Holiday Madness

Last night was the firm’s holiday bash, the first one I’ve stayed after work for.  In past years the firm held the winter fete at a downtown hotel and everyone glammed up some.  But back in those days I lived across the Sound and one way it was more than 2 hours.  After that commute and working all day I was not inclined to stay late for free finger food and alcohol.  And I never had the budget to stay overnight in a Seattle hotel.

My first foray into after hours socializing was fun.  Hey, the free Cabernet was excellent!  I had at least four glasses. 😀  Hard to tell for certain, as at least one time a wandering waiter refilled my glass before it was completely empty.  Besides, I wasn’t really counting.  IT WAS FREE!

The finger foods and hot appetizers were okay.  They had jicama!  And yes WordPress that is the correct spelling, so there!  I love jicama!  Plus there were other crudites, several kinds of cheese, crackers, and bruschetta – yum!  I could have eaten just the crunchy, garlicky toast rounds all by themselves!  The hot appetizers which were being circulated by waiters included a mini Yorkshire pudding (I think that’s what they called it).  It was a tiny slice of rare roast beef curled up on a dab of horseradish creme balanced on a round base that tasted sort of like bread or maybe a muffin?  Tasty!  The crab cakes were so-so; a lot of breading not so much crab but they were better than the fig stuff.  I still don’t know what exactly those were.  The texture of the round base was bread-like but in a different way than the Yorkshire pudding base.  They were flatter, slightly bigger around with a softer texture.  And they were smeared with fig something or other and some kind of cheese I think.  Hey, it was hard to hear in there and the wait staff weren’t all that loud when they spoke!

Desserts included ginger-molasses cookies, mini chocolate cupcakes with peppermint icing dollops and carrot cake whoopie pies.  I had one of each.  Seriously, only one of each.

The festivities began at 4:30 and were expected to finish up at 6:30.  I know, right?  Not much of a party.  More like a cocktail gathering, which I suppose it was.  They even had some “signature” cocktail created just for the event.  At one point, S brought one back to our table to give it a try.  Everyone else at the table had a glass of that glorious Cab and S had started with the wine too.  He sipped the signature mix and made a face as he pushed the glass away.  Back to the red for him.  Everyone else took the opportunity to taste the cocktail and no one opted to swap their wine.

There was a lot of laughter and some nostalgia for previous jobs, bosses, co-workers.  One of the partners even joined us for awhile and it was not uncomfortable.  He’s a laid back guy, plays sax in a band and we had fun talking with him.  We briefly discussed Washington legalizing marijuana, our various workloads and the attorneys we worked directly with.  Finally just before 6 the first of us slipped away to catch the last train home.  I lingered a bit more because the firm had provided taxi vouchers for anyone who wanted them so we’d all arrive home safely.  After visiting for another few minutes the group began breaking up on its own and we said good night.

Back at my desk I changed shoes, stowed stuff in my backpack and called home to let Hubs know I was going to call a taxi and head out.  He offered to meet me at our favorite eatery for dinner and since I’d been pretty conservative with the food that sounded like a good idea to me.  Down on the street a Yellow cab pulled up just as I walked outside and from past experience I knew I needed to get in in a hurry.  There’s no place for the taxis to pull out of traffic so while he’s waiting for me to get in he’s blocking other cars.  Unfortunately, I’m getting in behind the driver rather than walking around to the passenger side where the traffic is.  His seat is back and on top of that it’s a damn Prius so there’s no effin’ room in the back seat for 5’10” me!  He’s telling me to close the door and I’m responding I will as soon as I’m in.  I told him he had a very small cab and I was large.  Wow, four glasses of wine makes me outspoken, who knew?  Finally I’m in and he’s merging into traffic while asking me where I’m going.  I tell him my town and he asks my name.  I tell him my name and he says “Not S?”  I replied, “No, not S.”  Then (face palm) it occurred to me he’s there to pick up the guy at our table, S not me.  I took S’s cab!  The driver said not to worry another taxi would be there for me and S could have mine.  Hey, one was pulling away as I came out and that could have been mine with S in it already.  So I stopped worrying.

It was nice to ride home in a cab but unsettling.  I’ve never liked riding in cabs because you hand control over to someone you don’t know.  I’m okay with Hubs driving.  He’s a professional truck driver with over a million safe miles under his belt.  I don’t know this middle eastern guy from Adam.  Nice turban though.  And he talked to me which I like.  Makes me feel more comfortable.  He’d been driving a cab in the Seattle area for 21 years!  So that made me feel a bit better.  But then I started watching the meter’s progress.  Thank the good Lord the firm was paying!  When he finally stopped at the restaurant where Hubs was waiting the meter read almost $80!  With a decent tip the firm was going to get a bill for over $90!

