Friday, July 30, 2010

ShitLaw Primer: My Life and Your Experiences

Have you ever felt really alone?  I'm not talking about the loneliness you feel when you're in a room by yourself.  No, I'm talking about the loneliness you feel when no one understands how bad you have it at your job.  Part of why I endeavored--with Hardknocks--to publicize the law school scam, was to show people they are not alone in being unsatisfied with their lack of job prospects and the amount of money that they owe.  I'm trying to reach out to a different crowd now.  I'm reaching out to the shitlaw associates. You know who you are.

You graduated from law school during a recession, much like myself.  I graduated during the bubble burst.  But you managed to find a job.  It's a small firm. You won't be earning much money.  You're not going to have health care.  But your mother is beaming because you are going to be a real attorney.  You know the job isn't forever, but you're happy to have an opportunity to gain experience under the wing of a talented and experienced solo practitioner.  You are one of the lucky ones and you're not about to look a gift horse in the mouth.  

This is how I felt when I got my first job out of law school (post-clerkship).  I was earning $50K, which was not horrid at the time, but not terrific.  My boss hired me because we clicked and I was a good student from a good school and a "go-getter."  I am notorious for ignoring my initial gut feelings and trying to think with my head.  I had a bad feeling when my future boss said, "You must be in the office by 8:30 and you can leave the office at 7:30 p.m. and to go to court during the day, but not for lunch."  Hmmm. I thought.  That's weird. I thought I was a professional that was paid to accomplish tasks, not work by the hour.  But, I thought, this would be a nice place to work.  He said he would never ask me to work weekend, so long as I put in my 11 hours a day during the week.

Shitlaw Slave Market: He has fine legs for running to court.
I have so many horror stories to tell.  When I started working there, I think my take home salary was 1100 every two weeks.  Payday was on Friday.  Then payday was on Monday.  Then it was on Tuesday.  Then, my boss told me that the checks didn't come--I could wait until the end of the (second) week to be paid or he can give me cash.  How much cash?  $1,100.  Not the gross amount, the net.  No taxes, no FICA, nothing deducted.  It was all a way to get out of paying taxes on my salary.  It was so humbling to beg for my check too, when it was 2 to 3 days late.  But there is a breaking point when you're living paycheck to paycheck.

My social security statement for one of the years I worked there states that I earned $22K.  I was being paid under the table like an illegal Mexican.  Is that why my parents migrated to this country and made sure that I was a citizen?  So I could be treated like an illegal?

What about the time when my experienced boss made me look like a fool in front of a Family Court Judge.  There was a custody dispute and my boss had the bright idea of making the children sign affidavits that they prefer to live with my client.  I was so green.  I questioned the wisdom of allowing a 7 year old to sign anything at all, but boss man was insistent.  So, I filed the motion with the children's affidavits.  I would have been laughed out of court, if the judge wasn't so pissed at my boss for instructing me to put children in such a horrid position.  The Judge adjourned the matter for him to come in, so he can scream at him.  When we came to court next, the Judge asked me to approach the bench, and with my boss at the table behind me, the Judge slipped me a card of an attorney who was hiring that "knew what he was doing."

One of the worst moments ever, was when I borrowed my boss's car to go to court.  I'm much more comfortable with public transportation, but he insisted I take his car so I could rush back to the office and get back to billing.  He actually forced me to drive to court often.  So, I was driving to court when an huge semi hit me.  I called my boss from the scene of the accident and told him that I was waiting for the police to come and the accident was not my fault.  I was going to ask him call the clerk and tell them to adjourn the case that was on at 9:30 a.m.  Instead, the boss said, "Leave, get out of there now!  I don't want to report this to my insurance. LEAVE!"  I was so terrified  that I jumped in the car and drove off with the semi drive yelling at me on the highway.   I was party to a "be hit and run" incident.  I was the main perpetrator, and did so under the orders of my boss--the lawyers.  I made calendar call.  When I got back to the office, he told me that he would dock my pay for the cost of the repairs.  If I was able to report the incident, the insurance would have paid for it.  I was so livid that he would fuck me out of $500.00.  I told him, I would take my time getting to court via public transportation.  
After a week, he learned the lesson and begged me to take the car to court because the train took too long.  He paid me back the $500 he docked me.

The stories go on and on.

What's your story? You're not alone and it's okay to be upset about how your boss treats you.  Every attorney I know, who ever worked at a small firm, has stories to tell.  Please share yours and make sure that no Shitlaw Associate ever feels alone again.


  1. I don't have any shitlaw stories to share, but I remember once at my first BIGLAW job I was given the assignment to wait at the office until 11:00pm for a fax to come in; then photocopy the fax; then fax the papers to another attorney at home.

    Why couldn't they have one of the mailroom guys do it? Surely one of the mailroom guys would have been happy to earn a hundred bucks worth of overtime. I guess the firm would rather have an attorney do it since the attorney doesn't have to be paid overtime.

