While this blog has been defunct for all intents and purposes for a while now, I think it’s time to officially bring it to an end.

This was an invaluable space for me for a very long time, and I cannot even begin to express how grateful I am for all the wonderful fascinating friends I’ve made through writing here (too many to even begin to try to name you all). Many of you I’ve never met in “real” life, yet I treasure the connections that we’ve developed over the ether. Those of you whom I have met in person, I’ve been consistently amazed at how comfortable and effortless it was to transition from reading words on a page to speaking face to face.

But as the frequency of posts here recently has shown, this space no longer fits easily into my life. Some of that change results from changes in the internet itself. As many people have been pointing out for a while now, in those heady pre-Facebook pre-Twitter pre-Instagram days blogging played a different role in people’s lives than it does now. There was more long-form writing, and many more vigorous debates in the comments sections. To some extent, those debates and discussions have transferred to Facebook, but the Facebook vibe is different from that seen in academic blogs (or at least, blogs by academics) in the first 5 years or so of this blog.

I particularly value the support I found here throughout my long drawn-out process of leaving academia. But it’s also true that leaving academia made this space, and the identity that I created here, less relevant than when I was still a professor.

Perhaps the biggest change is that I have become determined to create boundaries between my work and my life in a way that really didn’t make sense – and wasn’t possible – when I was an academic. The work-life divide came up a lot among the new profs I met through this blog, but I always secretly sort of felt proud of doing a job that meant so much to me, it couldn’t be separated from my personal identity. It was academia. I studied things I loved, things I considered vitally important, and I wrote down what I thought about them to share with other people. How could that not be integral to my very sense of self?

I don’t really feel that way any more. I like being a lawyer (and there are many things that disturb me about higher education these days), and I’m too over-educated, obsessive, and tightly wound not to value my work identity and base a big chunk of my self-worth on it. But it’s work. I do it for pay. I use my brain in service of something that is not me (the government), and to a large extent, my work is in response to other people’s choices, not my own. I’m a cog in a way that professors, standing at the front of the room (or sitting among their students) imparting wisdom (or facilitating student wisdom) and coming up with original thoughts aren’t, and I’m actually really happy with that. It’s important to me that my work is meaningful (and I believe it is, although I think many of my academic friends might see me as having gone over to the dark side, or at least a dark side). But since starting to practice, it’s become more and more important to me to create a sense of self that has nothing to do with what I do for a living.

I can’t claim that I’ve figured out exactly how to do that yet, but what I have figured out doesn’t seem to fit into this space any more.


I’ve started another blog. If you’d like to follow me over there, I would be thrilled to see you.

I do have to warn you, though, that it’s very different from this one, and probably a lot more mundane. It turns out that right now, for me, developing a sense of self independent of my employment has turned into an obsession with


Yup. Kind of going from the sublime to the ridiculous, I realize.

But I knit all the time now. It’s become my non-work thing. And I find myself wanting to talk about it, a lot.

So I’ve set up a new space, and while I’d love to see you there, I have to let you know that there will be a lot of talk about knitting. And not-very-good pictures of knitting. Along with not-very-good pictures of life in the desert, because that’s the other thing that non-work me focuses on these days: what it’s like to live where I live, and how to make it a place I want to be.

So if you’re curious, feel free to stop by. Don’t feel obligated to stick around at all if it’s not your thing.

Either way, just know how much I truly, deeply appreciate your part in the journey that’s ending here.


Collectively, knitters seem to believe one of the worst parts of any project is finishing it – particularly seaming something you’ve knit in pieces (people who like seaming usually confess this with some degree of embarrassment). I’ve reached the seaming stage at the first sweater I’ve knit that requires seaming, and I think there’s something else to the distaste: seaming is the point at which you finally determine once and for all whether the sweater’s going to 1) look and fit as you intended, and 2) look good on you or not. I think putting off seaming is putting off that moment of truth, when you have face whether your hunch that this sweater would look ADORABLE on you was correct.

Which is to say that my latest project is only partially seamed:

purple sweater

You can’t quite tell from this picture, but this is knit in a sort of huge cross shape, with the criss-cross open stitches in the center. Then you fold the sweater in half across the open stitches and sew up the sides – et voila, a sweater. I’ve seamed one side, then tried it on, and had two thoughts: “This looks…okay?”, and “The neck needs to be bigger.” I started picking apart the bind-off around the neck, which was going reallllly sloooooowwwly – and then stuffed it in its project bag and started something new.

