Let’s start by discussing every legal job that I’ve ever had. (don’t worry, there aren’t that many, I was so incompetent at most of them that it will make for a few good posts). My first legal job was working for a guy I call Batman. His real name is Bruce Wayne [Last Name] and he was an idealistic lawyer in the town where I went to law school.*
A lot of people in law school will clerk for a local attorney (or judge) in order to earn some beer money and learn a little about how to actually practice law. Money was never a big deal to me, but I did want to learn how to actually sue people since I didn’t want to work for anyone when I graduated. I wanted to hang out my shingle and be a solo practitioner; a lone ranger…a ninja! So I figured it would good to learn how it’s done.
Rather than mailing out resumes, I dropped them off in person because when people see me in a suit they mistakenly assume that I’m smart and competent. Batman said that he’d gotten lots of resumes in the mail but that I was the only one who walked in personally so I was hired. He asked how much I wanted and I said that the going rate was $7 an hour for law clerks (this was 1996) and he said “how about $8 instead?”. Fine by me.
Although most Midwesterners are genuinely nice people (especially compared to southerners, who only pretend to be nice, and northerners (like me) who are assholes), Batman was considered really nice, even among midwesterners. Batman's Dad was the town sherriff for most of his life, so he had an inborn sense of justice.
Batman had personal injury cases where he made money, and other cases that he would take because nobody wanted them and he felt bad for the clients. There were cases where people were fired for filing a workers comp claim; a case where a couple’s baby died and no lawyers would take the case because of the new “tort reform” law that was passed, which made it unprofitable to sue; and there was a family whose house was destroyed and the insurance company wouldn’t pay. All Batman had to hear was “no one will take my case” and he’d leap into action.
He once filed a workers comp claim for someone who earned minimum wage (meaning that his fee wouldn’t even cover the cost of Xerox copies). The company paid the full demand when Batman told them "I'm not doing this for the money, so I'm not going to negotiate. You pay him every cent in the demand or I'll keep filing motions and running up your legal fees until you're bankrupt and you end up working for him."
Batman hated the lawyers who worked doing insurance defense work (partly because they were his opponents, and partly because they worship Satan). I mentioned that the daughter of one of the prominent insurance defense lawyers was in my class.
Batman: Are you sure it’s that guy’s daughter?
Ninja: Yeah…she said he’s her dad.
Batman: That’s surprising…I just assumed that he ate his young.
Now, here's what I liked and didn't like about the job.
Self Employment: It's nice working for yourself and deciding what cases you'll take and what you won't. It sux having to answer to anyone, so if you're the boss there is no one to tell you what to do and what time to come and go.
Co-workers: Batman, his wife (the secretary), and the two paralegals were all really nice people. I think in every job that I've ever had, most of what determines whether I liked it or not is the people I deal with every day. I think the key is to work with midwesterners and avoid northerners and southerners.
The Pro Bono Stuff: Helping people who have nowhere else to turn is really gratifying. When I saw some of those people in tears in his office, I really don't know how the other lawyers turned them away.
Learning: I didn't know anything about law firms before I started there, so I learned a lot of things about personal injury law that I'll probably never use, but that I'm glad I got to be a part of.
Money: Beer money is fine in law school, but if you have a mortgage then the sporadic payments you get from settling cases is a little difficult to manage. Some months you'll settle several cases and be rolling in dough; and other times you can go 6 months without a paycheck.
Cases: The pro bono cases are gratifying, but you can't do them all the time. The personal injury stuff pays well, but it's cookie cutter work.
Responsibility: As a solo it's tough to take vacations or call in sick. There is no firm without you.
*I won’t mention his real last name since that would tell you where I went to law school, and you could use that
Coming Next Week: More Jobs I Don't Want to Do.