[Ed. note: It seems to be pure luck as to why we've been allowed to access this post through Movable Type, even though we can't access other ones or create new posts. So please refrain from asking us why we're publishing this rather than more salary coverage. Thanks.]
For those of you who have no interest in Biglaw pay raises, here’s a bit of counterprogramming about Shanetta Cutlar.
In case you’re not familiar with her, Shanetta Y. Cutlar is the Chief of the Special Litigation Section at the U.S. Department of Justice. She’s a high-ranking DOJ official, and she’s a colorful boss. Click here for a summary of her managerial quirks.
Ever since we started writing about her, lawyers who used to work under her have been emerging from the woodwork. They’ve been sending us a steady stream of stories about their time working for “SYC.” Here’s the latest, concerning a Shanetta Cutlar institution called “Docket Review”:
Has anyone told you yet about “Docket Review” — or rather, the Spanish Inquisition, which was probably less painless? Dear God, thinking back on it makes me cringe.
When you first arrive in the office, everyone warns you about it. Never, EVER miss Docket Review; be AT YOUR DESK when summoned for your meeting, or face the wrath of Shanetta; and NEVER tell her you don’t know the answer to a question. It’s nothing short of terrorizing.
Docket Review happens four times a year. During this time period, everyone is stressed out, and nobody gets any work done. In short, the entire Section is in an uproar — for days.
The process begins when an email goes around about DR scheduling. This immediately triggers a stampede of people going to the staff assistant’s office to sign up — it’s insane.
When signing up for Docket Review, there’s an elaborate strategy involved. Some people like to get it over with as soon as possible, so they sign up for the very first slot. The main concern is not to go immediately after certain people that you know will have a bad one, placing SYC in a foul mood. Another dreaded spot is the time slot right before lunch.
In advance of your Docket Review meeting, you have to write up a memo summarizing the status of your cases. This stupid memo must comply, to the letter, with certain SYC specifications. It must be uniform and perfect, down to the spacing and formatting, and completely free of typos — as if you were filing it in Court.
At the appointed hour, you are summoned to SYC’s conference room. This is, by the way, “her” conference room. No one else can ever use it, even if she’s not using it herself or even if she’s out of town.
When you enter the SYC conference room, Shanetta is seated at the far end. Her deputies are lined up on both sides of the table, and you’re on the other end. Surprisingly, there’s no spotlight, but you feel like one is glaring down on you anyway.
During the meeting, the deputies are COMPLETELY SILENT. They’re in the room, but they’re not permitted to talk. It’s just you and Shanetta.
Docket Review is a total game of “Gotcha.” SYC asks you a question she already knows the answer to, listens to your response, twists your words, and then somehow turns it all around on you — so you look like an incompetent fool.
Here I must begrudgingly give her credit. Making you look like you know absolutely nothing about your own cases, even though you’ve been toiling away on them for months, is a peculiar kind of art form. And Shanetta is a master of it.
Rarely does a Docket Review go well. As a matter of fact, going well is the exception, certainly not the rule. Some reviews have ended in screaming matches that carry on down the hall. After several confrontations with one particular attorney, he was quickly moved by the front office to a different section, out of open season.
Another attorney, who came up with the brilliant idea of telling Shanetta he was leaving the Section during his Docket Review, was escorted out of his office by the FBI a few days later.
(Admittedly, there may have been some cause for that. He had told Shanetta that he wished the Section was like “a cartoon world,” in which he could toss a bowling-ball shaped bomb into her office….)
Why do we suspect that he’s not the only person who has harbored that particular fantasy?
Earlier: Prior coverage of the Special Litigation Section under Shanetta Cutlar (scroll down)