Should a receptionist tell callers when someone is out sick, consolation prize interviews, and more

by Ask a Manager on February 1, 2014

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It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. Should a receptionist tell callers when someone is out sick?

I’m a receptionist. If a salesperson is out sick, I tell the caller that the person is “out of the office” (and offer another salesperson, etc.), and that satisfies most callers. There are those occasional customers who then ask if the person will be back tomorrow, and I really don’t know; I don’t know if they will be all healed up overnight or not. In this case, I say I don’t know (and offer them another salesperson, etc., insert niceties here), but it seems weird sometimes based on the caller’s reaction, like they want an explanation. It just also seems weird to let customers know that an employee is sick; it seems like a private thing to me.

This is really context-specific. There are many offices where “she’s out today” would be the only information released, but there are plenty where “she’s out sick today” is a normal thing to say. In the second group, it can sometimes be in people’s interest to say it — because it explains why the absence might have been sudden (useful in cases where a clients would have otherwise expected to be notified someone would be unavailable) and it explains why you can’t say for sure if the person will be back tomorrow.

In any case, since you’re unsure, I’d ask your manager how she prefers you to do it — or ask the individual people whose calls you screen. Different people may have different preferences.

2. I’m an attorney who wants to be a paralegal

I am a barred attorney with bipolar disorder, which has deeply affected my life over the last few years. I am now stable, but no longer wish to practice law because the stress of appearing in court and constant arguing makes it difficult to handle my condition. I recently moved to another state and am looking for a job in the legal field, but not as an attorney. My license is in good standing and I have never had an ethics complaint or malpractice claim against me.

I have been applying for higher level paralegal positions, which I believe I have the skills for and in which people with a law degree often thrive when they do not want to do traditional attorney work. I have only gotten a few interviews, unfortunately, and I know it is because I am being viewed as overqualified. I do not expect attorney-level pay and understand that working as a paralegal is different from working as an attorney, although the jobs do overlap somewhat. I try to address this the best I can in my cover letter.

My question involves how to address why I am not applying by motion for the bar in the new state I am living in, which would allow me to practice here, both in interviews and when applying for jobs. The truth is, I do not apply because of my history of bipolar disorder, which I would have to disclose on my bar application and would most likely disqualify me from admission in the background check (I was grilled heavily about this in my home state when I applied there, years before I had an escalation of the condition).

I don’t want to get into my medical condition with any potential employer because there is still a stigma against mental illness when it comes to many employers, especially in the legal field. I know that chances are I would be automatically rejected by any potential employer who found out about it. However, I worry that I come across as shady when I try to answer vaguely about this (i.e. wanting a better quality of life,etc.) I still have the legal skills, endurance and creativity needed for the field, but am at a loss as how to address why it is I no longer practice.

So many lawyers have found after they started practicing law that they aren’t actually thrilled with the career choice they made that I think you could have a compelling answer that loads of lawyers would relate to. I’d identify the less pleasant aspects of being a lawyer that don’t overlap with paralegal work, and focus your answer on those. Maybe it’s the hours, or having to spend time on X, or so forth. Then your answer could sound like, “I love legal research and writing, but I realized I dislike __ and __, and I’ve figured out that being a paralegal work lets me do what I loved about being a lawyer and am good at, without the other parts.”

If you say it with confidence, I don’t think this answer is going to be an issue for people.

3. Explaining consulting work on a resume

I moved across the country several months ago (for my partner’s career). Since then, I have continued to work for my employer remotely to help transition my projects, but that arrangement will be ending soon. Meanwhile, through other contacts, I’ve been able to pick up a couple of contracts for various pieces of work (e.g. writing projects). Once I’m no longer an employee of my company, how should I reflect my work status on my resume? Could I list my current job as “independent consultant,” even though I’m not really set up as one and I’m searching for a full-time position? If so, should I limit the description to the type of work I’ve actually been doing, or is it okay to list other things I could potentially do as a consultant? I don’t want it to look like I’m unemployed, but I’m unsure how to reflect my situation in a clear and accurate manner.

It’s fine to list your current work as “consultant” (I’d leave off “independent”; it’s unnecessary). However, you should only list consulting work you’ve actually done, not things you could do — since employers will assume it’s the former and it’ll look a little deceptive if they find it talking to you that it’s the latter. In other words, treat it like any other job you list on your resume and stick to what you’ve actually done.

4. Is this interview a consolation prize?

I interviewed at a library for a position that was 11 hours a week. I did not get the job. They decided to go with someone who they had interviewed several times before. They did, however, grant me an interview for a job that I had previously applied for. This job has more hours and is actually the one I was more interested in. My question is, did they grant me the interview because they liked me or is this just a consolation prize? The fact that the interview is for a better position makes me nervous.

It’s pretty unlikely that they’re going to spend time interviewing you a second time just to soften the pain of rejecting you; employers reject people all the time and are used to having to do it. I’d assume it’s a legitimate interview.

5. Periods on resumes

I am revising my resume, and for the most part, I am using bullet points with no periods at the end of each line. There are three instances where I wrote a full sentence when describing my accomplishments under bullet points. From what I’ve been reading, you should go all or nothing on the punctuation, but it looks stupid to leave a full sentence dangling with no period. What are your thoughts?

I agree with you — full sentences need periods. But resumes look weird when some bullet points end with periods and some don’t. If you don’t have any full sentences, you can pick either way (periods or no periods), as long as you’re consistent. But in your case, you do have some full sentences, so the no-period option is taken away. Thus, you must use periods at the end of all the bullet points, to be both correct and consistent.

{ 113 comments… read them below or add one }

PEBCAK February 1, 2014 at 12:16 am

#5) You should be grammatically consistent in your bullet points, so they should either all be sentences or not. Then the period issue resolves itself.

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KarenT February 1, 2014 at 1:24 am

Thank you!

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Kerry February 1, 2014 at 2:35 am

I thought this too.

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Ask a Manager February 1, 2014 at 9:28 am

Most people don’t use periods for the fragmenty things that resumes are made of, like:

* Increased teapot production by 52%

But then the issue comes in when they have a bullet point like this:

* Worked and studied in Belize, Central America with Dr. Apollo Warbucks. Contributed to long-term teapot and
saucer behavioral research project. Designed and completed a research project on dolphin behavior.

In that case, you need the periods because there are three faux-sentence fragmenty things. So in that case you’d just use periods throughout since you need them in that one bullet point, but if you didn’t have something like that, it would be perfectly acceptable not to use periods at the end of your bullet points otherwise.

