Monday, March 19, 2012

I'm conflicted

OK, I'm not conflicted. I'm talking about the ludicrous conflicts checks that contract attorneys often are subjected to. Technically, that should read "to which contract attorneys often are subjected," but, as Winston Churchill once said, that kind of slavish devotion to proper grammar is "something up with which I will not put." So fuck the English teachers in the crowd. Actually, these days, most of the English teachers out there probably don't realize there was anything wrong with the original formulation. But I digress.

We were discussing conflicts checks. As we have discussed ad infinitum at this site, contract attorneys are the bottom of the food chain in the legal community. OK, maybe contract paralegals are below us, but maybe not. In any event, we generally are not trusted to remember what we're working on while we're working on it, much less after the project is done. And, frankly, this is a problem for many attorneys. We all keep conflicts sheets, detailing the actions on which we have worked (suck on that, English teachers! Me 1, English teachers 0.) just in case a firm wants to know. The problem arises if you don't add your last job to your conflicts sheet the minute the gig ends. A couple days later, I can't remember a damn thing about most of these jobs. My conflicts sheet is probably the biggest lie out there. For more than six years, I worked at two major DC firms -- I don't list even a quarter of the matters I worked on, because it was often for a week, a month, even a day. I list the big ones. I also worked for a public interest organization and a small firm. Ditto for listing matters upon which I worked. ( Me 2, English teachers 0). Much easier to leave shit out.

Which brings us to contract work conflicts. If I don't write it down right away,  it is lost in the mists of time, although I occasionally suddenly remember stuff, much like I expect to remember other rivers I have crossed without boats or bridges. (You gotta keep up, people. Check the last post.) I think firms are beginning to recognize this, as conflicts checks have become much simpler in recent years. Basically, if you've never worked against the client or for the client's opponent, you're good to go on most projects. This makes sense, as our involvement is at the lowest level. Personally, I think even that might be too restrictive, but I can live with it. It's a good balance, especially these days when projects are so often much shorter in duration as firms and clients seek to cut costs. Who gives a shit what client I spent two weeks working for a year ago if I can't even remember who it was?

Some firms apparently have not gotten the message, it seems. In January, I registered with an agency with which I had not previously worked. (Me 3, English teachers 0.) They quickly suggested submitting me for a gig at a firm of which I am not especially fond. (Me 4, English teachers 0.) I am not fond of this firm for a couple reasons, but the primary one is their conflicts check form. You are required to list every employer you have had since high school. Maybe this is no problem for somebody fresh out of law school who went straight from college to law school, although it certainly could be. Seven years can include a lot of employers. For somebody like me, every employer since high school is pretty much impossible. I'm 51, I've always worked for a living, I didn't graduate from law school until I was almost 35. I've had a lot of jobs, many of which I barely remember and most of which I would be unable to detail in terms of employer, address, duration, dates of employment, etc.

So I told the firm that on their conflicts form. When they said list every job since high school, I said, "No. Where I shucked oysters prior to attending law school is not relevant, nor is any of my employment history prior to my legal employment. My resume and attached conflicts sheet should suffice with respect to my legal employment."  Needless to say, I probably am burned with that agency, if not with that firm. Personally, I don't think firms have all that much institutional memory, so you're never really burned. Agencies will leave you burned until they need you, so I don't worry about that, either. Really, it felt good to say to a firm (an the agency that enabled the firm's request) to fuck off. If they think they need that much information, I don't need their job. The irony? I used to be on the list of people that firm would request, and I never had to give that level of detail on my employment history. Not sure what happened to them. I just really wish more people would say no to such moronic requests.

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