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Since, my friend, you’ve made known your deepest fears, I sentence you to be exposed before your peers! – “Worm Your Honor” from Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” Becoming a lawyer is filled with challenges you prepare for like old-fashioned, scheduled war: Set the time and face the fire. The LSAT, finals, the bar exam. For each series of tests, there are classes designed to get you by, no matter how incompetent you are. Some test companies brag there’s no one too dumb for them to train — thus creating meager lawyers where once were meager humans. These obstacles have nothing to do with the law or being a lawyer. Your passing symbolizes that you have the tunnel-visioned gumption, total dedication and sufficient insanity to do what it takes to thrive. If you do, you can in turn apply those abilities, and not any happenstance knowledge, to becoming a lawyer. But it’s not that simple. There’s the interview. Getting past the tests and into the person is the noblest and sickest thing they can do. They’re going to judge you as a human being. If you pass, you’re the right kind of person. If you don’t, you can’t study your way into a new personality. (Of course, if anyone could, it would be a lawyer.) You will sign up for mock interviews. You will get tips. You will press your old suit or buy a new one. You will ask everyone who throws what curveball. You will practice smiles, handshakes, laughs; thoughtful poses, posing thoughts. What you once did with your brain and pencil you will now do with your whole being and dignity: Fill the right bubble and go on to the next question. The skills good interviewees demonstrate are far more practical for being a lawyer than the rigamarole the other thresholds compose. The ability to schmooze and impress without looking you’re trying too hard is what brings in and keeps in clients, and what allows one to deal with colleagues and judges and adversaries — other lawyers. I wanted to get as deep into the world of the interview as I could, so I plunged into all sides of the anticipation. FAKING FOR REAL Sergei is graduating with good enough grades, a good enough r�sum�, and good enough references. In short, “I can walk away with a top-paying job, or nothing, and not get surprised either way.” “You said that about finals!” “Those were at least objectively stupid. These interviews are subjectively stupid, which is worse.” “And if they’re worse … “ “You can believe they count just as much, sometimes more. It amazes me how pivotal these monsters can be. You toil and study and work for three years, yet you can make it or blow it based on what kind of chemistry you have with someone who had good chemistry with someone else a few years ago.” “So you’re expecting … “ “Anything. And all the practice interviews didn’t make me feel good enough.” “You needed to make sure.” “I needed to make sure. Before any of my scheduled interviews at OCI [on campus interviews], I walked up to a few interviewers, just introduced myself and asked if we could conduct an interview. “To make it safe, I chose firms I didn’t care about; I needed to practice at the real level.” “Weren’t you afraid they’d find you out?” “That’s what everyone is doing on some level. Everyone is here to get a job first, to meet their preferences last. You think if one of the ‘practice’ interviews led to a job offer but none of the others did that I wouldn’t take it? There’s nothing too fortuitous to refuse in this game.” “Did it help?” “Suddenly the pressure was gone and I realized all we were doing was talking. I learned that when I didn’t act as though my life were on the line, I came across as someone who has it more together (than I do), but relaxed enough so that I didn’t seem desperate (like I am). That attitude would usually help, depending on how I clicked with my interviewer. But when I would go to the ‘real’ interviews, I would get nervous. I needed a week of sweating and mumbling and clearing my throat before I found my solidity.” “So it’s a science?” “As much as poker is. I have a good feel for how to read people. One guy seemed real bookish, needed to control things, you know? I told him my only regret over law school was having to leave. I said it was the best years of my life.” “With a straight face?” “Yup.” “Nice!” “He loved me, told me he wanted to come back and become a professor, but couldn’t live off ‘only’ $120,000. Then he pointed out that was the most I could expect. It’s brown-nosing season, so I shot, and joined his laughter. “The next guy immediately came across as someone who couldn’t deal with anything impractical or theoretical. Cut and dry. I ‘confided’ in him that I hated law school, that I wanted the real action to start. Suddenly he was chummy with me and adopted a relaxed posture. He even cursed in front of me when his cell rang. Chopin’s ‘Funeral March’. I had to laugh. He explained he had a happier ring for his personal cell phone.” “Any words of advice for other job hunters?” “Remember that every interview is a combination: part contrived game, like those cold calls; and part real deal, like my actual interviews. Either of the attitudes by itself didn’t cut it for me.” Two weeks later, Sergei was offered a job. He refused to tell me from which type of interview the offer had come. FAKING THE PHONIES Reggie, at 33, is already a 10-year veteran at his IP firm. He has aged so well “by remembering sleep is as important a preparation as research” that many 3Ls about to be interviewed by him confuse him for one of their own. “It allows for some pretty exposing revelations. It may be deceptive, at least complicit, but it’s certainly worth it. “One girl told me she had heard that the interviewer [Reggie himself] wasn’t about getting the firm’s butt kissed as much as getting to know the interviewee. Well, what was she supposed to do now? All her preparation had involved building the perfect firm and her perfect self up to be perfect for each other. “I asked her what was wrong with getting to know the candidate. She replied that I knew this was all part of the turkey-shoot that had started the day law school had. The firms knew almost everyone could do the job, but she wanted it more than anyone else. She wanted to go all out. She even wanted the hours. She was determined to come out on top. I looked into her eyes. I hear it a lot, but I knew she meant it.” “So she blew it before you even started?” “No; I recommended her for the job.” “To reward brutal honesty?” “I’m here to do a job, not to react personally. My job is to match us with someone who will want