(And yes, in that second example, those are activities, not achievements as you’d ideally have, but I just pulled them off a real resume and changed the details.)

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Kit M. February 1, 2014 at 11:49 am

My resume has semicolons in those cases.

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Kit M. February 1, 2014 at 1:20 pm

Reading the comments below, I want to clarify, I don’t use any punctuation at the end of each bullet point. I do it like this:

*Created catalog records for books; assigned subject headings
*Supervised library pages

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fposte February 1, 2014 at 1:46 pm

I think with short lines like those a semicolon is preferable too. In an example like Alison’s, where you’ve basically got a paragraph, it starts looking awfully Henry Jamesian to me if you string the whole thing together with semicolons, and I think the periods with capital letters make a little easier reading.

Though honestly this is just the joy of being finicky–I don’t think we’re talking a difference that would affect your hiring likelihood in most cases.

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Andrew February 1, 2014 at 2:32 pm

I would probably have broken Allison’s example down into several bullets.

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books February 3, 2014 at 3:22 pm

I’m going to fight back here and say that if you’re using a semi-colon, then you should be writing >1 separate full thought item (not in a list of things), and therefore need a period at the end of the sentence. But I’m only a semi-grammar geek, so others should weigh in.

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Director of communications in a nonprofit organization February 3, 2014 at 8:20 am

If the bullet points are not full sentences, the line breaks that end them is sufficient punctuation – periods and semicolons are just clutter.

Note also, there is one time when a fragment in a bullet point should have a period on the end – when the whole construction is a long sentence. And example follow.

“Things that are different include:
- chalk
- cheese
- chips
- chocolate.

The last item ends an extended sentence, so it takes a period for the whole.

If the bullet points were preceded by a heading, the construction would not be a sentence and no periods would be needed.

Note, the recommendations above are based on the logical meaning of punctuation, and some readers might still look at the sentence example above and think it’s wrong. So you may want to cater to them if you have those sorts of readers. Using semicolons might help mitigate that, as it shows you’re being intentional about the punctuation. But they’re still clutter in that they don’t add provide any value to the reader that the line breaks do already.

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Laurie February 3, 2014 at 10:52 am

It looks like I’ll be doing some more revisions. I can’t stand periods at the end of bullet points, so I will have to reword the few sentences so they aren’t actual sentences. Thank you all for the input!

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Anonymous February 1, 2014 at 5:46 pm

I would be bothered by the fact that some bullets are one sentence fragment, and some bullets are multiple sentence fragments. I would advocate for finding a way to be both grammatically correct AND consistent. For example, this bullet item could be changed to “Contributed to long-term teapot and saucer behavioral research project, and designed and completed a research project on dolphin behavior while working and studying in Belize, Central America with Dr. Apollo Warbucks” (assuming that all of this information is actually necessary and makes sense as a single bullet).

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Director of communications in a nonprofit organization February 3, 2014 at 8:21 am

Good approach.

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KellyK February 3, 2014 at 8:29 am

That’s a pretty long and unwieldy faux sentence though. I’m a tech writer/copyeditor with a pretty strong tendency toward nitpickiness, and multiple fragments in a bullet wouldn’t bother me. If *everything* in that list is single fragments, and there’s one bullet with two or three, then it’s worth considering whether it merits being broken into two or three, but I wouldn’t combine it into a single sentence (fragment).

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John February 3, 2014 at 9:39 am

In Alison’s example, no period for the last sentence.

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Laurie February 3, 2014 at 4:56 pm

How would you reword/punctuate this to keep it from being a full sentence that needs to end in a period? I have done some work on it already, changing it from two full sentences to one bullet point, but it’s too long. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks in advance.

- Created the Facilities Manual, a living document that became a vital team and interdepartmental resource, containing highly detailed instructions and contact information one would need to perform every facet of my job

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Ask a Manager February 3, 2014 at 5:32 pm

I’d tighten that up and get rid of the first person. And remember that they don’t really care about what it’s called internally.

How about:
Created a comprehensive manual to all aspects of coordinator* role, which became a vital and frequently used team resource

* Replace “coordinator” with your actual title.

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Laurie February 3, 2014 at 8:12 pm

I thought it might be important to note that other depts. used it as well, but I guess not. Thanks for the input!

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Chinook February 1, 2014 at 10:38 am

Wouldn’t the use of semi-colons at the end of sentence fragments and periods at the end of full sentences give it both grammatical correctness annd consistency?

BTW I love that this group is grammatically geeky enough to make this the first question referred to.

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Anon February 1, 2014 at 11:23 am

I thought of semicolon too. Another possibility would be to use a lighter-weight bulletpoint, e.g. use a heavy filled circle for the main points and a regular empty circle for sub points.

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fposte February 1, 2014 at 11:52 am

Another editor weighing in here–it would be fine grammatically, but it would be seriously fugly.

I tend to favor Alison’s example of periods to separate fragments but no period at the end–it helps to think of it as equivalent to a quotation in a parenthesis within a sentence, where you’d include a medial period but you wouldn’t include the final one:

I’m always amused by the Hemingway first-day-of-school parody (“Jack woke up. It felt good to wake up”), which is both memorable and rhythmic.

Granted, there’s no visible final period, but I think there’s a conceptual one, and that’s what I’m sticking to. (And admittedly that right there is the reason why people have difficulty with periods, quotes, and parentheses, too.)

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PEBCAK February 1, 2014 at 12:17 am

#3) The question about things you “could do” makes me wonder if you aren’t listing stuff properly at all. It should be really clear that you have clients, and the bullets should be things like “designed new teapot handle for leading US teapot maker” or whatever.

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Jessa February 1, 2014 at 1:01 am

Regarding the receptionist, I second Alison’s advice to ask the person in question (and it could be different for different people.) But generally I’d be more likely to say “they’re out ill,” if it was a client I knew or someone I knew specifically was a friend of the person. Otherwise, absent other instructions, I was taught for security reasons, not to say where people are or how long they’ll be there.

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KarenT February 1, 2014 at 1:23 am

If you don’t have any full sentences, you can pick either way (periods or no periods), as long as you’re consistent.

Unless you are applying for a job in publishing. You would take yourself out of the running for any editing or marketing job by putting a period on a bullet that is not a full sentence.

