Confessions of a Laid-off Lawyer

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

Bah! Humbug!

with 16 comments

Total Black: $975.92
Total Red: $230,660.74

As I’m walking back into my apartment this afternoon, I heard the final few rings of the telephone and the answering machine turn on. A staff person from the attorney temporary staffing agency I’d been working for these past few months was leaving me a message telling me that the project I had been working on at Harris Beach PLLC on Wall Street was over effective immediately. The firm’s current advertisement hook is “Lawyers you’ll swear by. Not at.” How funny. Real professional too. Well, I had a few choice words for those attorneys today, that’s for sure. It’s unconscionable to call someone on Christmas Eve, when the law firm is actually closed, to tell them that their job is over effective immediately. Great timing. Wonderful way to usher in the Christmas holiday. Here’s your hat, what’s your hurry, right? It couldn’t wait until Sunday evening or even Monday morning?

Two days ago, the firm had a Festivus party and a gift exchange. Naturally, as all law firms do, the contract attorneys were begrudgingly invited at the last moment, despite the two other attorneys having been at this firm for nearly four months. But that’s just standard operating procedures for the treatment of contract attorneys by law firms. Days earlier I had been the cheerleader, urging us to enjoy the party and even half-jokingly, half-seriously suggested we participate in the gift exchange. But as the party drew nearer, we all got a bit more apprehensive. We delayed going as long as we could because we felt awkward. Finally we decided to leave for their “cafe” area to join in the festivities.

Upon walking into the room immediately the three of us realized the fast approaching awkwardness when we would have to find a spot to sit as the tables in the room had been rearranged to look like a high school lunch cafeteria. Long tables with chairs on both sides and attorneys and staff people at every table. We grabbed some plates and joined others at the small buffet area to help ourselves to some food. Three seats were open, together, at the end of a table. So naturally we gravitated there. When we asked one of the associates if those spots were free, the look we received was as if homeless people had asked to sit with them. Her words tumbled out of her mouth like rocks slowly falling from a cliff. She couldn’t think fast enough what to say to keep us away. Finally she consented that two of the three spots were open and that the other attorney could just go socialize about the room. Nothing there indicated anyone had been sitting in any of those spots. See, this associate had been a former supervising attorney on a prior project we worked on. I guess our mistake was thinking she was cool. I mean a firm that bills itself as a place where you won’t swear at your attorneys has to be a bit hip, right, and have chill people? So wrong. I should have known better than to think any law firm would have “cool” people.

After that awkward faux-pas, one attorney went to the other end of the table to sit. The second attorney left the room entirely. I stood there trying to figure out what had just happened. I don’t really tend to pay much attention to what’s happening as it happens. It’s all being recorded, but it doesn’t always register at first. Just then I heard my name being called a few times. As I turned around to see who was yelling to me, I spotted the paralegal who had been working with us waiving his arm at me. He yelled out, wanting to know if I was an orphaned child with no place to sit. (High school flashback again.) He laughed and called out that I could come over and sit at his table. Nice gesture, I suppose. Except that he had now just drawn the attention of anyone else in the room who hadn’t been watching us to me and my immelodious musical chairs routine. Besides which, there were no open spaces at his table. So instead I made my way down to the end of the room where the other contract attorney was now sitting. The third made a run for it, only poking his head back in once thereafter. We ended up sitting next to the IT staff. Even if a bit nerdy, they’re always at least friendly people.   We exchanged a few words with each other like normal (non-attorney) human beings do in social settings.

As soon as a break in their Festivus festivities occurred, the contract attorney and I darted back to the reviewing room for cover. I noticed just as I finished my food that the current associate who was supervising us was sitting just a few seats away. I hadn’t seen her.  Of course she didn’t acknowledge us either.   Maybe that’s why I bought my colleagues those instant lottery tickets I referenced in Secret Santas. An attempt to make us feel better.