I will finish it. I WANT to finish it. But maybe not right this moment.

purple sweater shoulder

(For the record, it’s the Lea pullover from the Summer 2014 Knitscene, and it’s an easy and lovely pattern [I found the drop-stitch criss-crosses tedious, but then, I find anything more complex than stockinette tedious].  And the recommended yarn, Classic Elite’s Firefly, blocks out into a lovely cool drapey fabric. The wrinkles in the picture are just from me stuffing it back in its project bag – it washes up very nicely.)

Now, if you knit a sweater in the round, you don’t generally have to seam it at all. And if you knit in-the-round from the top down, you can try it on as you go. You may not get a completely accurate assessment of how well it fits you, since most yarns are a little different after you wash them, and so if you use unwashed/blocked yarn to assess size, you’re not going to get the most accurate results. But the plus of trying on as you go is that you largely avoid that fatal moment of “so THAT’s what this looks like!”

So, for instance, there’s this:

green sweater 1

Knitting this was less of a leap of faith than knitting the sweater above. You start at the top with the shoulders, knit down through the body, then add the sleeves and the collar (can’t remember which order I did them in). You see the sweater taking shape bit by bit as you knit, rather than in one fell swoop at the end when you assemble. So there is no great reveal at the end, which is maybe why this sweater is complete, and just waiting for cooler weather (to the extent we get cool weather here).

* * * *

Knitting is my current free-time obsession. It’s an extremely zen occupation, except when it’s not, when there’s quite a lot of cursing. It’s a little bit like music, in that it’s physical without being exercies, requires pleasant concentration, and is completely different from what I do for a living. It’s pretty much how I’ve been spending my time, in the time that I haven’t been posting here.

I’ve spent most of my blogging time writing about negotiating a work identity, in part because I never had any real boundary between work and life. But now, I’m trying really hard to keep work and home separate. In my current job, I have worked at home, but not very often; I work late, and sometimes I work on the weekends. But I would rather stay late at the office or go in on the weekend than bring work home these days. And I would rather not think about or worry about or puzzle over work unless I’m at work.

(Besides, according to lawyerly ethics, I really can’t talk very much about the work I do. Which is sort of a shame because I’m collecting some funny stories, but they also might seem sort of callous to non-prosecutors, so I’ll just stay away from all that.)

So instead, today I offer you observations about what happens when you manipulate pretty string with sticks.

Out of place

The other afternoon, NLDDH and I were driving back from seeing a movie (we always go to the matinees) and he said, “It’s really beautiful here.” And I said, “It’s really beautiful here NOW.”

It is beautiful here now – it was about in the mid-70s this afternoon, clear sky, bright sun, the land around us golden and sage. But I ruin my beautiful days bracing for summer, when it will hit 110 easily. I find myself thinking of the sun as my enemy. And I stop and linger over the catalogs that show up in my mailbox selling winter clothes, to gaze again and again at snow, slush, bare trees, gray skies. 

My sister just recently joined LinkedIn, and I got asked if I wanted to “connect” with her. Out of idle curiosity I googled her employer, then went to Google maps and street-viewed it. (She works for a stable, and lives on-site.) The photos are all from spring or summer, or some time when the grass is a deep damp green and the trees are bushy with leaves. I’ve never been there, and don’t know that I’ll ever go there, but it looks like home, the way places are supposed to look.

The above all seems to point in one direction. But in the other direction lies my job, my apartment, all the things – real and imagined – that we carry with us when we move and that tie us down in place. I have no critical mass of friends and family to pull me in another direction (they’re scattered all over) – just the imagined memory of what I want the world around me to look like. That’s not enough, but it’s also ineradicable.


Happy New Year’s to everyone! Today I bring you reflections from the Ghosts of Christmas the New Year’s Past, Present, and Future.

I.    PAST

Obviously it’s been a while since I posted anything here — in fact, since just before I started my new job. In part, the silence is because that new job has been kicking my ass.

It’s interesting, and I’ve been learning a TON, and I think I like the job: I like the people a lot, and it’s fascinating to get a sense of how this part of our legal system actually works in practice. (Everything everyone has ever said about how law school doesn’t teach you to practice: completely, utterly, entirely true. It teaches you reasonably well how to be a law clerk, but not how to practice. I’m still not convinced it could really do so without turning into a co-op program – for instance, I have no idea how law school could be changed to better prepare someone to do my current job – but the gap is nonetheless breathtaking.)