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ClaireS February 1, 2014 at 8:58 am

Eh. I’m not so sure. I’ve worked in editing and marketing and there is a high value placed on consistency. But, Your best bet would be to make sure everything is a full sentence or not a full sentence in this case.

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Anonymous February 1, 2014 at 9:02 am

No, we still rate stylistic consistency as a priority. Honestly, for am editing job the best approach if possible would be to rephrase so that either all or none are full sentences. But if not possible, go with consistency of punctuation. (Yes, we actually talk about these things in my cube farm. And one of the interesting things about my job is that one of its higher-level crucial skills is learning when something technically wrong is still allowable/preferable in context on grounds of style, clarity, consistency, or pleasantness to the ear.)

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Lore February 1, 2014 at 9:04 am

Sorry, didn’t mean to be be anon there. But Claire said the same and obviously types faster!

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Ask a Manager February 1, 2014 at 9:29 am

Except that most resumes don’t have many full sentences (see my explanation above).

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KarenT February 1, 2014 at 11:31 am

Exactly–a sentence fragment should never ever have a period at the end (in formal writing). And I agree with everyone above that consistency is the most important thing, but you fix that by having consistent bullet points, not incorrect punctuation.
Now, I’m Canadian and I could accept that we are more formal, but I can tell you at any publishing company I’ve worked at this would be a deal-breaker. And again, just for marketing and editing jobs. We wouldn’t care for IT, sales, or other areas.

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Mike B. (@epenthesis) February 3, 2014 at 11:21 am

Interesting–I’m also in editorial, but I wouldn’t think twice about a global inconsistency in bullet structure on a resume as long as each individual list was internally consistent. Most of the work we do here is client-driven and on deadline, so we often need to be flexible about such details (much to the chagrin of many editors here who pride themselves on being meticulously detail-oriented).

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Anonymous February 3, 2014 at 1:18 pm

This.

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Grace February 1, 2014 at 2:19 am

OP #2,
I think you should consider applying for federal government jobs, such as the Social Security Administration if they’re in your area.
Check out the federal jobs postings for paralegal positions. You
could also teach, such as at an American Bar Association accredited paralegal program (Legal Ethics, Legal Analysis, Legal Research and Writing). Do get help from attorneys in the Bar Association to make the transition to paralegal work. I would first start with The Other Bar (that’s what it’s called here in California), the organization within the Bar that deals with substance abuse issues in legal professionals. They offer loads of help, and even though that’s not your issue (yours is a mental health condition), they’re a good, supportive, safe starting point. Thanks for your honesty.
You sound like a very talented person and I wish you all of the best in de-stressing your life (the right move!) and with your next job.
Holding good thoughts for you!!

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Jaimie February 1, 2014 at 8:13 am

My suggestion would be to avoid the firms. Many attorneys, including me, are extremely sympathetic to a dislike of firm life, so your choice would be easily explained. Going from attorney to paralegal in a firm feels like a downgrade. But moving in-house, either as AGC or handling contracts, that plays as a lifestyle choice. And you don’t necessarily need to be on active status with the bar.

Also, maybe try those “on demand” sorts of firms, like Axiom? Project work might be better.

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Graciosa February 1, 2014 at 9:38 am

This is pretty much what I do, and it is definitely a lifestyle choice, but I would not recommend it to someone trying to avoid the stress of legal practice. While you don’t have to battle it out in court, you do have fundamental responsibilities that are very different from those of a paralegal without the same support you would get in a firm.

There are also times when my job requires very intense contract negotiations – non-stop for more than twelve hours a day in heated “discussions” with the other party, after which we have our internal debriefs for a few hours before I can catch up on the rest of my work. Admittedly, this is not every day or even every week, but it is often enough that I would not recommend this job to anyone who needs to manage stress levels to preserve their mental health as OP #2 describes.

I think your second suggestion makes a lot more sense – contract and project work. This is closer to being the legal version of factory work in the sense that it is more routine than exciting, and the workers get paid by the hour for their time, then clock out. You are not expected to continue working off the clock.

Yes, it is more likely to be viewed as a step down rather than a lifestyle choice by many people, but it sounds like the OP is willing to take that step to avoid the stress.

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Jaimie February 1, 2014 at 2:14 pm

Your experience in-house isn’t universal. There are many sorts of in-house roles.

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Graciosa February 1, 2014 at 2:40 pm

True enough – I doubt anyone’s is! However practicing law in house is still practicing law, and most roles require you to assume a certain level of professional responsibility that precludes making yourself routinely unavailable after you walk out of the office at night.

I’m still inclined to think your second suggestion was the better one, but the OP is the one who has to live with it so it’s only my opinion and not my call.

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Mia E February 1, 2014 at 9:18 am

#2 – I have been in a similar situation and it’s been very hard, so I empathize with you. What I have found in my searching is that the legal field as a whole does not know what to do with someone who went to law school but does not want to practice as a lawyer, I suspect maybe due to the job market right now. I have heard some in hiring positions indicate they believe, no matter what they’re told, that someone would only be applying to a paralegal position with a law degree to use it as a placeholder until they’re able to get a position somewhere as a lawyer. I am also not barred where I live, which I feel should demonstrate that I am not interested in a higher level position, but for some reason it still has not panned out. You would think there would be plenty of lawyers who would be interested in your skill set as their assistant. Maybe networking would be useful here, meet people who come to know and trust you, and maybe they or their friends will have a position.
I ended up trying to transition out of the legal field entirely, which I thought would be easier, but it was still difficult, because no one outside of the legal field seems to know what to do with someone who went to law school but can’t practice, either. For instance, a lot of places think, we should get a lawyer to do this (like HR), but they don’t necessarily understand that you don’t have to be admitted to serve the purpose of the job, and still ask for someone who is admitted in the job postings. I ended up taking an assistant level position in HR. It is ok, for now. Maybe I need to get better at selling the skills I have outside of law.
I don’t really have any advice, just wanted you to know I’ve experience the same thing and it is very frustrating.

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Abby February 2, 2014 at 8:56 am

I also have a law degree but no interest in working as a lawyer, though I really enjoy the research, analysis, and policy side of law. I am not licensed to practice law where I live, though I did pass the bar exam and could be admitted if I chose to.

Because many potential employers assume I am seeking non-attorney positions because I did not pass the bar exam (pass rate is only around 50% in my state), I now include in the same bullet point as my law degree the fact that I passed the bar exam and when. That seems to help, as I received much better responses to my applications after adding that line.