    Anyway, the fax comes in and it's about 100 pages. I try to copy it but the copier keeps jamming. One thing I discovered was that it gets extremely hot standing in front of a running photocopier. So there I was, in suit and tie, 11:15pm, trying to photocopy this long fax and starting to sweat profusely.

    Finally I finish copying the damn thing and I move on to the next job: re-faxing it to the attorney's house. The next problem was that this guy had a crappy little home fax machine (this was 15 years ago) and there is no way a 100 page fax is going to go through even if his machine is working perfectly.

    I tried about 20 times to send the fax through and it kept failing. Finally I gave up and went home.

    The next morning, the attorney was pissed that he never got his stupid fax (okay so he had to wait a whole 10 hours to see the thing). He didn't believe me that I had tried to fax it to him and demanded to see the printouts from the office fax machine showing my attempts.

    So I went back to the mailroom and fished the printouts out of the trash. Somebody's slimy breakfast remains were all over them. I put the stack of printouts on the attorney's desk, slime and all and that was the last I heard of it.


    Anyway, I'm not sure what any of this means. The fact is that most jobs can be pretty shitty, especially if you are the low man on the totem pole, so to speak.

    I suppose that the overtime laws need to be reformed so that junior attorneys are non-exempt from overtime. Unfortunately, the trend seems to be in the opposite direction, i.e. more and more jobs are being treated as exempt.

    But I think most attorneys could live with a couple years of hazing and laugh about it later as long as there is a reasonable opportunity to move on to an interesting, well-paying stable career.

    The problem with law is that all the good stuff (interesting work, good money, stable job prospects) have been shrinking as the field becomes more competitive. At the same time, the bad stuff (low wages, miserable work, student loan debt) has been on the upswing.

  2. See, I understand a lot of people hate "ShitLaw" but I've been working a "ShitLaw" job for almost a year now and I really like it. Sure I'm not making that much money, but I'm making enough to live on and while I do work a lot I've got friends in DA's offices working later than me every single day of the week, making roughly the same amount of money. Also, my boss is pretty cool, so that's a plus.

    Anyway, my point is, not everyone has a bad experience in "ShitLaw".

  3. Any job with a woman for a boss is Shitlaw. I worked for one that changed her mind every day and got upset if you looked at her the wrong way.

  4. My first job practicing law (I had worked for LexisNexis before doing research and writing for their legal research products) was for a small law firm that was looking for a copyright lawyer to help in a case. They were all veteran litigators, but none of them knew about copyrights or technology law and they were in over their heads against a biglaw firm. The deal was that I'd get a share of any settlement or judgment on that particular case and get paid a base rate for other work that the firm billed out hourly.

    It was kind of an odd arrangement, but I needed the work so I thought what the hell.

    My boss did try to screw me out of part of my share of the settlement after I had to take a couple months off (unpaid) to recover from surgery, but I managed to dig my heels in and told him that he had signed a contract that I was living up to and I expected him to do the same. Amazingly he backed off.

    Long story short is that the hours were rough, the benefits were nonexistent, and I had no paid time off, but in the end it was my work that knocked out the other side's expert witness because the biglaw associates who deposed him didn't do it right and left everything he said vulnerable. The other side ended up settling for an amount that was 20 times greater than their previous higher offer.

    I collected my share and managed to move in-house, where my client doesn't hate me, I have good benefits, and I don't have to track billables, fight over unpaid fees, or worry about where the next case is going to come from.

    In a lot of ways, I got lucky. I worked my tail of for that firm and it paid off in the end, but it could have just as easily gone the other way if the other side's lawyers had been smarter than they were or had a litigation strategy that consisted of more than "bury those small firm lawyers in paper until they drown."

  5. And there's no way to really get out of the field either. It's just bad all the way around.

  6. There are people like Nighthawk and Doug saying that you can work your way up from this, but I see income tapering off at a certain point.

  7. Wow. Angel, your shitlaw boss sounds horrible. Screaming at you to leave the scene of an accident with a semi? I hope that creep's firm is standing on its last legs.

    Underdog is right. Ten or twenty years ago, a graduate of a lower Tier 1 school could work their way up from shitlaw into biglaw or an in-house position. My generation does not have that luxury. Anyone without experience or a job offer right out of law school will likely never find a legal job or will work in doc review for the rest of their life. In short, three years and $150k down the drain when you could have built yourself up in another position that is more fulfilling and pays as much as doc review or shitlaw.

    The baby boomers are staying where they are until the day they die. The profession is shrinking and the little that is left will be filled by the baby boomers or gen xers with connections and experience.

  8. Again failing to take responsibility...

    YOU say you don't like being treated like an illegal, but YOU took multiple cash payments for your work!

    YOU decided to leave the scene of an accident, which you absolutely KNEW was a crime, just because your sleazy boss yelled at you over the phone!

    The fact that nobody here has called you on this shit so far again shows that you've just got one big circle-jerk going on here and on the other scam blogs.

    You can't use the "just following orders" excuse for what you've already admitted to here, and who knows what else that you're not publicizing!