But the amount of new information has been overwhelming, and I remember almost nothing about my first couple of weeks besides a blur of panic, not even knowing what questions to ask, and wandering the halls of the office trying to figure out where the hell I am.

(My workplace is seriously a maze. It keeps making me thinking of the way earlier cultures would build their towns/settlements to be hard to penetrate, to foil invading outsiders.)

I’ve absorbed enough by now to feel a little bit like I’m getting a handle on things, but mostly that’s shown me how simple and straightforward the case I’ve worked on so far are, and how much I have to learn.

Also, every time I think I’ve figured stuff out, I screw something up. Like a case I have a hearing on tomorrow – yesterday afternoon, so, New Year’s Eve afternoon, I suddenly blindingly realized there was a step I should have taken that I had not. ARGHH.

I mean, nothing they give me to do can be screwed up beyond repair if I make a mistake; the case isn’t going away or anything. But the mistakes make me feel stupid nonetheless. The panic of realizing I’ve erred, with its “oh, SHIT” feeling of recognizing my stupidity, is actually a good learning tool, in that I know I will never make this mistake again. But it doesn’t make learning fun.

What I’m not sure is to what extent this job is so overwhelming and terrifying, and to what extent I simply get overwhelmed and terrified at the prospect of Not Getting Things Right. (There’s another new person there, who started about six months before I did, who has talked about also experiencing the sheer terror of getting things wrong, but I still don’t know if it’s the job per se, or if we both suffer from the same Perfectionist Syndrome endemic among over-educated career-changing women, or a mix of both.)

The other thing that’s terrifying is that I don’t really have any idea how well I am (or am not) doing at this job. Here, there’s a bit of an identity crisis going on: from early on in law school I carved out a niche as a good writer and researcher. I cultivated that identity, hard, both as a means of getting judicial clerkships, and then by virtue of having had clerkships. That identity was what set me apart from other aspiring lawyers.

And of course, currently, my job involves almost no research and writing. So to be any good at it depends on other skills – general smarts, strategy, knowledge of areas of law that I didn’t spend much time on in school – about which I feel much less confident. Even simply being organized and responsible is important; and the irony is that while I felt like one of the more organized and responsible folk when I worked in academia, now that I’m out, I’ve absorbed enough of the popular perception of the ivory tower that I worry about being that absent-minded head-in-the-clouds academic type.

So anyway. A good experience; but stressful.


This is just the opportunity for me to pause and whine that I’m sick; I have that sore throat/head clogged with gunk thing going on, and when I woke up this morning, I had to bolt out of bed because lying down made me feel like I was going to choke. Blech. Happy New Year, indeed.


This is the first year in a long time where I’ve felt like the New Year is actually a time for reflection and setting goals. Perhaps this is because it’s gradually dawned on me that for the first time in a long time, I find myself rudderless: I have no major goal to accomplish.

When I decided to leave academia, my goal was to get into law school; after I got in, my goal was to survive each semester and accomplish as much as I could; and after I graduated, my goal was to get a permanent job. Which I did. So now… I’m done??

I mean, I certainly want to learn how to do this job, and to get good at it; that’s a goal, but it’s frustratingly amorphous right now. It’s also not a life-encompassing goal: I feel very strongly about not reproducing academia in my new profession, and try really hard to leave my job at work.

I’m paid to work 40 hours a week, and sure, there will be times when I will have to work more than that (e.g. when I’m preparing for trial and the like), and when I have work that actually has to get done, I will do it cheerfully. But especially now, while I don’t yet have a full caseload, I refuse to give time to my job that I’m not getting paid for, and that doesn’t actually accomplish anything. Spending my time off worrying about my job does not get anything more done, and steals time away from the rest of my life. I don’t want to fall into the trap of believing that worrying about stuff is someone the same as being productive, which seemed to govern my time in academia. (Maybe because “thinking” was an actual part of my job description in a way it isn’t now? I am no longer paid to Think Deep Thoughts in any way.)

So even though I’ve always vaguely wanted to get fit, be healthier, etc. etc., this is the first year where I really feel the need for specific goals, for which I can chart out a path to make myself better and happier. Without them, I tend to spend the time on weekends just….passing time, not actually DOING things.

I haven’t yet worked out entirely what those goals will be, but even figuring out what they are is in itself a purpose that’s providing some satisfaction. They will probably involve knitting, exercise/health, and possibly cats and/or continuing to study Spanish. But whatever they are, they will add meaning to my life that has nothing to do with what I get paid to do, 8:30-5, M-F, and I think that will be a good thing for 2014.