I also really emphasize my accomplishments in prior positions, along with the research, analysis, and synthesis skills that law school helped me sharpen. I find my law degree is super handy in my current position, which is not in law; I manage all business functions for a small non-profit so I am dealing with contracts, risk management, employee issues, and general policy.

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OP #2 February 1, 2014 at 9:45 am

I did consult with a Social Security lawyer about this problem and he was not too optimistic. While SSD isn’t my area, as far as I understand it, it isn’t a matter of not being able to work in my field, but whether or not I am able to work at all, including low or minimum wage jobs. Also, as far as I understand, applying for disability is an admission that I am no longer able to practice, meaning that I would have to give up the license I do have. (I could be wrong about this, so if anyone knows otherwise, please let me know.)

I was working with the Attorney Assistance Program in my home state along with my local bar association when I was having problems a few years ago. They do not have any resources here though, and the local bar seem uninterested in helping because I am not a member.

I have been working as a “temp” attorney for the last 7 1/2 years, specializing in a foreign language that I speak. The market for this has largely dried up since the recession though, mainly because the ABA changed the rules about what the big firms are allowed to do when it comes to outsourcing work. For larger projects, they ship it overseas because it is much cheaper or for foreign language work, use computerized translation programs. This means that the projects left either pay very little and are short (a few days to two weeks).

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ella February 1, 2014 at 10:24 am

I don’t think Grace thinks you should give up on working and apply for SSI or disability; I think she thinks you should look into working for the SSA helping other people apply (if I’m misreading her comment or yours, I apologize) or appeal.

This is totally a shot in the dark, also, but I believe that the market for disability law is critically underserved once you subtract the lawyers who have television commercials who will help you if you become disabled through an accident or something. My dad became a CPA a few years ago, helping people do financial planning if they have a family member with a disability, and discovered that while there’s people here and there who know aspects of disability law or financial planning or whatever, there are very very few people who know the big picture. It’s more than just naming a guardian and making sure your will’s in shape and setting up a trust. I don’t know where your interests lie, or what part of the law you practice in and enjoy, but if you’re looking for an area that has a need for services, that might be one.

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Grace February 1, 2014 at 6:28 pm

@Ella,
Yes, you were correct in understanding my post. I think that OP 2′s legal background is something the Social Security Administration is looking for in paralegals. (I know attorneys, including in my family, who work for the SSA.)

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Cassie February 1, 2014 at 8:51 pm

Echoing this – I’m sure there are positions within local government that need people with law degrees / experience. For example, the County of Los Angeles has a department called County Counsel. They deal with all legal matters (advising other county depts, representing the county in civil cases, etc) but not criminal cases (which is handled by the District Attorney’s office). Some of those county counsel staff are dispatched to other county depts, like children & family services, mental health, parks & rec, etc.

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Andrew February 1, 2014 at 2:35 pm

Ugh, Computerized translation for legal work? That sounds like a disaster waiting to happen.

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Grace February 1, 2014 at 6:32 pm

@OP2,
I still think it’s worth a try for you to contact California’s The Other Bar, even though you’re not in my state, to ask for some ideas. They are quite helpful and have many contacts.

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Grace February 1, 2014 at 6:43 pm

@OP2:
Another resource to add to possibly add to your encouragement tool box is an organization called
Debtors Anonymous (they deal with debt, underearning,
getting a vision for your life, health issues, etc.). If you can’t find a meeting in your area, there’s also phone-in meetings.

(Cool story of a former Justice Department attorney who had a passion for baking cakes and he started a D.C. bakery
called Cake Love. You can read his transition out of law to another career on the bakery website.)

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Librarian February 2, 2014 at 5:47 pm

If the bottom hadn’t fallen out of the library job market, I’d recommend that you look into work as a law librarian. In library school, I knew some bar-admitted lawyers who walked away and wanted a career change. Check out what the market is like in your current area; law schools, firms, and government agencies employ library staff of various kinds.

I really wanted to work in that field but knew that I would always be at a disadvantage because I have no particular interest in going to law school. You can be a law librarian with a JD and a library degree or just a JD, but if you just have the library degree you’re at a distinct disadvantage.

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Lilien February 1, 2014 at 5:25 am

#2
Why would a bar application force someone to disclose his medical history? Have protections of personal privacy not made it to the legal sector yet? Granted I’m from Europe where we seem to enjoy better privacy policies but this seems absurd to me. Do bar associations put manageable mental illnesses on the same level as drug use? I presume that that is the only reason they’d want to know this sort of information about applicants?

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Elysian February 1, 2014 at 7:44 am

Yes. If you have a manageable mental illness, they’ll make you disclose it and question you to be sure it is actually managed. They make you disclose anything that could affect your practice of law — mental illness, substance abuse, arrests, speeding tickets, discipline during school (law and undergrad), amount of debt and credit history…. it’s very involved.

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OP #2 February 1, 2014 at 9:34 am

Exactly. The bar applications here ask for every detail about your personal life, including a very specific question about if you have a physical or mental condition which could affect your ability to practice law. There are very strict rules about answering truthfully, including not leaving anything out. If you are found to have not been truthful, it would not only create problems in the state you’re applying for, but every other state as well.

When I applied in my home state, I had to provide documentation about how I was controlling my bipolar and spent a couple hours answering very detailed questions about it. They were extremely hesitant to admit me, even though I hadn’t had a real issue with it at that point. Since then, however, the problem has gotten much worse, even to the point of having to go to the hospital for it. My chances of being admitted under those circumstances are pretty low.

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Alsome2 February 1, 2014 at 10:40 am

OP2, just want you to know you’re not alone in wanting to transition out of the legal profession due to not being able to handle the atmosphere and because of mental health issues. I too had to get out. My anxiety and depression made it hard to handle the rigors (I also just disliked the practice of law in general and that had nothing to do with my mental health). I want you to know that you’re not alone and as a fellow member of the bar, I’m proud of you for handling your issues and knowing what your limits are. I recently read an article about attorneys battling mental health issues who end up committing suicide. That tragic outcome is sad and I’d like to do everything I can to prevent it so I want to encourage you in the fight and let you know it’s not just you. Keep on keeping on. It’s not easy to handle mental health issues, but you’re doing it. Stay with it!

