how do I spot red flags in a job interview if I have no work experience?

A reader writes:

I am a law student who just finished my first year, and I am applying to jobs for the summer. My one and only job was one that I started when I was 17 (I am 23 now) and was self-employed. Before this, I’ve only ever had one interview, and it was through my university so I knew the interviewers beforehand.

I just got out of a second interview with a potential job. I am so torn. I feel very uncomfortable with some of what I am and would be expected to do, but I don’t know if it is a red flag or just what entry-level positions have to do. This position is for a law clerk/legal assistant.

Here are some examples:

• This position is unpaid for approximately two months or so before turning into a paid position (because I will have to be taught everything, so I won’t bring any value to the boss yet). He did not specify what the pay is once I get to that level, but said we could negotiate at that time.

• The hiring manager gave me some small work to do for an ongoing case and asked me to complete it. (I know you say skills tests are good, and this is literally work that he needs to do for a case that he will be litigating later this summer. It is also not paid.)

• He said he is open to remote work, but I won’t be paid for it because I’m not in-office and therefore not of much use to him.

• He constantly talks in circles. Our first interview lasted an hour and a half, he asked me one question, and spent the rest of the time talking about his work, himself, and his children (and all of his past “secretaries”).

• He says that all women under the age of 50 are “girls” so he refers to his past employees as “the girls who have worked for him in the past.”

• He really doesn’t seem to answer questions. I’ve asked him four or five and the only clear answer I got was the one about the position being unpaid at first.

• The firm is only himself and one current legal assistant.

All that being said, I’m not sure how much of this is my own inexperience and anxiety. I can tell that he is very smart, his current legal assistant loves him, and I do think I would get exposed to a lot of different situations at his firm. On the other hand, each time I stepped out of his office after the interview, I felt uncomfortable and anxious. How do you know if something is a red flag in a job interview when you have almost no work experience?

First, do not under any circumstances accept this job. We’ll get to how to spot red flags in a minute, but first let’s tackle this specific job and the reasons you should run far away:

• The manager doesn’t plan to pay you for two months of work. This is illegal; the law requires him to pay you at least minimum wage unless this is structured as an unpaid internship where you are the primary beneficiary, not him. This isn’t that, so it’s illegal.

• He’s not willing to tell you what you’d be paid after those two months. It’s moot because of point one, but it’s an additional red flag. Decent employers do not bring people on without clearly agreeing on pay, and you should never accept a job without a firm understanding of what you will be paid for your work. His statement that you could negotiate it later on — no. You’ll have far less negotiating power once you’re already working there and if you can’t agree on terms, then what? You’ll leave, having worked for free for two months and with nothing to show for it?

• Skills tests are good — when they’re used exclusively to assess your skills. When they’re real work that the employer will use, they’re unethical and unacceptable, unless you’re paid for them.

• He’s “open” to remote work … as long as you do it for free? How generous. Remote work is real work, and you need to be paid for it. Again, illegal. Again, unethical.

• He won’t answer direct questions. This one pales in comparison to the things above but is still highly alarming.

The other stuff — talking in circles, sexism, and tiny firm size — are things that you might consider if none of the above was happening. If everything else was good, you might decide that you could live with those things, depending on what other options you had. (Tiny firm size isn’t inherently a bad thing, but it does mean that if he’s not great, that will have an outsized impact on your day to day quality of life at work and there will be no checks and balances in the mix. It also means you’ll have a very different experience than you would at a larger firm; that’s not necessarily prohibitive, but it’s something to be aware of.) But it’s all moot because the other issues are immediate deal-breakers.

So first and foremost: in this case, run.

As for how to know if something is a red flag when you don’t have much experience: One of the most important things you can do is to cultivate relationships with people with more experience and whose judgment you trust, so that you can turn to them for a reality check on this sort of thing. Ideally you’d have several people you can bounce things off of; everyone has blind spots, even normally spot-on people, so it’s good to have a variety of people you can check with. Once you start working, you’ll find more of them, but for now it might be a family member whose professional accomplishments you respect, a particularly savvy friend, a professor you clicked with, and/or someone you meet in an industry group. (Just make sure their knowledge seems recent. Someone no more than 8-10 years ahead of you professionally can be ideal because they’ll be more likely to be in touch with how things work at your level now, rather than how it worked several decades ago.)

Your gut is another resource too; there’s a reason you were feeling uncomfortable and anxious every time you talked to this guy. Guts can be wrong, of course — and in particular, if you struggle with anxiety they can mislead you in ways that aren’t helpful. But if you don’t normally feel anxious after interviews and one particular person/job is making you feel that way, listen to that; there’s likely something there. In fact, it’s good to start paying attention to your gut so that you can see patterns in how it operates; if your gut sends off a lot of false positives or false negatives, that’s good information to have and then you can see if you can find patterns in what’s making it trigger inaccurately. But if you find it has a reliable track record, that’s more reason to trust it in the future.

{ 503 comments… read them below }

  1. CTT*

    Seconding everything that Alison has said and giving another hearty RUN. Also, if this interview was organized via your school’s career center or he posted the listing with them, let them know as well because none of this is okay or standard for law firms of any size.

    1. SoAnonForThisOne*

      These are not red flags. This is literally holding your interview inside a burning dumpster. Run, do not look back, and block this group. Nothing good can come of any association with them.

      1. Petty Betty*

        I was gonna say, the red flags are leading us right to the brightly burning dumpster in the bubbling cesspool of “no” that is swarming with attack bees.

    2. Letter Writer*

      Hi CTT, thanks for your advice! It was through my school’s career center and I sent spoke with my career services officer about it. Since apparently he *is* willing to pay at some point, it seems that is how he got away with posting the ad on our site (since unpaid jobs aren’t supposed to be advertised through the school).

      1. CommanderBanana*


        Under no circumstances consider this job and please try to get it yanked from your career center! My goodness, this guy is a red flag in a suit of red flags selling red flags at the Red Flag SuperCenter.

        1. NotRealAnonForThis*

          This is not a red flag.

          This is a glowing/spinning hockey goal light, complete with sound effects.

        2. College Career Counselor*

          Your law school’s career services office is full of it on this one and probably desperately and unethically decided to list an opportunity that looks relevant to juice their employer numbers. Last year, I had a first gen advisee (undergrad, wants to go to law school later) tell me about a small law firm (3 attorneys) where the senior partner kept jerking her around about an entry level paralegal position. He wouldn’t give her a straight answer about whether she had the job, kept having her come in for interviews (during peak covid), then telling her he couldn’t hire her until he’d talked to his partners (who were never there). He also asked her to do work unpaid, including drive to a town to look up things related to his father’s sporting career, etc. I validated her decision to drop this guy and his BS job and said that that if this is the way he treated someone who didn’t work for him, it was only going to get much, much worse.

          To echo everyone else here, your interviewer is a dumpster-fire full of bees waving red flags and you should do your best Usain Bolt outta there.

      2. Velawciraptor*

        That’s a giant red flag to me about your career services office. This is very no.

        1. Cringing 24/7*

          Yeah, I generally assume that most college/university career centers are automatically yellow flags, but this definitely tips the scale.

      3. Eye roll*

        LW, lawyer here. RUN! A lot of the comments will tell you legal firms are terrible about wage and hour laws, etc. And they often are. But every firm I’ve known has been on their very best behavior with the interns/law students because they want them to apply for real jobs there! They want them to speak well of them to other potential hires and clients! They want to build good relationships with students who might someday see them on the other side of a case! If this is his best behavior, it’s a bull waving red flags while on fire.

        1. Letter Writer*

          Hi eye roll, thank you for your advice! After this letter, my own feelings, and everyone’s comments, I am definitely going to turn the job done. Because I have the files from the work that he gave me, I’m going to drop it off at his law firm tomorrow and then turn down the job at the same time. That way I don’t have any confidential work still with me when I turn it down.

          1. JSPA*

            They gave you CONFIDENTIAL work, while not employed by them, or bound by any agreement between them and their client? IANAL, but I’d guess that breaks lawyer-client privilege. I’m leaning towards, “the bar association needs to know this.”

            1. Letter Writer*

              I’m sorry, I’m not sure if it is confidential or not. I always assumed that anything to do with a client or a court case on behalf of a client was confidential, but I could be completely wrong and if so, then I definitely misspoke.

              The files include papers that have information about a case that he is working on, his strategies for the case, motions that have been filed and are going to be filed in court, and some info that seemed like it should be private (like tax numbers and addresses and stuff). Again, I could be totally wrong that it’s not confidential.

              1. Another ADDer*

                Still, report this to the bar association. Let them decide if he’s violated client confidentiality.

                Violating labor laws is also something they need to know about. He’s definitely doing that.

              2. Eye roll*

                He disclosed his trial strategy to a third party. He revealed client information to a third party. He gave you CLIENT FILES! He shouldn’t even admit he represents the client! He has violated confidentiality in so many ways that I strongly urge you to file an ethics complaint in your state. Today. Contact your PR professor if you need help with it.

                1. Just Your Everyday Crone*

                  I agree on most of these (especially the trial strategy, yeesh), but his name has to be on the motions already filed in court, so that’s not confidential.

                2. Eye roll*

                  Just Your Everyday Crone, but we don’t know that the “ongoing case” has been filed. Is it civil? Criminal? Is it just a consultation so far? Given all the other info, I’m just not giving him the benefit of the doubt here. (And if it is already filed, there is no implicit or explicit consent to disclose the representation to job applicants. There are many times the ethics rules prevent the lawyer themselves from confirming info that is otherwise “public.”)

                3. Biglaw alum*

                  @Eyeroll, we also don’t know that the case *hasn’t* been filed, or whether the client information was redacted or what not. I’m certainly not saying unequivocally that there was no ethics violation here, but before you arrive at that conclusion you need to know more about the facts that you have in a two-sentence blog post.

                  Also, not to put a fine point on it, but law school faculty don’t generally represent law students in disputes with potential employers. I doubt that his ethics professor would object to talking about the matter for a few minutes during office hours, but actually representing him in a complaint with the state bar is a much more time-demanding matter.

              3. quill*

                Tax numbers? Yeah, head right for the Bar, this guy is movie villain levels of shady.

                1. Magenta+Sky*

                  Only if the movie is a Mike Meyers comedy. You know, the kind that aren’t funny if you’re more than 12 years old.

              4. Jora Malli*

                Did you mention the client files when you spoke with your school’s career center about him? They should know that in addition to not paying for your first two months, he gave client files to a person he hadn’t even hired yet. None of this is okay and you should make sure your school knows everything about this terrible experience.

              5. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

                Please call the Bar before you give the file back, in case they want some kind of proof. That way he can’t claim it was for an old case or all full of only public records. The Bar can advise you on what’s ethical for you to do to provide proof.

                1. Cthulhu’s Librarian*

                  I wouldn’t think it being for an old case or former client would matter. My (imperfect) nderstanding of lawyer/client confidentiality is that it’s supposed to be a “confidences shall be kept for all time” sort of thing

              6. Suzie SW*

                Holy mother forking shirtballs! Anything with information identifying his clients is confidential and his clients should know about the breech. This is so beyond egregious, he should not be practicing law, let alone employing people to do unethical things under his direction. I’m stunned.

              7. Liz*

                I am not American, but I work in the legal industry, and it would not be acceptable in my state to let a FIRST YEAR LAW STUDENT work unsupervised on a matter. This firm is not merely full of bees, it’s a veritable wasp nest!

                (Good luck in finding a better job! The common sense you’re demonstrating here will carry you a long way.)

              8. Dramatic Intent To Flounce*

                … My jaw was already on the floor from ‘he won’t pay you’ and ‘gave you a skills test for a job interview using actual from an actual upcoming case’ so I can’t say it dropped here but. That many identifying details and trial strategy. For a /job interview/. Holy WOW that is flagrantly bad judgment on his part.

                Seconding (or thirding, or sixtiething) that your instinct is correct that these materials are confidential, and you should report this guy to the relevant ethics boards. The fact that he’s trying to illegally avoid paying you for work (even before he actually hires you) is a dumpster of burning red flags, but this is a little overflowing trash can right next to it and it is also on fire.

              9. Chirpy*

                I’d definitely report this guy to your state’s bar association. He shouldn’t be giving out *any* kind of client information, let alone tax numbers and other private/confidential information,
                to any third party.

                Even if there weren’t so many other red flags already, handing out real client info during an interview is really bad judgment on his part.

              10. Wintermute*

                Any client work product should be presumed to be confidential, you are correct. But that applies to THEM more than it applies to YOU– since, you know, you’re in a legal sense just some rando to them, you’re not an employee.

                This is absolutely a *potential* violation and should be reported. At best they’re saddling random interviewees with a client relationship which may potentially impact them in the future in terms of being able to work for other people (not ethical) at worst they’re breaking confidentiality (illegal).

                1. somanyquestions*

                  LW never had a client relationship with this person & is not bound by that. LW has never actually worked for these people’s attorney; she just was handed their files by that attorney.

            2. HungryLawyer*

              And without even running a conflicts check, it sounds like! This firm is fullllllll of bees!

          2. LateralMove*

            He gave you client files?! That is…beyond. Please drop those files like a hot potato and don’t have any further contact with this guy. Also report him to the head of the career office. He is a walking ethics violation and shouldn’t be recruiting law students.

          3. Clobberin' Time*

            LW, please also inform your state bar or other disciplinary body about this man. It wouldn’t surprise me if he already has a history of disciplinary action. Also, please inform your Legal Ethics professor because this whole interview is a walking “spot the horrific violations of ethics and laws” exam problem.

            1. learnedthehardway*

              Also, the Legal Ethics prof should have some standing to make sure the Career Centre blacklists this company – no way, no how should they be facilitating employment of budding lawyers with what is essentially an employment scam.

              1. Karl Havoc*

                This is a good idea. It is completely unconscionable for the school to not immediately remove the posting and blacklist this employer after hearing about LW’s experience. Honestly I would also say the school has an ethical responsibility to make sure that none of their other students takes this job after finding it through their career center.

            2. quill*

              The only contact this guy should have with LW’s school is the school using his disbarment to teach ethics.

          4. Hosta*

            He gave you confidential material to work on for a current case? Your career center might hold that he’s going to pay eventually, but the fact is, he just had you do work right now that he isn’t going to pay for. So it’s not a paid job.

            Does the administration of the actual law school part of your school know about this? Because I have trouble imagining a bunch of lawyers being comfortable with the idea of new graduates entering into verbal agreements that maybe, might, possibly have a nebulous payment some time in the ill defined future.

            1. Wintermute*

              Not to mention that not paying someone yet saddling them with the ethics of a client/provider relationship is all kinds of a problem.

              Lets say, hypothetically, the files you get given pertain to a legal matter involving GiantCorp. Depending on the exact nature of your “not a job” and the actual job you want to take, any time you may have to look to see if it involves GiantCorp’s interests and navigate thorny conflict of interest issues, because you’ve had material information pertinent to a legal case. Cases can drag on for years, after all. The fact you weren’t paid changes some things, but not others, it doesn’t completely eliminate conflict of interest, and that generally puts you into a potentially risky quagmire, which is a lot for something you get literally nothing out of.

          5. Eye roll*

            He gave client files to a prospective job applicant?! I just… maybe it’s time to learn how to file a bar complaint because this is not ok.

          6. Lawyer of Death*

            I’m a lawyer and I am dying to know where you practice because I feel like I know this man…unfortunately there are probably so many of these guys out there that this situation is not unique. Alison, not sure if this kind of disclosure violates site rules!

            1. Liz*

              Also a lawyer and I’m wondering if this is the guy I did an “unpaid internship” for as a rising 3L.

              When I think about the extra student loans I took out for my last year of school because I didn’t earn any money that summer… sigh.

          7. Dancing Otter*

            Return the documents he gave you, but shred or burn the work you did. A) He doesn’t need to assess you, because you now know better than to take the “job”, using that term loosely. B) He isn’t paying you, so your work product does not belong to him, not in any way shape or form. C) You don’t want your name associated with this individual, if it appears in the workpapers you prepared and he actually uses them; it can only hurt your reputation.
            TELL! I’m a CPA, not a lawyer, so our rules are a little different. But if a CPA firm got caught letting a non-employee see client tax files, the blast radius would be measured in parsecs.
            Anecdata: a neighbor had his law license suspended because he failed to report someone else’s ethical violation, not any active violation himself. The department of professional regulation takes ethics violations Seriously, and this guy is a textbook example.

            1. Death Lawyer*

              @Dancing Otter – great suggestion. He can be reported to the relevant bar.

            2. lizesq*

              Yesss LW! Knowing of an ethical violation of another attorney and not reporting IS an ethical violation. Reach out to whomever teaching professional responsibility at your law school and let them know he gave you his work product and client info! It’s a breach of confidentiality.

            3. Bagpuss*

              Yes – I am not in the US but am a lawyer and in my jurisdiction, this would very definitely be an ethics violation on his part but me not reporting it could also be a violation on my part.
              Hre, there is an ethics phoneline you can call for advice about ny ethical issue – is there something simialr where you are, OP, that you can call to ask abotu the best way to report this and what you should do with the papers?
              I would err on the sife of caution and make a formal report through your state bar

              Best of luck in your job search

      4. MEH Squared*

        Allegedly. I see no evidence of this payment as of now. I would encourage you to go back to your school’s career center and point out that not paying you for two months’ work is, as Alison said, illegal. Good on you for writing in and taking Alison’s words to heart.

      5. Lucky*

        Your school should ban him from future posts and have someone (professor or local adjunct or alumni) contact him and tell him why he is banned.

        As for future interviews and checking to see whether your red flag instincts are legit, your career services folks should be able to help, but you could also use one or two mentors in your local legal community. If your school has a mentorship program, join it. If they don’t, or if you want to network further, look for practice groups that interest you (i.e. Trial Lawyers Association or IP Section) or bar organizations that serve your community (i.e. Women Lawyers Association, Loren Miller Bar) and see if you can volunteer at their events as a way to network and meet more lawyers, especially those in the 3-6 years of practice range. Those are the lawyers who will know where the clerk and post-grad jobs are and will be directly involved in recruiting for them – and they’ll also know the local firms/lawyers who are jerks and terrible and should be shunned at all cost.

        1. As per Elaine*

          Normally I would agree, but the fact that Career Services is apparently okay with this “I’ll pay you … something … after two months” (mentioned elsewhere in the thread) would make me side-eye any other advice from them.

          1. Liz*

            Agree. And I’ve been out of law school for almost 12 years now, but my experience with career services (at a pretty good school) was… not great. Maybe there are some shining stars out there, but I cast a jaundiced eye toward most of them.

            For one, there’s sort of a symbiotic relationship that incentivizes career services to boost placement numbers (paid or not) so admissions can advertise to prospective students, “98% of our graduates are employed at graduation!” (not mentioning that some of these graduates are working for free for someone like the guy described in the OP, or at Starbucks).

      6. Jora Malli*

        Are they planning on letting him continue posting to their lists now that they know how sketchy he is?

      7. Rainy*

        Please escalate this to someone upstream of whoever you spoke to–probably either the director or an assistant director of the career center. This is absolutely not how this is supposed to work, but also, stuff slips through the cracks and your career center often doesn’t know that employers are lying to them until students report. Please please follow up with the career center, as this is not how this is supposed to work at all.

        1. Letter Writer*

          Thanks Rainy, I definitely will! I let my career services officer know, but now I will make an official report as well.

