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Ed Eager Law Clerk Version 1

By 19920120 Mar 01, 2015 3500 Words

Ed, the Eager New Lawyer*

Henry Jones was a lawyer with the Allen & Banes law firm for 15 years. He had watched young lawyers come and go. This was a large firm, employing 40 staff people. It was also one of the more prestigious firms in the area, having established over the previous 50 years an enviable reputation for reliability and competency.

Allen & Banes (A & B) had a reputation for conservatism, which reflected the influence of the partners, and to a lesser extent, the nature of the customers – often large businesses and elderly individuals. There were eight law partners in the firm: five specialized in corporation work and the remaining three headed the departments of property, probate (wills and trusts), and common law (court cases, such as motor vehicle collisions).
Although the staff (i.e., the non-partners) numbered approximately 40 people, only about 20 actually handled legal work, the balance comprising people of various ages who performed, secretarial, clerical, and receptionist duties. These 20 people fell into two categories: Those who were qualified attorneys and those who were not. Those who were unqualified fell into two subcategories termed managing clerks and articled clerks. The distinction was important because managing clerks could never advance, whereas articled clerks were generally younger people who had graduated from law school. After graduating, it was necessary to work for a minimum of a year in an attorney’s office for the purpose of supplementing the more theoretical law school experience with some practical experience. At the conclusion of that year and after satisfying certain further requirements (examination, character), the articled clerk was “admitted to the bar” and finally becomes qualified to practice law as an attorney in that state.

It was into this somewhat rarified atmosphere that Ed Jenkins stepped. He was young, eager, fresh from law school, and bursting with knowledge of the latest trends in law. In short, he knew a lot about what the law is, was, and ought to be. Now he was about to apply it in ways he had never before experienced. Nevertheless, Ed was mindful of the fact that he was fortunate to be doing his articles with lawyers Allen, Banes, and the others. The attorney to whom he was “articled” was Mr. Mix, one of the senior lawyers in the firm. Mix was in the corporation department.

On his first day, Ed Jenkins was advised by Mr. Mix that over a period of time he would be rotated through each department of the firm. This would enable Ed to gain some insight into the main branches of the law so that he would then be in a better position to assess the merits of each department and decide in which field to specialize. The first department was to be the property department. In view of Mr. Mix’s busy schedule and the fact that he primarily worked in a different department, Ed was advised that he was to be placed under the direction of Mr. Floyd Lawson who would “mentor” Ed.

*= This case was originally prepared by Robert E. C. Wegner and Leonard Sayles. It appeared in the book, Cases in Organizational and Administrative Behavior, Prentice-Hall, pp. 25 – 29. A revised version appeared in Cohen, Fink, Gadon, Willits, Effective Behavior in Organizations, fifth edition. Homewood, IL: Irwin. Subsequently revised again for use with this class, incorporating additional information adapted from an article in AMBA Executive. Floyd Lawson had been with the firm for over ten years. He was 63 years of age and due to retire in two years. Mr. Lawson was British and had worked for an English firm of attorneys for over 20 years. International legal matters repeatedly brought him to the U.S. and he discovered that he liked America. Eventually he decided to move to the U.S. Subsequently he found employment with Allen & Bates. At no time had Lawson become (or attempted to become) an attorney; he was hired as a managing clerk with considerable experience, but no qualifications to practice as an attorney.

The building occupied by the firm was old, with large rooms and high ceilings. Lawson had one of the largest offices, and he liked the prestige and the privacy which accompanied it. He was highly organized, tidy, and somewhat fastidious. He also appreciated the fact that he was well regarded in the firm because of his considerable practical experience and that he was assigned a permanent secretary for his sole convenience.

After Ed was shown around the offices of the firm by Mr. Mix, he was introduced to Mr. Lawson and told that he would work in this room under the supervision of Mr. Lawson. Ed looked around: In the middle of the room stood Mr. Lawson’s large desk. Ed’s desk, situated in a far corner, was more like a tiny table virtually surrounded by Lawson’s filing cabinets. The secretary’s desk was on the opposite side of the room.

