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Posts Tagged ‘interviews’

I was hiking in Iceland this past summer. We were pretty high up – around 1,000 meters – and it was raining hard, high wind, snow on the ground.

“Damn, it’s cold,” grumbled one of my American companions.

An Englishman behind us stumbled over a patch of frozen volcanic ash. “There’s a clue in the name, mate,” he offered helpfully.

Some things are so obvious they really don’t need to be explained anymore. Like it’s icy in Iceland. Like it sucks working at a big law firm. You kinda ought to know that by now…

…which is why interviewing 2L’s feels so heart-breaking.

I should know, I’ve been listening to senior and mid-level associates for the past month, telling me how much it sucks interviewing 2L’s.

Why? Because if you hate them, you’re interviewing someone you hate. And if you like them…then you feel a moral obligation to clue them in on the hellish misery they’re clambering to claim for themselves.

It’s hard not to hate law students, especially from the vantage point of a senior or mid-level associate. They’re clueless, and yes, many conform to the worst stereotypes. There’s always the tall dork who wears a suit to class and raises his hand to ask obvious, meandering questions. There’s the girl with hair dangling over her face, who trails the professor after class to smarm, in her peculiarly nasal voice, over the subtle charms of today’s lecture. We all hate them.

One of my senior associate clients reserves her remaining tolerance for part-time law students. “At least they’ve got a clue,” she says. Maximum disdain is reserved for the full-timers who slid into law school directly out of undergrad, scribbling their name on loan documents like so many fevered lemmings racing to be the first off a ledge.

The worst story I’ve heard so far came from a mid-level associate, miserable and deeply in debt, who interviewed the obnoxious 2L son of a huge corporate client’s CEO. While this over-privileged sack of ordure grinned in his preppy suit and barely bothered answering her questions, she returned to an old fantasy of firing a pistol into her mouth in the firm’s dining room, taking special care to splatter the head of litigation.

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My client was sitting at her desk, drafting a complicated, rushed memo. The topic was an obscure derivative. She’d worked all weekend, then come in again early. Her head hurt. It was due at 5 pm. She could barely focus and was feeling panicked. It was 4 pm.

The phone rang. Not thinking, she picked up and barked her last name, sharply, the way the partner she worked for did.

“Jones.”

It was her ninety-two-year-old grandmother.

“How are you, Sweetheart?”

My client couldn’t stop crying.

“All she did was ask how I was,” she told me. “That’s all it took. I fell apart.”

When you enter the world of biglaw, you pass through a ritual of initiation – LSAT, law school, bar exam, interviews.

Then you enter the bubble.

On the inside, propositions that seem insane in the outside world are taken for granted:

  • Two hundred thousand dollars in student loans is within the normal range.
  • You have to earn six figures or you are a failure.
  • You can’t take a vacation just because you “have” a vacation. It must be “convenient.”
  • Leaving the office at 5 pm shows a serious failure of commitment.
  • Taking a weekend off shows a serious failure of commitment.
  • Working night and day and doing your best shows a serious failure of commitment.

Last week, another client’s mother was rushed to the hospital. He got a call from the emergency room, then sprinted to the train station to buy a ticket home. It was serious – a perforated appendix that could have killed her. He spent the weekend by her side. Once she was back in her own bedroom, recovering, he found himself tucking her plastic hospital id bracelet into his briefcase.

“I know, it sounds crazy, but I didn’t think they’d believe me.”

“They’d think you were lying about your mother being rushed to the hospital?”

He rolled his eyes. “I know. I know. But they’re like that. No one trusts anyone. An excuse to leave for a long weekend? Someone might try it.”

The rules are different in the bubble. The worst distortion? Money becomes more important than people.

When my client’s ninety-two-year-old grandmother called to ask how she was, it reminded her this old woman is a precious treasure – and she’s elderly, and frail. She won’t be here forever.

When you work at a law firm, things keep coming up. My client hasn’t seen her grandmother in more than a year. That’s part of the reason she was crying. The rules inside the bubble take over. You forget who you are. Then an old woman calls and reminds you.

As the author of this column, I’m asked the same question all the time – how do I survive this?

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