(Edited to add: this is apparently my 1066th post, which I think is kind of hysterical.)

Thursday evening thoughts

So my time in this job/city is winding down. I had a really nice little thing happen today – I answered the phone when everyone else was out over lunch, and it was someone doing the job here that I will be doing in the fall elsewhere, with a question about the case they have before the court. This person was very friendly (and had clerked in the past), we fell into conversation, and I mentioned that I was going to be doing the same job. We then had a lovely chat for at least 20 minutes about clerking, working their current/my future job, and related stuff. It was just really, really nice, and made me excited all over again for starting the new gig. In particular, it reminded me how nice and welcoming everyone doing Future Job has been when they find out that’s what I’m going to be doing, too – like there’s a professional community out there waiting for me.

I mean, that community might be horrible once I get into it, who knows – but for now it all seems very encouraging. 

And in something only a little bit related, I haven’t really had any length cut off my hair since I moved here (just the ends trimmed slightly) and as of my last haircut or so, it has moved from generic-mid-shoulder-length to LONG. It’s kind of like caring for a pet. All at once it’s become a carpet sitting around my shoulders on a hot day, but I can put it back really easily and it doesn’t need a lot of styling because it pretty much does its own thing anyway. The dilemma: Do I keep it this long, or chop off 3-4 inches? I’m trying to decide if the latter would create a slightly more “professional” image for the new job. So far, indecision = maintaining the status quo.

(And now it’s raining here… ah, petrichor! I love the desert.)

Anyway. That’s it for now.

You know what I really really hate?

I hate when people are like, “Ugh, I just saw FAT PEOPLE in shorts, how DARE they be fat in my presence.” Whatever you think about this country’s “obsesity epidemic” and the various alleged health risks of being overweight, fat people are in fact members of the human race, and it’s fucking hot in vast swathes of the country right now, and humans are entitled to wear shorts when it’s fucking hot. If you’re really so aesthetically sensitive that looking at fat people in shorts gives you pain, I have to wonder how you make it through the day. 

Insecurities and identity

Anxiety dreams are wacky things. I'm sure the symbolism in many of them is pretty obvious; for instance, while I've never had the (apparently common) dream that my teeth are falling out, I have had a few dreams in which my mouth continually gets clogged with something like chewing gum, and no matter how many times I dig into the corners of my mouth with my fingers and scrape out as much goo as I can, it regenerates immediately, making it impossible for me to talk.

I also have recurring dreams that I am in a hotel or a university building, which is usually a high-rise of some kind, and I cannot find my room/wherever I'm supposed to be. The elevator won't go to the proper floor; or it won't go to that side of the building, and when I try to cross the building I can't get there from here; I can't find my room number (or I just don't know it); or I get to the room and the key I have doesn't work. Often there are staircases involved that simply stop midair, a bit like an Escher drawing come to life, or I'm supposed to jump from the top of one staircase to another, or the staircase somehow turns upside down. (A variation on this, I suppose, are the dreams where I'm trying to catch a flight – invariably overseas – and I can't find the terminal, let alone the gate. For some reason, these dreams often involve me getting lost in a shopping mall attached to the airport.)

But what I find especially interesting are what I'll call performance-anxiety dreams and what they suggest about how I see myself. I don't remember ever having these dreams until I started my Ph.D. program, but at that point I started having the "never went to class" dreams. You're all familiar with these, I bet: I dream that it's the last week in the semester, and I realize that I signed up for a class that I never once attended. (Maybe I never had these dreams until grad school because that was when I first encountered the phenomenon of the student who registers but never shows up for class but doesn't drop? In real life, I always wondered how that could possibly happen, but my subconscious clearly thinks I would do this.)

The class is generally a math class (I haven't taken math since high school), but sometimes a language class, and in one memorable dream, it was some kind of highly quantitative economics. But the point is that's it's a subject in which cumulative knowledge is important. As much as I insist that doing history properly is HARD, I'll admit that you can kind of dip in and out of a history course. If you miss the two weeks when we covered the Wars of Religion, you can still show up for the section on the Enlightenment, and although you'll certainly miss stuff – nuances and deeper meanings and causes/influences – you'll pretty much be able at least to understand what's going on without making up the material. But if you miss the first two weeks of calculus, or German, you're not going to be able to walk into class and know what they're talking about without making up that material first. 