          1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

            I imagine they also would want to know about what you posted upstream – that he gave you a bunch of information that you probably shouldn’t have gotten.

      8. Hygge Hygge Hippo*

        Nope nope nope nope nope. It’s ILLEGAL to start the job as unpaid, as Alison said. No loopholes here. The school has an obligation to its students to stop him recruiting through their site.

      9. Nanani*

        Wooow. Can you flag it to someone higher up than your officer? IS there any chance they misunderstood what is going on/assume you’re misunderstanding things? because this is truly egregious.

        Maybe send Alison’s response to the career center.

      10. JSPA*

        There are some lines of business where someone could theoretically be both competent in their metier, and unclear on how illegal all of the above, is. Law, though? Hell no. He’s hugely incompetent, intentionally crooked, or both. My money is on, “both.” Your career officer, I’ll go with “incompetent,” or “he’s got something held over their heads,” if they don’t cut him off.

        And if he says, “oh, I was just testing you, by suggesting it”–that’s gaslighting, not the truth. Don’t work for this turkey.

      11. Lady Knittington*

        All I will say LW, well done for spotting the red flags and taking care to avoid them. Even if you couldn’t clearly identify *why* they were warning signs, I think credit is due for having the insight and courage to say that this didn’t feel right.

      12. animaniactoo*

        FYI – if nobody else has mentioned doing this – you can and I totally totally urge you to report him to the Dept of Labor in your state.

        “I had an interview where the employer laid out a very strange work setup that I believe is illegal”.

        You probably don’t have anything in writing, and you can stress that all of this has been verbal and is unlikely to be confirmed in writing when reporting him.

      13. The New Wanderer*

        It’s completely unlikely he would actually pay at any point. What he is clear about is not paying for potential work product created during the interview process, not paying for at least the first two months, and not paying for any work done via WFH. There is no reason to think he’d ever actually pay. Your career services is doing a huge disservice to other students if they still allow him to post an ad after your inputs.

      14. quill*

        Your career center is sleeping on the job if they think he will pay you a cent. His scheme seems to be to get some free work for 2 months by preying on new graduates.

        1. The OTHER Other.*

          Especially given he mentioned the turnover of “the girls” working for him.

          So, a sexist creep on top of everything else. If he made a racist comment as well we’d have a creep bingo!

          1. SloanGhost*

            Given that I would not be concerned about burning a bridge, I would be VERY tempted to find as many ways as possible to refer to him as a ~boy~ since men under [round up to his nearest decade] are boys.

      15. Artemesia*

        Your center posted it because he is ‘willing to pay at some point’ — OMG. They are a nest of bees too. This is a grotesquely exploitive ‘job’ and no career center should be posting it or sending students like lambs to the slaughter. Awful. Jobs are not ‘paid at some point’ — they are paid. and the pay is clear before you work one day as are the benefits. (bet he doesn’t plan on those either.)

      16. Anne Wentworth*

        Echoing other folks here, but this is a big red flag that you cannot trust your school’s career center. If they’re not connected well enough to provide legit jobs and willing to commit this kind of ethics transgression, you need to seek opportunities and build a network on your own.
        Run from both of them.

        1. Kuzco*

          I was thinking this. Career centers often have reporting metrics they want to hit — X% of students had internships, Y% of graduates were employed within 3 months of graduating, etc. These % feed into school rankings, too. It sounds to me like you spoke to a career services officer who is more interested in metrics than quality.

          1. SixTigers*

            Or someone who thought, “Yaaah, them students don’t want a job — they want everything handed to ’em on a platter, the lazy bums,” and ignored what LW actually said.

      17. The OTHER Other.*

        I would definitely follow up on how this job got posted on your career center, it sounds super sketchy of them to handwave concerns about an unpaid position because it supposedly MIGHT get paid a hypothetical amount after 2 months. This is a law school and a lawyer talking about having you work for months without even a minimum wage? WTH!

        I don’t know where you are located but in many areas employers are struggling to hire, you should certainly have many more opportunities than this that will pay and not be so dysfunctional.

        Your instincts were right about this job and this guy, keep developing them but pay attention and don’t ignore them.

      18. laowai_gaijin*

        Ugh. You’re fortunate, in a way; right out of the gate, you’ve found a job that’s so full of red flags it’d put Tiananmen Square during the PRC’s 75th anniversary to absolute shame. In years to come, when you get that same feeling in your gut, you’ll know to run.

    3. Velawciraptor*

      Second on the telling your school’s career center.

      I’m itching to report this man to the Bar so badly it hurts.

      This point of Alison’s”
      • Skills tests are good — when they’re used exclusively to assess your skills. When they’re real work that the employer will use, they’re unethical and unacceptable, unless you’re paid for them.

      A skills test using real client work is unethical under any circumstances. But in a legal context, he’s providing someone not employed by the firm with confidential client information, so this is also getting into violations of professional standards.

      If your description of an interview winds up reading like a hypo for one of your exams, run far and run fast.

      1. Abogado Avocado*

        x 100!

        This guy is a vampire who is running his law practice on the backs of young lawyers who may not know better than to perform work for free. I can’t imagine that the law school career center condones this sort of thing. And if they do, that on its own provides important information about not trusting them.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        Thank you for including this!

        What if OP knows someone on the other side? He hands current client info to anyone who shows up for a job interview? Does he also drop it into conversation in the deli while waiting for his lunch order?

        1. zuzu*

          Back when I practiced, I had opposing counsel who used to talk about their cases and clients EVERYWHERE — on the subway, at the gym, and on the street. My paralegal told me that he was on the subway with them while they were talking with their client on the way into a deposition (though at least that time they weren’t discussing anything confidential).

          Other times, I was at the gym when I heard familiar names and words, and lo and behold, it’s them, draped all over the squat rack, talking client confidences. Another time, I followed them the length of Seventh Avenue in Park Slope while they discussed a case I was involved in — they were talking loud enough for me to hear, but weren’t close enough for me to catch up and smack them upside the heads for being nitwits.

          I was more than happy when another firm swooped in and took away the class action they were trying to get going because they weren’t experienced enough to manage it. That firm cited these guys’ loose lips around the courthouse as a reason they shouldn’t be put in charge.

          1. Goody*

            I had a similar situation years ago. I was working for a court reporting firm as tech support – I went in to deposition sites to help the reporters set up for realtime connections to the attorneys’ laptops, in addition to processing transcripts and exhibits for distribution post-dep – and one night on the way home sat in front of two men discussing a case that I’d actively been working with earlier in the week. When I got up to disembark the train, I looked down at them and informed them that they need to be much more careful about what they’re saying and where, and that they were really fortunate I wasn’t working for opposing counsel. And then I handed them my business card. Eyes bugged out HARD.
            (and then I spent the rest of my night in a fog of anxiety expecting that my boss would freak the hell out on me in the morning….. I never did hear if word got to her about the incident)

      3. Letter Writer*

        Hi Velawciraptor, thanks for your comment! I laughed out loud at the hypos comment – I just finished my law school final exams a week ago, so it’s a timely joke!

        After this letter, my own feelings, and everyone’s comments, I am definitely going to turn the job down. Because I have the files from the work that he gave me, I’m going to drop it off at his law firm tomorrow and then turn down the job at the same time. That way I hopefully can handle this as ethically as possible.

        1. Velawciraptor*

          I’ve been hiring and training baby lawyers for years now, and this whole letter triggered every “protect the baby!” instinct in me. I hope you find something else that gives you both the experience and the treatment you deserve. Good luck!

        2. RVA Cat*

          The fact that he is this sketchy, sexist and willing to do something illegal makes me worry about your safety if you deliver the papers in person. I’d say overnight them to his office. You can probably bill the shipping cost to him.

          1. anti anti anti*

            That feels like a stretch. There are a bunch of these guys. They’re jerks but I don’t think we need to make the LW worry for her safety. There’s nothing in the letter in that direction.

            1. SixTigers*

              There’s nothing to suggest that he’s going to punch her in the nose, but LW still doesn’t need to have Unethical Jerk screaming insults at her, which I expect he’d have no trouble doing when she says she won’t take the job.

              Sending the papers back via a shipping company does two things — no, three. First, it makes him incur a little cost, which is satisfying. Two, it keeps some physical distance between LW and UJ. Three, it establishes beyond all doubt that there WERE papers, that he DID give them to her, and that she DID return them.

              I’d wait to return them until I talked with the Bar Assoc, to see if they needed any copies, though.

        3. quill*

          Please do not go in person. For your safety, but also because if you physically hand the files to him, it’s his word against yours if they go missing in any way. Send them via a mail service that he will have to sign for, and only tell him you won’t take the job, by email, after it shows that they were delivered.

          1. Gan Ainm*

            Im not expert in any of the topics being discussed here, but my initial reaction to the possibility of him saying she took something is “so?” He shouldn’t have given her anything in the first place, and even if she ships it back there’s no proof she didn’t leave out a document.

            1. quill*

              It’s better to have more proof than less, still. The more effort she seems to have gone to to ensure that the documents were safe, the less likely anyone he’s trying to deflect is to give him even a minute’s consideration.

              I may be overly cautious for brain reasons but the worst thing this extra insurance could do is waste around five dollars.

              1. fposte*

                Though it still doesn’t prove the OP sent the papers back, just that the OP sent something back.

      4. Kevin Sours*

        I’m a little interested in the contours of the ethics issues because while the current situation is *clearly* beyond the pale, “real client work” seems like a potentially broad phrase. Would it still be an ethical violation if he asked for background research for a client case — say all precedent relating to llama grooming licensing in the state New Mexico — without identifying the client? Other than the issues of not paying for the work (and potentially relying on research done by a random intern *candidate* for a real case) it doesn’t seem to trip any of the hard lines.

        Though when I give out problems I like to give out problems I know the answers to. (Though that raises the question of if I’d recently research llamas for a client would poses the question as a hypothetical be a problem?)

        1. Eye roll*

          The contours of a specific hypo are open to interpretation (hopefully not at an ethics hearing). The best way is probably to say, “Client, I’m going to hire an intern to assist me this summer. I think your legal problem poses an interesting question and I’d like to use is as an example to test my applicants. If I remove your name/identifying information, do you mind if you use your general problem as an exercise with them?” and get actual consent in the event that the problem itself actually turns out to be/contain identifying information. (The smaller the market and more interesting the question, the easier it is to ID someone.) Otherwise, I’d probably tweak the question from real life. If you just researched llama grooming licensing to see if the assistant groomers needed licensed, perhaps the question you ask applicants is about whether a licensed llama groomer can also groom alcapas, and use that same info for a different application.

    4. Pants*

      I could hear that AWOLNATION song “Run” in my head the whole time.
      This is a big ole red flag factory.

    5. learnedthehardway*

      Arguably, the lawyer character on “Better Call Saul” is more ethical than this guy.

  2. Caz*

    Something about the fact that this job is in the legal field makes all the illegality feel even worse.

    1. Snarkus Aurelius*

      My sister is an attorney.

      She was required to check her email and respond while she was on vacation.

      These firms either don’t care or don’t realize what they’re doing.

        1. Calliope*

          If you’re a lawyer it’s SOP, in fact. (Not that it always should be and sometimes there are ways around it but it’s a general expectation in most legal jobs).

          1. Calliope*

            How so? Was she not salaried? In general most lawyers are. If I worked on vacation when I was in private practice I never took vacation for those hours and did get those back.

            1. lost academic*

              This (in another billable hours field). If you aren’t going to be off the grid, you have to be responsive and then of course you bill the time. If you really cannot do so, it’s a LOT more prep for your ongoing work and clients to hand them off for that period of time, which I had to do recently.

      1. JimmyJab*

        Lawyers (I am one) can talk themselves into anything, they good at arguing any side of an issue, and sometimes they will do that to justify bad ideas/behavior? I’m guessing, I work for the gov’t.

        1. Sue*

          Also, law school attracts an outsized % of big ego AHs who don’t care about anything that inconveniences them. (I’m a lawyer)
          There are many good and even great people who go into law but nobody practicing law hasn’t run up against at least a few of these jerks. It’s an occupational hazard.

          1. Mangled metaphor*

            Is this also the reason one popular joke runs “What do you call 100 lawyers at the bottom of the ocean? A good start.” (And variations on that theme)

            1. Virginia Plain*

              Such feelings have existed for hundreds of years – “the first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers” is a line from Shakespeare’s Henry VI written in about 1591…

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          This is an interesting thought as I watch a variety of lawyers talk themselves into bad ideas in the final season of Better Call Saul.

          Being smart, and able to construct a logical argument, can work against you.

        3. Snowy*

          I’m not a lawyer, but I know several and I did mock trial in high school. This sounds about right to me.

      2. cmcinnyc*

        Former legal secretary here. I worked at a consortium where everybody smoked in their offices (at a time when this was definitely illegal, not once upon a time). The prevailing attitude was: so sue me.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          “So sue me!”

          Yup the lawyer who I used to live a few houses down from had that attitude – and boy was he PISSED when the city and animal control* did just that to make him fix the massive safety issues he had turned his house into….he seemed to think it was unfair that the city/animal control went and did exactly what he told them to do.

          * Animal Control was the primary mover because he had a pair of massive, untrained, unsocialized, and extremely aggressive Doberman Pinschers who terrorized the street. And he felt it was not his responsibility to keep his fence in good repair and the gate closed to keep the dogs contained in his yard. The judge wasn’t impressed – and the whole neighborhood was relieved when he wasn’t granted the dogs back (we all showed up to testify against the guy).

          1. FrenchCusser*

            That makes me feel sorry for the poor dogs. I hope they ended up in a good home and taught how to behave.

            Poor pups.

            1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              One was able to be rehabilitated, but sadly the other was just so aggressive it had to be put down (it attacked and put in the hospital a trainer trying to rehabilitate him).

              Sadly the owner didn’t learn and then tried to go get a Pressa Canario (which is an even bigger breed, that also has a reputation for aggression if not trained correctly). That got denied by the breeder – he did an “owner check” with Animal Control, and also interviews with some neighbors, and a home inspection. Lawyer didn’t pass – mercifully.

              1. Artemesia*

                OMG. Those dogs are the scariest animals I have ever seen; murder on 4 feet if not very well trained. Unfortunately they tend to be owned by people who if they do train them, train them to attack.

              2. laowai_gaijin*

                Presa Canarios are HUGE! Beautiful dogs, wonderful if they’re trained, but not a good fit for someone whose attitude stinks like that lawyer’s.

          2. DarthVelma*

            Thank you. You did those dogs a huge favor getting them away from such a terrible owner.

            My neighbors growing up had a lovely Doberman. Sweet as pie but also very intelligent with a wicked sense of humor. So I have a soft spot for the breed and really loathe people who get these dogs and don’t train them.

            1. Good Enough For Government Work*

              My work experience in high school was at a kennels/cattery where the owner bred dobermanns. Her favourite was an enormous lad who was maybe the sweetest animal I’ve ever met. His favourite thing in the world was to have as many of us pile on top of him as possible, so he’d be being cuddled by like six of us at once. The absolute goodest boy.

              1. Saraquill*

                My mom’s Doberman loved attention, and made it his sworn duty to protect all humans from leftovers.

              2. Solana*

                So sweet! My neighbors had a Doberman that they worked really hard with so that people wouldn’t be afraid of her. The Doberman lived with two Chihuahuas and was surprised when she couldn’t fit under tables like they could. She gave wonderful kisses and loved to sleep wrapped with a blanket or get as many cuddles as she could.

            2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              I have always been a fan of the philosophy there aren’t many bad dogs, but there are tons of owners that shouldn’t be in charge of any living thing – EVER. This guy was one of these owners that shouldn’t have had a dog, much less one that required lots of socializing, training, and effort – because he was unwilling to do the work the breed and it’s instincts required. Pick a dog (or other pet) based on your lifestyle, not on what it looks like or it’s reputation. You and your animal will be much happier that way.

          3. Pony Puff*

            This isn’t work related but my friend had a lawyer neighbor who avoided paying his condo fees for years based on some loophole. Imagine having that much audacity and not caring that you’re the neighborhood bad guy.

            1. R*

              I think they think they’re Ferris Bueler. The cool guy who manages to get one over on The Man.

              1. quill*

                Lawyers either go into something soul crushing and don’t get paid enough trying to do good, or they go into something soul crushing and by the time they’ve ‘paid their dues’ in 90+ hour work weeks they’ve been brainwashed into ridiculous employment standards. There does not seem to be a middle ground.

        2. Koalafied*

          I think this is the heart of it. Some lawyers get used to seeing the law as a framework open to interpretation and negotiation, and maybe a little too cognizant of how easy it is to get away with violating the law if it has no enforcement mechanism, or it has a toothless one that relies on someone reporting them and having sufficient standing and evidence to prevail in a legal case, and then doles out fines that amount to a reasonable tax on the gains they accrued by violating the law.

          Whereas people unfamiliar/unexperienced with the legal or justice system are more likely to assume the government surely must be conducting audits/inspections/compliance checks to make sure people/companies are following the law, and to assume that the justice system functions well enough that if they violated the law they /will/ be penalized, so they have no reason to chance getting caught in said dragnet. The difference between, “Is it prohibited to do X? If so, I can’t do that,” vs “If I do X, am I opening myself up to actual risk of penalties? If not, or if the risk is very low or the penalties are trivial relative to the potential benefits, then it makes sense to do it anyway.”

      3. CTT*

        I think it’s because (1) employment law is its own specific field and a medical malpractice or real estate lawyer isn’t going to know that area better than any other business owner, but (2) since they ARE lawyers and maybe took one employment law class, they think they know the basics. (Thankfully, my firm’s managing partner is an actual employment lawyer so that has limited some potential catastrophes!)

        1. WellRed*

          You don’t need to be an employment attorney to know that people need to be paid. That’s giving bad employers an easy pass.

          1. CTT*

            Oh definitely. But so many people DO mess up with that on interns/student positions.

      4. Green great dragon*

        I don’t know. But in my company, the department that was so bad at understanding how to work with others that their projects collapsed was the psychology department. Every other department could work together

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          I used to be a CSR for government health coverage. We pretty much hated talking to psych providers (often disorganized and/or rude; and many of them didn’t seem to have heard of computers).

          We loved pediatricians, though.

          1. The Prettiest Curse*

            Oh yeah, pediatricians (and NICU staff) were usually the nicest people back when I was working medical conferences. OB/GYNs, on the other hand, tended to be either totally lovely or absolute a-holes.

      5. Velawciraptor*

        So, you know the saying that anyone who represents himself in court has a fool for a client? Lots of lawyers insist on being their own labor lawyers, even though they know nothing of the specialty. As a result…much foolishness.

        1. not regular hr, cool hr*

          Raul Julia as Gomez Addams voice: and with god as my witness, I am that fool!

      6. Bored Lawyer*

        Honestly part of it is knowing how unlikely someone is to actually prevail in a lawsuit.

        1. Karl Havoc*

          Or that even if they have a slam dunk case, the amount of money, time, and effort required will be prohibitive to actually seeing it through

          1. Ayla*

            Especially if they’ve just spent two months working constantly for no pay and are now even more short on all three.

      7. Justanotherguy*

        1- the personality types who want to be lawyers (type a’s, people who “love to argue”$

        2- the billable hour- profit relies almost entirely on how many hours are billed, which makes achieving work life balance much harder

      8. JB (not in Houston)*

        I think it’s a combination of:
        –you learn nothing about running a business (which a law practice is) in law school,
        –some people go to law school because they want to have power over others and that comes out in the way they treat their employees,
        –some people who go to law school think they are too smart to be wrong about anything, including employment law,
        –some lawyers feel confident that they can get away with this kind of thing, and they are often right, and
        –new law grads are commonly treated badly whether they go to big law or smaller firms, and they internalize the idea that that’s just how it’s supposed to be and continue the pattern.