Oil and Water
In these first days Ed required very little secretarial assistance, but when it was necessary, he was authorized by Mr. Mix to use Lawson’s secretary. When he did this, he had to walk in front of Ed, who peered over his papers at Ed as if Ed was a trespasser. Ed soon found that the work given to the secretary was seldom returned to him the same day. Ed received few telephone calls and held no conferences.

By contrast, Mr. Lawson’s telephone rang continually, and he held many conferences. During those conferences Lawson occasionally introduced Ed to the firm’s client with the comment, “This is the new articled clerk. I’m keeping an eye on him.” More often, Ed was studiously ignored. Lawson handled a heavy volume of work and often requested Ed to assist him by performing minor and menial tasks. These requests generally came at a time when Ed had other work to complete – work assigned to him not only by the property dept. partners but also by the other partners.

Ed did not see any particular significance in these assignments. (Perceive organizational support) Mostly, his assignments seemed like menial “busy work” that other people preferred not to do themselves. (Emotional dissonance) Although he remained outwardly polite and courteous, (the appropriate role for the firm’s most recently-hired employee), inwardly, he was frustrated and disappointed. He anxiously awaited the end of the year when his “penal servitude” would end. He felt he was regarded as an idiot, capable only of running errands; his lengthy and specialized legal training seemed to be of little use, and he almost had to beg to have his work typed by a secretary.

Ed was naturally an outgoing person. He tried to be friendly with other employees, but no one ‘gave him the time of day.’ Everyone seemed busy and no one wanted to take the time to explain new things to him. This made him feel anxious, because he was eager to learn new things. By contrast, Mr. Lawson kept to himself when not engaged with clients. He seemed perfectly content to spend quiet hours completing paperwork. He often appeared irritated when the telephone rang – or when Ed approached to ask a question.
He received virtually no recognition, praise or encouragement; his position held no prestige or status within the firm. The work he was given seemed unimportant but it often had to be signed or at least approved by Mr. Lawson. Lawson gave advice in a grudging and abrupt manner (if he gave it at all), never praised his work, and mostly acted as if Ed Jenkins was an irritation in his life. The few times when Lawson did pay any attention to Ed, he wanted to talk about life back in England and chat about his own family; Ed found neither topic to be particularly valuable for his immediate career. “Some mentor!” Ed thought to himself,

There was one time of day when Lawson was willing to give mentoring advice. Ed discovered quite by chance that Mr. Lawson typically arrived a full hour before the work day was to begin. If Ed also came early and presented a work-related problem to him, Mr. Lawson was willing to explain not only what was to be done but also the background of the matter and why it had to be carried out in a certain manner. However, Ed did not usually arrive early enough to receive such advice and he wondered why Lawson withheld it during the regular workday.

Each of the senior lawyers and partners wanted his/her work to be done immediately, and, thus, when Ed received several matters on one day, he succeeded in satisfying none of those delegating work to him. (low Job involvement)During these times, Ed sometimes doubted his own ability; more often, however, he blamed the slow secretary or attributed it to just plain bad luck that multiple people wanted things done at the same time. He often felt that his own success or failure was due to circumstances beyond his control. He wondered what, if anything, he could do to succeed in this new job.

Ed could not help comparing his position with that of a close friend who, upon graduating from law school, decided to forgo clerking in a law firm, and instead, had gone straight into a corporation. This friend worked shorter hours, received three times Ed Jenkins salary, had his own office and secretary, as well as numerous other benefits provided by the corporation.

About two months after Ed had joined the A & B law firm, he was sent across town to secure some client signatures on some documents. Since he was in a new part of town and it was lunchtime, he decided to stop in a quiet little restaurant for lunch and he saw a woman, Marie, who had “clerked” with the firm about two years earlier. She was sitting alone in a secluded part of the restaurant, staring absent-mindedly out a window. Surprised to see her, Ed decided to say hello. She had been one of the few people to befriend him during his clerking thus far. He figured she was waiting for someone else to join her. To his surprise, she invited him to sit down and join him. After some polite lunchtime conversation, the following exchange took place:

“You are clerking with Mr. Lawson, aren’t you?” She asked. Ed knew that this was a question to which she already knew the answer.