So the point is that in these dreams, if I haven't been to class, I don't have a prayer of understanding the material. And yet, the anxiety is not even, "How can I pass this class?" – it's "How can I get an A in this class?" (My subconscious, it's egotistical.) (Although the last few times I've had this dream my subconscious has become more realistic, and the stress is over whether I can withdraw without penalty. Good subconscious!)

Anyway. The amusing thing was that these dreams continued for a few years after finishing my Ph.D. But they eventually changed to dreams about classes that I myself was teaching. So, for instance, in the dream I'd be at home, unshowered, in my PJs, and I would look at the clock and realize that the class of the semester started 20 minutes ago. Or I'd be in class, trying to teach, and the students would ignore everything I said, and although I'd talk louder and louder, they'd just talk right over me. (Once, I dreamed about teaching in a steep auditorium-like classroom – a real classroom at my school – and that there were two sports broadcasters in the top right corner doing a running commentary on my teaching. It turned out that morning I had slept through my radio alarm going off and was hearing the voices of the morning DJs.) I decided these dreams meant I finally thought of myself as a prof, and no longer a student.

As you can imagine, once I started law school, I stopped having the prof dreams. Instead, I started having dreams about classes I was taking again (still usually math/language classes, though I think once the class was federal income tax, shudder).

Now, however, I'm neither a prof nor a student; I'm not in the classroom at all. (Thank God.) 

And now? Now I dream that I have to get on stage to perform, and I don't even know what play/musical it is, let alone know my part. Sometimes I have a copy of the music/libretto, and I'm going to have to try to sight read for the first time in our first performance.

I find it completely amusing that this is what I've reverted to. I performed in choirs and musicals (though not usually straight drama) all through middle school, high school, and college (and then again for a little bit in the mid-2000s). Somehow, through all my different professional permutations, that sense of myself as a performer seems to have endured, even though I haven't been on stage in years. And when my subconscious needs a way to express anxiety over being unprepared (an imposter?), that's where it goes.

I suspect at some point the dreams will shift to me having to show up in the courtroom and argue something withough having any idea what I'm going to say. They haven't yet, probably because I don't have any idea what it feels like to represent someone in court. But when they do, I will at least feel comforted that my subconscious finally sees me as a lawyer.

(The one venue that never appears in these dreams is sports, because I've almost never done them. Do any of you ever get sports-performance-anxiety dreams? Or is the stage a common metaphor for everyone, regardless of whether you've ever performed on stage?)

Update, AKA insight into my personal neuroses

1. The wackadoodle shirt (i.e. the first one in the last post) is a truly beautiful shirt. I love it. But the colors don’t work with my navy suit. (Still not sure it’s interview-friendly, but now I don’t have to decide.)

2. The third shirt in the post below sold out before I got one (but I ended up seeing it in the store in another size and it looks less nice in person, so that’s fine).

3. The linked, fourth shirt is still en route (man, UPS is sloooowwwww. The first 2 shirts got here from England before that one’s made it from Indiana).

4. I really, really, really like the second shirt with my navy suit, and think it looks interview-appropriately formal and tasteful (first, it’s actually chiffon, so a more formal fabric, and second, most of it’s hidden under the jacket. Which is good as I’m not wild about the sleeves, but would really only ever wear it under something, cause that’s the way I roll). However,

5. I would prefer to wear gray shoes with the top, and I don’t have any. And,

6. I took my fattest-weight black suit to be altered today because I can’t decide between black and navy. So “goes with navy” tops might be right out, anyway.

7. What this really means is I’m assembling two entirely alternate universes of suits, tops, shoes, and bags. These universes keep expanding. (For one thing, I found out I’ll be staying overnight, so that complicates things sartorially and luggagely.)

(8. I might have ordered a gray suit out of pure curiosity about whether it would work on me and perhaps provide an alternate to the black/navy dilemma. Shhhhh. Let’s pretend this never happened. Until it shows up in my mailbox.)

9. For something ENTIRELY different: does anyone have any suggestions for stretches etc. that would help a tight knee? I started running more (that is, more than not at all), but on Sunday my right knee started feeling tight and today it was worse. It really doesn’t hurt – it just literally feels tight, kind of like it’s just a little out of alignment and something’s pulling on it – almost torquing it like twisting a rubber band. It still doesn’t hurt, but feels like if I keep running on it it will pop, or the rubber band will snap? Or at least it will lock up? I can’t even really identify where this feeling is, to work on it – maybe just above my knee in the front, and stretching my quad seems to help more than stretching my hamstring (which actually feels a wee bit hyperextended?). But for all I know it’s transferred from somewhere else in my body, like my hip or ankle is the issue and my knee just the innocent bystander caught in the crossfire. Anyone have any ideas about this?