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Wren February 1, 2014 at 7:28 pm

This is really disheartening. I know you don’t want to be a lawyer anymore, but it pains me to hear that your diagnosis could stand in the way of your admission to the local bar. My grandfather, who is well over 80 now, practiced law and served as a judge in Hong Kong. He specialized in criminal defense. He has had bipolar disorder for most of his adult life. It has been very well managed for as long as I’ve been alive, but he had his share of ups and downs, including a time he was involuntarily committed, but he never the less had a great career. I don’t know a lot about the details, but I assume he simply had contigencies in place for if his condition interfered with his work.

I myself have also chosen a less stressful career due to past mental health problems (runs in the family! it’s not just me and grandpa.) They’re largely behind me, but I feel what I’m doing now (something I went to community college to pursue) suits me better in maintaining my mental health than the career that would have more naturally followed the professional degree I did before CC.

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ChristineSW February 1, 2014 at 9:39 am

I think this is true in a lot of professions in which you’re seeking licensure – the social work licensing board asks similar questions in its application and renewals.

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De Minimis February 1, 2014 at 10:55 am

CPA seems more lenient, at least in the state where I’m licensed, I think they are only concerned about criminal history and possibly credit [but I think just in situations where someone had a judgment against them or something else like that.] I don’t recall ever being asked about mental health issues.

From reading the state newsletter though, it seemed like they make up for that when it comes to going after CPAs who subsequently get into legal trouble, especially if they don’t report things to the state board.

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Graciosa February 1, 2014 at 9:49 am

One fundamental purpose of the bar admission process is to ensure that all licensed attorneys are fit to provide competent (and ethical) counsel. The duty to protect the public is the consideration rather than any questions of privacy.

You can see from the OP’s comments that you can be admitted with mental health issues if you can demonstrate that they will not impede your ability to practice law.

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Ruffingit February 1, 2014 at 10:33 am

You must disclose everything on your bar application – mental illness, drug use, money problems, etc. A background check is conducted that is on par with national security clearance in a way. It’s serious stuff. This is not due to privacy issues, it’s because you can ruin someone’s life if you’re not competent to handle their legal issues. The bar wants to ensure that you are able to do your job. I realize to others that it sounds unfair, but there is a lot at stake when someone comes to see a lawyer and you need to ensure that person doesn’t have issues that will cripple their ability to assist their client.

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FiveNine February 1, 2014 at 12:03 pm

The law already asks whether a client is of sound mind when signing a will. Legally, any advice — heck, any matter or case in which a bipolar lawyer was even tangentially involved — would potentially be subject to challenge if a party ever found out. So much at stake for the firm.

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Jake February 2, 2014 at 9:00 pm

I wouldn’t want to be represented by a lawyer that seems to have everything under control until he is in his closing arguments and has a break down because he decided not to take his schizophrenia medicine.

I would want to be represented by a lawyer that has paranoid schizophrenia if he/she has been properly vetted to ensure that he/she actually has the condition under control.

When you agree to serve as a lawyer or doctor, you give up some of your privacy to ensure that you are properly prepared to practice. Plus, this is relatively well known, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody, so they get to make the choice whether or not this invasion of privacy is worth it.

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Lilien February 3, 2014 at 1:00 pm

When explained from the client’s perspective I guess such a vetting is indeed important. I guess the sad reality is that the social stigma on manageable mental illness is still all too prevalent and can still have a dramatic impact on the professional lives of people who are perfectly capable of managing it.

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dejavu2 February 3, 2014 at 3:09 pm

Late to the party. This varies by state. I’m barred in three, and haven’t had to disclose any information about my mental health history to any of them.

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dejavu2 February 3, 2014 at 3:23 pm

And frankly I think that’s how it should be. If you can get through the stress of college, law school, and the bar exam, you can handle being a lawyer. It’s not all arguing in court. In fact, it’s mostly filling out forms, reading, and never leaving your office. You don’t have to be Clarence Darrow, you can just work real estate closings.

I know people with mental health issues who have been unable to pass a bar exam because they cannot handle the pressure of the test. That might sound crazy, but studying for the bar exam is *extremely* intense and not everyone can emotionally handle it. If once you’ve passed you have an issue flare up that impacts your ability to practice effectively and you refuse to step back, chances are you will be reported by a colleague (who will be ethically bound to report you), there will be a hearing and appeals process, and if you are truly unfit to practice your license will be taken away. The system isn’t always perfect, but the three states I practice in, at least, have decided it’s better than forcing you to disclose personal medical information that may or may not have any bearing on your ability to be an attorney. Not to mention, anyone running for office is typically expected to release their otherwise confidential bar application, so the information won’t necessarily be private if you’re choosing a life like that. And when’s the last time you met a sane politician?

Imma just saying.

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Wakeen's Teapots Ltd. February 1, 2014 at 5:30 am

#1

The actual problem is that it sounds like no one is covering for an ill employee, which is rare and “not done” for someone who is client facing, IME. I would be shocked if I called asking for a sales contact and was told that person wasn’t in today without being transferred to Sally to help me or, sub optimally, assured my contact would be in tomorrow.

Whether the person I am calling is sick or skiing or shaking off a bender I do not care.

So! Is it possible to approach your boss and ask that she arrange coverage for customer facing employees who are out for the day? This will change your life, “Apollo is out today but Penelope is covering his work, may I transfer you to Penelope?” and then your problem is solved. Somebody should have given you that tool already.

Failing that, I have a wee sympathy if I hear “Apollo is out today, he’s under the weather, but I expect him back in tomorrow”. A wee. While I am dialing someone else who can help me now.

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Wakeen's Teapots Ltd. February 1, 2014 at 5:41 am

AND I completely missed the (offer another salesperson).

I will pay $50 for an edit button right now. Alison needs a “buy it now” option for edit buttons. Would make mad cash.

Completely changing my answer!

I know why the callers are nervous and inquiring. They started the project with Apollo and would prefer not to start over again with someone else if waiting one day would mean they get Apollo back.

I think “under the weather” is a sympathy inducing thing to say, while making sure that they are transitioned over to Penelope who probably really can help them, even if the customer is doubtful.

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MissM February 1, 2014 at 7:11 am

OP specifically says that she offers another salesperson. That still leaves the original question. Many clients will ask where Apollo is and why they must meet with Penelope when there was an appointment scheduled.

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Wakeen's Teapots Ltd. February 1, 2014 at 7:51 am

Yeah I know. I caught that mistake immediately and was horrified and then the post I made correcting my mistake has been caught up in moderation and is still waiting posting.

Not my day. Eventually my correction made one minute later will show up.

