I started my summer job recently and, prior to my first day, had a head full of typical first day anxiety questions. Will they be nice to me? Will I know how to do what they ask me to do? How often do they have snack day? Does this suit send the right message? Will anyone even notice me? Is this the kind of place that uses 1 ply toilet paper to cut costs? Do they use Lexis or Westlaw? (Because I’m only proficient in one, contrary to what my résumé implies.) And the one that plagued me most: do they really know who they hired?
It wouldn’t necessarily be inaccurate to describe the interview process as a kind of bait and switch. I cast out the image of a young professional—fairly intelligent, fairly successful law student with the appropriate amount of various experiences—and they take the bait and hire me. I then arrive at work as myself, still attempting to project the baited image. It’s a trick, but I’m sure I’m not the only one using it, especially not in the legal field.
Walking into the building on my first day, I laughed at myself and my fake professionalism. My appearance was nothing short of professional and appropriate: suit jacket fitted, skirt the right length, shoes the right height, brief case in hand. As I reached security and put my bag on the conveyer belt, the joke just got funnier. The X-ray image was about to reveal the sole contents of my brief case: my purse and a lunchbox. That’s all. No laptop, no résumés, no business cards, no folio or binder, not even a pad of paper.
It was my first day, and two nights prior, I closed down two bars with my best friends. I reported to work for my third day yawning after celebrating one of the aforementioned friend’s birthday the night before, complete with karaoke and a pregame that consisted of a treasure chest piñata full of a variety of miniature liquor bottles and candy. Then came the holiday weekend, and who doesn’t spend those days near some body of water, beverage in hand, whenever possible? In summary, professional is an appearance—not a way of life.
And I know I’m not the only one. I’d venture to say most of us, especially in this field, do the same thing. We’re all faking it. Over the course of the first week, I heard the “real” attorneys at the office talk about trivia nights, softball teams, bar association outings, etc., and the common theme is that all of them involve copious amount of drinking. That’s what draws people into attending.
Every day, people in the legal profession put on their suits, go to their offices, and put on their best professionalism act. And every night, they leave the office, take off the suit, and go back to being themselves. In my case, that’s a caffeine addicted 20-something who’s not quite ready to grow up, taking the maxim, “I can sleep when I’m dead,” to heart, because I just can’t turn down a good gin and tonic or a good night out with my friends. (Also someone who thinks wine, cheese, and crackers constitutes dinner pretty much any night of the week).
I knew when I applied and accepted it my job would require a lot of court time, a lot of face to face with the public. With a week of employment under my belt, almost all of my anxiety questions have been answered: yes, people are nice, it turns out I am competent, there have been snacks 3 out of 5 days, no one has openly mocked my attire, in general people seem to have at least acknowledged that I occupy office space. And the toilet paper is a thin 2 ply, but 2 ply nonetheless. So far, I’ve done almost zero legal research, so learning to function without WestlawNext has been postponed for yet another week, but the final question still goes unanswered.
I predict I’ll spend the rest of the summer with my self-described “healthy” sense of paranoia kicked into overdrive, waiting for the day someone walks through the doors of the courtroom, sees me at the counsel table, and says, “What the hell are you doing here?”