        1. The Prettiest Curse*

          I think many fields that tend toward the dysfunctional also have a superficially glamorous image, a lot of competition for a small number of jobs and an endless supply of young , often highly indebted, people to fill them. Think medicine, anything in the arts, the fashion industry etc.

      9. L.H. Puttgrass*

        “The firm is only himself and one current legal assistant.”

        This is what’s called “burying the lede.” I had this pegged as a small, probably solo firm at the first bullet point (“This position is unpaid for approximately two months or so before turning into a paid position”). The problems with small and solo firms are…well, I don’t have nearly enough time to type up all the problems with small and solo firms, but there are many of them. Most of them boil down to ego: the one (or maybe three) people in charge of the firm are convinced (not entirely incorrectly) that the success of the firm is all because of their hard work and sacrifice. And while they will hire “help” in the form of law clerks and associates, that help will never have any chance of partnership, or probably even fair pay, because paying the “help” well would be taking money out of the partners’ pockets that they earned with blood, sweat, etc. etc.

        There’s also the problem that lawyers—especially solo practitioners—are really bad at knowing what they don’t know.

        Finally, it only takes a brief look at any state’s attorney discipline cases to realize that lots of lawyers are really unethical. This one sounds like one of those. LW, if you want some light entertainment, check this lawyer’s disciplinary status—it wouldn’t surprise me, given what you’ve said, if there aren’t already some complaints on record. And if there aren’t now, he sure sounds like the kind of lawyer who will accumulate some.

        1. CommanderBanana*

          And, many many law firms are riddled with nepotism. It makes it very hard to get a fair shake if you aren’t one of the family employed by the law firm.

          Also applies to many funeral homes, btw.

          1. Toads, Beetles, Bats*

            This could be the teaser for the next John Grisham book. Smells like “southern noir” to me!

            1. Virginia Plain*

              “In Baton Rouge, the powers of the Brighter Tomorrow Funeral Home chain are well know. When young lawyer F. Kade McBrowsky, takes on a pro bono case for a young single mother, he uncovers a trail of corruption and conspiracy that goes to the nerve centre of the all powerful law firm Hallorann, Hallorann, DuPlessis, Ankerman and Putz, and reaches the Supreme Court itself.
              In a swamp, nobody can hear you argue…”

        2. Koalafied*

          Most of them boil down to ego: the one (or maybe three) people in charge of the firm are convinced (not entirely incorrectly) that the success of the firm is all because of their hard work and sacrifice. And while they will hire “help” in the form of law clerks and associates, that help will never have any chance of partnership, or probably even fair pay, because paying the “help” well would be taking money out of the partners’ pockets that they earned with blood, sweat, etc. etc.

          Yep, we had a letter not too long ago where a small business owner was framing raises for staff as coming “out of our pocket.” Approaching it from a mentality that all profits inherently accrue directly to them as the owner, and they’re basically choosing how much they feel comfortable “tipping out” the staff who helped them – instead of seeing the profits as accruing to the company as a result of a collective effort, where the owners and their staff alike are each entitled to a share of that profit commensurate with their contributions. So instead of asking themselves what share of the total profits each person earned, they’re taking their own cut off the top and then figuring out how to divvy up whatever’s leftover after first making sure their own cup has been filled.

          1. quill*

            Not sure if I skipped that day but small firms in scientific testing can go that way pretty easily too. No, if there are three to five people on staff, and you order the minimum number of replicates, you are NOT getting good data.

            Seriously for those of you interviewing at small businesses: Ask about whatever rigorous testing or qualifications your industry has! And if you, like me, find yourself spending your first day listening to a screaming argument? Resign immediately.

      10. EgyptMarge*

        There’s also a strong culture of, “well, I suffered through it so now YOU have to, too!”

          1. KoiFeeder*

            If you will forgive me a stupid question, what’s problematic about the bar exam?

            1. Jon from Rhode Island*

              It is great at weeding out people who are bad at tests. It is awful at weeding out people who are bad lawyers. In real life, nobody expects you to apply the Model Penal Code from memory with no notes and a ticking clock. You succeed at this by thinking like a lawyer, not just by knowing shit.

      11. SB*

        I have a pet theory about this (having worked with a series of nightmare in-house counsel). Traditional professions like medicine, academia, teaching and law train and promote people based on their knowledge of their subject matter. Management isn’t rated at all, and you can get to be very senior in these professions while being absolutely terrible at management, where you’re surrounded by other people who rose to the top based on their expertise not their management or leadership skills. Management is a dirty word to many of these organisations.

        1. Junior Assistant Peon*

          This is one reason why grad school is often dysfunctional. A lot of brilliant scientists are horrible managers, and get away with abusive behavior that would never be tolerated at a company with a halfway competent HR department.

        2. JustaTech*

          Also Tech, Biotech and (to a lesser extent) Engineering.

          Smart firms and older firms (like 100+ years) have learned the value of trained managers. Others are still figuring this out.

        3. Worldwalker*

          Far too many people don’t come close to comprehending that management is a specialty, with its own expertise and skill set, not some “better” sort of engineering or medicine, or anything else.

        4. Corporate Lawyer*

          SB, I fully endorse your pet theory. Lawyers (and the other traditional professions you mention) are almost never trained to manage people or businesses, and those kinds of management skills aren’t valued by others within the profession.

      12. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        Because they are running their own businesses. In capitalism, small businesses run by despots usually don’t survive the ego running the ship unless they are providing a truly one of a kind product. Lawyers, on the other hand, are their own product. As long as they bring in clients, they have a business and can treat their staff like garbage.

        1. Velawciraptor*

          It’s not just about running your own business. I’ve seen this nonsense out of government-employed lawyers too. There’s just too much confidence that “I’m a lawyer, of course I know both the applicable law and what I’m doing” to do anybody any good.

      13. JustAnotherKate*

        To my recollection (ex-lawyer here), there’s an expectation that young lawyers be “toughened up” by shitty experiences like being forced to work at all hours, working on vacation, getting screamed at, etc. Often I felt like the higher-ups went through this crap themselves and decided it’s the only way to make a lawyer “tough enough” to succeed, but a lot of it was way over the top. (I was told one of the partners would throw books at associates who displeased him, but it was ok because he had bad aim. No joke! He never threw a book at me, but he did once throw a draft brief I wrote on the floor and stomp up and down on it.)

        Also, a lot of lawyers (litigators especially) seem to exist in this constant state of confrontation — not just with their adversaries, but everyone from their associates to the dry cleaner. Barf!

          1. Nesprin*

            It’s a common thing- see also medical residency (chief of the residency program at one school I knew was famous for not only throwing instruments, but for throwing instruments and hitting all the residents in his program), grad school etc

      14. Calliope*

        One thing that is under discussed about law firms is that they operate on a fiefdom model. Associates generally don’t have a “direct supervisor” or “manager.” Instead they need to get enough work from partners to meet the billable hours target. Meanwhile partners are often compensated on an eat what you kill model where they’re not particularly incentivized for collegial behavior. So you have partners scrambling for clients and associates scrambling to work with the partners who have clients. And the firm as a whole is incentivized to ignore bad behavior from rain making attorneys since they bring in the money. It’s all a recipe for nightmarish working conditions and very little oversight.

        Interestingly this also applies in a different way to clerkships in judges’ chambers. Many – probably even most – are absolutely wonderful but if they’re not, nobody has much oversight authority over a judge, especially a federal one.

        Conversely I think legal jobs in government and non-profits or in-house at corporations have basically the same chance of being good as other jobs in government and non-profit or in companies. That said, the hours are still often worse because litigation deadlines are just inherently hard to manage. It’s better in regulatory jobs usually. But the compensation also tends to be better than most other positions at those orgs.

      15. J*

        From working in law as a non-lawyer for the last decade plus, I have found the wildest people most known for their in office violations were the L&E team. On top of that, HR basically let lawyers tell them what was legal (rather than using someone independent) and when we did have an ombudswoman, they were limited in their power because partners control everything anyway. It wasn’t much better in government, where an elected official without any management training was in charge. Actually, I don’t think a single lawyer who has supervised me ever had management training outside of one who got it on a PIP with the instruction that she wasn’t allowed to manage. And I could go on.

      16. streamz*

        I worked for a law firm where all the assistants were in a basement. The basement flooded every time it rained, which was basically every day. The basement was carpeted at first so the mold/mildew was overpowering. The law firm would call in a cleaning crew who would use these chemicals to clean, and those were even worse than the mold smell. I broke out in a rash each time the cleaning crew came. Assistants were not allowed to work from home or even open a window. There were empty offices in other parts of the building that the law firm owned, but they would not let us use them. When there was active flooding we were allowed in the attorney’s offices that overlooked the basement. The attorney’s were often in court or if the weren’t they could work from home, which all of them did when it flooded.

        Looking back I can’t believe they got away with making us live with this for 2+ years. Most of the assistants were recent college grads and this was during a recession, so we were all afraid to complain and risk losing our jobs. The firm would also periodically send attorneys from the main office to gaslight the shit out of us for complaining about the flooding. I can’t believe a large law firm like this allowed this to happen, but it did.

      17. LateralMove*

        The profession can attract assholes who think “I like to argue!” is a good reason to become a lawyer. (It’s not, and that’s not how practicing law works.) Law is a very traditional, hierarchical profession, and law students are the bottom rung. If you’re someone with an inflated ego who thinks that because you know the law, you’re above it, an eager, inexperienced law student is very easy to exploit. I would be unshocked if this guy also had a lot of gumption-y, pay your dues ideas about how he’s giving a valuable learning experience to a young lawyer and LW should be grateful for the opportunity.

      18. Law Partner*

        Lawyer here. Lots of factors that probably contribute to your observation but one that is specific to firms (as opposed to government or corporate legal departments) is the professional ethics rule that prevents nonlawyers from owning law firms. It not only creates a clear hierarchy between the partners and everyone else, but also results in firms being owned and managed by senior lawyers who are never trained on how to manage people or run a business. Since these lawyers’ workplace knowledge and experience come almost exclusively from observing the partners who came before them, dysfunctional norms that might have fallen by the wayside in other industries can linger on in the legal profession.

        One good analogy is to academia, actually. Both law firms and academic departments have significant power imbalances between the people at the top and everyone else, and both tend to have a culture of deference to seniority and authority. Furthermore, in both law firms and academia, the people in power tend to be lifers with a vested interest in defending “the way we do things here,” while the people who work for them tend to move on after a few years due to the “up or out” model. As a result, someone who is valued enough to make partner or receive tenure is perceived as significantly more important to the institution than the entry-level person who is probably not going to stick around anyway.

        I should make clear that there are many law firms that treat their people well, behave professionally, and comply with employment laws. But if you’re asking why outrageous behavior crops up repeatedly within law firms, part of the answer is that their fundamental structure allows it.

        1. Kevin Sours*

          Not to mention that buying into the Partner’s bullshit is a major factor in determining whether it’s up or out.

      19. Blarg*

        I mean, I’m sorry if this is too political, but it seems that law is always up for interpretation and being changed, even by the Supreme Court after 50 years.

        Courtrooms are the fiefdoms of their judges. They can fine female attorneys for wearing pants. Federal court employees in the US are not protected by any of the laws that protect private sector and executive branch employees.

        They make the rules, they interpret the rules, they force others to follow the rules. But THEY don’t have to.

      20. Death Lawyer*

        Part of the problem is that it’s really easy for lawyers to open a solo practice and lose touch of professional and ethical norms over the years when there is no one to check them. A few other commenters have alluded to lawyers’ egos and that definitely plays a role in situations like this.

        1. Calliope*

          To paraphrase Tolstoy, I always think that all large law firms are dysfunctional in the same way, whereas small law firms are each dysfunctional in their own special way.

        2. pancakes*

          Yep. I think this is a huge factor in why some small firms seem to be operating in a parallel universe.

      21. Libby A*

        Firms that do labor law will rarely have egregious labor violations with their staff. Firms that don’t are the same as any other company.

      22. Artsy Archivist*

        Not a lawyer, but I worked in a large national law firm for two years in the records department, and the abuse and toxicity was so horrible that the stress caused long-term mental and physical damage and PTSD–when I told my therapist the name of the firm, it turned out I was not the only LGBTQ+ person to quit and have trauma from that horrible place. The lawyers in this thread can and have attested to the various reasons why law firms can be so dysfunctional and miserable, but from an admin staff side I can confirm that the oppressiveness drips down and ends up flattening anyone who tries to improve things even a little bit. The legal assistants either dropped out after six months or had been there 15+ years, no in-between, because after you bash your head against a wall for long enough you either bail out or you get a lot of thick scar tissue, I think. It was grim.

        OP, run the F away from this. And if I can give a little more advice RE red flag spotting: depending on your age and situation, you may have parents or guardian figures in your life who are, idk, let’s call it Boomer or Boomer-adjacent. They will be falling over themselves to tell you what is and isn’t a red flag. They will insist that your reservations mean you must be weak, or naive, or selfish, or entitled. They will tell you that it’s virtuous and normal to destroy your mental health in the name of 40 hours a week. THEY ARE WRONG. THEY ARE NOT CORRECT. DO NOT HEED THEIR ADVICE, especially when that advice contradicts the things that people closer to your age/development are telling you.
        Ask people who are either still working or were employed within the past ten years at minimum. Ask people who have worked after 2008, when the economy collapsed. The world has changed radically since our parents’ time in the workforce, they have been retired for a lot of that interim time, and their reference points are so outdated that they might as well be in a totally different universe.

      23. Boobob*

        The simple answer is that lawyers are mostly assholes.

        The more complicated answer is that lawyers who are good at being lawyers are generally not good at running businesses. They are two largely contradictory skills. That’s why this stuff is more prevalent in smaller firms than in larger ones.

        So you get a lawyer with more work than he can deal with. He needs help with that, right? But because he can’t run his business properly (i.e. get paid for the work he does), he often doesn’t have the cashflow to properly pay someone to help.

        The obvious solution to this is to entrap a student or fresh grad to do this work. But because they have no experience, they can’t actually do the work for him–they require training and mentorship. But he doesn’t have time for that. So the work he gets isn’t really helpful, so he doesn’t want to pay for it. Add into this an oversupply of students and grads and you have a situation ripe for exploitation.

        Which brings us back to most lawyers are assholes.

      24. irritable vowel*

        As others have said, the “so sue me/I know the law better than you do” attitude is to blame. I used to work in a legal-adjacent field in higher ed, and by far, the faculty who most egregiously and openly flouted the law were the ones in the law school.

      25. CatCat*

        Because being a good lawyer has nothing to do with being a good manager. Management skills are not necessarily valued. The billable hour is king. That’s where the money is. This is a feature, not a flaw of the system for many firms. Because once they burn out associates, there are plenty of other folks to hire as associates to take their place.

      26. Constructive Notice*

        You have a group of highly educated people with little to no background in management trying to run their own business—while not inherently dysfunctional, the set up is definitely fighting an uphill battle.

      27. A Wall*

        My personal hypothesis about this comes from working in medicine and knowing people in finance, but observationally I think it spreads out into a lot of fields that are defined primarily by 1) prestige and 2) privilege, either because they pay extremely well, or because it’s mostly gatekept to people from privilege, or both. Usually both.

        Since the main hallmark of the job is prestige, it attracts certain kinds of people. But beyond that, the fact that the prestige is the most valuable thing about the job means that the people who do it are extremely motivated to create and maintain a system by which the field remains exclusive. That’s where a lot of the dues-paying, discriminatory, high-pressure treatment comes in: it both keeps out a lot of the “wrong” kind of people and keeps the upper echelons homogenous, and it also gives everyone who gets past it a big badge of pride for being The Best. And they get to build the castle of their self worth and entitlement on top of that.

        The people who made it through have to jealously guard their own prestige by making sure it stays difficult and awful for anyone else to try and get to their place. If they make it less crappy, they’ll feel that their own accomplishment and status is being eroded.

      28. Contracts Killer*

        To caveat, I’ve been an attorney for 17 years but never worked in a law firm. However, my guess is the nature of how firm jobs work. In so many other offices (law and otherwise), people work collaboratively or at the very least stay out of each other’s way. In firms, you’re directly competing with your peers for new clients and cases, to make partner, etc. I think firms attract competitive people and competition often brings out the worst in people. I think it’s a bit chicken & egg, too – were they a competitive a-hole and that attracted them to firm life, or were they hired at a firm and felt the effects of being in that competitive environment?

        I have had many people who tell me how nice I am when I’m opposing counsel. It makes me feel good that they acknowledge my kindness, but it’s pretty disheartening at how surprised they sound.

    2. Anon For this One*

      Friend is an employment attorney she says the worst violators of labor laws are — employment law firms.

      Knowledge just means you know how to do it wrong.

      1. London Calling*

        A bit like the way the most abusive and bullying person I’ve ever worked for was the head of the company’s HR dept.

      2. JustAnotherKate*

        Anecdata: as a young associate, I traveled to meet an expert witness with a partner from my firm and co-counsel, both white men in their 50s. (This becomes relevant.) The night before the meeting we all went to dinner, ostensibly to strategize. They ordered tons of booze, ran up a huge tab they later tried to put on the fee petition, and co-counsel made several egregious remarks. I mean BAD, like speculating on which of the women walking by the table had breast implants, and discussing why said implants looked better on women of certain races. Finally, the partner from my firm woke up somewhat and said, “Did you know JustAnotherKate is our Title VII* attorney?” Co-counsel looked me up and down and said, “Smart move — no one would harass HER.”

        *Title VII is the section of the Civil Rights Act covering discrimination in employment. It made up at least half of our firm’s business and the co-counsel firm worked on it as well, although the case in question was related to something else.

        1. Your local password resetter*

          Wow, those guys were awful. I’m half wondering if they drunk so much because nobody could endure them sober.

  3. Zephy*

    Oh my word, LW, there’s more red flags here than a damn Communist parade. I hope for your sake Alison answered your question in time. This letter reads like a choose-your-own adventure novel where someone picked the bad option every time.

    1. Laney Boggs*

      I got halfway through point one and was like “not even a red flag – that’s a stop sign”

    2. Letter Writer*

      She did and I am so grateful!! I have until this Friday to let him know, and I was already really leaning toward not taking the job anyway.

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        OP. Everyone else has posted everything you need to know.
        maybe even this, but just in case.
        THANK YOU, BUT NO.
        is a complete conversation. Even if you have to leave a voice mail.
        Don’t let him question you, lecture you, get his final digs in, at least not in a live conversation.
        Pretend you are on the stand! Question asked and answered, your honor.

        1. Isabel Archer*

          Excellent addition, Not Tom!
          LW, you mentioned how inexperienced you are…so when this jerk demands an explanation (which he will), you might naturally think that you owe him one. Not Tom is 100% right — you don’t. You also don’t have to stay on the phone after your 3-word decline. You sound like a nice person who wouldn’t want to be intentionally rude, but I think I speak for the entire commentariat when I say feel free to hang up on this human turd after declining his “offer.”

      2. lyonite*

        Another vote for not waiting. You have all the information you need: you’ve decided to pursue another opportunity, thanks for taking the time etc., bye.