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ChristineSW February 1, 2014 at 9:44 am

It’s there now :)

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Wakeen's Teapots Ltd. February 1, 2014 at 10:43 am

Apparently opportunities to make mad cash get caught by the spam filter, even if it’s not about your brother’s sister-in-law’s boyfriend making an amazing amount per hour online.

(I expect to see this post in half a day. )

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Juli G. February 1, 2014 at 8:30 am

OP #4 – my thought is they liked you but realized you wanted more than 11 hours a week. It often comes into play when hiring part-time positions – “We like the candidate but will they be gone in 6 months for a job with more hours?”

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Lillie Lane February 1, 2014 at 8:58 am

It kind of bugs me that this library makes candidates come in for several interviews for an 11 hour/week job.

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OneMoreLibrarian February 1, 2014 at 9:17 am

I read this as having hired someone who had interviewed for other positions before, not several times for that position.

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Lillie Lane February 1, 2014 at 10:32 am

I can see that. You would know better than me what is more common in the library world!

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KLH February 1, 2014 at 8:52 pm

Ha ha ha–I’ve been called in multiple times to take the shelving test for a job paying less than $10.

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ella February 1, 2014 at 10:35 am

OP1–I would definitely talk with your boss about what’s the expected amount of information to give a caller when a salesperson is out sick, including the salesperson’s expected schedule or other contact information (which somebody will ask for, sooner or later). I’ve never had a job that gave me a roster of clients, or people who needed to talk specifically to me for any reason at all; but I HAVE been the target of someone phoning me at work and asking seemingly-innocent sounding questions of whoever answered (“When’s she coming in next/What’s her cell phone number”), and I’m extremely leery of giving anyone’s schedule information out to anyone for this reason. You have people calling who do need to talk to a specific person so it’s a little different, but I have no idea where that line is. I wouldn’t say they’re out sick though, I’d say they’re unavailable/out of the office.

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AnonymousCanadian February 1, 2014 at 11:01 am

Yes!! Never give someone’s schedule to some random weirdo on the phone! I’ve got this customer who keeps calling and asking to talk to me and acting like she knows me and we’re friends. My coworkers know that I have no friends so they don’t tell her anything.

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Cloudy February 1, 2014 at 11:51 am

Lol Anonymous Canadian. To paraphrase Yeats: There are no strangers here. Only random wierdoes you haven’t yet met.

When I was an admin, I would not give out any personal info about people in my office, including why they were not in, unless asked to do so. Telling the caller that someone is out sick is oversharing on someone elses’s behalf. I would explain that they are unexpectedly out of the office and redirect the conversation to finding another way to help the caller.

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Anonymous February 2, 2014 at 10:30 am

Those people who need to speak to a particular person don’t need to know why he or she is out- at most, they need to know when the person is expected back. If the coworker who is primarily responsible for a particular issue is out today but expected back tomorrow, I’ll probably call back tomorrow. If he or she is going to be out for a week, it becomes worthwhile to speak to the back-up person. But it’s the length of time that makes a difference, not the reason.

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Tami Too February 25, 2014 at 1:57 pm

Agreed! My husband owns a trucking business in the waste industry, and most of the employees know he is married and know who I am. I used to get so frustrated when people in the office would tell other employees, people that called over the phone, or anyone who asked that he was “out of town.” Unavailable is a perfectly acceptable answer. No one needs to know if someone is out of town, out sick, etc. People do not always have good intentions when soliciting this information. I finally had to tell the office manager to STOP telling people my husband was out of town after she revealed this information to a disgruntled employee, who then made threats of physical violence against me in an effort to get back at my husband, and showed up at my house. Thankfully I wasn’t home, and was never harmed.

Moral of the story: simply saying someone is unavailable and finding a way to offer assistance is perfectly acceptable. Don’t reveal any more than that.

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Looby February 1, 2014 at 12:33 pm

We used to have a receptionist who would tell callers that we were in the bathroom. We finally trained her to tell people we were runnig errands but should be back shortly.

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Feed Fido February 1, 2014 at 12:55 pm

Classy. ;-)

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Julie February 2, 2014 at 10:47 am

When I was a receptionist, we told callers that the person (who was in the bathroom) was “down the hall” and would need to return the call.

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Windchime February 2, 2014 at 12:40 pm

Heh, “down the hall” is a frequently used phrase at my work, too. But on the rare occasions that we answer someone else’s phone, we just say that she is away from her desk but should be right back. That’s all the information that anyone needs to know.

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hilde February 3, 2014 at 11:32 am

I usually say that so-and-so has “stepped out of the office.” I say this if they are at lunch, in the bathroom, at the pop machine, or somewhere that I have no idea where they are but they are still in the building. I would cringe on behalf of the person telling me they went to the bathroom.

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Windchime February 2, 2014 at 12:38 pm

One of my kids used to do this when he was younger. He was (and still is) a very honest person, so it seemed to make sense to him to tell callers that I was in the bathroom.

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Editor February 2, 2014 at 8:55 pm

Campfire Girls offered classes for latchkey children in the 1980s. They trained the kids to say their parents were in the bathroom when the child was home alone and someone asked to talk to mom or dad. The children were supposed to take a message. There were other safety lessons about dealing with stoves and basic first aid and more.

Being told someone was in the bathroom became a sort of in joke in our household — if I called a friend and her child told me that’s where she was, I never pressed for an immediate callback.

A couple of years later, I worked in an office where the receptionist would tell people if someone was in the bathroom if she didn’t like that person, but she never disclosed that information for people she liked.

Instead of telling callers someone is down the hall or some other location, I just say they’re in a meeting. “Down the hall” is a dead giveaway, and I avoid it.

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EvilQueenRegina February 2, 2014 at 2:09 pm

At my last job, someone once told a caller that “Jane is in the bathroom but she’ll call you back in a few minutes.” then promptly forgot to pass on the message, meaning that the same person called back later annoyed. When it got back to Jane she wasn’t happy about either.

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Feed Fido February 1, 2014 at 12:55 pm

Pet peeve: Publicizing why people are out without their permission.

Maybe I am wrong, but do most folks need this level of detail?

Privacy, please. The employee is out, and unless it is a problem…why do we need reveal reason to callers, other employees?

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Gilby February 1, 2014 at 8:24 pm

Agree to a point. I think it does depend on who is calling.

When I was in cust serv and had a very specific client base, I would have had no problem with my co-worker telling my customer I was out sick.

