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Author Topic: UofUlawguy: Landmark
UofUlawguy
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Since this is my first landmark, I will get some of the basics out of the way first. I was born in the Philippines, at Subic Bay Naval Base. My dad was a young officer in the navy, having joined up to avoid being drafted during the Vietnam War. We moved back to the U.S. when I was less than two years old, so I don’t remember it, but the fact has provided me with an interesting item to tell people about myself.

As a child I lived in Salt Lake City and in Garland, Texas for a few years, but I mostly grew up in Layton, Utah. It was a relatively small town then, but not so small now. I had lots in common with a number of other posters at Hatrack: I was a bright child, a voracious reader, socially backward. I had no family trauma, however, which sometimes seems like it puts me in the minority.

I was the oldest of seven children. I have a brother just younger than me with whom I shared a room and with whom I was always very competitive, particularly in intellectual pursuits. Eventually, we reached a tacit understanding that he, my brother, would excel in the realms of mathematics, computers and science, and I would be the one who did best in writing, literature, languages, arts and humanities. That has seemed to work pretty well for us.

I am now 31 years old, have been happily married for eight years, and am the proud father of two young sons, with a daughter set to arrive at the end of September. I live in Las Vegas, where I am a baby (read: newbie) attorney. But how did I get here?

As a child, I had an acute sense of what was expected of me in life. That is, I knew there were certain things that I would have to do, and I had enough of a sense of duty that I never even considered the possibility of attempting to avoid them. Although they were, for the most part, far off in my distant future, even at that age I worried and fretted about them.

The first big worry was being an LDS missionary. Years before I actually did it, the very thought of it scared me to death. It is behind me now, though. I went to Honduras and Guatemala, and enjoyed it very much. Still, I am glad it is behind me.

The second big worry was having a career and supporting a family. That always seemed like such a big responsibility, being the bread winner. That and having serious duties to an employer, for whom one is expected to accomplish great and important things. Suffice it to say that I was not anxious to grow up and take on adult responsibilities.

I never was the kind of kid who talks about what he wants to be when he grows up, or not much. There were a few careers that appealed to me from time to time. I thought it would be really cool to be an archeologist, like my uncle and aunt. Mom told me to forget it, because they make no money at all. To hear her tell it, they were constantly living on the brink of starvation or homelessness. I thought it might be neat to be a teacher. Mom pointed to her own father and sister, who were underappreciated and underpaid. I even considered music, but I knew that I didn’t have the determination it would take to hone my talent that much. So I really didn’t know what I wanted to be.

From the newspaper comic strips and the TV sitcoms, I knew that many people didn’t like their jobs. A lot of people hate to go to work, and yet they do it for decades of their life. But I thought they were not the norm. They must just be the people who didn’t work hard enough in school to get a job they would really like, or they must have some basic character flaw that makes them lazy or discontented or rebellious. I thought this because I saw the example of my own father. He was an electrical engineer, and he absolutely loved his job. It interested him, he had fun with it, he actually looked to going to work every day. That, I knew, was the way a career is really supposed to be, and I expected that it would be the same for me.

But I was worried, because my father had known from quite a young age exactly what he wanted to do. I graduated from high school, and I still didn’t know. I was considering medicine, specifically reconstructive surgery. It seemed like a good idea, but I wasn’t dedicated to it. I started college at the University of Utah, where I attended a single quarter before leaving for my mission. Still no idea. After my two years in Central America were nearly up, I started worrying again, and I asked my mission president for advice. He challenged me to had a firm and clear plan in place by the time my plane landed in Utah. Didn’t happen.

I went back to the U. and worked on my general requirements, trying to decide on a major. Another guy who lived in the dorms mentioned that he was an English major, and that he planned to get a graduate degree in International Business afterward. I thought that sounded as good a plan as any, so I began an English major, with a minor in Spanish. I really enjoyed the English major, but cooled on the business idea, so I kept looking for ideas.

An attorney I knew at church told me that he had been an English major. I had never considered law before. It had just never entered my head. I began to think about it, and to study up on it. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed like a good idea. I was not sure I wanted to be an attorney, but I knew it was something I could do and be good at. I decided to give it a shot.

I did really well on the LSAT, and had a pretty good GPA. I was accepted to the University of Utah, which is ranked in the top forty law schools in the country and had a tuition of only $5000/year. I was also accepted to NYU which, depending on who you ask and when you ask them, is ranked anywhere from the top ten to the top three law schools in the country. I went out to New York to visit the school, and really liked it, but the tuition scared me off. I was not thrilled at the prospect of finishing law school with $100,000+ in debt. Besides, the U offered me a full scholarship for my first year, and I wouldn’t have to relocate.