      3. quill*

        Yeah, mail the documents back via a service he will have to sign for TONIGHT, save and print out the record that they were returned, and THEN decline his job offer. Do not go in person and create a paper trail that demonstrates you did, in fact, return the client documents. Also, at this point? Reporting him to the bar might be a necessary step to protect your reputation, on top of all the other reasons that you should report him.

      4. Beth*

        It sounds to me like you did just fine at seeing the red flags here! It’s wallpapered in them, and you saw that, thought twice about taking the role, and checked in with someone who could confirm they’re problematic–that’s perfect.

    3. ferrina*

      Reading through the LW’s bullets was like if they made a Crayola Red Flag Collection:
      Illegal Red, Unethical Red, Super Illegal Red, Blowhard Red, Sexist Red, Avoidant Red and Here Be Small Company (not a true red, unless you put it next to any other shade of red. Then it’s clearly red).

  4. Snarkus Aurelius*

    I had a former boss tell me that if I wanted to telework because I was in my third trimester, I’d have to take sick leave. I told her I would come in then, and she was genuinely surprised. She clearly thought she was offering me a good deal.

    I can’t tell if these people are feigning ignorance when they try to get something for nothing or they really don’t understand how telework operates.

    1. No_woman_an_island*

      Yuck. It’s always the ones thinking they’re being so generous and helping us that are the worst. Know what would help me? Adequate compensation.

    2. Chria*

      Was the idea that you would telework while taking sick leave, or that you could either come into the office or be off sick, but working from home was not an option. Because the first one is *wild* to me!

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        No, it seems Snarkus could work from home, but each day she did would count as a sick day.
        Because her boss was an ass.

      2. Jora Malli*

        We’ve had letters before where people were told if they worked from home they would need to use PTO. It’s bananas every time.

      3. Snarkus Aurelius*

        This is literally how the conversation went. I’m not making this up.

        Me: X suggested that I ask for telework for the last part of my third trimester as that’s what she got.

        Boss: when I was pregnant in 1980, there was no telework. You work at work. If you’re at home, then you’re at home. If you work from home, then you need to take sick leave.

        Me: oh okay. Well when I’ll just work until I deliver.

        Boss: Really? But you can work from home!

        Me: if I use sick time that I need.

        Boss: right.

        1. Just Your Everyday Crone*

          Yeah, I can’t imagine why someone about to have a baby would want to preserve their sick leave /sarcasm font.

        2. Eye roll*

          And you immediately asked HR why you would be charged sick leave if you were working, right?

        3. Rose*

          What the fuck makes her think you would work then??

          I had a manger try to do this once ( it for mat leave but similar) and I was like “ok I’ll just be offline those days then” and he was ~*shocked*~

        4. sarah*

          “When I was pregnant in 1980, there was no telework.”

          And as we all know there has been literally no advancement in technology since 1980

    3. hbc*

      I think there are some managers/owners who know that when they say they’re working from home, they’re doing the bare minimum (if that) and assume everyone else is doing the same. When I think of every manager I’ve had who’s been vehemently opposed to their employees teleworking, they were “on the way to the cabin” or “fitting in a workout” or “just taking 15 minutes with the repair guy” nine times out of ten when you tried to get stuff from them.

      1. Smithy*

        Agree – also that “work from home” is almost the equivalent of early dismissal during a slow period.

        Basically places that don’t give a day off for the day before Thanksgiving or December 23/24th. It’s well known to be a very slow business day, so people are approved to work from home as a quasi day off for random issues that pop up, but there’s little true work expected. I had COVID last year the Friday before Thanksgiving, and the Wednesday before Thanksgiving was my first full day working from home. As much work as that was…..

    4. JP*

      Yeah, I was working from home under covid quarantine, someone emailed me / cc’ed boss with a question, she responded that I was working from home and that they’d have to wait until I came back to the office the following week to get an answer. I responded to the initial email and answered the question within ten minutes of receiving it. Because I was working. Just happened to be at home. It seems to be a very difficult concept for some people to grasp.

      1. Worldwalker*

        I work remotely for a company in another state. Post-Covid, they’ve become *very* dispersed — and discovered that they’re getting a lot more actually done when and how it needs to be. It’s working very well. The only problem is that one person I sometimes work closely with is a super morning person, and another is a super night person. (I’m nocturnal myself) I’ve found myself waking up at 6 am, checking emails from person A, responding, and then going back to sleep, so I’ll be rested for person B, too. But none of the three of us would be as productive working 9-5.

    5. Worldwalker*

      If you’re going to take sick leave, that means *not* working. What part of this do some people not get?

  5. Big Bird*

    You mentioned you are in law school; did you find out about this job through your school? If so, you should report this to them immediately; they will be VERY interested in your story!

    1. Gary Patterson’s Cat*

      I was not clear if this job was found via her school career center or not. I thought at first this was some kind of internship, but it doesn’t seem to be.

    1. AnonEMoose*

      I was thinking that the bees are all red, flying in a flag formation. But I like yours better.

      1. quill*

        1000000 bees, wearing red, carrying a tiny flag and flying in the formation of a much larger red flag.

      1. AnonEMoose*

        If I recall correctly, Napoleon adopted the bee as an emblem at one point…and given that this guy seems to think he’s an emperor, that seems somehow appropriate.

  6. The Original K.*

    I was through at “unpaid for two months” and it declined from there. Hard no on this job, OP. Entry-level workers still get paid. And I’m guessing that when he does deign to pay you, the pay will be crap – employers that pay well don’t hide it.

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      “and then after your free work is done, we will “neg” you about how much you’ve let us down to undercut your wage negotiation, let you work MORE time for free with the lie that you will be offered more when you get to level they want. (like there’s a negotiation. they give the lowest they think you’ll take.)

    2. Miss Muffet*

      MOST jobs, you come in not “adding value” immediately. Even if you know what you’re doing overall, there’s some ramping up with new clients, new company, whatever. And yet all these companies pay people for that time. Full price even!

      1. hallofoats*

        Great point that I haven’t seen addressed yet. NOBODY knows everything there is to know about a job the minute they walk in the door. They still get paid!

    3. Atalanta0jess*


      EVERY JOB has training. EVERY JOB has a period where you are not all that useful because you are learning. Sometimes it’s short, sometimes it’s long, but that’s part of how new jobs are. And you are supposed to get paid for that time. Period, end of story.

  7. Justme, The OG*

    DO NOT WORK FOR THIS PERSON WHATSOEVER. And honestly post on Glassdoor about how awful they are.

  8. EPLawyer*

    HUGE red flags if they start talking about work and not paying you. Like to the point that you should just end the interview — I’m sorry but if we are not willing to discuss proper compensation for work it does not make sense to continue.

    Unfortunately most people aren’t that blatant, so unfortunately you get to find out what red flags are by trial and error. But one EXCELLENT way to learn from other people’s mistakes is to read here. Alison is great at pointing out flags others might not have notice and the commentariat is by and large supportive. Especially to people who are just trying to figure things out. Remember there is a Friday open thread where you can post any concerns and get feedback from the collective.

    1. Pipe Organ Guy*

      Every item had a red flag, a flashing red warning light, and a loud warning buzzer.

  9. Annie*

    Run away, run away, run away, run away, run awaaaaaay … omg. I haven’t even finished reading all the potential red flags and oof.

  10. Antilles*

    This position is unpaid for approximately two months or so before turning into a paid position (because I will have to be taught everything, so I won’t bring any value to the boss yet). He did not specify what the pay is once I get to that level, but said we could negotiate at that time.
    The two months or so is absolutely going to turn into “you haven’t proven yourself yet so you’re not yet bringing value, so let’s go another month and re-check there”, stringing out your free work as long as he possibly can.
    Then, when you push back for actual pay, he’s either going to jump to “nope, can’t afford it, see ya” or give you a laughably low offer.

    1. hmmmmmmm*

      Considering his “secretaries” talk it could also mean “within two months, you’ll either be my mistress or I’ll be letting you go for ‘not being a team player.'”

      1. AnonEMoose*

        I hadn’t initially thought of that, but yeah…this makes way too much sense.

      2. Miss Muffet*

        Wouldn’t you love to know if he ever interviews male law students and tries this BS with them?!

      3. Seeking Second Childhood, CTA*

        Unfortunately that’s where my mind went…. it puts a rather creepy spin on being of no use to him if you are working at home!

    2. PeanutButter*

      And, she won’t ever be able to prove she worked there as long as she did with future background checks, because the W2 dates won’t match her actual start date.

    3. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      HAHAHAHA. Wrote the exact thing above.
      they will count on two things, 1) your inexperience will be warped by these charlatans convincing you this is how the field works (it is not); 2) sunken cost fallacy.

    4. CuriousAboutHiring*

      I was just thinking that! He’s already arguing now that you won’t be paid because you don’t have ‘value’ which can escalate just like Antilles said. OP, would you even have a written contract expressly saying you’d be hired for pay after two months? (Not that it would be okay if you did).

    5. Just Your Everyday Crone*

      Yeah, this is a bold new twist on the old “We’ll start you at SuperLow Salary but you’ll get a big raise in a few months!” ploy.

  11. Chilipepper Attitude*

    No one said but do not do the sample work, even if you said you would.
    Email him and let him know you appreciated the opportunity but you are going in another direction.

    And don’t respond to anything else he sends you.

  12. Alex*

    So much nope.

    Also…he hires “girls” because when the time comes to “negotiate pay” he only needs to pay them 2/3 of what he’d pay a man. Because “girls” are just working for pin money, right? They should find a man to support them!

    1. Jora Malli*

      The sexist assholery is a big ol’ nope all on it’s own, but in combination with everything else in OP’s list it’s an indicator that this man is nothing but a garbage can that has somehow attained sentience.

    2. WillowSunstar*

      I’m 46 and have always earned my own pay. Oh yeah — when you’re legally an adult, you are no longer a “girl.” Must be interesting since I hardly ever get carded for alcohol anymore either. I mean, “girls” totally have gray hair, right?

      1. KateElla (UK)*

        Hah you joke, but my sister went grey at sixteen and has been dyeing it since! I tried to convince her not to but no dice.

        1. quill*

          First time I went to a restaurant with my mom after she stopped dying her roots she was surprised not to get carded. The waiter had a good save though: “Ma’am, if your daughter is old enough that I need to card her, I definitely don’t need to card you.”

    3. quill*

      He specifically hires newly graduated “girls” because like one of my former bosses, he figures they’re statistically less likely to insist on being paid what they’re worth (or paid, period, in this case) and usually don’t have any industry experience to know if less obvious red flag factories than this guy are walking around.

      1. Junior Assistant Peon*

        Aside from the gender issue, consider it a red flag if almost everyone at a company is fresh out of college. It’s often a sign that they want people who don’t have enough workplace experience to know that they’re doing something shady or illegal.

  13. ZSD*

    OMG. I expected this to be, “They’re asking me to make copies. Is this a red flag?” Instead it was, “8,000 red flags are hung on this office, and the employer should personally be struck by lightning and the building set on fire.”
    OP, first of all, you didn’t need to doubt yourself at all when you felt uncomfortable with all these terrible policies! But since it seems like you (understandably) haven’t fully calibrated your meter on that yet, I agree with Alison that you should run things past advisors whose judgment you trust.
    Best wishes as you seek sane, gainful employment!

    1. Letter Writer*

      Hi ZSD, I appreciate your comment! I struggle a lot with these types of questions as a first-generation law student – I just don’t know what is appropriate versus something that would take advantage of me.

      Often times I talk to my parents, who are immigrants (now citizens), who have worked incredibly hard for everything they have. Their advice is usually that entry-levels get the low-end of the stick, and if do my best, I’ll prove myself to the people that I’m working for. While it sounds great, this position made me uncomfortable enough that I really wanted to check with someone else before I made my decision.

      1. London Calling*

        Hi letter writer – with all due respect to your parents, allowing yourself to be exploited isn’t ‘proving yourself.’ You do that by taking a job where you’re being taught your craft, remunerated appropriately and treated with respect. In return you do the job to the best of your ability, act professionally to peers and managers and make the most of your opportunities.

        Incidentally, like interviews, ‘proving yourself’ goes both ways. Employers have to demonstrate that they are worthy of your time and efforts.

      2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        Yes, they get the low end of the stick. But at least they get the stick!
        Here’s the thing: Entry position is a mix of you proving yourself and the company proving they want you.
        They do this by offering you money, a schedule, skill level appropriate work and the tools and training to succeed. If they are not doing that, they don’t want you. They want a slave. Is that harsh, incendiary term? Yes. Is it hyperbolic? THEY WON’T PAY YOU FOR MONTHS. IT IS A FACT.
        Good companies invest in people. You will find one.

      3. ZSD*

        Hi Letter Writer,
        I agree with London Calling. There’s a difference between getting the short end of the stick in terms of having to do relatively boring, mindless tasks (like making copies in my example above) and actually being taken advantage of. There is no reason to take a job where…
        -You are not being paid (or are being paid less than minimum wage) for your work.
        -The employer treats women as less than men (or people of color as less than white people, etc.).
        -Your boss screams at you or puts you in physical danger.

        There is no payoff to “sucking it up” in these situations. You deserve, and can find, a job where you’re respected, valued, and paid what you’re worth.

      4. MeepMeep02*

        Yeah – immigrant parents really don’t get it. I’ve got a set of immigrant parents myself, and they really don’t know how things work in the legal field – it’s such an arcane sort of thing that even American-born nonlawyers don’t know much about it, let alone someone who does not have the same cultural background.

        The thing to tell the immigrant parents is that this is not a “work your way up and prove yourself” type of position – this is a scam that will leave you broke and unemployed. No matter how hard you work for this guy, he won’t give you the job of your dreams and he may tank your future career as well. There absolutely are “work your way up and prove yourself” types of situations in the legal world (BigLaw comes to mind), but this isn’t it. Best case scenario, you end up working for a disreputable solo practitioner until he gets disbarred, leaving you unemployed and barely employable (because that’s all you’ve got on your resume).

        1. London Calling*

          *Best case scenario, you end up working for a disreputable solo practitioner until he gets disbarred, leaving you unemployed and barely employable (because that’s all you’ve got on your resume).*

          And no-one wants to touch you because they assume that having worked for said disreputable solo practitioner you share his shady ethics.

          1. calonkat*

            Well, it’s reasonable for other practices to assume that a law student WOULD have learned poor practices at the very least.

            If you have a choice between potential employees who have experience at good firms and one coming from “Max Bialystock”, who would you want to hire? Who is likely to bring more benefit and less risk?

            It sucks, but it’s not unreasonable.

      5. bookworm*

        Your instincts are already good that you reached out to someone else! It can be SO hard to calibrate your sense of what’s “normal” or “reasonable” or “acceptable” without some concrete advice from people currently working in the industry you’re looking to enter. Just wanted to highlight and underscore Alison’s advice to find some current lawyers to bounce ideas off of. Do you have any 3L friends? Ask them if they can put you in touch with friends of theirs who are a few years ahead of them (who have been working for a couple of years). Do you have an alumni directory? Are any of your professors practitioners rather than full-time academics? They would be other good sources of advice. It can also be helpful to compare notes with classmates. Even if they don’t necessarily have more job hunting experience than you, they may have the benefit of knowledge passed down from family members or other connections. In my experience, there’s also usually at least one person in every cohort who really loves job hunting/negotiation and helping other people practice that stuff.

        Given your career center’s response to flagging this lawyer’s unacceptable behavior, I would be very wary of trusting their advice on other things without a second opinion from at least one of the above sources of advice. I’d also be careful about relying on only the advice of professors who haven’t been actively practicing lawyers in the last few years. Academia is a wildly different work environment (with plenty of its own dysfunction!) and people who have not worked outside of it are not going to have the most useful advice for you.

      6. Some Cajun Queen*

        LW, first of all, I am so sorry that some jerk is trying to take advantage of you. You’re already working incredibly hard by going to law school.

        Second of all, reading through the comments, it seems like you’re already in touch with some school services. It might be worth checking to see if there are specific services for first-generation students at your school. I work with first-gen college students in my job, and increasingly, colleges and universities will have support structures in place specific to first-gen. Admittedly, much of this is geared toward undergrad, but it might be worth checking with them to see if there are any mentoring or career readiness services specific to your situation beyond your career center (which does not seem particularly helpful in this regard if they’re going to keep letting this guy post listings!). You could just share some of the things you’ve put in your post and comments: that you’re first-gen, new to interviewing, and struggling a little with job hiring norms. I also second the comment above advising you to try and connect with some law groups. I’d also mention there that you’re first-gen, because they may be able to offer some specific mentoring to you! Best of luck in your studies and job search!

      7. Wilbur*

        Entry level usually does get the short end of the stick. An example might be work that is tedious, but is guided by an experienced coworker. For example, as an engineer you might be trained on how to disassemble and inspect a failed part by a team lead. You’d then be given 20 parts to tear down, the team lead inspects the parts with you and verifies root cause behind the failures, and then you’d document. This is tedious work, but you gain experience in how the product works and breaks. The team lead benefits by not having to tear down a bunch of parts and saves time. Getting the short end of the stick doesn’t mean not getting paid or doing things that make you feel uncomfortable, or things that aren’t related to your job!

        1. MeepMeep02*

          As a lawyer, what you get at the entry level is document review. I paid my dues in that one working in BigLaw. You literally spend your entire workday looking through thousands of documents and determining whether each one is relevant to the case. It’s like factory assembly-line work and just as mindnumbing, and can be done by anyone who has a pulse and basic reading skills. I spent a year doing that in my first year at BigLaw, 10 hours a day, 6 days a week. That’s an acceptable way of “paying your dues”. I have no complaints.

        2. quill*

          Yeah, the difference is between the short end of the stick and being poked with a giant spear of illegality.

          In this case, the short end of the stick might be tedious, frustrating, or unglamorous work, but not getting paid? That’s not working your way up. That’s a big fat zero. And we all know that even if you become twice as good as you are now, you can’t multiply by zero.

      8. ferrina*

        Your law school should have career services that can help you distinguish between normal and not normal. They should be helping you find opportunities. If they recommended this guy to you, share with them what he said to you (and if they’re okay with it, don’t trust a word they say).

      9. Ari*

        Hi Letter Writer! I just wanted to chime in as a young labor & employment attorney who also was a first-generation law student within the last five years.

        Your instincts to gauge this with others are good! This behavior is not normal and, as Alison mentioned, also illegal. You have dodged a massive missile, so feel empowered that your instincts sensed that this wasn’t right.

        While my parents are not immigrants themselves (they are the children & grandchildren of immigrants), they often gave me the same advice. It’s what their parents had taught them and it worked for their generation. Although it’s not necessarily bad advice on its own, in this specific application that advice would have led you down the wrong path had you followed it. It seems as though your paths have diverged on the issue of practical career advice, and that’s ok! This just means you’ll have to look to others in the field for that kind of assistance now, which is a big transition to make as a young professional adult looking for their first job in their chosen career. It’s ok if you feel a little weird about it for a while until you develop more of your professional self (it took me a while to realize that my parents, although very proud and supportive, were just not helpful to me for career stuff anymore).

        So, how do you make connections in the law field to help you figure this stuff out? I’d start by speaking to your fellow law students, particularly if there are any you know a year ahead of you who are in a concentration or practice area that you’re interested in pursuing. They will likely know which offices hire law students or host proper internship programs. They will also have more recent and relevant experiences than say a professor-advisor would about what working in a particular office entails. This can be a great resource, especially for those ‘just starting out and don’t know who to ask’ questions.