I’m not sorry that the job is over. And I suppose I wouldn’t be able to carry the title of true “contact attorney” without a story like today’s to tell.  We did notice that documents were finishing up and that things seemed to be winding down.  My gripe is just that law firms treat contract attorneys like immature, irresponsible teenagers who must be policed and scolded but then turn around and pull their hair and gnash their teeth when they act that way. Ever hear of the self-fulfilling prophecy theory?   Be upfront with us. Let us know how close we are to the end. And terminate the project in a professional manner.  Not on Christmas Eve when the firm is closed anyway. And especially when you only have three contract attorneys employed.  If the blame lies at the door of the temp agency for conveying the news today, well the agency must have learned about it sometime recently. Today or yesterday. Couldn’t the firm have told us yesterday then? Or waited until later in the week to tell the agency? They must know the temp agencies tell their attorneys fairly quickly.

Well, I wish the firm and its people well. If any projects turn up for Harris Beach again, I’ll be sure to turn them down. That bridge just burned.  They can take their Festivus pole and shove it up their chimney shoot for all I care.  Guess this is one person who swears at Harris Beach’s attorneys.

Written by Laid-off Lawyer

December 24, 2009 at 12:45

16 Responses

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  1. Just found your blog. Looking forward to reading more. Not to be a db, I’m just a seinfeld afficianado. It’s a festivus pole, not poll. Hope you have a great holiday and find rewarding work soon.

    patrick

    December 24, 2009 at 14:57

  2. Also, I would imagine a shoved pole hurts more than a shoved poll.

    patrick

    December 24, 2009 at 15:00

  3. Thanks for catching that, patrick. I fixed it en route to Pennsvania. Definitely meant “pole” not “poll.”

    Laid-off Lawyer

    December 24, 2009 at 15:15

  4. The associates sound like MEGA-NERDS. Ha, ha, fool you can’t say hello or nod or sit with a co-worker- where did you grow up ?? In a swamp – God sometimes I wonder what kind of families these people come from – did all that studying make them this way, the law firm pressure – or where they always socially awkward, socially misfit, cold mutant GEEKS??? How much does it take to smile and say hello and offer a place?? You weren’t exactly working in the sewer and covered with crap!! I have supervised all kinds of people – and if they were to enter the same room and looking for a place to sit of course I would offer them a place. I have also worked with two-bit associates like these people who act like they are seasoned partners. There is something seriously wrong with these people and the work culture within which these assholes operate…They need a good kick in their uptight asses…or maybe some laxative…[sorry laid-off but some things just make me mad].

    ladybug

    December 25, 2009 at 16:06

  5. Cases end suddenly all the time, whether because of settlement or other reasons, and it’s standard practice to send a message to the entire team saying “stop work IMMEDIATELY.” You simply can’t keep charging a client or incurring expenses after a case ends. Mature professionals take it in stride, even if the end date happens to occur the day before a holiday. Some people even appreciate it when a big case ends before a holiday, as that frees them up to enjoy that holiday. You, however, took it personally and publicly called out the law firm in your blog for ceasing work on a case, likely ruining your prospects for working for them in the future. You do not have the luxury of burning bridges. What if the only upcoming temp job in the next 3 months is at this law firm? Since it appears that you’re only looking for temp legal jobs, as you haven’t mentioned any efforts to find permanent legal employment, you simply cannot afford to write off a potential source of temp work.

    Anon

    December 25, 2009 at 22:37

  6. My complaint was not that they ceased work on the case. We saw it coming. Instead my complaint was with delivery and timing. We were a small group. They could have told us in person on the 23rd. Or sent an email to let us know. My mistake was expecting professionalism and decency.

    Someone has to start addressing the problem. Is there a bar subcommittee for temp legal work? Should be.

    Laid-off Lawyer

    December 26, 2009 at 15:20

  7. Google “Harris Beach LLP”; your gripe is already on the 1st page search. People don’t respect people who treat other people like garbage during the holidays, even plebian temps. Maybe some of their clients will read this.

    anonymous

    December 26, 2009 at 16:48

  8. You don’t have any idea when the project actually ended, do you? Or when the temp agency was contacted? Maybe it ended the evening of the 23rd and they called the temp agency, which didn’t get the message until the 24th and promptly contacted you and the other employees so you could enjoy the holiday, start looking for a new temp job, and not risk losing out on the next one? Way to be immature about it all. If there were only 3 of you, it’s not going to be hard to identify you. Good luck getting off the blacklist.