    And Doug never said you can work your way up when you make decisions like Angel did here...


  9. I had the bright idea to work for one solo - but she recommended that I also work for her office mate and friend - and they divide my time (and costs). The friend was a malpractice case waiting to happen. It was just terrible. She lied to clients, lost their papers, and once gave a client's car to his creditors w/o consulting him first. I had to quit (both, and it was unfortunate because the first woman was great) because my newly minted license couldn't be in jeopardy. She was disbarred the next year - for taking money and never prosecuting cases. But she was one of those people who was a know it all and when I questioned her - it was always I who was 'green, inexperienced,' etc. It got worse from there, but I'll spare you. Let's just say I went out on my own and had to live on appointed cases because my clients couldn't/didn't/wouldn't pay past the retainer - esp in divorce - and at one point my secretary was earning more than I.

  10. Thanks for posting this, and the replies show an interesting range. One question July 30 @1:41am, who wrote that "there is no way a 100 page fax is going to go through even if his machine is working perfectly. I tried about 20 times to send the fax through and it kept failing. Finally I gave up and went home." Why didn't you try dividing the fax into chapters of 10 pages each?

  11. "Why didn't you try dividing the fax into chapters of 10 pages each?"

    Lol, because the guy's machine wasn't working at all. I couldn't even get one page through.

    But even the guy's machine had been working, he would have had to be there and be awake to feed paper into his fax machine.

    When I ran into problems, I called him up. I can't remember exactly what was said. But believe me, I made a big effort to send the guy his fax.

  12. "No taxes, no FICA, nothing deducted"

    "I was party to a "be hit and run" incident."

    How old were you when you had this job? How long ago was it?

    Because unless you were under 18 - seems doubtful - you were an adult, with a professional degree, but with absolutely no judgment or backbone or sense of integrity.

    I hope you've developed some brains or character since then. If not, for god's sake, get out of the legal profession - you're exactly the kind of "lawyer" who belongs in that other blog's ShitLaw Hall of Fame.

  13. I had no backbone. I was emotionally broken down. And, contrary to what Doug says, I did end up at BigLaw eventually. It was hard to get out of those situations when I was so fearful of being unemployed, I had no money. And I witnessed him screw lawyers out of unemployment. I have integrity. I'm a good person. Whatever you may say or believe. It's very hard being at the mercy of a crazy man. I hope you experience it one day.
    Re: hit and run. HE hit me. So, I somehow thought that exonerated me. My boss' car sustained the damage, not the semi.
    Re: my paycheck. He gave me the amount of money I make post taxes and told me he would "take care" of the rest. Only after I received my measly W-2s did I realize that he didn't. It was as if I was earning 22K, rather than 50K. So, I overpaid for my income, according the government for my income bracket.

    Anyways, I don't care what anyone thinks of what I did. The point isn't that.. it's that I was put into compromising positions.

    P.S. Hardknocks, his firm is still thriving and he's never been investigated for Tax Evasion or disbarred.

  14. In my experience, most shitlaw practices are pretty much like this. I saw more professionalism, competence, and overall better human beings when I worked at a Walgreen's in the hood during high school.

    I am much happier sitting in mom's basement for years on end than taking on shitlaw. The worst part is, while your bosses and co-workers are generally "that bad," your clients are usually much worse.

  15. BTW, I'm noticing a trend here. Those who have been practicing attorneys tend to be more sympathetic. Those who haven't even GONE to law school or are enrolled, try to beat me down. Hmmmmm... food for thought.

  16. Perceptive observations: "I had no backbone. I was emotionally broken down... Those who have been practicing attorneys tend to be more sympathetic." Most Americans who have no experience with the justice system have little sympathy for any defendant (none if the defendant has confessed to anything), and support the death penalty. In reality, the human brain is organic, we are imperfect social creatures, we usually try to do the right thing but often fail. A recent article about Amanda Knox (different subject and I take no side as to her guilt or innocence) pointed out that whenever a famous crime occurs, people who had nothing to do with it nevertheless confess, and some interrogation techniques are developed specifically to produce this behavior. Any abusive relationship can seem unfathomable to outsiders, yet certain personality combinations produce them consistently. Entry-level law jobs are invariably staff jobs, and subject to the mind-games of any office environment where young and vulnerable people can be broken down, which may explain why BigLaw firms limit entry-level associate jobs to new JDs (who are almost always under 30) and exclude anyone who might have experience elsewhere and thus be less vulnerable.

  17. I graduated from law school in 1977, and shortly thereafter passed the state bar exam. I marvel at how naive I was in those days, however, I did notice as I progressed from year to year that less and less about the law looked appealing; the law really amounts to little more than forcing people to do what they otherwise have no interest in doing. The money wasn't such a big deal. I wanted to "do right" and help people. I suppose that can still be done, however, back then, I took my $12,000 in school debt, and worked filling potholes for the city for a couple years. I paid my school debt off in "only" 13 years. One thing. You never really live down a law degree. It haunts your resume like a foul order (unless you choose to omit it).



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