        You could also check to see if your school has any identity affinity groups – e.g. – a women’s law student association or a group for immigrants and/or first-generation law students. These clubs often have mentorship programs that pair you with an older student member of the group who can meet with you regularly to discuss how school is going and what your goals are. This could be another good way to meet other students, especially those outside your 1L section.

        I would also recommend checking your local bar associations. They have different practice-based sections that you could likely join as a student for free or a greatly reduced price. Often the bar associations will host continuing legal education seminars or networking events which could be great places to meet actual attorneys in the field, learn more about different current issues and practice topics, and to get to know what firms are in the area.

        I have found that it’s meeting people in the field that’s half the battle, but once I met a few, I was able to gauge what actual practice in the field would be like by just having conversations and asking my questions in a straight forward manner. Building those connections is what helped me more than anything else in law school.

        1. Rocky*

          What a thoughtful and practical list of suggestions! Your framing of the parents’ and grandparents’ well-meant advice is especially helpful.

        2. Yosemite*

          LW, it was recommended below, but I just want to recommend it again here: the website is mostly populated by female lawyers, and people write in (to the comment section) all the time with professional/legal questions like this to ask for advice. So if you’re having a hard time building in-person connections for whatever reason, you can at least get started with some digital connections/advice there.

      10. Temperance*

        That doesn’t work with solo practitioners and super small firms. Especially if they do criminal defense or plaintiff-side personal injury.

        Working your way up is a Boomer fantasy. Mostly you need to change jobs to advance.

        1. Lysine*

          Yeah I’m a lawyer and that statement is still mostly true. When I need a raise I’ll most likely need to start applying for other law job.

      11. Wintermute*

        “proving yourself” in your field looks more like potentially having long hours (but being paid fairly well in compensation), having little flexibility, and having to do the less interesting, more tedious work like background research, proofreading, redacting, and administrative-type stuff that you won’t have to do later in your career (when you employ someone like you are now to do it for you).

        It doesn’t mean labor laws go totally out the window or that you should eagerly sign up to be exploited. And “paying dues” NEVER means accepting sexual harassment. And make no mistake, this guy was already toeing the line of with his comments before he even had you “on the hook” as your source of income– or source of no-income as it may be– and that is the biggest red flag of all. What starts when he’s “on his best behavior” as boorish chauvinism and borderline comments will escalate the moment you can’t just walk out of the room and never go back, it might escalate fast and far.

  14. idwtpaun*

    Just one gigantic red flag, big enough to represent a nation at an international sporting event. None of this is remotely ok.

    I do think this may not be uncommon in very small law practices, so this may be something you have to develop a good nose for. But you wrote in here, so you do have a good sense for it! Now you know to trust that instinct.

  15. Green great dragon*

    You should never, ever, ever agree to a job without being told very clearly about pay, benefits and holidays. Or borrow money without reading the small print

    1. The Prettiest Curse*

      Yup. If they don’t tell you how much you’re going to be paid, you will either 1) not get paid at all or 2) be horribly underpaid.
      Oh and never, ever expect to get anything from an employer if they haven’t put it into writing first.

  16. NeedRain47*

    LW, I think your red flag alarm is working better than you give yourself credit for. Things like sexism and being a bad communicator (not answering questions) are red flags whether it’s a personal relationship or professional one. If you feel uncomfortable about something, definitely follow up on that feeling. There are some uncomfortable things about working sometimes, but even if no one’s trying to do anything illegal, you still get to decide what you can live with.

    1. Toads, Beetles, Bats*

      Seconding this. Your red flag alarm worked really really well in this case. You felt uneasy, you gathered the evidence, you put the question to an objective third party. You’re gonna make a great lawyer. :)

  17. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

    LW, I felt anxious after reading that list and I am never anxious. 2 months unpaid??? WT-actual-F. This alone is a Storm of red flags. Add in the rest and it is a dang hurricane. Top it off, how valuable is your experience in a legal practice that is itself run using illegal practices? Some experience is more harmful to careers than helpful

    1. Warrior Princess Xena*

      In our state (at least) an unpaid internship has to follow a specific series of criteria, or it’s considered a job and has to be paid. These include:

      * The job is providing significant training
      * The job is tied to a formal education process (such as a community college)
      * The intern cannot do work that generates profit for the company. They can learn how to do it but cannot do client work, for instance

      If there is an internship that does not conform to these rules, they can call it an internship all they like but it’s an employee position and the intern has to be compensated as an employee.

      1. Middle Name Danger*

        A lot of places, an internship explicitly can’t come with a promise of paid employment at the conclusion of the internship. “We’ll pay you after 2 months” is wrong even if it checks all the other boxes.

      2. Avery*

        According to the federal government, an unpaid internship is supposed to benefit the intern more than the company/organization they’re working for. In practice, many, many unpaid “internships” break this law, but that doesn’t mean it’s not still the law.

      3. ferrina*

        Law isn’t a field that does internships for students in law school. At the point when you are summering in law school, you have suitable knowledge and skills to generate value, and you are expected to be paid accordingly. For plenty of firms, the summers are a chance to temporarily hire and woo potential long term employees. It is supposed to be a direct funnel into the firm (once you graduate and pass the bar)

        If you’re 1L/2L and you’re doing an internship, someone gave you some really bad advice.

        1. MeepMeep02*

          1L internships are unpaid sometimes. I did one – I was interning for a judge at an appellate court. I wouldn’t do free labor for a firm, though. The judicial internship at least gives you a nice line on your resume.

        2. Yikes, esq.*

          At a firm, yes, you should absolutely be paid as a summer associate. Judicial, government, and nonprofit internships are entirely legitimate and usually don’t pay (although there may be funding available through your school or private scholarship programs to support students doing this type of work). Even students who intend to go on to work at law firms as 2L summer associates and as lawyers often spend their 1L summers in these types of internships — they’re good resume builders, and the work can be more interesting, independent, and substantial (particularly at a direct legal services nonprofit!) than you might get elsewhere as a 1L.

    2. Astrid*

      I would dare to say that most legal practices lose money on their young associates because they don’t know anything and have no experience. I was fortunate as a first-year associate to work for a firm where I had a partner/mentor in different practice areas – they guided my research and reviewed/edited my work. I wasn’t paid a great deal of money but I was paid because I was working and generating billable hours.

  18. London Calling*

    I can only assume interviewer saw a young candidate and was rubbing his hands at the thought that here’s someone ripe for exploiting, underpaying and overworking for however long it takes for her to realise that’s what’s happening and get out. Another reason why you don’t even give taking this job a second thought.

    All those people telling you why you do not take this job? they’re right. Listen to them.

    1. Tex*

      But a L_A_W student?

      Who would realize by Year 2 what exactly was illegal when they took a class in Employment Law? And then in Year 3 would probably file suit as a practicum during their Torts class?

      1. London Calling*

        Oh I don’t know. Some people assume that everyone is as shady as them and this one probably thought that by the time LW worked out how shady Sleazy Lawyer is, she’d be in too deep to do anything. That, or he didn’t think about LW at all. Some people really do approach every situation with ‘what’s in it for me?’ – in this case a ready supply of free exploitable labour and nothing else.

      2. Kesnit*

        The LW is a 1L, so would have only taken the basic, general law classes. Probably Torts (but nothing as extensive as actually writing real briefs) and no employment law classes.

  19. GigglyPuff*

    My eyebrows kept going up and up the more I read, until I just whispered “holy shit”. RUN.

    1. Gerry Keay*

      Yeah, this is straight up predatory. Not in a sexual way (though given the blatant misogyny, whomst to say?), but definitely in a “I’m going to pray on the insecurities and naiveté of young women fresh out of school who don’t know professional norms for the sake of monetary gain and also probably personal enjoyment.” What a gross human being.

  20. Run Forest Run*

    You could check with your law society / regulatory body to see what kind of complaints have been filed by clients in the past. That’s valuable information too.

    1. WillowSunstar*

      Also please find someone to report this guy to, what he’s doing is illegal regarding the “internship.” There must be a state office or something.

  21. Michelle Smith*

    “This position is unpaid for approximately two months or so before turning into a paid position (because I will have to be taught everything, so I won’t bring any value to the boss yet). He did not specify what the pay is once I get to that level, but said we could negotiate at that time.”

    NO. Nope. Nuh uh. I was a law student once and have been an attorney for 8 years. This is not right. Do not take this job. You’re better off working for a professor doing research all summer than doing this. RUN.

    1. Reality Check*

      Yeah I love the “won’t bring any value” part. Like he’s doing OP a favor letting them work there.

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        Just so much WOW in that statement. Like it’s a fact everyone knows.
        It’s a lie a-holes tell.

      2. London Calling*

        I ‘didn’t bring any value’ to my first job straight out of university. That was why they invested time and money training me both on and off the job – so that I WOULD end up bringing value.

      3. L.H. Puttgrass*

        That part…doesn’t strike me as ridiculous, honestly. It is a fairly common belief (and not one that’s unfounded) that most new law grads aren’t really ready to practice and will take some training before they start really being useful.

        But firms don’t get to use that as an excuse not to pay them! And it certainly isn’t an excuse to say, “Yeah, I’ll decide what I want to pay you after you’ve been working here for free for a couple of months.”

    2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      Pretty sure you’d be better off washing dishes all summer than working for this dude.

      Imagine the bad practices you’d pick up and have to unlearn afterwards!! Not to mention the likely sexual harassment.

    3. Mallory Janis Ian*

      ” . . . and I do think I would get exposed to a lot of different situations at his firm.”

      You sure would! and not any of them good, either.

  22. Binky*

    As someone in the legal field – all of these flags are blood red and none of this is normal. It can be hard to find a paying job 1L summer, but you can do better than this. Good luck!

    Also, I’d give a rundown to your school career services office, so they can warn off other students and maybe give you some pointers.

  23. RecentLawGrad*

    LW should be able to also reach out to their school’s career services. Career services can vary in helpfulness, but at a minimum they do often want to know if a particular potential employer is actively doing overtly illegal things or has this many red flags, so they can blacklist them from the school’s internal job board and/or warn future students.

    One advantage for LW is that law student summer jobs are often fairly “structured,” for lack of a better term. They follow certain patterns. A trusted professor, upperclass student, or career services counselor can help spot these red flags!

    One final note: there are a lot of potential violations of the hiring attorney’s ethical duties here. LW, as a first year student you probably haven’t had a chance for Professional Responsibility yet, but (MANY) of your ethical duties as an attorney will follow common sense, and you can’t go wrong by erring on the side of caution! In something like this, if it smells this fishy, or if you’re actively uncomfortable with it, that’s a good indication it’s borderline at best and you should walk away.

  24. miss chevious*

    I am a lawyer and I worked for a solo practioner while I was in law school in the summer between first and second year and during second year, and Alison is right: RUN.

    This is not a real opportunity — this is a lawyer looking to take advantage of you, and anything you learn in this office is going to be suspect if not outright illegal. Additionally, I can almost guarantee you that this lawyer has a reputation in his legal community and you will be hurt, not helped, by working for him. Even if he gives you a good reference, it will be, at best, neutral, and at worst, negative to your career.

    My first legal job was, like yours, after my first year, for a solo practitioner. I was paid a reasonable (albeit low) salary from the first day, my boss had clear processes for me to follow, and even though he was Very Conservative, treated me (a cis woman) with respect. I learned a lot from working for him. But this isn’t that.

    1. bratschegirl*

      So Much This! Especially the second paragraph. Anyone who would do even a fraction of this already has a terrible reputation in the legal community, at least locally, and it will not help you to be associated with that.

    2. Kesnit*

      “This is not a real opportunity — this is a lawyer looking to take advantage of you, and anything you learn in this office is going to be suspect if not outright illegal. Additionally, I can almost guarantee you that this lawyer has a reputation in his legal community and you will be hurt, not helped, by working for him.”

      A friend of mine (and fellow lawyer) is running into a situation like this. Out of law school, she joined the local prosecutor’s office. After about a year, she left to join a small firm in order to be closer to her family. In the 2 years since, she has (1) been fired because she didn’t feel comfortable doing some of the questionable things her boss expected her to do, (2) learned that her former firm has been committing fraud on the county for about 20 years, and (3) filed a bar complaint against her former boss, who turned around and blamed things on her.

      Since hanging out her own shingle, she has had former clients follow her and tell her they didn’t like working with the former firm and are happy they can work with her without having to work with the former boss.

  25. Doctors Whom*

    So the bright side here is that this guy brought SO MANY RED FLAGS to the table that the LW now has a really nice list of “shady stuff to watch out for.” AND validation that their gut instincts are serving them well thus far. That anxious sensation was all those instincts firing at all those red flags.

    BTW LW – there are a lot of people out there who are smart but have no business being the stewards of someone else’s career. This guy may be a brilliant attorney – but he has no business at all managing the lives and careers of anyone else.

  26. JimmyJab*

    Since you are in law school, I’d recommend asking some 2 or 3L students or a trusted professor if you are unsure in the future. But yes, this is not good!

  27. Aphra*

    Your gut is giving you great feedback here, LW and, as usual, Alison is absolutely right that this person is a walking red flag. I’m ancient and now retired but I spent my career working with lawyers and I can’t recall an effective one who would have behaved like this one. I find it interesting that you say he’s very smart but is he? Or is that what he told you? Or perhaps he’s a fast talker and that can come across as smart until you look at the content of what’s being said. And as for the assistant who adores him, again, if that’s what he told you, disregard. If it’s what you observed, well, I’ve certainly known assistants who adored their horrendous bosses right until (and sometimes even after) they were thrown under the bus multiple times by the adored one.

    I think your gut is worth listening to, and the fact you’ve asked the question here shows me you’ve got great instincts. Follow those and let your first professional job be one where you are appreciated, paid for all the work you do and encouraged to grow your expertise. Good luck!

  28. Nia*

    Since he’s announced his intentions to break the law is this something that could be reported to the bar? And are they likely to do anything about it if it is? I’m fairly confident the answer to the second question is no but I’m open to being surprised.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      I don’t know how you would if you didn’t have it in writing–he’d just deny it. It’s not like we have any reason to think he won’t lie.

      1. WellRed*

        That’s not a reason not to report it. If he does this every year and people report it, there’s at least a pattern. Frankly, the DOL and possibly the IRS would also be very interested.

  29. Jessica*

    LW, since you’re studying law anyway, maybe you’ll be getting to this, but it’s good to know whatever you can about employment law. And once you do, anything a potential employer does that’s actually illegal = red flag. Good luck finding a better summer job far away from this exploitative creep!

  30. IAAL (I am a lawyer)*

    I’m a lawyer and in charge of my firm’s summer clerk positions. Run. Run for all the reasons that Alison mentioned. Plus the fact that lawyers who act dishonorably with clerks often/sometimes act dishonorably with judges, opposing counsel, and clients. Those lawyers have terrible reputations. Even in big cities, certain practices of law are very small. Being associated with this person, especially as this would be only one of two jobs on your resume, can be problematic moving forward. Please go work retail or temp over the summer if this is your only option.

    Not having a clerkship after your 1L year is not a huge deal. Be sure to go through the 2L OCI process at your school at the end of the summer for your next clerkship.

    1. Just Your Everyday Crone*

      AND a boss who acts like this is going to put an employee in the position of doing something unethical at some point. “Go shred these discoverable materials” or something like that.

      1. Dramatic Intent To Flounce*

        He’s having LW do something unethical right now! That ‘skill test’ is confidential material for an upcoming case, which he apparently gives to any interviewee (and so: not an employee working on the case with him), which he’s not supposed to disclose to a third party. Now they have unethically disclosed confidential files to deal with and safely remove from their custody.

        I mean, I also suspect ‘trying to get free labor on active cases out of your interviewees and new employees’ is also ethically suspect (due to, you know, the illegality of it,) but that in and of itself is his unethical behavior putting LW in a bad spot.

        1. Wintermute*

          This is all very true and speaks very poorly of them, but I think what Just Your Everyday Crone means is that sooner or later you will be asked to personally violate ethics rules in such a way that it might reflect badly on you or negatively impact a future career. Which then puts you in the awful position of having to either tell them ‘no’ and put up with whatever tantrum ensues (including potential blackmail / threats to claim misconduct / other retaliation) or comply and risk ending your legal career before it’s begun.

  31. Suzy Q*

    Try to find a midsize firm. Both tiny and large law firms have multiple issues, I’ve found. Trust your gut as you walk around the office to get a sense of the culture and how people are feeling in it. Try to glimpse their facial expressions, not just when they’re talking to you. Is the office dead silent or is there a comfortable low level of normal background noise of people having discussions, phone calls, office machinery, etc. Look at people’s desks. Are they all piled high? A few outliers with messy desks are normal, but if everyone’s desk is covered, that’s not good. Look at the infrastructure in the physical office. Is there a kitchen or break room that can accommodate more than five people? More than one conference room (there should be)? How are people dressed? Others here and Allison will cover interview questions and issues, but I wanted you to be aware of other things. Good luck!

  32. the cat's ass*

    Dang, It’s a tossup for me trying to figure out which is worse: The blatant illegality or the rampant sexism. OP, RUN!

  33. Justanotherguy*

    Read the title and the first line and was ready with a throwaway like “red flag one, it’s a law firm” but holy ess- that’s so far over the crazy line that… *shakes head in disbelief *

  34. Dust Bunny*

    There are red flags and then there are Deep Crimson Car-Lot Sized Flags, and this is a whole drill team of the latter.

  35. Bored Lawyer*

    As a lawyer, everything I read here was normal “this guy sucks don’t work for him” but this was the highlight:

    “• The hiring manager gave me some small work to do for an ongoing case and asked me to complete it. (I know you say skills tests are good, and this is literally work that he needs to do for a case that he will be litigating later this summer. It is also not paid.)”

    I think his bar association would be VERRRRRRY interested in his farming out (presumably billable) work to an unsupervised non-attorney.

    I also echo everyone above who said to loop in your career services.

    1. Becky*

      I think his bar association would be VERRRRRRY interested in his farming out (presumably billable) work to an unsupervised non-attorney.

      Right?! Like, especially someone who is not covered under any sort of contract or NDA and so at this point has no legal obligation for confidentiality…

    2. Legal Beagle*

      Yeah, this is absolutely something you’d get suspended for AT BEST if our bar association found out.

  36. RT*

    Your law school should have an office of career services–don’t just report your experience to them, ask for general help finding the kinds of jobs that graduates from your school are happy with! They have a very, very strong incentive to get you a good job and improve the law school’s reputation thereby.

  37. Zap R.*

    It sounds like he hires “girls” because he can get away with underpaying them.

  38. JMR*

    Me, reading this post:


    “Oh hell no.”

    “Absolutely fucking not.”

    “RUN RUN RUN.”

  39. Letter Writer*

    Hi Alison, thank you so much for posting my letter! I really, really appreciate your advice and the advice of the commentators.

    One of the biggest reasons why I was so uncertain is because my dad really encouraged me to take this job. I respect my dad a lot, and he is one of my biggest champions, so I felt really stuck because I’ve always been able to trust him.

    However, my dad has been out of the corporate workforce for almost thirty years now, he owns his own business and volunteers at a non-profit for most of his time. I feel like this situation spoke to him in a way that it just didn’t speak to me. Your advice about getting professional guidance from people 8-10 years ahead of me especially helped me think about my dad’s advice more objectively.

