Email Scandals, Job Searches, Law Schools, Screw-Ups

3L Achieves Networking Failure: Disaster Preserved via Email

The scream.jpgTimes are difficult for 3Ls. The legal economy is in shambles. Their debts are about to come due, and they have no reasonable opportunities for legal employment. Many third years have resorted to cold, unsolicited résumé dumps, hoping against hope that they’ll get lucky.

There is a lot of pressure on 3Ls. But handling enormous pressure is an important skill for would-be attorneys. One 3L who faced this employment pressure totally collapsed. Unfortunately for the 3L, that collapse is preserved over email.

The situation started innocently enough. The unidentified 3L sent in a résumé and cover letter to Webster & Associates LLC, looking for legal work. The letter was inartfully addressed to “Esteemed Mr. Webster, Partner:”

I know, you’re thinking that this 3L thought he was addressing Partner Emeritus instead of a regular person. But that’s not really the problem here.

The problem is that Webster & Associates is not a law firm; it’s a company run by a man named Bruce Webster that specializes in IT consulting. Two seconds on the Webster & Associates website would have revealed this fact.

Webster sent the job seeker back an — admittedly curt — response. And then things got out of hand.

Webster’s note to the 3L did contain some key pieces of advice:

If you did just a wee bit more research — such as actually look at my website — you’d discover that I’m not a lawyer, nor is my company a law firm. I’m an IT consultant who also does work as as a consulting/testifying expert in lawsuits that involve computer technology. If this is an example of the contacts you’re trying to make at actual law firms, I suspect you won’t have much luck. You really do need to track down actual live people and speak with them. Good luck on the job search.

The 3L decided to respond to this message and, well, basically lost his mind. Here’s what the 3L sent back to Webster:

Your patronizing and condescending tone is not appreciated. I’m glad you have your career made and are so far removed from the stress of finding a job as a fledgling attorney. By your own admission, you state that you are not a lawyer, and have thus never had to look for a job as an attorney; but then you proceed to belittle and criticize my method, and to give advice regarding how to get a job as an attorney.

You’re right: in searching for the “Webster & Associates” that was contained in a list of law firms that was given to me from my Career Services department, I was not informed that the firm does not even have a website. Thus, my cursory review of your website (I did look at your website), and the subsequent assumption that your firm was theirs, led to an innocent mistake on my part. Fortunately for me, I had a kind-natured accidental recipient who understood the concept of innocent mistake and politely explained the matter in a nonjudgmental way.

The materials I sent to you were not intended for you and I hereby require you to destroy them and any copies of them as required by federal and state law. Failure to do so, or the publication or distribution of any part of them, will subject you to liability for violation of those laws, including criminal and civil penalties and damages. Thank you for your immediate compliance.

After I stopped laughing (approximately six minutes, with tears, and then that hacking smoker’s cough nicotine abusers get when they laugh too hard for too long), I started to feel almost sorry for this 3L. I mean, what did he do after he sent the email? Did he just cry? Did he shoot a man in Reno, just to watch him die? Did he act like Jon Favreau in Swingers after he leaves eight messages on Brooke Langton’s voice mail?

Bruce Webster also found the email funny and sad. He responded to the 3L yet again, trying to give him some good advice. Here are some excerpts:

For starters, your greeting line:
“Esteemed Mr. Webster, Partner:”
made me wonder right off the bat if this e-mail was spam from India or somewhere else overseas, and second if this was a mass mailing. That’s not how cover letters/e-mails are typically sent to professionals within the US. A simple “Dear Mr. Webster:” would be far more appropriate and effective.

I also liked this paragraph:

The fact that you would take such umbrage at my relatively mild (if brusque) comments — and then go so far as to write me back a clearly hostile letter, instead of just a simple “Oops, sorry.” or even not replying at all — makes me wonder if you’ve got the thick skin it will take to survive and succeed as a lawyer. As a first year associate, you will be at the bottom of the totem pole; you will be criticized, chastised, and cursed and yelled at for things that are not your fault (as well as those that are); and you’ll be expected to do the impossible on a weekly basis, then harassed when what you do isn’t perfect.

But, Webster also knows how to twist a knife:

Finally — and this ties back to the previous few paragraphs — I personally know and correspond with over 100 practicing lawyers, most of whom work for major law firms here in the US (actually, I correspond annually with nearly 200 lawyers, but of those, I’ve probably only actually worked with 100-120). I’m talking about lawyers I know on a first name basis and for whom I’ve done work (sometimes more than once) as a consulting/testifying expert, and who therefore are far more likely to open and read my e-mails than they are to open and read yours.

So now, stop and think: what if, instead of the reply you wrote below, you had said, “Sorry for the misunderstanding — but since you clearly work with lawyers, can you think of any who might be interested in hiring me?” That could have led to a few exchanges between us as to what areas of law interest you the most, and that would have probably led to me either giving you some specific contacts at specific law firms (probably pre-vetted by me) or, better yet, having me forward your e-mail on to those specific contacts. It never, ever pays to burn bridges that you could possibly make use of later, even if it’s not quite clear how you can make use of them.

I’ve got to imagine that the 3L looked like Josh Lyman after Bruno explains how Josh gave away the tobacco issue on The West Wing.
You can read Webster’s full response over on his website.

Like I said, I do have some sympathy for this 3L. But the lesson, as always, is: don’t be a douchebag. It almost always backfires in the end.

How not to handle a cold contact e-mail mistake [Webster & Associates]

(hidden for your protection)

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