“Yes,” Ed politely replied.

“I clerked for him a few years ago. You may have heard about my story.”

“No – I haven’t made many friends here yet,” Ed answered. “In fact, you are the first person I’ve had lunch with. Everyone else seems so busy…”

“Busy; yes, that is one word to describe people here. Not the word I would use… Let me tell you about what happened to me. It may help you understand this place. I was a law clerk who already had both a law degree and an MBA. That got me a higher salary than most law clerks. I could tell that created some resentment, especially from the women who worked here as secretaries and such. I was the first woman law clerk at this very old – and very traditional – law firm; it was very likely that I would be the first woman lawyer working there after I finished clerking. Those other women would soon be working for me.

But that didn’t’ explain the atmosphere there. The other women were very uptight and very precise. Some of them also seemed rather paranoid – always worried that people were watching them to see if they were working hard. They did have a point. The appearance of working was very important; even if there wasn’t much to do, everyone would flutter around looking very harried and trying to seem busy. The content didn’t matter much.

On the other hand, I’m not exactly “loud” but I am more visible than the other women. I like people. I work best under pressure when there’s a lot to do. There was a definite contrast between those women and me. Still is.

During my third week of work, I had one after-lunch visit from a friend – a fellow – who came up to see my office. I was at that same tiny desk you use, crowded into one corner of Mr. Lawson’s office. He wasn’t even a boyfriend. Anyway, he stayed for about ten minutes and left. Mr. Lawson and his secretary were away from the office, meeting with a corporate client downtown at the time, so no one else was actually in the room. On the following day, another law clerk from the international law division stopped by my office and I gave him a cup of coffee. On the strength of these two meetings, someone – I still don’t know who – complained to Security. No one in the firm ever said a word to me.

You have to understand that our law firm doesn’t own the building. We only lease office space. While we are the largest tenant, we are not the only tenant. The building owner provides security services for all of the tenants. There is a security office on the first floor. So I got reported to the chief security officer.

I was called to the office where this security guy said, ‘Well, it has come to my attention that you’ve been entertaining men in your office, and we’ve gotten complaints.’ My first reaction was to laugh – it was all so preposterous. But then I realized he was serious.”

“What happened next?” Ed asked.

“After I laughed, I waited for him to laugh, but he didn’t have any sense of humor. He then asked, ‘How could you get an unauthorized person into the building? The security guards can tell if you don’t have the proper badge.’ I told him that we went up the elevator and no one had stopped us or checked anything. He continued, ‘but people can hear what you and your men say in the hallway. I’m not going to tell you how to lead your life, but if you are going to have romantic rendezvous, It really should be away from the workplace. Besides, such activities may damage the reputation of your employer.’ He was serious!

I said, ‘what do you mean by the phrase ‘your men’ – and what do you mean people can hear what other people say?’ Then he told me that in addition to hidden closed circuit television cameras, ‘certain people’ walked the halls and listened in on what people were doing! This in a building that houses a law firm where lawyers have private conversations with clients! I really could hardly believe that I was hearing all of this.

I explained that I was responsible for the first man being in an office that I shared with two other people for maybe a total of ten minutes. The second man was the law firm’s own employee. And I asked him to tell me who was complaining and I would straighten it out with them directly. He was reluctant to do that. He wouldn’t tell me. In fact, he wasn’t really all that interested in what was allegedly happening in my office. He was much more fascinated with telling me about the mechanics of the TV surveillance system and wanting me to help him identify the ‘holes’ – wondering how anyone could get through. He really went off on a tangent.” I was perplexed…who was listening at the keyholes? Security guards? Did he pay some secretary at the law firm to spy for him? It was all too…weird.