    1. CommanderBanana*

      LW, your dad sounds lovely!

      My dad is also lovely, and he gave me some very, very terrible career advice that had some serious ramifications early in my career. My dad is 33-plus years career military, now works for the military. His advice probably would have been great for someone in the military who also wanted to be career military. I was not. I didn’t trust my instincts enough and took his advice and took a terrible government job that was a horrible fit and ended up in deep depression and quitting that job 6 months later.

      He was truly baffled because, hey, it’s a fed job and if you stay there for 30-something years, you’ll have a good retirement! Turns out working in a natural-light-less closet where I had literally no work to do made my brain eat itself within a few months.

      I learned a really difficult lesson. Some things only come with experience. I now know that, lovely as my dad is, I can’t ever go to him for career advice because his experiences and priorities are just so different from mine.

      1. Letter Writer*

        Hi CommanderBanana, thank you so, so much for sharing your experience. Your words really resonated with me. Sometimes I feel that I am stuck in a tug-of-war between my parents’ priorities for my career and future, and my own (my parents immigrated to America from a collectivist society, where it is common for children to always follow their parents’ advice.) Thank you for sharing your perspective.

        1. CommanderBanana*

          Oof, I feel that. My parents are both military vets – straight into the military from college – and while they didn’t pressure me to follow that path, they just really can’t offer any career insight to anyone who isn’t also interested in being career military.

          It’s not that I don’t think they have good advice to offer, it would just be like asking me, a single person with no kids, no younger siblings, and not much experience with children, to give you parenting advice. My intentions may be good but I just don’t have the knowledge to give you anything helpful.

          1. Juneybug*

            Same here – both hubby and I are retired vets so we have told our kids, you want advice about military, we are here for you. Want some advice raising kids – come talk to us! Need some finacial guidance – we are your people! Got questions about the non-profit work we did after retirment – we would be glad to impart our wisdom. Buuuttt we are not knowledgeable about the corporate world. We are happy to listen but we could not reasonably provide good info.

    2. Velawciraptor*

      If your dad is not a lawyer, his career advice, however well-meaning, is going to be of dubious help. The legal profession has its own culture, norms, and professional standards, all of which are being violated here. Good on you for knowing to come here for a second opinion.

    3. Chria*

      Ooof, parents can be some of the worst sources of career advice. Also, I’m not surprised that an older white male would feel that an exploitative position under the power of another white male “spoke” to him. No offence to your dad, but it’s pretty common for people not to recognize their own privilege. Plus there’s the idea of “paying your dues” which is half misremembered nostalgia (did you ever really work somewhere for free for 2 months, or did you just get paid very little) and half not recognizing that the world has changed, cost of living as a percentage of income has increased, and corporations stopped rewarding loyalty over 50 years. ago

      1. Loulou*

        Did I miss OP saying their dad is white? I only saw them say he is an immigrant, not where he immigrated from or anything about his race.

      2. Letter Writer*

        Hi Chria, thank you for taking the time to comment! Actually, my parents have immigrated from a South Asian country and we are not white (nor white passing), but I appreciate your perspective. I do think your point about “paying your dues” is really true, especially in today’s world where certain things are illegal that didn’t used to be.

        1. MEH Squared*

          Hey, Letter Writer. I’m also second-generation American with parents from Asia (East Asia in my case). There is the tendency to put the collective first which is a good thing, but not at the expense of you. I am a female-presenting person who had to put up with a lot of sexism from both my cultures and as a result, I am more pro-individual than many in my parents’ culture. I was raised to put everyone else before myself, and it’s still something I’m unpacking at age 51.

          Yes, you’ll have to pay your dues in the beginning of your career, but as others pointed out, that means things like doing the lesser-desirable work; it doesn’t mean not working for two months without pay and no firm plan for a wage once the two months pass.

          I’m glad you’re passing on this job and best wishes in finding something that is good for you and not exploitative.

    4. Becky*

      Volunteer work at a non-profit might have skewed his perspective a bit volunteering is very different than a job. At least I hope that is what it is and not that he himself thinks it is ok not to pay employees in his business during their training.

      1. Letter Writer*

        Hi Becky – you are definitely right. He pays his employees very well with benefits, but most of his time is dedicated to the non-profit. I think his perspective might come from that point, because a lot of people tend to volunteer their time or skills, and it’s totally okay and fine for them to do so. The non-profit doesn’t chase people down (or attempt to hire them) to get them to donate their time or skills.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        “corporate workforce for almost thirty years now”

        I think it might be this more than the volunteering at a nonprofit part. I work for a nonprofit and we have volunteers but the line is draw very clearly between volunteers and employees, and very, very clearly about referring to people as “girls”, etc.

        Also, although LW stated below that they’re not white, Dad is still an older male and it’s human nature to gloss over drawbacks that don’t apply to us, and most of them won’t apply to him and may not have been so taboo thirty years ago when he was participating in corporate culture.

      3. Elenna*

        Reminds me of some terrible advice my own dad gave me (fortunately I was already reading AAM at the time so I was able to know that it was terrible advice). I’d just interviewed for a job and they said they would get back to me in three weeks, so he suggested that I volunteer to work for free during those three weeks.

        Firstly, as Allison points out, this is illegal. Secondly, in your typical office it takes a lot more than three weeks for someone to get up to speed and start producing helpful work, the first few weeks/months are often training and a new employee will generally take up more time than they save. (LW, this is *absolutely not* defending your interviewer’s bananacrackers idea to not pay you for the first two months! Normal employers who are following the law still pay people for that time! It’s an investment for the future time when employees do start adding value. My point is just that they’re not going to invest that time into someone they haven’t even decided to hire yet.)

        In his case, I suspect his thinking was influenced by the fact that he’s a high school teacher and he was probably thinking of something like substitute teaching where a new person can come in without any experience/training and at least provide a net positive, even if it’s just an adult person to watch the kids for a period. It’s perfectly normal, from what I understand, for new teachers to substitute teach for a while at first to get money and experience, so he probably thought I could do something similar. Doesn’t work at all in regular office jobs though.

        TL;DR yeah, parents with different experiences are not always good at providing advice that’s useful for your experience.

    5. The Original K.*

      I have a family friend who runs his family business successfully and he doesn’t give his kids career advice because he “doesn’t even have a resume.” He went and worked for a big company in the field for a few years, then joined the business, then eventually took it over, and odds are good he’ll sell it when he wants to retire. The working world his kids are in has nothing to do with him, so he stays in his lane.

      I’m sure your dad is great! (I’m actually tearing up that he’s one of your champions because so was mine and he passed away.) But he doesn’t have the experience needed to speak to this issue, so finding other professional contacts is a better bet. And this community is great to bounce stuff off of too!

    6. SongbirdT*

      Our parents can be great parents and give just terrible career advice. When you decline to proceed with this firm, you might get the disappointed looks from Dad, but please be confident that you’re making the right call. We are all backing you and rooting for you to find something amazing this summer!

    7. Dust Bunny*

      Dads can be great. They can also be wildly out of touch and completely naive about areas of expertise not their own. (Trust me on this–I have such a dad. I love him but I’ve absolutely had to talk him down on things about which he doesn’t know anywhere near as much as he thinks he does.)

      So . . . now you know you can’t automatically take your dad’s advice on stuff like this, too. Sorry.

    8. MeepMeep02*

      Yeah, don’t take your dad’s advice on this one. My immigrant parents gave me absolutely terrible career advice early on in my education – it made sense in their home country, but it sure didn’t make any sense in the US. I followed their advice and still regret it. Thankfully, by the time I got to law school (in a career change in my thirties), they’d realized how terrible their advice had been and stayed out of my career decisions (other than to offer emotional support).

      The thing to bring home to your dad is what a terrible long-term decision this would be for your career. Your 1L summer could be spent interning for a judge for some nice brownie points on your resume – instead, you’d be working for a no-name solo practitioner who is almost definitely doing something shady and doesn’t have a good reputation in the field. This really won’t be good for your resume. Frame it as “thinking about the long-term career implications” rather than “unwilling to work hard”.

      1. Virginia Plain*

        Indeed. Of course we shouldn’t ideally have to soften the blow when disagreeing with parents about our own lives but this is the real world and of course you care what he thinks. As well as Meep’s framing I would suggest a bit of “I’ve worked really hard and you’ve supported me/made sacrifices etc and I want to make the most of these opportunities and not waste them. I’m lucky to be in this position with the education you’ve helped provide [or at least been supportive about] and I’m not about to fritter it away working with someone who will damage my reputation and cost me money. You’ve taught me self respect and I’m going to live by that”.

        1. Wintermute*

          I like this tack. I would absolutely focus on “this guy no doubt has a bad reputation and working for him will hurt my reputation” because that argument should get some real traction.

    9. quill*

      Take it from me, newly 30 and with late middle aged parents who spent 10+ years in one job their entire careers: the biggest thing that you will learn walking out into the working world is that strategies that worked when your parents were young are no longer possible.

      Not only have professional norms changed, long after your parents were at a high enough level in their career that they didn’t notice, the economy has changed in such a way that even if there were a bunch of “work your way up from the bottom” type jobs around, you wouldn’t be able to make it work. Look for career advice within your discipline, not within your family.

      (I too got great encouragement from my parents to accept my worst job. It’s salaried, it must be good! Nope, wasted 2 years there, any of my subsequent bosses would have flipped their lids over how that place was run.)

      1. quill*

        Note: I’m white and not an immigrant, but if your parents are over 50 regardless of demographics they tend towards having the same bad advice regarding sticking it out, job hopping, or what have you. Because sometimes it worked when they were young, and the professional world has different standards for how it treats them with 30ish years of experience than how it treats new grads.

        1. LizB*

          Yeah, the greater the amount of time that’s passed since someone was a newbie in their career, the less useful their advice is going to be, and cultural differences will only compound that. I assume that by the time I’m 60, any job advice I might try to give my hypothetical kid based on my own experience at the beginning of my career will be outdated and silly. Hopefully there are still resources like AAM around at that point, so my kid can get answers from the people who are actually out in the workforce and understand the landscape at that time!

          1. quill*

            It also helps for parents to realize that the norms in their niche fields aren’t applicable elsewhere. My dad’s job is a pretty good guarantee at this point because it’s in a very specialized part of programming for industrial machinery. My mom taught once both me and my younger brother were in school, and dealing with children and their parents is vastly different than dealing with customers / clients.

    10. Temperance*

      If your dad is not a currently practicing attorney, he can’t give you worthwhile advice about the career path.

    11. Cthulhu’s Librarian*

      It sounds great to have that sort of relationship with your father. But if you’re willing and able, talk to your dad about what your misgivings were, and what you found out regarding his illegal this arrangement would have been. Hopefully your father is horrified, and explains how he would never have wanted you to do something with someone who was exploiting you as this potential employer wanted to; if he isn’t, though, you may be in a position to explain why these things were terrible, and help your father to re-examine some of his assumptions. If he is employing others at his business, you’ll hopefully be helping him to make that a healthier place for them to work.

  40. fhqwhgads*

    How to learn to identify red flags in an interview without experience?
    Go to the right-side menu on this website, click the tag “interviewing” and read every single post that comes up. And “bad interviewer behavior”.

  41. Kevin Sours*

    The interview is the start of the working relationship. And everybody involved is focused on making a good impression. Which is to say it usually doesn’t get better.

  42. Richard Hershberger*

    I am a paralegal working for a solo practitioner. The entire firm is us and a secretary. I am absolutely not one to disparage working for solo guys. Quite the opposite. I have been with him going on thirteen years now. I am boundlessly happier here than I ever was working in BigLaw. That being said… To expand on a point Alison made, when you work for a solo guy, the two of you are going to be close. Take away all the sketchy (to put it generously) parts and consider simply is this someone you want to spend your days with? It is like choosing a romantic partner, except that you will spend more waking hours with your boss.

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      Another long-term paralegal to a sole practitioner here.

      While I love my job and have the deepest respect for my boss, a microfirm is not the place for a first job. Starting off in a big firm, whether super famous or not, means variety: gaining experience with different kinds of cases, different clients, different attorneys, different support staff, etc. They typically have formal training programs to make sure your time will be used usefully.

      I didn’t enjoy BigLaw but the personal development opportunities there are how I got where I am today.

      1. miss chevious*

        I disagree about a microfirm being a bad place for a first job. This particular place the OP interviewed at is terrible, but my first job was for a solo after my first year, and the experience I had there was invaluable to me when I went to a big firm as a 2L. I was looking to go into litigation, and I got to do the initial drafts of pleadings, walk documents through at the courthouse, do research at the clerk’s office, talk to opposing counsel, do client intake, and learn the basics of file management, among many other skills. One of the partners at the big firm I went to told me “you’re the only summer who knows how to do anything!” He was sort of a jerk, obvs, but I had a ton of experience other associates didn’t because I had that first job. When there are only two of you, you get to try a lot of things that you won’t get a sniff of at a big law firm.

        Of course, that assumes you’re working with someone ethical, which this guy OP interviewed with is definitely NOT.

      2. pancakes*

        I’m inclined to agree. There’s a lot to dislike about Biglaw, but not the resources; those are great to have access to.

    2. L.H. Puttgrass*

      I suspect it helps, though, that you are a paralegal, not an associate attorney. A lot of the problems with working in a solo firm are somewhat specific to being a junior lawyer. And brand-new attorneys fresh out of law school usually don’t quite grok that they often provide less value than a good paralegal—by rather a lot.

      In fact, what you describe is probably the platonic ideal of the solo practice: 1 attorney, 1 paralegal, 1 secretary. A new associate fresh out of law school doesn’t seem like a good fit for that firm (unless the junior attorney is the solo practitioner’s child or something like that).

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        The LW has just finished 1L. This is described as “law clerk/legal assistant.” Whatever that means in practice, it isn’t an associate.

        Frankly, I am mystified by what this is. It doesn’t sound like a summer job. The idea might be to work while taking classes, but it is only sane to do this if you need the money. This position clearly is not going to provide that.

        1. L.H. Puttgrass*

          Yeah, I got confused on that part. I have no idea why I thought the LW was a new grad instead of a 1L. It does change things a little: a clerk isn’t going to be harboring hopes of getting an equity position some day (which is one of the issues with joining a solo firm as an associate), but they may be even less valuable than a new law grad (OTOH, at least the 1L’s knowledge of 1L law subjects is still fresh).

          But if it’s a 1L summer clerkship, I’m even more confused. Two months is basically most of the summer, right? So the offer is to work unpaid over the summer, and maybe the lawyer will pay the LW for part-time work during the school year?

          I wonder if the lawyer thinks the LW has no other options. Isn’t it kind of late to be applying to summer jobs after 1L is over? All the big firms will have made their 1L summer associate offers months ago, and judicial internships/externships will all have filled, too. Even so, though, there have to be a lot of small firms and solo firms that are better than this guy.

        2. kitryan*

          Yup, if it were a summer job, between their first and second years, the whole thing’d or very near would be unpaid.

  43. Venus*

    The comment about not paying for the training period:
    OP: Alison didn’t make it clear, but know that every job has a training period and all employers know that this should be paid. Apparently this $#*$& has decided that he can ignore legalities. I have been in jobs where I had training periods of many months, and the company knew that it was an investment. That guy’s explanation is so blatantly out of sync with reality.

    1. WellRed*

      Yes I don’t understand comments saying, well he’s not an employment attorney so maybe that’s why…
      Paying people is the absolute lowest bar for a job, period. It’s neither a new nor magical concept. Literally why people work.

    2. Gracely*

      Yes, this. Training is an investment the company makes in you, so that you can do the job for them the way they need you to. At any actual job, you always, always, ALWAYS get paid for training. If you’re not being paid for training, you are being cheated/scammed.

      Especially when they’ve made it obvious you already *can* do the work when you literally do their work for them in the interview (which again, noooooo).

  44. Former Law Student*

    I’m law school class of 2021 and went back to law school after a long career in another industry and I have several thoughts/suggestions for OP.

    1. Your career services department may be able to connect you with recent alumni mentors. If so, absolutely take advantage of it. These are the people that Alison mentions who are 8-10 years ahead of you. Their experience will be invaluable, as there is a lot of entrenched older thinking among leaders in legal field that often doesn’t reflect the reality of being a law student/baby lawyer today.

    2. One of the entrenched, slightly out-of-date ideas that some partners and older attorneys often espouse is this idea of “providing value” and that students/juniors “don’t know anything.” This guy’s plan to not pay you until you “prove your value” is an extreme version of a common idea. Respectfully to them, it’s bull. You may not have 25 years of experience under your belt, but if you’ve gone to college and done well your first year of law school, you absolutely deserve to be there and can contribute and provide value to the firm and to the clients. Just by being a person doing a job you deserve to be paid for it. If a firm didn’t need your help, they wouldn’t be hiring.

    3. Interviewing has a lot of pressure attached to it and is often treated very competitively in law school, but lawyers are just people like anyone else. If someone gives you an icky, uncomfortable feeling, you should trust that feeling the same way you would if someone in the grocery store made you uncomfortable.

    4. Law school treats job hunting as the be-all, end-all. Everything hinges on what job you get. Don’t trust this pressure. There will be other jobs. You will get other interviews, you will get other offers. I turned down multiple post-grad jobs until I found the right one for me.

    Law is a uniquely odd and high pressure hiring environment, hopefully a little perspective helps.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      My understanding of the “providing value” part is the universal understanding that a freshly minted lawyer can’t find the clerk’s office, or even the bathroom, and that it will take a while before they are earning what it costs the firm. But this is for BigLaw associates whose starting salary is six figures, and who are taking up expensive downtown office space. Even then I’m not sure how true it is, so long as they make their billables. Or, to put it another way, they probably are useless until trained, but they are useless on the client’s dime.

      1. Former Law Student*

        Yeah, exactly, and even then, I like to believe that all individuals provide value. But this guy is taking that idea to an unheard of extreme, by not even paying until the LW “provides value.” But, like I said before, if he didn’t have valuable work for her to do, he wouldn’t be hiring at all.

  45. Retail Dalliance*

    I just messaged my sister (we both read AMA on the daily) and I described this circumstance as “Yikes-ade” (a new drink I just invented). This is a whole punch bowl of yikes-ade!

  46. Chria*

    Ooof, parents can be some of the worst sources of career advice. Also, I’m not surprised that an older white male would feel that an exploitative position under the power of another white male “spoke” to him. No offence to your dad, but it’s pretty common for people not to recognize their own privilege. Plus there’s the idea of “paying your dues” which is half misremembered nostalgia (did you ever really work somewhere for free for 2 months, or did you just get paid very little) and half not recognizing that the world has changed, cost of living as a percentage of income has increased, and corporations stopped rewarding loyalty over 50 years. ago

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      “Ooof, parents can be some of the worst sources of career advice.”

      I tell my kids this all the time!

    2. Former Young Lady*

      You posted this as a reply in a thread above. LW responded. LW’s parents are not white.

    3. quill*

      Honestly it’s also that they were also absolutely exploited early in their career but cost of living, economy, and the fact that there actually were some jobs where you could work your way up (with some sort of in, whether that was knowing someone or “hey I have a bachelor’s degree” when that wasn’t as common) meant that they could make it work for some small amount of time.

