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    Main | Manus case goes upstream »
    Tuesday
    May162017

    An informal gathering

    What to wear? ... How to eat? ... Barely Legal is invited to schmooze at Big Law ... Socially worthy initiative turns into recruitment drive ... Finding safe ground in a real property lecture

    LAST year Barely Legal joined a law school committee that we shall call (to protect the innocent) the Miniature Cactus Working Group. United by our devotion to raising awareness of issues facing this minority in the legal community, we set about organising a slate of events and panels throughout the year. Networking, of course, came with the territory. 

    That doesn't mean I was prepared when Big City Firm contacted me out of the blue last week. 

    "Dear Barely Legal," they wrote, "like you, we care about miniature cacti and want to improve their representation in the legal sphere. Would you be interested in coming to our offices to discuss how we can better support your initiatives? (Lunch will be provided.)" 

    Of course I wanted to go to their offices - there is, after all, no sweeter siren song to the law student than that of free food. Never mind that all but one of the classrooms Barely Legal inhabits every day are windowless vaults of ennui and dread. The prospect of a field trip to a building with windows inspired great excitement.

    Yet there was a problem: what to wear? 

    If your wardrobe doesn't skew corporate when you enter law school, you'll be mortgaging your laptop to afford your first non-Kmart blazer by week two. "Corporate attire" is de rigeur for competitions, interviews, clerkships, clinical placements, and sneaking into the VIP bathrooms on Level 9. But Barely Legal hates wearing suits, and this whole event had been spruiked as an "informal gathering".

    Splitting the difference meant wearing a dress under a cardigan. Unfortunately, that wasn't the only thing I split: by the time I reached Big City Firm's lobby, a Marianas-sized hole had appeared in one sleeve. Shucking it off in the lift gave me ample time to inspect my bare arms in the mirrored wall. On one was a mysterious, hitherto-unnoticed rash, and on the other? A spider's web of bruising from where I'd had blood drawn the day before. 

    By the time the receptionist ushered me into Board Room One, my composure had reached Defcon 2. It's just an informal gathering, I consoled myself. It doesn't matter that you've rocked up looking like a diseased junkie.

    This resolve felt tested as I was introduced to a slew of corporately attired lawyers and other student invitees. Several of the solicitors, I was informed, had themselves been members of the Miniature Cactus Working Group at my university back in the day.

    Talk quickly turned to Big City Firm's flexible working arrangements, its amenities, its pro bono work. People began jockeying for position around the enormous table, the better to make soulful eye contact with the only firm partner present. 

    A conversation about work-life balance transitioned into a pissing contest among the students to see who had the most Gmail accounts linked with their phone. I found myself stuck on the opposite side of the room from the stack of napkins as falafel crumbled through my fingers like so much prandial drizzle.

    It was at this embarrassingly late juncture that it finally dawned on me: Big City Firm hadn't just invited us here to support our committees' initiatives.

    This was a bloody recruitment drive

    I'm not proud at how quickly I succumbed to this agenda. I hadn't even intended on applying for clerkships this year, but it suddenly felt like this was my only chance; that if I didn't start schmoozing and humblebragging and stop getting falafel stuck in my teeth immediately then I was going to be unemployed forever. I'd have to do a DipEd. 

    For better or worse I had to leave Big City Firm early to make my afternoon Property class. As I walked back I felt the whole experience take on a dreamlike cast, and I berated myself for how quickly I'd been beguiled. Damnit, the whole point of going had been to improve my committee and the minority it worked for.

    And sure, the windows alone had been worth the price of admission. Sure, they had a handsome dude on retainer passing around individual coffee orders from a silver tea trolley. And sure, everyone I'd met had been enthusiastic and clever and would probably be a delight to work with. But if I was going to let myself be Bedazzled, I was determined that it would be on my own terms.

    Back at the law school I took my seat in our windowless classroom, got out my reusable tub of carrot sticks, and got back to work.

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