I might have been talking to them the day before anyway sounding terrible ( coughing or sound stuffy or things like that) so it is not like it would be a private issue for me at that point.

Heck I had one customer give me advise on what to help make me feel better !

I think it is specific to the person calling. If it was a newer contact no they don’t need to know.

If it was someone that my co-workers know that I have a relationship with, eh… ” She is not feeling well today” is not a big deal.

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Colette February 2, 2014 at 8:37 pm

But this question was asked in the context of not being able to tell customers when the coworker would be back. It doesn’t matter whether they have a cold, or are in the hospital, or had a close family member pass away to the caller specifically, but those situations all require absences for different periods of time, so the receptionist needs to be able to communicate whether it’s reasonable for the caller to call back the next day, or whether they should talk to someone else.

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HR Pro February 1, 2014 at 1:13 pm

#2:
You can explain these things without mentioning your health:

* You aren’t applying for a license in your state because you don’t want to practice law anymore
* You are looking for jobs that don’t involve practicing law because you’ve realized that some aspects of practicing law are not for you: court appearances, arguments, etc.

You are transitioning to a new career. Take a look at resources out there for people in that situation. Granted, you might not end up in a career that’s 100% opposite from the law, but it’s still a new career.

In addition to the other good suggestions posted here, I suggest looking at legal writing. My works for a legal publisher who hires people with law degrees to write and edit pieces for books, magazines, reference material, etc. That kind of place is a great option for lawyers who don’t want the excessive hours, stress, and intense human interaction of practicing law.

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OP #2 February 2, 2014 at 1:41 pm

Actually, since I wrote this letter about a month ago, the freelance writing that I was doing really took off. (I write blogs and web content for law firms.) It doesn’t make as much money, but I get to work at home, which gives me a lot more flexibility and is less stressful. I still apply for other legal jobs, but only for jobs that seem like and especially good match for me.

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Graciosa February 1, 2014 at 5:50 pm

To OP#4, I just wanted to reinforce the message that this is not a consolation interview. I have never heard of consolation interviews, but I have to say the idea sounds amazingly cruel. Invite candidates you rejected for one position (all of them?!?) to waste everyone’s time by interviewing again for all subsequent related positions (for eternity?!?) regardless of qualifications so that you can console them by – rejecting them again? Repeatedly?

Okay, that was probably approaching the limits of acceptable sarcasm, but I wanted to make sure the point was driven home deeply enough to get past any remnants of self-doubt about why you were selected to interview for the second position. Unless you have reason to believe the interviewers are sadists with an extraordinary amount of extra time during the work day, I don’t think you have anything to worry about.

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Contessa February 1, 2014 at 6:02 pm

OP#2, thanks for asking a timely question. I’m currently practicing law, but due to my panic disorder, I’m itching to get out. I have a ready-made excuse for why I don’t want to practice (using an older AAM answer as a guide, I can honestly talk about how I want to spend more time with my family, and if it comes up, I have a young child to “blame”), but I’m having a hard time finding jobs for which I’m qualified on a specific level (I have the general lawyer skills, but many of the related jobs want industry-specific experience).

I recently discovered http://leavelawbehind.com, and I’m going to make some changes to to the type of jobs i’m aiming for.

A question: did you get a paralegal certification? I thought about getting one, but then several people asked me why I would take classes I could teach. I really enjoy teaching others about the law (I’ve taught several classes and led panels), so then I thought about teaching in a paralegal program. I can’t decide if getting a certification and then applying to teach at the same school would look good or bad for me (or applying to teach, and then signing up for classes while I’m in their database as a potential teacher).

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Grace February 1, 2014 at 6:35 pm

There is really no need for you to obtain a paralegal certificate to teach in a paralegal program. Having a law degree is fine.

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Contessa February 1, 2014 at 10:27 pm

But what about to BE a paralegal? I’m trying to decide if I should be a paralegal or teach (or both).

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Grace February 2, 2014 at 12:15 pm

@Contessa,
Check the laws for your state to see what legally constitutes a paralegal. Many people are grannied in, without a formal paralegal education. Other states have education, legal ethics, and continuing education requirements.

You can do a search for American Bar Association accredited paralegal programs (there are about 200 of them nation-wide I believe) and find one in your area.

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Grace February 1, 2014 at 6:47 pm

Do try to get even a part-time gig (in the summer session, for instance) at the college where you want to teach.

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OP #2 February 2, 2014 at 1:48 pm

I know I applied for a Fortune 500 where their automated application system booted me out because I didn’t have a paralegal certificate. However, when I called HR about it, they reset the system for me because they said that having a J.D. and bar admission was a perfectly acceptable substitute. (Didn’t get called about it anyway, but I was just applying to paralegal jobs and hadn’t retooled my resume yet.)

I hadn’t considered getting one mainly because I figured if a place was going to be so inflexible that they would reject me for not having a paralegal certificate when I already have a J.D. they would not be a good fit for me.

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Anonymiss February 4, 2014 at 5:44 pm

OP #2… I hate to say this, but please don’t just jump into being a paralegal. You just won’t fly.

Lawyers and paralegals are not interchangeable in the least. I couldn’t do a lot of the work my attorney does (like argue anything in court), but on the same dime, my attorney couldn’t do half the work I do, simply because law school does not teach you to do that.

Do you know how to run an electronic docket control software, or a litigation management software (like Concordance or Summation)? Do you know how to draft ANY random kind of document – not only motions or pleadings, but client courtesy letters, or informal evidence requests? Do you know how to file with your local courts? Do you know how to write a research memo for someone else? Do you know how to efficiently interview a client, how to take a witness statement, how to keep evidence (especially ESI evidence) admissible?

If you answered no to any of the above, especially if you answered no to more than one, you should really consider getting a paralegal certificate BEFORE you start looking.

When I was in college for my paralegal degree, I actually had a few classmates who went to law school, and either didn’t finish, graduated but never took the bar, or were barred, but only practiced for a short time. You won’t be the first or only one doing this.

Good luck.

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CAndy February 1, 2014 at 6:53 pm

To #2, I think a big obstacle to getting hired as a paralegal might be that in the mind of the interviewers you could be painted as using the paralegal work as a stepping stone to get yourself back as a full blown attorney. So they might be wary of what they could perceive as a risk that you’re going to work with them for a year or so then disappear.

I’d address it in your cover letter.

