Confessions of a Laid-off Lawyer

Just Your Average Joe Blogging Away His Debt—In One Year or Less

Serenity, Courage, and Wisdom

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Total Black: $75.67
Total Red: $230,649.18

I started writing a bit of today’s entry from the temp job, typing it in a word document shrunk to about two inches by two inches, neatly disguised as a box on CNN’s website.  Not that it would have mattered since the document reviewing software had frozen up on us and we were left with nothing to do.  But I didn’t want my true identity discovered.  Overall, I’m actually enjoying this experience.  Perhaps it’s odd, but so far the contract attorney work seems fun.  Well . . . I take that back.  The people seem fun.  Correction: some of the people are fun.  And that makes the work tolerable.  We’ve got an interesting mix of people and the law firm is really welcoming and laid-back.  That said though, a senior associate insisted that we’re not here to just “chill and bill.”  And that’s a valid point.  As attorneys we all have ethical obligations to uphold.

The project grew today to about seventy-five people.  That’s a lot of people (and personalities) lumped into the same room.  I hope I can keep my cool because already some people are starting to irritate me.  The Woman Who Sits Next To Me says she can’t wait to see me go crazy since this is such a foreign experience for me.  She thinks I’ll soon end up like the rest of the temps and joked, just because I brought in my own mouse (I like the roller ball type) that I’ll be one of the weirdos, probably with earmuffs on.  I laughed.  I don’t wear earmuffs.  Maybe earplugs, but not earmuffs.  Throughout the day she shared war stories with me of the crazy people she worked with in the past or heard about: an older guy listening to classical music and conducting in time with music—at his monitor.  The guy who brought a carpet and a lamp to the job for his workspace.  And supposedly there’s a guy at our job who is sitting on an exercise ball at his desk so he’ll get a workout while reviewing docs.  God grant me the serenity . . . .  Isn’t that how the prayer goes?

Got to thinking today: do I still get to call myself “laid-off”?  I suppose temp work is just that: temporary.  It’s not a permanent position, though many people treat it that way.  And that’s ok for them, I suppose.  I heard a few people on the two different temp assignments I’ve now had (the first was just a one-week inventory project) talking about the years they’ve spent in this field.  As committed as I am to getting out of debt, I don’t know if I could stomach a year of this work—just on principle.  As I was walking home tonight, listening to music on shuffle, “What Did I Do With My Life?” by Lenny Kravitz came on. 

Got to me a bit.  No one goes to law school to become a contract attorney.  The money’s good.  That can’t be understated.  And you get to practice law without taking home the stress each night.  In fact, many temp attorneys can earn almost as much, if not more sometimes, than junior associates.  But it seems as if contract attorneys are beaten down by life.  Like they’ve settled for less than they deserve.  The woman sitting next to me pointed out that I’ve already distinguished myself.  She wasn’t being rude or insulting, just pointing out that I’ve garnered attention.  But that’s just me.  If I have questions, I ask.  I understand we’re all in it together, so I’ll joke around with people.  Having been an associate, I know that, despite rumors to the contrary, they’re actually human beings, so I treat them that way.  I don’t set out to distinguish myself.  It just happens.

A similar thing happened when I worked on the Mississippi Queen.  In Darker the Collar, Lighter the Stress I explained a bit about my experience working as a porter on a steamboat cruise line.  Other than the white head porter, I was the only other white guy among the porters for all but one or two weeks of my four months on the boat.  And being the laid-back guy that I am, I just was myself—and the guys were cool with that.  Eventually they spoke freely around me and they shared their frustrations that no black porters were ever promoted to Head Porter.  And, of course, when the time came for an acting-Head Porter, I was the one management picked because I had distinguished myself.  (They actually had me split the position with a black Honduran man.  This isn’t the time to parse those details though.)  But when I expressed my frustrations to some of my colleagues that they, who were on the boat months longer than I, were passed over, they told me that it was different, that I was one of them, that I didn’t act like I was better than they are.  It seemed that, in a sense, they were saying that I wasn’t exactly “white” or at least not white like the other white people promoted ahead of them.  Or maybe they were just being nice.  Maybe not.  But I caught the irony of the moment and the experience hasn’t left me.

The associates from the firm pointed out today that if this transaction turns into a lawsuit brought by the federal government, the firm would welcome some of us to continue on.  Since I’ve never done this before I thought it showed a noble streak from this young law firm.  The woman sitting next to me explained, however, that that’s always an option: dangling that carrot wouldn’t impress us.  It’s too early to say, and perhaps a bit presumptuous as well to think, that I might get asked to do more substantive work.  The questions is whether I’d accept it.  Some people choose the contract attorney life.  They work for a few months, bank a lot of money, and then take the rest of the year off.  I know I want more out of my career.  Being a lawyer is not a means to an end, it is it’s own end.  But recognition is a difficult thing to pass up, even when it’s like mirage in the desert sun or saltwater to a thirsty man.  Fulfillment ever out of reach.  I welcome this new experience, whatever it brings.  I just hope that I have the courage to make the right decision.  And the wisdom to know what to decide.

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