Okay. End of highly self-absorbed post! Someday I may actually address something other than myself here. But today is not that day.

How to make a job sound appealing

So, I came across a posting for a job* with my state, doing ADA compliance for the corrections department. You'd research appropriate ADA accommodations, advise on proper methods for compliance, review policy, investigate inmate grievances, etc.

It actually sounds interesting, and important, in a social-justice-y kind of way (if, like me, you think there are quite a lot of problems with the nation's prison system).

I mean, it doesn't pay well, it doesn't even technically require a J.D. (a paralegal certificate is sufficient),and I'm sure there's a high potential for unpleasantness. This is by no means a dream job – just something I came across and thought, "Hmm, interesting."

And then I read the conditions of employment, which require you (among other things) to have the ability to:

  • Lift arms above head and kick as high as own waist;
  • Stabilize another person to accomplish a controlled take down;
  • Use arms, palms of hands, shins, and feet to deliver blows;
  • Withstand impact (slow speed or with a safety bag) on own body from strikes/blows;
  • Swing a baton in a striking technique;
  • Rotate body 90 degrees with feet planted for striking with foot or using a defensive tactic;
  • Get down on one or both knees and up again with multiple repetitions;…
  • See and hear in order to observe, address and respond to potential breeches[sic] in safety and security;
  • Seize, hold, control or subdue violent or assaultive persons and defend oneself or others to prevent injury;
  • Work in situations involving assaultive behavior, physical control of another person and/or restraint situations;
  • Work in an environment with fluctuating noise and temperature (hot and cold) which may include working outdoors in inclement weather and/or concrete floor/wall work settings.
Oh, and:
  • Positions that have direct contact with offenders may be exposed to Oleoresin Capsicum;
  • TB (tuberculosis) screening is required of all new employees upon hire.

Oh. Um. Yeah.

So, clearly, I would not be a very good candidate for this job. I am way too much of a privileged suburban white girl delicate flower wimp.  

(Which is commentary on ME, not on the job.)

(It also kind of reminds me of how when I told my primary care physician that I was going to law school, she instantly started reeling off all the vaccinations I would have to get if I would be going into prisons.)

*No, I'm not looking for a job – I just always look at postings, though, to see what's out there.

This kind of thing makes me embarrassed to be a non-trad student

So, when I was applying to law school, I became aware that there was a perception among traditionally-aged law students that older law students can be, frankly, pains in the ass. Specifically, that older law students have a bad habit of sticking their hand up in class and saying, "Well, in MY experience as a [fill in whatever they did before law school," and going on to blather at great length about something that's not really relevant or of interest to the rest of the students in the class. 

Now, the older students I knew when I was a traditionally-aged student in grad school didn't do this, and I can only think of one older [than me] student in law school who did this, once, in a 1L Contracts class. But that is a perception floating around out there. 

Unfortunately, I think I've just found the grain of truth in that stereotype.

A 2010 U Penn grad, who started working at a law firm last September and was fired last May, has sued the firm, seeking $77 million in damages, alleging that the firm misrepresented itself and violated his employment agreement. He asserts that he accepted employment with this firm because it represented itself as eschewing artificial hierarchy, rewarding initiative and ambition, and valuing creativity and independent thinking. When he displayed initiative, ambition, independent thinking, and creativity, however, he says, the firm fired him.

Central, or at least important, to his argument is the fact that law is his second career, and that he was a successful software engineer and entrepreneur before going to law school. In other words, it's kind of a "In MY experience before law school" argument.

Here are some of the allegations in the plaintiff's complaint [sorry, this is kind of long; but it's a 50 pp. complaint, so… you can read the whole thing here]:

From 1997 to 2007 Plaintiff [name] had a distinguished career as a software engineer in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Within five years he held the title of Director of Technology, managing a team of engineers.  His career culminated when he founded and was the creative force behind an internet company whose impact on online entertainment services can still be felt today.

After conquering Silicon Valley, he decided to take his talents in a new direction, and in 2007 began law school at the University of Pennsylvania Law School….