And when you get the chance to discuss it at interview, I’d be prepared to say something along the lines of what’s in your OP… and also say that in the event of you deciding you want to get back on that saddle, it’s something you’d be wanting to work with them to do, with their backing.

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Cassie February 1, 2014 at 8:47 pm

#1: When I answer my boss’s phone, if it’s not a number I recognize, I’ll just say that he is unavailable. If it’s a number I do recognize, I’m a bit more candid – “he’s on travel”, “he’s in a meeting”, “he’s at lunch”, “he stepped out but should be back in a half hour”. I realize there is a slight danger of telling people that he is traveling (what if it were a robber who wanted to break into his house?) but he travels often by himself for work and I don’t just tell every caller that he’s traveling.

My friend said her boss told her never to say that he is in a meeting – that she should just say he is unavailable. The theory is that if the caller finds out the boss is in a meeting, the caller will feel slighted that he/she is not important enough. It doesn’t make sense and I think “unavailable” sounds more of a cover-up, but that’s what he wants.

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Lynn Whitehat February 2, 2014 at 12:01 am

My dad’s assistant always says my dad is “in a meeting” if she doesn’t recognize the number, in order to screen the call. When I was younger, that led to a lot of weird conversations, “may I please speak to Mr. Whitehat?” “I’m sorry, he’s in a meeting.” “OK, please tell him his daughter called and I made it home safely.” “Wait, the meeting just ended right now!” I don’t care, but it seemed un-smooth for business callers.

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Anonymous February 2, 2014 at 3:02 pm

My favorite was calling back a coffee shop manager about an interview. “I’m sorry, he’s in a meeting right now… oh you’re calling back about an interview? Let me transfer the call”

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Turanga Leela February 1, 2014 at 9:09 pm

OP #2, you might try looking for paralegal/legal assistant/career clerk positions with judges, especially appellate judges. A lot of them would be thrilled to have an experienced attorney working with them, but they won’t find it weird that you’re applying.

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Depressed Librarian February 2, 2014 at 6:01 pm

Yes, would a position as a career clerk be too close to practicing law?

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Anon for this February 1, 2014 at 9:49 pm

OP #2, oh how I feel you! As a person with bipolar disorder (which is exceptionally well-controlled) applying to the bar right now, it’s making me feel like some kind of outcast monster. Another career path I might recommend you think about, depending on geographic area, is policy/nonprofit. Lots of us are JDs and I’m not barred yet and no one is super nosy about why. I’m a consultant with a small firm doing policy work and advocacy for nonprofits and it’s a super useful degree to have. I’m only getting barred for a) future job prospects and b) to prove to myself I can do it. Also, does your psychiatrist have experience with professionals/licensing of this type? Mine sees clients like me all the time and knows how to put all the required info on the forms and not a bit more. He’s been very helpful.

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KLH February 2, 2014 at 11:44 am

If you look into policy work, also look into performance auditing–it’s the same sort of very picky, analytical, research-based, writing intensive work.

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OP #2 February 2, 2014 at 1:54 pm

Finding good mental health practitioners in my area as been very difficult and most of them seem to deal with people who are in a much worse position than I am. Because of that, they haven’t been that much good to me when it comes to this type of thing. They are much more focused on helping people apply for disability than professional licenses.

In any case, I don’t know if there is much that can be done for me when it comes to that considering how much my illness has progressed over the last few years. I really can’t promise that my bipolar will not affect clients in the future, especially since medications seem to stop working every few years for me. I may be stable now and have been for a while, but my history related to my illness is less than stellar.

There are a handful of non-profits around here which are a pretty good size, but they haven’t had much lately. I will keep an eye out though.

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Depressed Librarian February 2, 2014 at 6:00 pm

It took me a while to find a psychiatrist who mainly deals with professional clients. I found mine through my old boss, who is bipolar. I’m not sure how to recommend finding one…maybe look for ones who work in college towns or near campuses, or in fancy suburban office parks. Some blatant socioeconomic profiling on my part, but I’ve found that it holds true.

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Turanga Leela February 3, 2014 at 4:56 pm

Yeah, if you have a university nearby, I’d look for the psychiatry and psychology professors (and maybe social work professors if they’re therapists). If they have private practices, they may have a professional client base–and if they’re not right for you, they will still have a lot of contacts in the field. If you go to a therapist for one or two sessions and realize you’re not a good fit for each other, try asking for a referral to someone else. You can be really explicit: “I’m looking for someone who can help me manage my illness while I’m working as an attorney. Do you know anyone who works with bipolar professionals?”

Hang in there, OP! Bipolar isn’t easy, and neither is law. It sounds like you’re taking a realistic approach to both of them.

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Anonymous February 2, 2014 at 1:25 pm

Do we not get Sunday posts anymore? Sad face.

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EvilQueenRegina February 2, 2014 at 2:28 pm

At my last job we used to be told to say that So and so was off sick – that was working as admin for a team of social workers who usually had their own client bases and knew their callers, so it wasn’t a matter of sharing it with randoms. (We also had ancient phones which didn’t display the caller’s number so didn’t always know straight away who was calling anyway).

One of my coworkers had complained once about the amount of times the same caller would ring over and over again, and our manager had said that if we told them, for example, that Philomena was off sick, then we wouldn’t get six increasingly irate calls for Philomena, whereas a “Philomena is unavailable” might produce that. If someone was out of the office, then we weren’t supposed to go into detail about exactly where they were, just how long they were likely to be out. (although we could be more flexible for internal callers) but off sick was considered okay. Someone else to speak to was usually offered in this situation.

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Deedee February 2, 2014 at 11:06 pm

Philomena! – Love that name!
And another sad face for no Sunday post. :-(

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Christine February 2, 2014 at 10:24 pm

I work in a non-client facing job, and most of my customers are internal. I set my outgoing message and email auto-response to say that I am unavailable for the day, and direct them to my backup. Privacy is a big deal to me, and it shouldn’t really matter why I am out to most of the people I interface with. I tell my boss and my team, that’s it, and they have the common sense to deal with whether I need to be disturbed for whatever comes up. This practice did let me get through a miscarriage-related absence without having to discuss the reason with anyone but my boss.

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Tara T. February 9, 2014 at 7:18 pm

I agree with some of the posters above, that the lawyer looking for paralegal work could also try law librarian work or becoming a law firm office manager. I know someone with a JD who had practiced in another state, then moved to my state and became an office manager in a law firm. Some other ideas sounded good also, like moving to a different area of law that would not involve trials – such as contracts or estates.

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