  47. Higher Ed Kitten Party*

    1: Trusting your gut is great! Just don’t forget: sometimes, your guts have shit for brains.
    2: I (politely) walked out of an interview because of a veiled but deeply condescending comment made towards me by the CEO. I fully trust that gut feeling.
    3: In my earlier years, when I was much more unstable and unreliable, I was a great interviewer and got a lot of jobs based on my manager’s gut feeling about me. But, their gut feeling was usually wrong, and it often ended up with me being a terrible hire. Again, sometimes your gut has shit for brains.
    (I am no longer a terrible employee thanks to mental health support and financial/general life stability, but I definitely was a very bad employee for a long time.)

    1. thestik*

      “Again, sometimes your gut has shit for brains.”

      This is me in a nutshell and always has been. I cringe when someone says to trust my gut. Even with taking measures to counter the social gaps brought about by my neurodiversity I still don’t trust my “gut” to have fully absorbed those lessons.

  48. ThursdaysGeek*

    Letter Writer, after you get a good job elsewhere, and become a good lawyer, send us an update on this guy. Although, his shady dealings will probably land him in hot water sooner rather than later. At least, I hope so.

  49. glitter writer*

    I did take some very toxic jobs that waved red flags, and that I should have run away from, very early in my career because I was young and broke and desperate. Although none of them were THIS bad. (They paid like garbage and what worked out to below minimum wage, but at least they paid!)

    What I ignored then, and wish I hadn’t, is that if they aren’t respecting my time in the interview and application process, they aren’t going to respect me or my time as an employee. One job started their interview with me *90 minutes* late with no apology or explanation. The interview was then very salesy, and so really it was no surprise when it turned out they’d misled me pretty badly about the job and the work environment. I only lasted six months, and I landed a better job three days after they fired me. Lesson learned!

    1. Meep*

      I remember going to a job interview like that. I was ‘sold’ company without being asked any questions or any room to ask questions. I felt more like he was trying to sell his products then hire someone, which is silly as it was a university career fair this man was at. /headdesk

    2. Loulou*

      This is a great answer. I also think everyone has their own threshold for what red flags they can live with and what are deal breakers, and unfortunately you might only learn those through experience. Alison touched on that with the comments about not answering questions directly, etc. BUT the red flags OP mentions at the top are absolute deal breakers and should be considered that for anyone.

  50. Meep*

    You missed the “after APPROXIMATELY 2 months” meaning he could keep LW on the hook for months if not years for free labor with that job as bait.

  51. No Dumb Blonde*

    Ooh, you should ask him very sincerely if the interviews were a test of your knowledge! He’ll say, No, why? to which you can respond, Because it would be illegal to hire me without paying me, and you probably wanted to make sure I knew that (said very innocently).

    1. Amaranth*

      Or express concern that this was posted on the jobs board rather than internships.

  52. Attorney*

    OP, I read the headline at thought “Hmm, maybe this law student is out of touch, a lot of entry level jobs kind of suck.” (I am an attorney)

    Then I read your letter. These are massive red flags. Do not take this job, under any circumstances. Run, run far away from this unethical, shady lawyer. Report him to your Career Services office so they know not to place students with him.

    Other people have given some advice on finding a job. If you’re able to work unpaid, it’s very common to do an internship at a nonprofit/government agency after your 1L year (there are some organizations that will offer summer stipends for this work). Otherwise, keep looking through your school’s network and career services office.

    1. Biglaw alum*

      “If you’re able to work unpaid, it’s very common to do an internship at a nonprofit/government agency”

      This (at least the first part) is unsound advice if you’re not looking to work at a nonprofit after law school. Government experience may or may not help, depending on what field you’re interested in. (An internship at the SEC will look good for a budding securities lawyer, although agencies like that often have “honor” programs pitched at 2Ls from top law schools.)

      In general, if you’re looking to practice law in the private sector, you want to get law experience after 1L year. The number of true summer associate positions for 1Ls is scant, and you do find smaller firms that offer lousy or no compensation to 1Ls. This is, in my view, generally compatible with the rules on unpaid internships.

      As with everything, everything is about opportunity cost. If you have a better option, go with it. Interning at a nonprofit is not necessarily a better option.

      1. Attorney*

        The OVERWHELMING majority (like 75% plus) of people at my T14 law school did a public service/government internship after their 1L year. The vast majority of them ended up in Biglaw summer associate positions after 2L year (my school is one of the top feeders into Biglaw and that is the goal for most of my classmates). Why? Because, quite frankly, few private sector employers want to pay 1Ls. And if you’re careful about selecting a job, you will gain experience. I have never heard anyone suggest that taking an internship after 1L year would hold you back from looking for private sector work after your 2L year. (You’re also less likely to get the tyrannical “my office is my kingdom” attorney at a respectable government agency/nonprofit that this OP is describing.)

      2. Yikes, esq.*

        Plenty of people from my law school (top 50, ranks very high in biglaw placements) also did nonprofit or government internships after 1L and then went on to a large or medium-sized firm as a 2L summer associate and after graduation. This is absolutely a normal thing to do.
        It’s also not true that these things don’t count as “law experience.” If it’s, say, a policy-focused nonprofit, then sure, I get the argument, but I spent my 1L summer at a legal services provider for low-income clients, and I spent all my time interviewing clients, drafting motions and briefs, observing court proceedings, etc. — this is valuable real-world legal experience, even if that’s not the type of work you want to do long-term. I’m currently a staff attorney at the same organization, but I absolutely have friends from that internship who are in biglaw now.
        Also, there are also prestigious impact litigation nonprofits with extremely competitive internships, and their names look great on a resume (although my experience with one was that the work I got to do was a lot less substantive than my internships in direct services).

  53. AJL*

    Lawyer here – absolutely, positively do not take this job. Summer associate hiring can be an odd process, but this is so far beyond the pale that it’s ridiculous.

    You already know how to spot a red flag, as evidenced by your letter. Trust your gut; a lot of legal practice is doing just that!

  54. Just another anon*

    I just have the Justin Bieber soundbite playing in my head: “Immediately no. Immediately no. I’m telling you right now, I’ve seen what I needed to see. Nuh-uh, no.”

  55. Mehitabel*

    Ho. Ley. Smokes. Not only should you not take this job, you should report this attorney to your state’s Bar Association. With all due respect, your dad is giving you very, VERY bad advice in this case if he is pressuring you to take this job.

  56. Miss Betty*

    Run away now. Don’t accept another interview, turn down the job if offered. I’ve been a legal secretary/legal assistant/paralegal in several law firms over the past 25+ years and have seen lots of sketchy stuff. This is the worst. These aren’t just red flags, these are huge hanging on the side of the Hudson Building in Detroit red flags.

  57. Veryanon*

    Agree a million percent with everything here. Specifically for law students, you should *always* expect to be paid if you are working for a private firm. There are unpaid legal internships, mainly with government or quasi-government agencies (think non-profit orgs or the like), but private firms typically offer paid summer positions. I’ve known lawyers like this guy, who will try to get away with this kind of nonsense because they think law students are so desperate for resume-building experience that they won’t question it.
    I would also recommend reporting this guy to your school’s career office. This is the kind of useful feedback that will help them better vet the employment opportunities they’re offering to their students.

    1. TiredMama*

      He probably has a sufficient number of friends that would cover him. I think this blantant sexism is on its way out (bias and sexist practices and thinking persist though).

      1. quill*

        It is entirely possible he runs his own practice because he’s too much of a sleaze for anyone to welcome him into theirs.

      2. Bagpuss*

        the sexism is horrible but I would guess the Bar Association would be more immediately ocncerned about his letting an unqualified job applicant take client files home, and trying to get them to do unpaid work on them (especially if he then plans to bill the client for that work)

  58. CutenessCentral*

    Run! Run far away! I wholeheartedly second everything Alison has said. I’m an experienced office administrator and reading your post all my alarms were going off. You do not want to work for this man even just for the summer

    Talks about past secretaries? As in plural? This means he goes through them (and probably other employees) like potato chips. Good bosses retain their secretaries (and employees).

    Spent more talking about himself in the interview? This means he is focused solely on himself and what others can do for him. There is a good chance he will take advantage of your work ethic and if a mistake is made – whether it’s his or yours – you will take the blame.

    No pay until you learn the job? If it’s an entry level secretarial or clerk position you already have the needed skills to do the job basics. The only learning will be how he likes things done. If you are one year into law school you are good to go with being paid from the start unless its a professional internship within the law. It’s not unusual to start an entry level position at a slightly lower pay rate and have it increased at the 90 day mark. Starting at $0.00? Nope, nope, nopity nope. Do not undervalue yourself.

  59. MeepMeep02*

    Lawyer here with my own practice. I have one assistant. Just to give you an idea of what a normal solo-practice hiring process for an assistant would be – the salary was disclosed up front (in the job offer, actually) and matched the going rate for legal assistants in our area, there was no unpaid work whatsoever (really, WT actual F on that one), and any work was paid for. I did offer the assistant one initial assignment as a test of sorts, but I paid her for the work. Any questions were promptly answered. This is how it works.

    In other words – run, don’t walk, to your law school’s career services office and tell them about this guy. They can take it from there. And for the sake of all that’s holy, don’t take that job.

  60. MapleHill*

    As soon as I got done with bullet one I was going No no no no no in my head…it got worse from there. It’s good to be aware that you may have some professional naivete, but your gut is right in this case. Politely withdraw your candidacy and keep searching.

    Is this person an attorney? Cuz several of these things sound illegal AF. Maybe not an attorney you’d want to learn from if nothing else.

    I have *heard* of unpaid training periods, but never actually seen, done or hired for one. (maybe that’s an outdated concept since Alison says they’re illegal). Most people aren’t “much use” to the company for at least a month while they learn the company systems, processes & policies.

    I mean, basically everything Alison said, no point reiterating it. This is insane and he should be reported (can you report someone like this to the bar if he’s an attorney?). You’d probably need evidence, but hey, he could already be on their radar or should be even if they can’t act on this.

    Where did you find this job to apply for? If it’s from your university or your network, please let them know. Even if it was from a website, I’d think there may be a way to report the job from the online description for it to be reviewed/removed.

  61. pcake*

    Obviously in this case, every word the interviewer said was a red flag. It’s almost like this interview was a parody, it’s so packed with every possible red flag, most of them also illegal.

    OP, on top of everything that Alison and everyone said, regarding this: ” I feel very uncomfortable with some of what I am and would be expected to do, but I don’t know if it is a red flag or just what entry-level positions have to do”.

    Sometimes things make one uncomfortable in an interview that aren’t red flags about the company or the interviewer that may be a strong sign that a job isn’t the right job for you even though it might be a good job for someone else. Listen to your gut!

  62. CuriousAboutHiring*

    “This position is unpaid for approximately two months or so before turning into a paid position (because I will have to be taught everything, so I won’t bring any value to the boss yet). He did not specify what the pay is once I get to that level, but said we could negotiate at that time.”

    I just wanted to note… what guarantee would you have that you’d actually be hired for pay after two months? I’d be very suspicious I’d be let go for being lacking in some kind of training area after two months and he’d open up the search again.

  63. TiredMama*

    The unpaid part is typical for a 1L law clerk, the sexism isn’t unsurprising but is 100% unacceptable.

    1. miss chevious*

      “Unpaid” is not typical. There are internships and clerkships that are unpaid, but those are usually for school credit, and are for judges or non-profits or the like, not solo practitioners who may or may not pay at a later date if the OP adds enough “value.”

      1. TiredMama*

        Maybe it was because I was at a lower tier law school, but this was totally common for 1Ls over the summer…look kid, I’ll take you under my wing for the summer and show you a few things while you research a few things for me and we both benefit.

        1. miss chevious*

          Wow. That is really a recipe for people to be taken advantage of in sooooo many ways.

    2. AnotherLibrarian*

      Unpaid clerkships are 100% a thing; however, nothing about this sounds like a legit unpaid clerkship unless something has massively changed in how law works since I last looked into it.

    3. AJL*

      It’s really, really not typical here in the U.S. I have no doubt there are firms that claim these are “unpaid internships,” but I have never worked at a firm or legal department that did not pay its 1Ls.

  64. Purple Cat*

    Man, what’s up the physical cringe at today’s letters? Thankfully OP this one’s not directed at you, but rather at this lawyer. Run, run, run.

  65. All the words*

    Well the LW sure got a crash course on some red interview flags.

    As the years roll on, most of my significant errors in judgement can be attributed to ignoring my instincts (gut). That gut instinct is made up of millions of little factoids and experiences tucked away in our subconscious. We may not be able to pinpoint, let alone articulate why something feels off, and yet flashing lights, sirens and warning bells are going off in our head.

    Trust it. Trust it more than your kind and loving parents, or closest confidants.

  66. Felicity Merriman*

    Another lawyer with some tips: This summer is the right time to think about where you want to work next summer and start applying, whether through OCI or through other postings through your law school. That’s one of those norms in the legal world for summer positions and for entry-level post-graduate positions (e.g. first-year associate, clerkship, fellowship) that is not the case for most other industries. I will also second all of the advice that you’ve gotten to consult with your career services office, since they’ll be able to help you navigate everything that people who are new to the legal industry do not expect. In the meantime, if your law school professors hire research assistants, that can be a great way to bolster your research skills. Fall and spring positions tend to be less competitive than summer ones. Finally, if your law school has student clinics, I suggest signing up for one. Good luck!

  67. Sarcastic Fringehead*

    I agree with everyone that you should run far, far away from this extremely sketchy so-called “opportunity”!

    I do career advising for a university, and terribly enough, this is not the first time I heard of something like this happening. But to hear that you’ve been subjected to this makes me furious. What happened to me and my students was that an employer lied to me that they would pay a fair market internship stipend, but the same employer told my students a different story and that they would have to work for free for two months out of a three month internship in order to get paid. When I heard that, I raised a huge stink around campus and I got that company banned from recruiting on campus. Well worth the month of effort it took!

    I encourage you to report this to your career center. If you think that they’re not taking you seriously (they should!), perhaps you can reach out to a faculty member, or someone else on campus. It’s understandable that you may be feeling reluctant to report this because you don’t want to be seen as “that person” who complains about an opportunity. I also come from an immigrant family, and I’ve grown up hearing sayings like “the nail who sticks out gets hammered down” as a warning not to complain about anything, ever. It took a lot of experience and therapy to learn how to advocate for myself without feeling like I’m losing face. But you don’t lose any face for reporting horrible and illegal hiring practices–the shame should be all on that lawyer. A good career center, program, faculty, and advisors should do everything they can to protect you, your fellow students, and future students from this person.

  68. MCMonkeyBean*

    Woof, wow, literally bullet one is full stop enough to run the other way.

    Unpaid internships exist in a weird grey area where it can be hard to identify where the line is and a lot of companies get really close or cross it. But this is not even that. “We’re hiring you but you don’t know enough to be paid yet” is not a thing. Especially not for two months. And especially not when they won’t even tell you what you would eventually earn when they do start paying you. Every part of that is beyond absurd.

    The good news is your red flag instincts seem pretty good! No one is likely to always catch every one and you can’t totally prevent the possibility of takin a job that turns out to have a lot of issues. But I think you are already asking a lot of the right questions. Good luck on your hunt!

  69. Sleepless KJ*

    The best red flag is the simplest. If you leave an interview feeling uncomfortable and/or upset, put that prospect in the rear view mirror and never look back.

  70. jane's nemesis*

    I just want to say, for being inexperienced, you did a great job spotting the red flags here!!

    1. London Calling*

      I’ll say. LW, you can be very proud of that BS detector f yours and the boundaries you have in place.

  71. rebuilt paper walls*

    So LW would bring nothing of value for two months… but they’re to do literal work for a client as part of the hiring process?

    It’s a garbage opinion, by the way, that someone in training isn’t valuable. Either he’s training wrong or he’s taking advantage of newbies. My guess is it’s both.

    You have value. That’s al there is to it.

    1. Anonymouse*

      yes! both of those statement’s about “not having value” really stuck out to me. if they are going to HIRE you then you have value, no grey area. Or you hire a wooden scarecrow to just sit your office so it looks like someone’s there. how does having someone who will be doing things for your business not have value????? and if you were to do those exact same things but at home, but because he can’t see you doing them, they “don’t have value”. What?!

  72. anonymous73*

    What’s worse than a red flag…because that’s what this is – yikes! Yes to everything Alison said. And even though you’re inexperienced, trust your instincts. I’d rather trust mine and be wrong, and possibly miss an opportunity, then ignore them and be right and find myself in a disastrous and stress inducing situation where I’m being taken advantage of on a daily basis.

  73. PhyllisB*

    Oh, my. This sounds like something from the 1950’s (or earlier) I worked as a long-distance operator (started in the early 70’s) and some of the older employees told tales about how when they would start, they didn’t get paid because they were “practicing.” It was the company who decided when you were added to the payroll. One lady after several weeks told them she was “tired of practicing” and that she was going home. They called her the next day and told her if she would return, they would add her to the payroll. I can’t even imagine.

    1. Gary Patterson's Cat*

      Worse, it was probably legal to do that to women back in the 50’s. Women couldn’t even get a loan or car in their own name in some states and forced hysterectomy was considered a valid “treatment” for uppity women.

      1. PhyllisB*

        Yep. I’m glad that practice was gone by the time I started. Being young and naive I probably wouldn’t have questioned it.
        Knowing my parents, they would have advised me to take it. Working for the phone company was seen as being SET FOR LIFE.

  74. WantonSeedStitch*

    LW, it sounds like your gut is in pretty decent working order, if you saw these things as potential red flags enough to write in to Alison! This is serious nopesville.

  75. Anonymouse*

    This isn’t a job, it’s the prelude to human trafficking!

    (Okay, it is not that. I just had a very visceral reaction to reading this, this is so bad.)

    Alison’s advice about getting input from trusted sources until you’ve got more job/interviewing experience is very good. As recently as a few years ago, I called up an old boss I trusted to get her input on whether to pursue a job that was giving me pause. She had the work experience to contextualize the things that were alarming me, and it was very helpful and did inform my decision. But also, as Allison said, listen to your gut! Your instincts here–discomfort over all this, feeling the need to reach out and get an opinion from someone with more experience–were 100% on point. If you come out of an interview feeling uncomfortable to this degree, you should almost certainly NOT take that job. (And if financial necessity ever pushes you to take a job you’re feeling apprehensive about because of the interview process, don’t try to push away or rationalize that apprehension! Your brain is signaling caution. Maybe it WILL all work out fine, in which case, hooray, and you’ll eventually be able to put that feeling away. But maybe it won’t, and some wariness is warranted when you’re going into an unsafe environment with untrustworthy people/systems.)

    1. quill*

      If you EVER have to even jokingly ask the question “is this a job or do they want my kidneys?” don’t bother replying to the job posting or email.

      Also if they talk about independent salespeople they’re either an MLM or need to be hit with a cluebat.

  76. Worldwalker*

    Holy mooing cow. As red flags go, this makes a Chinese flag factory working overtime for a Party congress look positively washed out.

    I can’t add anything to what Alison said. I just want to emphasize one of her major points: DON’T WORK FOR FREE.

    It’s that simple. Whether it’s his two month “training period” or working remotely, or anything else: Work for wages is a trade, your skills and productivity for the employer’s money. If they don’t pay you, you don’t work. No how, no way, just no.

    1. IHireScienceWriters*

      So in joining the cries of RUN, I thought LW you might find it useful if I shared what I think is a good example of a skills test.

      I don’t recruit lawyers, but I don’t think it would need to be all that different.

      We bring our final round candidates in for a 90 minute interviee. The first hour is the test.

      We give them a package of information based on an event or issue we have already dealt with, or a hypothetical we make up.