Speaking of weird, did you ever see Mr. Mix when he gets angry? He yells and screams and turns reddish-purple in the face; very unprofessional for a lawyer. It is like he is totally out of control. He even throws things and kicks the waste paper basket. It doesn’t happen very often; only once or twice a year. But when he gets angry and starts yelling, the best thing you can do is get out of the room. After he settles down, it is like nothing happened. He doesn’t apologize and everyone else pretends it never happened. He never acts that way in front of clients or judges, just his subordinates. Yes this workplace definitely has its share of problems.”

“What about the complaint against you?” Ed asked.

“Mr. Lawson never said anything to me about the allegations. Neither did his secretary, although she often acted like she was my supervisor – and she supervised me pretty closely. But I could tell that some of the other women in the office building would stop talking and stare when I walked past. It was like they were privy to a rumor about me that I couldn’t shake.

I did eventually finish my law clerk period and, to my pleasant surprise, I was hired by the firm as a lawyer. But at my final law clerk evaluation, Mr. Lawson observed that I had an excessive number of personal phone calls. What can I say? I have friends and I have a life outside of the firm. Most of the time, other people called me. And I always got off the phone as quickly as I could. There was also a complaint that I had fallen asleep in a meeting. I hadn’t. The meeting started at 8 a.m. and finished at 6 p.m. However, the air-conditioning was turned off at 5 p.m. and we were all getting tired and drowsy, but I did not fall asleep. Mr. Lawson wondered aloud whether I was serious enough.

The big problem is that it is tough to ‘live down’ that reputation that I received through rumor and innuendo when I first started working here. I’ve been here a few years now and I still get stares. I’m telling you this for two reasons: (1) So you can try to avoid the pitfalls I’ve found on my career path and (2) so that you know that the security people have hidden cameras everywhere. I’m planning to get enough work experience here so that I can ‘start over’ at a different law firm – where my every move is not scrutinized. In fact, don’t tell anyone this, but I was just pondering when I should start sending out my resume’.

Ed thanked the woman for her advice and he returned to work. All afternoon, he thought about what she had told him.

The next day, Ed approached Mr. Lawson about some work-related matter and again was caught in a family-type conversation. During this exchange, Lawson revealed that as he was approaching retiring age, Ed would be the last articled clerk he trained; indeed, he had thought that the previous articled clerk he had trained would be the last.

Discussing Mr. Lawson’s comments that night with a friend, Ed got a new insight when his friend asked how he, Ed, would feel if, at the close of his working years, with age catching up and perhaps his patience and tolerance waning, he was asked to train “just one more law clerk.” Ed Jenkins imagined how he would feel. He then understood how he would feel about other matters – such as sharing an office and a secretary. Still, he wondered how to make the best of this new job – or if he should seek a job either with a different law firm, or follow the career path of his friend and become a corporate lawyer.

Questions for thought and discussion:
(no, you don’t have to answer these in your presentation; this case is designed to be used with multiple chapters, so think about what is relevant to the appropriate chapters you are covering)

1.How do you think Mr. Ed Jenkins and Mr. Floyd Lawson would score on each of the five dimensions if they were each given a “Big Five” personality test? What implications does this have for work? 2.If Mr. Ed Jenkins and Mr. Floyd Lawson were to take the MBTI, how do you think each would score? What implications does that have for work? 3.What do you think is Ed’s sense of self-esteem? Locus of Control? Self-monitoring? Need for Achievement? Need for Affiliation? What implications do your answers have for his success as a law clerk and as a lawyer? 4.In what other ways do personality factors and emotions relate to this case? 5.How do workgroup norms and/or other situational factors relate to this case? After all, everything in this case isn’t explained simply by ‘personality factors’… 6.What role do perceptions play in this case?

7.What role do demographic factors play in this case?
8.What three factors are causing the problems in this case? 9.What should Ed do to resolve these problems? What should others in the case do differently? Why? How do your answers to this question relate to the answers you provided in the previous questions?

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