to stay with us, someone who not only will do what’s asked of him superlatively, but fit in the firm culture seamlessly. Firms are emphasizing long-term hirees, and she would be among her own kind with us. If we lose our young talent after a few years, our resources, our prospects — and my time — were all wasted. We’re hiring for the long run, and that’s what I try to get across.” “What happened with the rest of the interview?” “She was predictably tongue-tied once I introduced myself, but she had already conveyed what I was looking for — a sense of who she was. I told her she had made a rookie mistake — assuming who I was and wasn’t — but that when looking at a rookie, I’m more interested in qualities than immediate performance payoff.” “Is this the new gimmick with firms?” “We’re not as homogenous a bunch as you think. My firm is neither huge nor mainstream. We have a different way of doing things but yes, over the last few years, I’ve seen an across-the-board shift to something other than a linear meritocracy where we simply take whoever impresses the most. Firms are not law schools; we’re responsible for what the talent does, not just amassing it.” “So it’s about more than finding anyone who will produce 3,000 billables per year?” “When the economy goes to hell, that’s when a lot of, though not all, firms actually start thinking long-term and not immediate dividends. The human investment becomes more appreciated in terms of the producer as well as the product. When the market goes south, that’s when we are able to remember it will go south again in a few years. We realize that our people are our resources, and those who will feel loyal based on something other than good circumstances or necessity are the ones who help you thrive and survive.” “So all of you are here either to be impressed or to find a match?” “To simplify, it’s some combination of that, yes. You’ll hear us talk about getting to know what the r�sum� won’t tell us. What that means is, now that we know you’re good enough, we want to know if you’re right enough.” REAL FAKING How hard could this be? After watching everyone else slither into jobs paying 5,000 times what this article would net me, I had to get my kicks in. I found a law student r�sum� online, borrowed a suit from someone reverent enough to own one, greased my hair like Gordon Gekko and went down to the law school to pull a Sergei. The first thing that struck me was on the subway there, people treated me differently. No one bumped into me and old ladies didn’t ask for my seat. Little kids wouldn’t play with me and the junkies left me alone. By the time I got off the train, I had become a different person. I entered the war room and felt quiet tension pounding me everywhere. It was like being inside a whale that was having an anxiety attack. The few whose calm composure was genuine had the look of a cold-blooded hunter in their eyes. I would’ve been afraid not to offer them a job. I approached an urbane Armani and recited Sergei’s line. “Well! No hesitation in you. Sit down!” I was immediately struck by how different this interview was from all my previous ones. He was already a lawyer. He knew all the tricks and deceptions I would be expected to pull. He had once been me, thinking the same thing. He was extremely calm, which helped. There was no denying that if I was the guy he wanted, he would vindicate my three years of fear and loathing. If not, he wouldn’t care if I ended up as his janitor. He asked me why I had picked his firm. “What you and I have in common is this recession. What we don’t have in common is that you have a lawyer’s salary. You know why we’re talking. You don’t want to waste your time. You want to find out who I really am. Well, I’ll give the real answers if you give the real questions.” I took a deep breath. I had either just ended the interview, or started something more. He shifted in his seat and looked at me closely, like I was an individual, and not just another of the series of angsty faces begging him to feel that they were making that good impression they read would happen by now. “It seems to me my question was a real one. But you seem to think anything repeated is perfunctory. Very well: Why have you adopted this shock-value tack to get a job?” “I want to know that I’m going to be working with real people and not just interchangeable parts you could scoop up and drop into another firm without anyone noticing the difference.” He shifted in his seat again so that one ankle rested on his knee and stared at me with a combination of respect and disgust. It was like trying to out-think Stephen Hawking while having a staring contest with Joe Pesci. “Quixotic strategies — “ I pulled his shoe off and waved it in front of him. “Your shoe costs more than my suit. Your briefcase costs more than my rent. Your watch costs more than my car. There’s nothing quixotic about this. I want what you are. I am sitting here with you so that one day I can be you.” He couldn’t believe I was acting like this but he kept his cool. We both stared at his shoe. I put it back on. “Mr. Artman, extreme intelligence and motivation can create behavior that screams to be judged outside the box. Ordinarily, I would dismiss you as a psychotic and debate whether to tell my wife how sordid law students have become. “But you have indeed made me see something I have always believed about being a lawyer. Once in a great while, someone tries to win within the system and still be themselves. In this business, you cannot win and be an original. “I imagine you would make one of the best lawyers here, and that includes those performing the interviews. You knew this a long time ago. And yet you insist on not being assimilated, on displaying your vim. You sabotage your efforts by not just having to win, but to win your way.” It was my turned to be shocked. I shifted in my seat. He went on. “You didn’t mean what you said about becoming me. That’s the last thing you want. What you want is to become me and mock me at the same time.” “Let’s say all that’s true. Would you give me a job?” “You’ve made clear you are more than an eager slab of Silly Putty on which the other attorneys would leave their impression, or crush. You would either be the best or the worst junior associate in any firm which hired you. Anyone who hired you would be betting high-risk, high-yield. Any lawyer choosing to be like you would be living high-risk, high-yield.” Free-lancer Mitch Artman, who lives and writes in New York, is a frequent contributor to His e-mail address is [email protected]

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