Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Will Work for Food (and Cable, Phone, etc.)

Well, folks—I have less than one week of unemployment left to claim, and despite the fact I have sent out literally dozens upon dozens of resumes, I am still without a job.

During these long months, it has been an emotional struggle trying to remember that I am a worthy human, a person who deserves to be employed. But my doubts still linger.

These doubts are raised each time I recall my “final interview” nine months ago with the stormtroopers of the Old Boy Network Law Firm where I last worked. Their words come back to me, seared on my gray matter like a brand on a steer. “Ah’ve bin a law-yuh fer forty years now, and this is the fust time Ah’d evuh go home and worry ‘bout what mah legal assistant had done that day,” said the senior partner of this firm, who I will call LBJ, during this final interview. “You made all kinds of silly mistakes that Ah don’t understand. The questions you’d ask on a day-to-day basis raised many concerns among the pardners heah at the firm.”

Reading that you would think that I was an absolute legal virgin, a bubblehead that they’d randomly hired off of the street, that I’d never before typed a pleading, filed a document, mailed a letter, talked to a client. But this is not the case; I’d done all of those things, hundreds of times, and done them well.

So why did they consider me to be such a liability? This is where LBJ’s words haunt me, because although intellectually I know I am an experienced legal assistant/secretary, I doubted myself and my skills while working for the Old Boy Network. I have allowed LBJ’s words wiggle their way into my psyche, where they have lodged and created a kind of mythological truth.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was LBJ’s deceased brother’s trust, LBJ being trustee. The beneficiary of these monies was LBJ’s sister-in-law, The Harpy, who LBJ despised with all of his heart. Each month, checks would come to our office from oil companies in Texas and Oklahoma. I was to deposit these checks into the trust account, then write a check to The Harpy, minus expenses. I was to also include a spreadsheet that detailed each check, such as the name of the oil company and the amount of the check itself, and all supporting documentation. Finally, I was expected to reconcile this account each month.

I will tell you that I am not a bookkeeper, not by any stretch of the imagination. I had handled accounts payable and receivable at other firms in the past. However, writing a check and mailing it to someone is completely different than having to reconcile an account on a month-to-month basis, particularly to someone such as The Harpy, who was also an accountant and would go over my work with a fine-toothed comb. Inevitably, she would find my mistakes and write vicious emails and faxes to LBJ, accusing him of trying to cheat her out of her money.

These poisonous bits of communication would infuriate LBJ, rightfully so, as they were written to attack his honesty and integrity as the Trustee of his beloved brother’s trust. Naturally, LBJ became very frustrated with me, because I could not accurately perform this particular task.

Knowing LBJ’s displeasure with me, I did what should have been done. I spoke frankly with him, saying that I felt uncomfortable performing this personal business for him, particularly something of this magnitude which caused him such worry. He brushed me off, saying he thought I could do it if I just applied myself. I attacked the task with renewed vigor.

I continued to make mistakes.

Desperate to redeem myself, I spoke to the firm administrator, sharing with her my concerns about the trust account and expressing my desire to learn how to do it properly so I could make LBJ happy. She was glad I had spoken to her, said she would talk to LBJ about it, and suggest to him that our in house accountant work on this task, rather than me, the lowly and meek legal assistant with the math phobia.

One week later, I was called into the Popcorn Smell-Hating Managing Partner’s office, where the stormtroopers-- he, LBJ and the firm administrator-- sat, ready to hand me my walking papers.

I still recall this event with wonder and shame, helpless against the thought that it was my fault that I failed.

Luckily, however, time has given me the chance to form some thoughts of my own, and they are these:

- Why wasn’t I told during my interview with LBJ that upon hire, I would be expected to do this task?
- Although the Old Boy Network Law Firm employed a fully qualified in-house bookkeeper/accountant/payroll person, why did LBJ insist that his legal assistant perform the task of reconciling his family’s trust account?
- What questions, exactly, did I ask during my time at the Old Boy Network Law Firm that “worried” the partners? During my 90-day review with the stormtroopers, they said I was doing very well, that they were pleased with my work, however, the only thing I could possibly improve upon was that I needed to ask more questions rather than “guess” at what I was doing. So I did. Apparently, my questions weren’t the right questions—the questions that they felt I should have been asking. Silly me for not having my Questions For Partners That Won’t Worry Them Tarot Cards on hand.
- LBJ Quote: “Ah’ve bin a law-yuh fer forty years now, and this is the fust time Ah’d evuh go home and worry ‘bout what mah legal assistant had done that day.” Why do I find this so difficult to believe?!?
- Why did the Firm Administrator, seemingly so benign and anxious to help me succeed, stab me in the back? What on earth happened there?
- Why is the Old Boy Network Law Firm unable to keep someone, anyone, in that position for more than a year?

I think I may know why.


Anonymous said...

Weren't these the same evil predators who told you there was "something very wrong with the way you think"? Wasn't that Popcorn Hater? Have you employed a car bomber yet?

And no, it wasn't your fault these guys are losers.

Jennifer said...

My lovely woman, all that know you know that there is nothing wrong with you. Attorneys, who may or may not be nice people outside the office, are definately assholes inside their offices. I know exactly how you feel - I endured a similar scenario when I "left" the last law firm I worked for in Colorado. You leave feeling like you've been mugged, and that it's your fault you've been mugged.

There's plenty of work and plenty of sunshire where I am. Come visit me and go job hunting!! Love ya~J