Law school was great. I really, really enjoyed it, even those parts that most students wail about. It passed all too quickly, though, and soon I was faced with the prospect of actually finding a job. Normally, law students try to find summer jobs, preferably clerkships with good firms, but unpaid internships if that is all that is available. My first summer I worked as a runner and jack-of-all-trades for a reasonably prominent Salt Lake firm. My second summer I worked as a clerk for a solo practitioner who was a real champion jerk. By midway through my third year it became clear that I was not on the fast track to landing a top job at a major Salt Lake firm. I wasn’t getting interviews anywhere. I had to face facts. Utah has two law schools and only one metropolitan area, and there just aren’t enough jobs to go around. I had to leave the state. But where to go?

I heard that a lot of Utah and BYU graduates go to Nevada. At the time, Nevada was the only state in the country, or perhaps one of two, that had no law school. The economy was growing, especially in Las Vegas, and jobs were much more readily available. I put in a call to an acquaintance who worked at a firm in Vegas and asked him to direct me to some firms in town where I might send a resume. He asked what kind of work I wanted to do. At the time, I thought I wouldn’t like litigation, because I didn’t like the idea of being in court all the time. I told him I was looking for something transactional, i.e. sitting at a desk all day writing contracts for people, stuff like that.

As it turned out, his firm was looking to expand in that direction, and was looking for someone to help start up a business/transactional department. I sent him my resume, and was soon on a flight to Las Vegas for an interview. The meeting went well, and a few days later I got a phone call from one of the partners offering me a job, to begin as soon as school finished, and at a salary that sounded like major wealth to a poor student and his public-school teacher wife.

To be continued.

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UofUlawguy
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So I made it to Las Vegas. I had a job at one of the largest firms in town, doing exactly the kind of work that I had wanted to do when I first decided that I really could be a lawyer. I hadn’t taken the bar exam yet, so I was working as a clerk, but the firm was going to pay the cost of the exam, and I felt like I was set.

I ran into an immediate problem. The firm had been built on just a couple of areas of practice: insurance defense and construction defect defense. In other words, they worked for insurance companies and developers, defending against personal injury and construction defect lawsuits. This involves high volume, lots of billable hours and a low hourly rate billed to the client, combined with very little actual client contact. The firm was trying to expand into other, more lucrative areas. They had brought in an attorney who had an established practice working with local business owners, involving both commercial litigation and business/real estate transactions. This attorney had worked alone for most of his career and was ready to retire, so he agreed to come on board “of counsel” for a couple of years, which meant that he wasn’t an employee or even a partner, but he did get to use the firm’s offices, letterhead and resources, and they got access to his client base.

I was assigned to work for this attorney. Let’s call him Chuck. I was to take all my direction from Chuck. My office was near his, and he gave me all my assignments. However, he didn’t have ultimate authority over my job. He didn’t sign my paychecks. He didn’t keep track of how many hours I was working. He just told me what to do, and yelled at me if I didn’t do it his way. I was in the same building as my actual employers, but two floors away, and I almost never saw any of them. So I was in a kind of twilight zone, where I had to please Chuck in order to avoid misery, but I also had to please my bosses in order to have a job at all. And the twain often did not meet.

Because of the different nature of his practice and the kinds of clients he had, as well as his very nature, Chuck had a very different philosophy about the practice of law than that of my employers. His philosophy was a lot more customer-service oriented, since all his clients were real people with whom he had to meet face-to-face on a regular basis, and whom he had to keep happy all the time. The firm’s normal clients were faceless insurance companies. Chuck’s clients were used to paying $200-$300 per hour, but for damn fine work. The insurance companies paid $95-$120 per hour and didn’t much care how the work was, as long as they felt like they weren’t getting ripped off.

So I would work according to Chuck’s instructions, for his clients. Since I was brand new, I took longer to get things done, and they had to be revised a lot. I had a steep learning curve. I did a lot of things that couldn’t really be billed to the clients, but had to be done nonetheless. Then, a lot of the things I did bill were cut back when Chuck reviewed the bills before they were sent to the clients. From his point of view, the best way to keep the clients happy was to refrain from overbilling. Which was fine, except that the upshot of all of this was that my numbers, which were practically all that the partners were seeing, were not very good. In fact, at times they downright sucked.

I was pretty naive at the time. I couldn’t see a way out of my situation. Looking back, I can now see a lot of things I should have done to save my job. But I was paralyzed. I was stuck between that rock and hard place for two years, and things didn’t get any better. After two frustrating years, I was fired. I tried to explain the situation to the partners, but they weren’t interested. They had decided on a different course of action. They couldn’t exactly get rid of Chuck, but they were no longer banking on that avenue for growth of the firm, and in the new scheme of things I just wasn’t wanted or needed.

I panicked. I didn’t know what to do. I wasn’t very familiar with the job market in Vegas, because I had really just fallen into the job that I had. I frantically sent out resumes, had a few interviews, and took the first job offer that came along, regardless of what it was. Big mistake.