So, thanks BigLaw.  The taxi ride was a nice touch.  And where can I find more of that Cabernet please?

Work Identity Crisis

When I tell people I’m a legal secretary I get varied responses.  Some people are impressed.  Others not so much (these are the smart ones).  Still others want legal advice.  Yeah, really.  I don’t know what part of secretary they don’t get.  You’d be amazed at how easily people will start spouting off the details of their teen’s marijuana bust or their spouse’s DUI.  I’ve learned to give them the “deer in the headlights” stare and tell them I work in energy law.  What?  It’s the truth.  Yes there is too such a thing! 

While I sort of accidentally became a legal secretary, I believe it was my destiny all along.  Because of the way it all began I felt like a fraud for a very long time.  I sometimes still feel that way, worried someone will find me out.

About 26 years ago I was re-entering the work force when my youngest daughter was almost one.  I hadn’t worked in over a year and I didn’t have a lot of experience at anything in particular so I went to a temp agency.  The first place they sent me was a company that handled product placement in movies – very cool.  FREE Little Debbie’s!  Sadly I was just filling in for a secretary who was on vacation or something and I had to move on.  The last job they sent me on turned out to be a clerical position in the Human Resources department of a major insurance company.  They liked my work and arranged to hire me for a regular full time position once their temporary contract was up.  Woo hoo!!  Benefits!!

Because of an excellent in-house hiring process I was able to move from HR into their Legal Department in less than a year.  This was sort of pretend law.  Not that it wasn’t serious business, but the attorneys there acted more as mediators representing in-house insurance clients and consulting private practice lawyers on their behalf.  This meant we wrote a LOT of internal memos briefing clients on the pros and cons of their legal position as well as advising them how to proceed.  I worked there for about five years before moving on to a REAL legal secretarial position in an Attorney General’s office.

The AG’s office was my first introduction to drafting and filing real legal pleadings with the court.  I was a basket case for the entire first month, absolutely certain I was going to fuck up a filing or service or something.  This might not sound like a big deal but here’s an example – remember the big tobacco case that was going on in multiple states awhile back?  One of the AG offices working on the case overlooked a filing deadline and didn’t get their response in on time, which resulted in a HUGE bruhaha and almost got the state tossed out of the case.  I’ll bet heads rolled at the staff level after that snafu.

After five years there I was a little burned out.  My department defended the State and state employees when prison inmates sued.  And inmates sued at the drop of a hat.  Crumble their cake?  Expect to see your name on a civil rights complaint.  Step on their toe?  Unnecessary force.  Take away their pot?  Violating their religious rights.  Seriously – this happened.  An inmate claimed to be Rastafarian and said he was required to use pot in the rituals he had to practice.  Then there were the Native American inmates who complained about not having a sweat lodge.   Not to mention the mothers and wives and girlfriends who called the office to harass us because their little darlings were innocent!!  That got old in a BIG FAT HURRY!  I moved to the environmental department and worked there for a year or so before my new hubby and I moved on.  This time to Washington state, where I started working in an actual private law firm for the first time ever.  Talk about culture shock!

If you’ve ever worked for the government you’ll have some idea of the level of technology and equipment we had at the AG’s office.  They barely had email when I was there!  The fax machines used the thermal paper that came in rolls.  Plus in addition to transcribing dictation, proofreading pleadings and preparing exhibits we did the grunt work ourselves:  copying, filing, court runs, etc.  Working at BIG LAW was a revelation!  I had my own file clerk!  Okay, I shared a file clerk with the other secretaries in my practice group.  There was a photocopy center!  And messengers handled our filings and service.  Plus we had email and internet access on every single computer!  May we have a moment of silence in recognition of the awe this inspired in 1998?  I’m serious – just before we moved to Washington, we’d gotten internet at home for the first time using WebTV which used your television as the monitor. 

Can you say intimidating?!  Wow, I had no idea what a poor excuse for a legal secretary I really was!   Some of the secretaries I was now working with had been on the job for DECADES.  They could take shorthand, type over 100 words per minute, keep the coffee pot full, and file appellate briefs with one hand tied behind their back.  Alright, I made up the last couple.  But they knew their stuff and I was completely overwhelmed, certain someone would suddenly point at me and say I was a big faker.

Thirteen years later I’m still with BIG LAW.  I am at times overwhelmed by my To Do list and filing deadlines and I can freak out when trying to balance all the work for my four attorneys. But I’m still here.  Through thirteen years, two or three layoffs and one merger I’m still here.  That’s got to count for something, right?  If I’ve fooled them for 13 years maybe I am the genuine article.