      They do the task and we discuss the results as part of the interview. As part of that discussion, we tell them how we actually approached it (if it’s not a hypothetical).

      And that’s it.

      There are no files to take home, nothing.

      And we learn a lot.

  77. CheesePlease*

    OP – it is insane that they would expect 2 months OF UNPAID WORK when a summer job is maybe 10-12 weeks maximum! That is the MAJORITY of the summer unpaid. Your gut is right in making you anxious because this is a bad job!!

  78. Gary Patterson's Cat*

    This is one of the WORST job interviews and job descriptions I’ve ever read–and especially given this guy is a lawyer and so he KNOWS a lot of it illegal and unethical. What, is this attorney Saul Goodman or something?

    Even if this were an unpaid Internship, a whole lot of it is still unethical and big red flags.

    RUN OP Run far away!

  79. raktajino*

    My hackles went up at “I left the interview with a job offer.” Every time I’ve accepted a job offer given *in* the interview, it’s been a bad experience. Do y’all think that should be a red flag to add to the flaming pile? (I agree that an offer in a second interview is better than an offer at the first one.)

  80. Bookworm*

    Just wanted to also up (nothing to add on the running away ASAP) that your law school’s career center should have resources and if not, I would also urge you to connect with law students/lawyers/etc. who might help you navigate the job process better. I saw some of your comments talking about your parents, background, being South Asian, etc. and would see if your law school has a network of alums who might have better insight (knowing the school and maybe even this interviewer, etc.).

    Good luck! I’m so glad you wrote in and do hope this will save you at least this headache.

  81. Up and Away*

    Holy hell, Batman! Just when you think you’ve heard everything…RRRUUUUNNNNN!!!

  82. Bigglesworth*

    OP – Seconding (or thirding or fourthing) what Alison and the commenters here have all mentioned. Please do not accept this job.

    I graduated from law school in 2020, but I worked for four years between undergrad and law school. That said, I still landed with a toxic boss while in school and it was one of the worst places that I’ve worked for thus far. I understand that your dad is one of your biggest champions, as was mine. Mine had just retired from corporate America when I worked for a similar boss in a similar situation and when he realized the awfulness of the office, he offered to do whatever he could to support me in getting out of there (up to and including coming into my office to move my stuff out…he lived over 12 hours away…). Here’s the thing, your career office should help you land a different job. Even if you don’t have one right now, your office will keep working with you until you find something.

    Also, this is absolutely something you should alert your career office to as well as call your jurisdiction’s ethics hotline to see if this is something to report. If he is breaking employment laws, they would be very interested to know that. This is not vindictive–we are a self-regulating profession and that only works if we self-regulate the bad eggs out (can you also tell that employment law is my shindig and reading this made me livid?).

    Furthermore, he gave you confidential client information to help him with a case later this summer?! And you weren’t employed?! Please know that this is a reason for disbarment and I would love to add on to whatever report you want to submit because that is one of the highest bars that we are held to and he needs to be held accountable.

    To briefly go over his other points: I am young woman–no one calls me a “girl”. I am a colleague and recently have been lauded as a master of my area (employment law). I work primarily remote–I go into the office 3-4 times a month. No one questions the value I bring even when I was in training (not that that matters–they knew I was only one year and some months out of school when they hired me). Additionally, I’m in-house counsel, which was a move I made away from litigation and one I thought no one would hire me for due to my grade.

    Please know that this young attorney is rooting for your and has full hope that you’ll find something soon!!!!

  83. Rae*

    As far as Red Flags, I would say that you will get a better sense as you do more interviews for what is and isn’t normal, so the main step now is to just apply for more jobs.

  84. Cakeparty*

    I think even though you lack experience you can still develop some bare minimum red flags. Things such as:

    How/when/how much you are being paid.
    General human decency.
    Following rules and laws. Things like having breaks or getting time off.
    Expected work hours.
    Clear job description.

    Other stuff can be more personal red flags based on your own vibes or tolerance:

    Attitude of your boss and/or coworkers.
    What the office space is like.
    What are the expectations for your job – when/how you’ll be working, wearing a uniform.

    We can’t all figure out if something is suspicious about a manager or an office culture (kind of like dating, it takes you while to suss it out and also to figure out what works for you) and also those things can change during your job but we can all expect that we should be employed by a place that will pay us fairly, have clear communication, provide us with benefits or equitable alternative resources, follow labor laws and give us time to not be at work.

  85. Interviewer*

    Letter Writer, please do us all a favor and make note of the attorney name, firm name, and the client name of that sample work you were asked to do. Once you’ve returned the documents and turned down the job, google “(your state) bar association formal complaint.” My state’s bar has an online directory where I can search the attorney name and see discipline records. Worth a peek, if you’re curious. You can also find the process to make a complaint. Block his phone number now, and set up an inbox rule to divert his firm’s emails. He will know the complaint came from you. But I recommend taking this step on behalf of the client, because that person who paid a retainer really needs to know her attorney just asked someone with zero legal experience to handle her case.

  86. Elizabeth West*

    This was my mental reaction when I got to The position is unpaid for approximately two months:

    AAM emergency alert! Do not accept this job! Do not speak to this jackass employer! You have one minute to reach minimum safe distance! Run away! Run away! Run away!

    And the further I read, the louder the siren!

    Seriously, though, I think that not only should you run, but you should report him to the bar association, as Interviewer’s comment suggests. This is wildly unprofessional and illegal as hell.

  87. Heather*

    I would add that interviews like this are the reason that Glassdoor exists. It would be beneficial for all future employees to be aware of what shenanigans this law firm tried to pull.

  88. Marzipan Shepherdess*


    LW, calling adult women “girls” is no more acceptable than calling adult Black men “boys” – it’s just as egregious but not quite as jarring because we’re STILL not where we should be vis-a-vis parity for women. Even if everything else in this “offer” wasn’t illegal or unethical, this one point alone should be a warning: women (you know, half the human population) are NOT respected here and will not be treated as adult (you know, as equal to men.) Seriously – run!

  89. Delta Delta*

    I’m a lawyer. Do not take this job. If I knew where you are I’d offer you a summer position/remote position if that worked for you.

  90. Essess*

    Not only should you report this job to the career center, you should also report him to the labor department in your state for his attempts to pay (or not pay in this case) illegally to keep someone else from being victimized by this job.

  91. Essess*

    I would also have serious concerns about his legal capabilities since he is supposedly a lawyer, yet is breaking the law with this whole pay structure. I would also give strong consideration to reporting him to the bar association.

  92. NotLegalAdvice*

    These aren’t abnormal for the legal field. A lot of legal internships for 1Ls are unpaid, especially depending on your class rank and school. Legal internships aren’t like a marketing internship for example, where you’ve learned the ropes in school and you’re applying them in your internship. Law school teaches you the law, not how to be a lawyer – the attorney is going to have to train you from scratch if you’re a 1L. The law school and legal field are a completely different beasts than comparable corporate jobs. It’s exponentially worse to have no internship your 1L year than to do an unpaid internship, if you have no other options.

    LW, I would strongly encourage you to ask this on – a larger portion of readers are attorneys and familiar with the uniqueness of the legal field. The advice here seems to be geared more towards non-legal internships and positions.

    1. NotLegalAdvice*

      And seriously beware of some of the advice you’re getting here, especially in regards to filing complaints. It’s clear a lot of commenters aren’t familiar with the legal field and think attorneys actually prepare every document themselves.

      FYI – Attorneys only work on about 10% of the case. 90% of the case is prepared by support staff (Legal secretaries, paralegals, and yes, legal interns too!) and goes out after attorney review. This is in every standard engagement letter. Filing a complaint about a prospective legal intern preparing a document for an attorney is like filing a complaint over a CNA or Nurse taking your vitals instead of the doctor.

      1. I Have Questions*

        Do… do… attorneys routinely give ongoing case documents to interviewees?

        1. NotLegalAdvice*

          It depends on the nature of the documents and the practice area. IP for a big client? Certainly not. But it wouldn’t be unusual for an attorney to hand an interviewee a lease and an example and have them draft a sample eviction notice.

          1. I Have Questions*

            Hm. Drafting a sample makes sense, but OP indicated that it was work for a case that would be in upcoming litigation. I’m just struggling with handing active case documents to an interviewee in advance of litigation. It certainly sounds like this attorney is using interviewees to knock out some actual administrative work in advance of a case.

      2. nightengale*

        No it would be like filing a complaint that a CNA student who was at a job interview but is not licensed, covered under the practice malpractice insurance or working under direct supervision of a nurse as part of training, was sent in to take vitals.

        1. NotLegalAdvice*

          Not quite – it’s actually both covered under malpractice and under the direct supervision of the attorney just by virtue of going out under his name. You also don’t need to be licensed to be a legal assistant or law clerk.

      3. Cthulhu’s Librarian*

        Having an employee at your company prepare work product for a case is so vastly different than having it prepared by an unpaid potential hire that I don’t even know where to start. Let’s begin with the level of duty the various individuals would have to the client, though (hint, the unpaid potential hire has none), note that is a huge issue, and say there is no way to square that circle.

      4. Diane Lockhart*

        I am a US lawyer with 10 years experience (biglaw + government). I would tell any 1L to run far away from an internship, paid or unpaid, with a solo practitioner running the practice described here. They would learn nothing. I cannot think of any legal job that would be OK with an *interviewee* not employed by the attorney preparing any part of the case. Something similar to a case with names and details changed? Maybe. But not actual client files.

        Taking this job would be a poor start to Letter Writer’s legal career. Letter Writer would be better off with an unpaid internship with a local or state agency, or even being a research assistant for a professor.

        The non-legal commenters have this one right.

    2. Auntie Anti*

      There are loads of lawyers in the comments above saying this isn’t ok and to run.

    3. TiffIf*

      No the commenters here aren’t assuming attorneys prepare every document. Everyone knows that support staff do a lot of the preparation.

      The problem commenters here (including lawyers) are pointing out is that this attorney essentially gave confidential files (LW commented above about the types of information is in the file) to someone not employed by them, or bound by any agreement between them and their client.

      1. NotLegalAdvice*

        Can you repost what it was? I’m looking but I can’t find it.

        But even so, I think a lot of people are misunderstanding client confidentiality. There are lots of people that interact with a file that don’t work for the firm. It’s this situation though, it would probably depend most on whether the attorney extended the offer before or after giving the file.

        1. Dramatic Intent To Flounce*

          Among other things, client information (including tax information) and his strategies for trial.

          Expand all and check ‘Letter Writer’, but there’s a reason why a bunch of people in the first two threads are going ‘I am a lawyer/work as legal support and this is REALLY BAD.’

          Also, it’s allegedly a paid job, not an internship. It only got on the career center board because he will allegedly pay after two months (but you’ll negotiate how much you’ll actually get paid so he won’t give ANY details right now.) At best he’s lying to the school.

    4. Attorney*

      I am an attorney. In a lot of states, the unpaid position this attorney is proposing is illegal since it’s a for-profit firm.

      I have worked in many different office structures (Biglaw, small office, government, nonprofit). I have NEVER heard of anything even close to what OP described. I have also NEVER heard of an attorney giving confidential documents to an interviewee–the rules of privilege cover people working for the attorney (staff, experts, etc.) but the interviewee does not work for the attorney.

  93. Yikes!*

    I worked for an attorney very much like this umpteen years ago. Fortunately, he’s long since retired (possibly deceased at this point,) but definitely head for the hills! Sadly, I think there are a fair amount of attorneys willing to bend/break labor laws.

  94. LMB*

    I don’t think you need work experience to see these red flags flapping in the breeze.

  95. Mr Ak*

    I don’t know if anyone’s said this, but I’d also recommend contacting the legal regulator for your local jurisdiction. I work as an investigator at a legal regulator, and this is something I’d want to look into, because a) it’s fucking terrible and b)there is going to be worse stuff behind it.

  96. Marthooh*

    “…I do think I would get exposed to a lot of different situations at his firm.”

    Oh, yes, no doubt about that!

  97. it's-a-me*

    I started off at ‘isn’t that illegal’ and things got worse from there.

    Run, run away, and never return…

  98. Talula Does the Hula From Hawaii*

    You could take the “job”, then report him to the state for wage theft.
    He will get lawyer-ed!

    But you will end up dealing with a lot of fire and brimstone.
    That said this could be an amazing start to your career that will gain you a reputation for bada@@ery!

  99. Goody*

    This is beyond a nest of bees. This is full on murder hornets. And I am very glad to see that you’ve already recognized that you do not want to be involved with this guy.

    First things first, if you haven’t already done so, DOCUMENT ALL OF THIS. Rewrite your letter to Alison as if you were filing an accident report with your state’s department of motor vehicles. Factual, concise, no opinions or emotion. Times and dates as much as possible, full names of everyone involved.

    That attorney needs to be reported to the Bar Association in your state at an absolute minimum. I also agree with the recommendations above to talk to an ethics professor at your school, and with returning the materials he gave you – without any work product you may have created before recognizing the many problems here – via CERTIFIED mail with return receipt requested or possibly UPS/FedEx with signature required, so you have proof of his receipt. I’d probably wait on the Dept of Labor until after I talked to a professor, just to make sure that’s an appropriate step.

  100. Pressed*

    I dunno about this guy’s education, but I didn’t take any dedicated employment law classes during my law degree but we still covered basic employment stuff around obligations an employer has to their employee in torts law.

    Maybe it wasn’t covered in whatever last century decade he did his degree, but it also seems like common sense for anyone with a vague sense of equality or justice.

  101. raida7*

    Let’s say that all the unethical and illegal things weren’t there:

    This is the boss and owner doing the interview, they can’t answer straight questions, waste time, go off subject – that will be very aggravating if you are not the type of person that can take a firm hand with their boss and keep things on track.
    The current (only) staff love him! So that means that if you don’t, there’s something wrong with you. They may also be overprotective, providing him with a curated environment of looking-after-things that he can be blissfully unaware of issues in. Or he’s learnt that that’s-not-my-job because someone that things the world of him is doing too much.

    They probably also hold a LOT of authority and are well-liked in return – so if you have an issue, you can go to one of two people that (maybe) are going to have each other’s backs, even in situations where they’re in the wrong.

    I, personally, would not mind taking that job, because I have experience in getting owners under control as far as clear instructions, expectations, roles, responsibilities, acceptable manner of speaking to me, keeping on task. The ‘girl’ already working there… that’d be the bigger obstacle to a good working environment if I ‘upset’ the boss by insisting on clear answers.

    So even I, someone that could handle that guy as I have several owner/managers people found ‘scary’, would hesitate taking the job!

  102. McThrill*

    Haven’t seen this mentioned anywhere else yet so I’ll put it in even though no one will probably see it – “This position is unpaid for approximately two months or so before turning into a paid position (because I will have to be taught everything, so I won’t bring any value to the boss yet)” This is called training, and every job has that, even if you move into exactly the same position at a different company. Training is part of the job, you get paid for training.

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      YUP. If he wanted someone who could jump in and be effective faster, he could hire someone with experience.

      And I very much doubt that you’d not provide any value for 2 months. You’re already providing value by doing unpaid work for him on his actual cases. This guy is a bullshit artist. And I’d bet nearly anything that if you took this position, his “training” would be to just throw you in the deep end and be a jerk any time you didn’t read his mind and do things exactly as he wanted them.

      Could you report his nonsense to the bar or other professional organization? He’s doing illegal stuff and trying to take advantage of student.

  103. Thornus*

    LW, on top of everything about not paying you for two months being illegal, I want to throw in a wrinkle.

    He will most likely misclassify you as an independent contractor.

    I’m an attorney. This has happened to me. I had to go to the IRS. Please, please, PLEASE read this article and linked-to decisions.

    You’re trying to be an attorney. You will be worth your schooling and your licensing, if you get it (and I’m rooting for you in two years!). Do not, under any circumstances, let any firm, any partner, any boss, anyone take advantage of you. Even if you drop out now and never do more, you (and every worker) is worth more than what unethical employers want to give you.

  104. Indisch blau*

    Could we have Thursday “Ask the Readers” on red flags in job interviews? I had an interview once where the interviewer talked for two hours and then said, “If you don’t have any more questions …” I had questions, but hadn’t been able to get a word in edgewise. I don’t regret taking the job – learned a lot and got where I am today because of it, but it. was. hard.

  105. WonkyStitch*

    Also report him to your law school in case other students are potential employees interviewing with him.

  106. Atalanta0jess*

    No amount of smarts in his horrifying brain, or stolkhom syndrome developed by his assistant, make up for the red flags here. NONE.

  107. HungryLawyer*

    OP, I’ve been down this road. Late in my 3L year, I had the burning dumpster fire interview and still accepted the job because I thought it was my only option. Not only was the job a nightmare in every sense (underpaid; my boss revoked my job offer after two months, claiming I was hired as an intern; ordered to violate local courts/ethics rules; etc.), but it harmed my reputation as a new lawyer. That boss was in local legal circles as being nasty and incompetent, and even one of my bar interviewers brought up the fact that I needed to be more careful who I worked for. RUN now for all the reasons that Alison mentioned, and also because your employer will impact your reputation and future in this field.

  108. J*

    This guy is a predator. He’s specifically targeted you as someone young and new to the workforce who has yet to build up their confidence and experience, and is exploiting that to gain as much power over you as he can manage.

    It’s why he wants to have the pay negotiation in 2 months, when you’ve potentially become invested in the role and don’t want to “lose your job” so will be more willing to accept bad terms.

    It’s why he’s framed the unpaid part as not bringing value yet, because he wants you to be in the position of forever trying to justify yourself and the value you bring to the company, while he points out every flaw as a reason you’re not good enough.

    It’s why “remote work” is unpaid even if you do the same work, because it’s not the work he values, it’s your presence under his thumb where he can manipulate you (much harder to achieve remotely). He “offered” it anyway because then when you come in to the office it’s you making a “choice” to be there instead of working remotely, which affects your mindset and how you think about your relationship with him.

    It’s why he doesn’t answer your questions or let you get a word in edgewise, he’s building an image of himself as the most important person in the room and yourself as the one who is there to listen and occasionally receive the benefit of his wisdom.

    It’s why he’s had his legal assistant talk him up and be clear they’re on his side, so you don’t have someone to check in with and ask “hey, isn’t this a bit off?”. Possibly also why he’s said whatever he said to your dad that made your dad push you into the job? You don’t give details there but it would fit the way people like this work – using others to build his credibility, while isolating you from people who might offer a perspective unwarped by his manipulations.

    As for what he wants to do with all that power? Well, he might just want to feel powerful, or he might want you to do all the work for very little reward. But also, he’s explicitly told you all his previous “secretaries” were “girls” and implicitly told you what his level of respect for them was/is – and it sounds like he’s gone through a lot of them over time. That combined with his tear-down tactics makes me frightened for any young woman who might be fooled into accepting the thing he’s calling a job.

    Obviously I’m reading in a lot here and you never mentioned your own gender, so I could be wrong (especially about that last bit). But as someone who’s familiar with power differentials in relationships this whole situation gives me the heebie jeebies even if we ignore the more obvious employment law breaches.

  109. Boat Rocker*

    I wonder what would happen if she happened to call the client for “clarification” on something and let them in on how their counsel was handling the case.

  110. Hired Hacker*

    “On the other hand, each time I stepped out of his office after the interview, I felt uncomfortable and anxious.”

    Your insight serves you well. (Obi-Wan Kenobi)

    Don’t accept a job there.

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