You know, it's just lovely that he conquered Silicon Valley before giong to law school. And I'm sure his previous work experience is more directly applicable to his lawyering than my previous work experience will be to mine. Nonetheless, he was still a brand-new associate. (He was fired after 8 months, so you have to think the issues the complaint raises began pretty quickly.)

Plaintiff worked at this firm during the summer after his 2L year, and then after graduation. It's probably worth noting that this is one of those tremendous New York firms; there were close to 300 attorneys in the office. 

Upon arrival at the firm, [the plaintiff] immediately began doing superlative work.  During his time at [the firm], he repeatedly found ways to improve the efficiency of the work, or even the outcome of cases….

From the beginning [of his employment] he did superlative work, and never received a complaint or negative comment about it….

So, no complaints or negative comments = superlative work? Good to know.

In virtually every assignment [plaintiff] was given, he went above and beyond the call of duty, pointing out better ways to proceed, inefficiencies, observations, and ways to get a better result for [Firm] clients.

Specifically, one document review case [plaintiff] was assigned to involved software engineering, his field of expertise.  He e-mailed the two partners on the case to inform them that he possessed this knowledge that would be helpful to them in understanding the technology and the expert witnesses.  Neither one ever responded.

Now, on the one hand, yes, this is probably inefficient on the part of the firm. And yet, on the other hand, are we really surprised?

For this same project, the software the Firm had chosen for the review of electronic documents was extremely slow and inefficient.  The software was web-based, and as a result it was extremely slow, taking up to several seconds to display each page.  (The documents were served over the internet, with all the delays that typically involves, rather than internally over the firm’s internal network.)  [Plaintiff] explained to the managing associate and the other associates on the team how to review the documents with a software package that was internal to [the Firm] system.  Using the internal software large documents could be reviewed up to 600% faster (3 minutes versus 20) than using the web-based program. 

None of the associates but [plaintiff] switched to the internal software, costing the client hundreds or thousands of dollars extra in unnecessary hourly billing.

Document review is a cash cow for [the Firm].  On this particular project, any procedure [plaintiff] suggested to improve efficiency was eschewed….

Again, yes, inefficient. But doesn't it seem a little presumptuous for an associate who's been at the firm for mere months to start suggesting ways to completely revamp entrenched systems?

Another document-review–related project [plaintiff] was assigned to involved creating a redaction log for redactions in a document production for the Firm’s client.  The senior associate managing the project had already gone through the documents and redacted the privileged passages.  [Plaintiff]’s assignment, then, was to guess why each document had been redacted and write down in a log his guess as to the reason for the redaction.  The senior associate then went through the documents a third time to make sure that [plaintiff]’s guesses as to his reasons for redaction were correct, resulting in three times the billing that was necessary.

When [plaintiff] suggested that if the senior associate would just make note of the reason for each redaction as he made it, they could save two or three times the effort, and thus save the client money, the senior associate told [plaintiff] that it was not his job to take notes.

Now, maybe it should be the senior associate's job to take notes; maybe it would be more efficient. Again, I'm not trying to defend the firm's methods. But if your suggestions are getting responses like "It's not my job to take notes," perhaps that should tell you something about how to approach the people you're working for?

This same senior associate wanted [plaintiff] to go through the 50,000 documents one at a time, manually, looking for redactions.  This task would have taken days.  Instead [plaintiff] went to the litigation support team, had them run a script, and found the 62 redacted documents in about 30 minutes….

Okay, the plaintiff's actions here seem reasonable. Then again, he doesn't allege any negative consequences from these actions, either.

The plaintiff also got into trouble for telling a senior associate that he didn't think he had time to take on the senior associate's document review project (and to be fair, from his account, it was perfectly reasonable for him to do this). It's unclear whether this happened before or after the suggestions referred to above, but the conflict with the senior associate took place in December (note that the plaintiff started work in September). Because of the conflict, the plaintiff got called into a partner's office.

In the other guest chair was a man wearing a suit that [plaintiff] had never seen before (“John Doe”).  He stayed for the entire meeting, listening as [the partner] reprimanded [plaintiff].  [The partner] never introduced him to [plaintiff] nor acknowledged his presence, and the man never introduced himself.

The man’s unexplained presence was intimidating and distressing to [plaintiff].  It is outside all bounds of civility to subject an employee to a dressing-down while a stranger watches….

Now, the plaintiff's right, that this is a bit weird and doubtless distressing. But "outside all bounds of civility"? Really? (The plaintiff also mentions that no one told him that this senior associate was on the partner track. How would that have made a difference in the situation?)