    Anon

    December 26, 2009 at 23:26

  9. But nothing you said is irreconcilable with what I wrote. Even if the firm “realized” on the evening of the 23rd that the review is over, they still could have shot us an email to let us know the review was wrapping up. Or asked the agency to hold off until sometime later to let us know the news.

    It’s about decency and professional respect as far as I’m concerned.

    Laid-off Lawyer

    December 27, 2009 at 04:57

  10. No, they’re better than you, but they’re not well enough established to have gotten over the fear that associating with you will cause them to be dragged down to your level. This was the standard treatment I received from my classmates as a charity admission at a Tier One. It prepared me very well for contract work. Good that it prepared me for something, I suppose, because otherwise all I walked out with was the diploma, my loan coupon booklets, and a hearty “We’re behind you 1000%” from Career Services. Although I’ve received a steady stream of donation solicitations since.

    rifek

    December 27, 2009 at 12:55

  11. I am sorry they are not better off than all of us. Not all of us are total losers. Some of us chose to do this work so we could have time for other things – like families or other interests. Or some of us are equally smart and talented and just got caught in a bad economy. Yes, there are some real morons in this temp business – but not all. These associates sound way too insecure, callow and weird if you ask me.

    ladybug

    December 27, 2009 at 16:36

  12. Except that, as you should know based on all the forms you had to sign, you were an employee of the temp agency, not the law firm, which makes it the agency’s responsibility to notify you when a project ends. And you really expected them to hold off on notifying you so you could pretend you still had a job on Christmas? Considering that the agency would then have to make someone notify you over the weekend when they’re probably not scheduled to be in, especially since it’s a holiday weekend? Really?!

    Anonymous

    December 28, 2009 at 09:13

  13. Wait, that slogan is their trademark? hahahahha…get real guys

    Rob

    December 28, 2009 at 12:03

  14. Yes. I do really expect them to hold off on notifying me, and anyone else, so I could pretend I still had a job on Christmas. Do you know how miserable it made my Christmas? To meet my family and tell them I was just about to be unemployed again? Instead of saying that I was working at a law firm on Wall Street—if only temporarily.

    Before I started on this project, I went back and forth with the agency over the weekend, even calling the recruiter / placement person on a private cellphone number and emailing more than a few times. Asking them to send an email or make a call over the weekend wouldn’t have been burdensome. Temp agencies service the corporate legal profession. They don’t get to stop working because the whistle blew at 5pm. So, it really wouldn’t have been much to ask them to hold off on the call until Sunday evening or even early on Monday morning.

    And yes, of course, I understand it’s the duty of the temp agency to notify us. Not the firm. I know who pays my check. But I’ve seen better behavior by firms in my short stint as a contract attorney—all of three months now. Honesty, professional courtesy, trust—all with over 150 attorneys in one room. Here we had three and we were swept out the door with the holiday trash. Someone from the firm could have shot all three of us a quick email (yes, they had our personal email addresses) saying thanks for our help over the past few months and best wishes for the new year. Done. 30 seconds. And this post, and all these comments, would never have happened.

    Frankly, what we’re debating here is the bare minimum acceptable. You can disagree, but I’ll still keep pushing to raise the floor to a level more humane. And professional.

    Laid-off Lawyer

    December 28, 2009 at 15:45

  15. The point being made is about how much abuse a temp is able to tolerate. The way out is through psych. medications: Prozac and Xanax (both must be brand, not generic). A temp needs to steel himself against an unceasing flood of abuse from the agencies, law firms, associates, and paras. Take my suggestion seriously.

    XYZ

    January 1, 2010 at 17:30

  16. retarted

    Anonymous

    May 30, 2010 at 01:50


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