The new job was with a very small firm. There were only two attorneys (besides me), one law clerk, and a handful of paralegals/legal assistants. The practice was 99% collections litigation. That’s right. When a creditor sends your account to a collections agency, and then the collections agency gets fed up with you, they send your file to an attorney like the one I worked for. We had around 3,000 files open at any one time. We could do that because almost all the cases were exactly alike. We put them on an assembly line and cranked them out. I learned a lot at first, because I spent a lot of time in court, which I had never done before. But after a couple of months it got really tedious. On top of that, part of my job involved meeting with deadbeat debtors who had blown off the lawsuits and letters until they had a default judgment against themselves and a bench warrant out on them. They had to come in to our office, where we got to ask them detailed questions about their finances, all for the purpose of collecting the judgment from them. It was demeaning, and often dispiriting, and occasionally heartbreaking. I mean, what kind of people do you think get themselves in those kinds of messes to begin with?

I would have quit, but I still had that fear of unemployment. However, the problem was taken care of for me. My employer was a very paranoid man. Looking back, I think he was seriously disturbed. I was first dismayed to learn that I would have to punch a time clock just like any other employee. This didn’t make any sense, because I was not an hourly employee, I was salaried, and my job wasn’t nine-to-five anyway. Then, he really started flipping out. He became convince that I was lying to him and cheating him, and after three months he fired me. None of it made any sense. Once again I was out of work, and I was really upset. On top of everything else, my confidence was taking a real beating. I had the self-esteem of a slug.

The next thing that happened was near miraculous. I heard back from a firm with which I had interviewed the first time I was out of work. At that time, the job had sounded fantastic, but then I never heard back from them. I though that was a dead end. This time, the attorney that ran the firm was excited to have me back for another interview. He couldn’t say enough good things about me. He said that he had been thinking about me ever since my first interview, and that the only reason he hadn’t hired me then was because I had no experience in tax or estate planning, which made up a large part of his practice. He told me that, even with my lack of experience, I was head and shoulders above the rest of the people he had seen because of my People Skills.

People Skills?! What in the world was he talking about? I have never had people skills, have I? I was a nerd, a social outcast growing up. I had few friends. I hated to talk on the telephone. I didn’t know how to make small talk. I was not outgoing at all. Where was he getting all this about People Skills? For a moment I was afraid he had me confused with someone else he had interviewed.

No. It was me. He wanted me. I was perfect for the job. I was going to be working closely with him, meeting with his most valued clients. I was awed as he listed off some of the names. This guy worked with some seriously important and famous people. I felt like I was in a dream.

That was an amazing job. It was my dream job. I loved my boss. I liked the people I worked with. I liked the work I was doing. Things were going so well.

But there wasn’t enough work. I found myself asking for more work all the time. I had trouble filling up the day. I was worried about my billable hours again. Finally, after six months, my boss came to me and told me that his business was experiencing a downturn. A lot of big deals that had been on the burner were not coming to fruition because of economic conditions in this and other countries. He just didn’t have enough work to give me, and couldn’t afford to keep me. He hoped that he would be able to bring me back in a few months, but for now I was out of a job again.

I was upset, of course. Who wants to be out of work? But this time it was different. I wasn’t being fired because I hadn’t measured up, or because someone didn’t like me or my work or my production or even just me. In fact, my boss gave me glowing recommendations. I had a reference most people would kill for. Not only that, but he actively worked to find me another job. He even went to the temple (he was LDS) to pray and seek spiritual guidance as to how to help me. I can’t say how touched I was.

He found me a job with a friend of his. This friend was just going through a divorce, caused by his own adultery, and was also in the process of leaving the LDS Church. He was a mess. His life bled over into his work, and the practice became a mess. I was only there two weeks.

I found my next job in the classified ads, although the recommendation from my wonderful previous boss clinched the deal. I got a job with another small firm, working for a very high-powered female attorney with a nasty reputation in town. I soon found the reasons for her reputation. She was a fierce attorney, the kind clients love to have because she takes no prisoners. She was not demure, not passive, not very “feminine,” and so of course she was called a, er, a witch. In person, I found her to be quite personable, and in fact she immediately took to me. I was the only man in the office, and she was a really harsh taskmaster with everyone else, but she really like me, and treated me well. I learned a lot from her about being a good lawyer. I got lots of good experience. Best of all, there was no shortage of work. Business was booming. We were building a luxurious new office. I got to pick out my furniture. My future looked so bright.

Then, after six months, she decided, practically from one day to the next, to shut down her practice. She was going to close up shop and become in-house counsel for her biggest corporate client. She would sell the new building without ever having moved into it. She cut me a really big severance check to make up for the blow, and offered me the use of her office for as long as the job search would take, but once again I was out of a job.

