. The truth is, by that point in my law school career, I was very adept at taking law school exams. A law school exam is really just a matter of being able to regurgitate all of your class notes into a cohesive whole under time pressure. In reality, I knew nothing about the area of law for which I was interviewing to practice.

I was nervous and excited as the first day approached. I hadn't really had any law firm (paying law firm) experience prior to that day. During one law school summer, I helped a friend of a friend with a big jury trial and she promised to pay me if she won the case. My consolation prize was a briefcase. The next summer, I clerked for a judge for free. But a real law firm job with a transactional practice, this is what I had been waiting for.

I dressed in my black Ann Taylor interview outfit for my first day because (1) I didn't have any money to buy anything new and (2) I didn't know what people would be wearing. And I brought my briefcase because this was BKS (before my Kate Spade collection). I had nothing in my briefcase but a pen, my drivers license, and a Power Bar, on the off chance that they weren't taking me out to lunch but how ridiculous would that be because of course they would be taking me out to lunch.

I arrived at the firm before any of the other attorneys, but the office manager was there and she showed me to my office. My office! And it was gigantic. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that it was bigger than my current living room. The offices were on the 29th floor and I had a fantastic view of downtown, the mountains and the sky. Being so high, I felt closer to my mom in heaven.

The office manager then took me down the halls and told me that I could pick out any of the art on the walls for my office. There was a large painting of the grand canyon with blue bonnets, cactuses and a rocky stream. It was pure kitch. It was like the Happy Painter from PBS had been on a happy painting bender. I had to have it. Later, when the partners came by to introduce themselves, they all, every last one of them, asked why I had picked that picture. Apparently, "because it's hysterical" was not the right answer. It was painted by one of the partner's wives.

It took a couple of hours for me to get any work. I spent a good deal of time trying to look as busy as possible rearranging the three things in my briefcase. Finally, the main partner who I was going to be working for came by with my first project. He handed me a partnership agreement that was two binders big - one three inch binder and a second small binder. Prior to that point, I had never actually seen a partnership agreement. And in my next seven years of practicing law, I would never see a partnership agreement quite like it. My task was to go through and determine if there was anything in it that was concerning.


HA HA HA HA HA. Looking back, it was a test. This was the most complicated of partnership agreements ever drafted, it was way over my head, it would be way over the head of most attorneys, and there was no way, given who drafted it, that it was anything but a perfect, beautifully drafted document.

I dug in, swearing the whole time at my partnership tax professor for never having shown us a partnership agreement.

Around 11:30 I started to get hungry and was looking forward to lunch. Noon came and went. Then 12:30, 1:00, 1:30. It became quite clear that nobody was taking me to lunch. Thank goodness I had a Power Bar.

Later that afternoon, the other associate stopped by to introduce herself. Within 5 minutes it was clear she was BITTER. She had put her husband through medical school and he had left her for a nurse and if I remembered anything she told me I was to remember never to let on to the male partners that I had a family because despite what they said they used it against you and that mark her words it isn't easy being a female attorney and if I ever have to leave early because of my son to tell them it was for something else and that her husband had left her for a nurse. Okay then.

I hacked away at the partnership agreement until about 7:00 p.m., went home and had some dinner, then picked it up again until 11:00. I set my alarm for 4:00 a.m. and got back to it. The next morning I got some other projects form another partner, and then more and more projects. The partnership agreement binders sat on my desk for months until the drafting partner came and got them, and their contents were never once discussed. During my first year review the partner asked why I had never said anything about the partnership agreement. I knew in my heart it was a test, and I don't like my time being wasted like that. But I told him I just got busy with other things.

Despite the weird first day with the lack of lunch and The Test, I came to admire the partners of that firm very much and I would say we became friends. I admire them for their incredible knowledge, but also the fact that they are great family men. I never once - ever - felt like they judged me for being a woman or a mom. In fact, it felt like a family there. To this day, even though I now know most of the lawyers in town, I still refer people to them. If I ever need a lawyer, I would want it to be one of them. And I don't think that I am putting words in their mouths when I say they respected me. In fact, I know this because the one who gave me The Test just spontaneously stuck his head in my office one day and said, "You're a good lawyer, you know."

It became obvious that my passion and my strength was in an area of the law that the firm wasn't interested in cultivating. Accordingly, after four really good years, I moved on to another firm.

1 comment:

  1. My first assigment was also the hardest I've ever had. It nearly brought me to tears and I thought that I was DOOMED. Who knew there was law firm hazing?!