[The Firm] also encouraged attorneys to seek out work by contacting partners on their own.

Having worked for [the Firm] for six months, [plaintiff] had assessed the situation.  He saw that he would be of far more value to [the Firm] if he was given more responsibility.

[Plaintiff] composed the following e-mail to that effect (the “Partner E-mail”): 

"I am writing to see if you have any small cases I could manage for you.  It has become clear that the only limiting factor on how much value I am to a case is how much responsibility I am given:  the more responsibility I am given, the better the outcome.  I am in kind of an uncomfortable position at the firm because although I am a “first year,” I have 15 years business and real world experience, as much as many senior associates.  When I first got here I did not know what to expect, but after working here for several months now it has become clear that I have as much experience and ability as an associate many years my senior, as much skill writing, and a superior legal mind to most I have met. [Emphasis added.]

"There is a natural skepticism that someone without a lot of formal legal apprenticeship can do the job of a senior associate, but the truth is much of the learning and experience an associate acquires is parallel to any business experience—negotiating contracts, negotiating settlements, writing, analysis.  If you will allow me to manage some cases for you I can guarantee without reservation that you will get a better result than you get now with many of the official resources you have available to you."

He was subsequently fired.

Now, my reaction to this whole thing probably says as much about me as it does about the plaintiff or anyone else involved – namely, I'm kind of a sheep, and a respecter-of-hierarchy, and, doubtless, I would be useless as an entrepreneur in Silicon Valley. It's also true that there's an awful lot of "if you want something, go out and make it happen" kind of rhetoric floating around the legal profession that would suggest that initiative and ambition really are good things, that will be rewarded. 

But seriously. Really? You've worked at a firm for six months and you think it's appropriate to claim that you have as much experience and ability as associates many years your senior, and that you have a superior legal mind to most you've met? Really? This just sounds like someone pulling the "In MY experience before law school" move.

Now, it's true that that experience probably is valuable and relevant to a lot of his lawyering. (Though the firm itself is one of those giants that does a ton of everything, so it's not clear exactly how his practice was connected to his prior experience, if it was.) And it's also probably true that there were a lot of inefficencies at the firm where he was worked, that adhering to hierarchies for the sake of doing so is stupid, and that firms should be willing and eager to take advantage of an associate's relevant expertise acquired before law school.

I guess I look at it this way, though. Say someone has worked as an assistant professor at a school for six months. Even if that person has a fifteen-year career in something relevant to their job (say, they worked as a journalist for fifteen years, and are now teaching journalism), does it sound like a good idea for them to regularly offer suggestions about what needs to be changed in the way the department is currently run? 

The plaintiff's point, of course, is that the firm represented itself as different from all those other, stuffy firms that adhere to traditional hierarchies, and don't want to hear their associates' brilliant ideas. So therefore he thought this behavior would be rewarded. And on the one hand, yeah, that's a problem. On the other hand: what law firm is going to say that they adhere to traditional hierarchies just for the sake of it, and that they don't reward initiative or ambition or independent thought or creative thinking? Doesn't there seem to be some degree of puffery going on here? 

(I also just realized that the plaintiff has sued for intentional infliction of emotional distress. This tort requires that the defendant's behavior be extreme and outrageous – in some jurisdictions, that's defined as behavior which would cause a reasonable person to exclaim, "Outrageous!", which always cracks me up as a ridiculously circular definition. In any case, he claims that the following behaviors are extreme and outrageous: the senior associate complaining to the partner about him; the presence of the unnamed man during his meeting with the partner; and the partner's criticisms of his attitude and comments suggesting his employment was at risk. Aren't those pretty much par for the course when an employment relationship goes bad? Such actions could be extreme and outrageous, of course, but the unpleasantness inherent to employer/employee conflicts is not in itself extreme and outrageous.)

Anyway, while the plaintiff is clearly very intelligent (and his complaint is well-written, which is relatively uncommon for pro se complaints!), the whole thing seems pretty ridiculous to me. It doesn't even merit as much discussion as I've given here – except that as a second-career J.D., I feel compelled to distinguish myself from this guy, I guess. Certainly someone who has had a previous career should be proud of their accomplishments and make use of them where they provide an advantage in the new career. It's just seems unlikely to me that such an advantage would extend to bucking the chain of command in BigLaw, no matter how superior a legal mind you possess.