I had lost four jobs in less than two years. Five if you counted the two week stint with the psycho, which I don’t. Granted, the last two jobs had been great, and their losses had had nothing to do me personally. It was just a run of bad luck. But it looks absolutely horrible on a resume. You reach a point where nobody is willing to even look at you, because they see how much you have moved around.

I had a hard time getting interviews at all. Thank goodness for that severance check. Without that, I don’t know what we would have done. I talked to everyone I knew, tried to use all the measly contacts I had. Finally I spoke with a neighbor who attended our church. His brother had a firm that had been growing a lot lately. He set me up with an interview. Within the first few sentences, I knew they had no place for me. The attorney mentioned, however, that he had received a phone call the day before from a fried who was just starting up a new firm and was looking for young attorneys. He would give him my name. Right. Fat chance.

But the guy did call. He gave me an interview. It was the best interview I have ever had in my life. I clicked with both partners in the new firm immediately. I was completely comfortable. We got along so well. I came home on cloud nine. I knew without a doubt that they would be offering me a job. They called within the hour.

I have been here for seven months now. Things are going very well. I like my job. The people I work with are all wonderful. I have plenty of work. We are moving into a new building later this year. My prospects are brilliant. And yet I can’t help wondering. I have been here before. I don’t know what will happen. But I am content. I don’t feel about my job the way my Dad always has about his. I am not a born attorney. I do not love my work so much that I would do it for free. There are a lot of things I would rather do, but I am good at what I do and I do enjoy it. Life is good.

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mr_porteiro_head
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[Smile]
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Bokonon
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Congrats you bood-su, err, lawguy [Wink]

Here's to many years of gainful employment, and gainful Hatracking to boot!

-Bok

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beverly
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Wow! That was a rocky career path. What a wonderful success story. You stuck with it, didn't give up, and you have learned so much.

Also, cool to discover you are about my age. [Smile]

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Space Opera
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Despite troubles you've kept your positive outlook, and that is something to be admired. I'm glad that you are able to see the value of being content with your career and your life. [Smile]

space opera

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katharina
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LawGuy, congratulations on a great life. I'm very glad you're at Hatrack. [Smile]

And if it isn't too weird, if the offer's still good by the time I go to SLC, I may take you up on the offer to meet your cousin.

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Farmgirl
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Thanks for sharing, Lawguy! That was very insightful and a good read.

FG [Hat]

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Derrell
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[Hat] Congratulations on not giving up.
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Tammy
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quote:
People Skills?! What in the world was he talking about? I have never had people skills, have I? I was a nerd, a social outcast growing up. I had few friends. I hated to talk on the telephone. I didn’t know how to make small talk. I was not outgoing at all. Where was he getting all this about People Skills? For a moment I was afraid he had me confused with someone else he had interviewed.

It was your humility and your people skills.

[Hat]

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PSI Teleport
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quote:
Let’s call him Chuck.
Or we could call him Dick.

Sorry, bad "Friends" joke.

At any rate, I liked reading your post! Anything that invokes "Friends" gets a whole bunch of gold stars!

*gives gold star*

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Dagonee
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Sheesh, way to crush a promising young 1L's dreams.

I'm glad you found a place you fit well with. Sounds like a tough market out there.

And I note PSI said you deserved lots of gold stars, but only gave you one...What's up with that?

Dagonee

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ak
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Wow, that was a great landmark! You have had some strange things happen in your career! I hope what you are doing now works out well for you, and you have many happy years with this firm.

I feel so lucky that I am like your father in that I love my work and would do it for free, if I could. I also am an Electrical Engineer. However, I didn't know that's what I wanted to do at all, and only sort of lucked into this path.

My sister is an attorney and I know I could never do that job. I would go crazy with frustration. The law is so arbritrary and changeable. Engineering makes so much more sense. Even though it changes, it's only from advances in technology or knowledge. All the things you learn are always still true, they just sometimes get superceded by things that work even better.

Anyway, that was a very inspiring story. Things can look very bleak sometimes professionally but determination and persistence and also a dollop of luck and grace can always pull one through. Best of luck for the years ahead! I'm glad you are at hatrack.

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pooka
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quote:
Mom told me to forget it, because they make no money at all. To hear her tell it, they were constantly living on the brink of starvation or homelessness. I thought it might be neat to be a teacher. Mom pointed to her own father and sister, who were underappreciated and underpaid.
I got this from my mom too. [Mad] [Mad] [Mad] Try not to do it to my kids.

p.s. (((Lawguy))) [Smile]

[ July 19, 2004, 06:00 PM: Message edited by: pooka ]

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skillery
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So who ended up paying for the bar exam?
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UofUlawguy
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That firm paid for it. Twice. Then let me go a few months after I passed in on the second try.
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