Thursday, July 3, 2008

Summer Job Analogy Part 2 - Ford Escort or Geo Metro?

Second Half - State AG's Office

Enter the second half of the summer. I am currently clerking for the Attorney General's office in my home state. Things are a bit different here. In my car analogy, working for the AG's office is a 1987 Ford Escort or perhaps a Geo Metro.

Unpaid Clerkships - Are the Resume Builders and Rec Letters Worth It?
The clerkship is unpaid, which I'm guessing might be the usual situation for AG clerkships in most states. I think the officials justify the unpaid aspect of the clerkship by telling themselves (and us) that clerks gain "invaluable experience that you can't get anywhere else." Perhaps that is true, but not getting paid still sucks. It feels a little bit like being slave labor for law review, but at least we earn credit hours for that particular brand of torture. I was aware of the unpaid nature of the clerkship in advance, so I suppose I can't complain too much.

At the end of the clerkship, I theoretically will have something nice to put on my resume and some decent rec letters from people in the office, so at least there's some payoff. I wonder if the resume building aspect is even equal to what I would get from working at one of the private firms I had to turn down because I accepted this position early. I suppose it depends on which type of work I want to do, which is government anyway, so perhaps this position will work out in my favor. Look at that, I bet you didn't know I could have an optimistic thought!

The Politics of AG Offices - Surely It's Not Just a Southern Thing
This place exudes the politics of the Christian right and the good ol' boy network. I can't swing a dead cat without hitting someone who is talking about how excited he is to witness an execution or how she loves working for an office that promotes "good Christian family values." I consider myself "conservative"--although some would disagree--but not THAT type of conservative. I expected to encounter this political climate in the AG's office, but I'm not sure I was really prepared for it. Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Austin anymore. Actually, the Texas AG is probably the same (or worse?) in the political arena, so perhaps this is also standard for AG offices, particularly in the South. I realize that attorneys who work for AG offices tend to be a little more politically conservative than most, but I think it has to be worse here than the majority of states.

State Agencies Are NOT Always Underfunded...Nevermind, I Forgot What State I'm From and Our Insane Tax System
This place is either woefully underfunded, horrendously mismanaged, or both. The IT department is straight out of 1999. The computers are running Pentium III processors with monitors reminiscent of the Apple II days. At least the monitors and processors function correctly most of the time. I admit I'm a bit snobbish when it comes to computer technology, but I don't think it's asking too much for offices to upgrade roughly every ten years. The average law student's laptop is roughly three times as powerful as these machines.

Not only do law clerks not get their own desks (I'm not talking offices or cubicles here, I mean DESKS), there aren't enough ancient computers to go around. We have to fight over the few computers that are in the "computer lab" (eight computers) and the office library (two computers). There are twenty clerks working in this office during the second half. A quick calculation shows that exactly half the clerks can simultaneously use a computer. Someone double check my simple addition and division.

Again, I don't necessarily expect them to set each of us up with a brand new commercial grade workstation and a laptop to match, but's time to spring for the Pentium IVs or even newer processors and some extra RAM so we can simultaneously run more than Internet Explorer and two Word documents. Checking my e-mail has never been this difficult.

In Soviet Russia, Internet Browse YOU
There is also an Internet filter that reminds me of the one I encountered at the rural public high school I attended for two years. It blocks most sites that might POTENTIALLY display "offensive" content. The definition of "offensive" is extremely broad in this office as one might imagine. Facebook, all video game-related sites, and the BBC website (too objective/liberal?) are blocked. It's not like I want to waste away the entire day on the internet, but it would be nice if I could check my usual forums over lunch or read some relatively unbiased news on occasion. However, in an astounding stroke of good luck, the filter does not block this blog. I am surprsied it doesn't filter all the widely-used blog sites considering there is a LOT of porn out there on personal blogs. In my opinion, they should stop spending money on web filter software and start spending it on paying clerks and buying new (and more) computers.

The Obligatory Shitty Parking
The only non-metered, non-2 hour limit parking available to clerks is a 10-15 minute walk from the office. Keep in mind that this is a small city (very small by most standards), so there is no reason to expect to walk many blocks to work like one would expect in New York, LA, DC, etc or pay much for parking. My commute from home to the parking lot, and thus the area near the State House, takes 10-15 minutes. In other words, the walk from the parking lot doubles my commute time. Granted, a 20-30 minute total commute isn't bad at all in most places, but it's a lot considering the size of the city and the length of the drive.

The extremely short commute was supposed to be one of the few benefits of working here. Dammit, I'm counting those minutes spent walking as work time. I should start bringing tennis shoes to work and think of the walk as exercise instead of a foot-blistering journey in dress shoes and a suit in the 95 degree heat at the end of the day. Alas, I am a pessimist, so I will stick with the foot-blistering aspect of the walk. At least some of the attorneys in the office have to park out there too.

Anticipated Responses From Our Wonderful Readers

You're Working at an AG's Office, What Did You Expect?

Well, I expected some of the things listed above to be better here even if the problems still existed. I suppose it's an issue of degree for most of this stuff. In particular, the computer situation and parking problems are probably the most annoying because they weren't as foreseeable as the other issues. I think a lot of the problems in this office are the result of funding issues stemming from this state's reliance on a state sales tax as the government's primary source of income. Sales taxes are highly vulnerable to economic trends, so when the economy is down, so is the state budget. A case in point: I bet the only reason we have Pentium III machines instead of original Commodores is that the economy was doing well in the early 2000s just after the Pentium IIIs were released.

AG's Offices Are Filled With Ultra-Conservative Nutcases. Did You Not Realize This, You Fucking Moron?

I know, I stated in the earlier paragraph that AG office attorneys tend to be more conservative than most. Read the post before you judge me for bitching.

How Can You Whine About a 30 Minute Commute? My Commute Is 17 Hours Each Way In 175 Degree Heat In a Car Without AC

That this city is tiny with very little traffic and that I live roughly six miles away means it should take me 10 minutes to get to work. This means I should be able to roll out of bed at 7:35 and still look presentable while making it to work by 8 AM. If I was working in NY or DC, I wouldn't complain because a 30 minute commute would be miraculous. It's all relative.


El Guapo said...

You know, I feel you on the pain of unpaid. I did it last summer at a U.S. Attorney's office. I suppose upside is they weren't underfunded and we got to see a lot of trials.

I actually turned down your job you have now. Working for the AG in our state was always a dream of mine. After hearing the stories coming out of that office though I couldn't work there as it is now. Maybe the next election will bring change. Hell, it's so bad its driven me to ruin any future political career I ever wanted by doing criminal defense. Even capital defense. I'm a fairly conservative guy in a lot of ways but some of the leadership has gone too far.

mootgoescow said...

Less QQ, more unpaid work. On a serious note, are you at least getting worthwhile work and experience?

Phaedrus said...

Maybe if you had better grades you would have better working conditions . . .

I think your transcript is too judicial externship and P/F deficient for a cushy job with perks

Guy Fawkes said...

Phaedrus, you're a funny man. How's your transcript looking lately?

Phaedrus said...

I don't have enough Trial Ad classes to shorten my .75mi. walk to the light rail stop...