Fiona Gavelle is my protagonist. I brought her first name home from Ireland. Her last name, is a pun on gavel.
We don't know much about her appearance but she occasionally gains a little weight making buttoning her suit skirt an issue.
My name is Fiona Gavelle, (Ga rhymes with Ma and velle rhymes with bell.) I live in Chicago, Illinois and have been an attorney for a little over two years.
Much to my surprise, I have a growing private law practice.
I office (a verb for lawyers) with a small firm at the south end of the downtown area. The building is older but clean. It hasn't been renovated (beyond the elevators and ventilation system), and the rent is considered cheap, especially when you compare it to newer buildings. The magnificent marble floors remain intact with the gorgeous firetrap stairwells. Although it was a daring skyscraper when it was built, the twenty stories are no longer impressive by the year 2000 standards.
Instead of paying rent, I do work for the firm. This is called 'space for services.' I proof-read, pull files, research, and set things up in court. The ghost work I do for the firm is filtered through Annette, the office manager as if we needed an interpreter.
In exchange for my work, I have use of a small office, reception services and light use of the copy machine.
As a result, I am forced to do the bulk of my copying late on weekdays and weekends when no tattle tale is around.
My space is with the firm of Cebula and Cartofle, it has four attorneys, two partners, and two associates. The partners get a part of every fee generated. The associates aspire to be partners.
Paul Cartofle (the managing partner) is in the office every day even though he says he tries cases five days a week. Charles Cebula works from home and out of the city on appellate cases. To see him is an event.
While I anticipated camaraderie with the attorneys in the office because we're close in age, it has not happened. The associates act like animals guarding their food bowls.
The associates look alike to me. They share a haughty attitude, wear similar suits and grow and shave mustaches in synchronization. The extreme of our conversations is a grunt.
Paul talks to me in a very formal pattern that has condescension creeping along the edges.
My career had a slow start since I went to law school without a clue of what a lawyer does. I would have benefitted from a class describing the different kinds of law practice, e.g. private practice, small, medium and huge law firms, government law, public interest law, and the importance of summer clerking jobs.
My pre-law school education was limited to TV reruns like Matlock, LA Law, Perry Mason, and Allie McBeal.
Real law school, in comparison, trained us to think like a lawyer. It was about finding the applicable law and twisting it until it appeared to support our client's position. While there wasn't a class on it, every student understood the trade of dirty tricks and underhanded schemes. Many of the students boasted about knowing their career path in the first semester. However, when I asked them to tell me more about what they would do, they lost patience with me and walked away.
My first semester I tried the age-old activity of a study group, to share the workload. But, the arrogance and aggressiveness of the students were intolerable.
After abandoning the study group I explored the courts. Chicago has plenty of them in the downtown area. Watching trials made more sense to me than the cases we analyzed in excruciating detail. Jury trials, in particular, fascinated me.
One evening when I stayed late to study, I found another section of my contracts class. Same instructor, but night students who looked like they would keel over at any minute. I intended to attend the classes twice until I got the hang of it. It didn't take long before I realized if you registered for the day section and attended the evening section, they didn't have your name to call on you. While I saw other day students there, they wouldn't meet my eye.
My fear of being called upon diminished. It was replaced by a fear of my evil plot being exposed.
It was the second semester when I learned the cheat sheets, books similar to Cliff notes, were being used by most of the students. When I bought a few, I could identify which outline a student used. They were all replete with errors, but still better than not understanding, not reading or not finishing a case and being called upon.
The outlines had such high demand, there was an after-hours pickup plan. The order was placed by telephone and you went to the store and rang the 'night' bell. The door would open enough to take your exact cash and hand the book out, with the chain always in place.
Looking back, law school was probably the worst three years of my life. I didn't make many friends, nearly emptied my bank account and married a lawyer.
After graduation, we were thrust into classes to prepare for the licensing (bar) exam. This is about as intellectual as it gets. The test runs for two days, one for writing essays and the second for multiple-choice questions. The later had four wrong answers and we had to select the best one. Both days were eight-hour ordeals.
Many fellow students had lawyer jobs lined up a year before we graduated with medium to large law firms. A handful were second-generation lawyers. I think their relatives hired them to avoid having to support them.
I didn't have one relative who was an attorney. My husband didn't count because he thought I should stand on my own. This was one of the first cracks in our union.
Mildred Shoe, my friend from law school, keeps me updated about our classmates and their careers. We started with a class of a hundred and twenty. Ninety graduated on schedule (in three years). Despite graduation and passing the bar examination, about a dozen have fled the traditional practice of law, taking jobs like bankers, and store managers. One lawyer makes ceramic penguins and sells them on the internet. Two students from our class died since graduation.
One student had her law license suspended for six months. She represented the plaintiff in a personal injury action. The parties reached an agreement that included her fee, the medical bills and the amount her client would get. She was obligated to negotiate the check according to the terms of the agreement.
Instead, she negotiated the check, with one disputed endorsement, and tried to negotiate a larger fee for herself. This was dishonest.
She was charged with commingling funds. After she cashed the check, at a currency exchange, she had cash that belonged to another party. Her defense was that she put the money in her jewelry box and not with money that belonged to her. It was supposed to remain in the trust account until funds were distributed.
After a lot of pleadings, (court documents) they took away her license for six months.
While the rules for holding money are tricky, if you don't withdraw what isn't yours, it doesn't seem so hard.
After graduation and passing the bar, I went on a few lackluster interviews. My grades prevented me from interviewing at eighty percent of the open jobs, and my lack of any political connections blocked me from the rest.
There was also an issue with my attitude. If I was in charge of hiring, I wouldn't have called me back for a second interview. Honestly, I wasn't convinced when I said I wanted to help clients through bankruptcy and divorce woes.
Meanwhile, the tension at home grew.
A few months later, I found an unlikely ad for an entry-level associate attorney. It promised training by a senior attorney, with an emphasis on wills and probate. Five years of experience was required, but I applied anyway.
The office was in a two-story building on the near north side of Chicago, over a rather famous and popular diner.
When I went for the first interview, I didn't look too critically at anything. The weird smells and the lurching elevator slipped past me. I didn't notice there was only one attorney although the door had four names. They were the previous tenants, the guy I worked for wasn't listed.
There wasn't a traditional call back for a second interview. The attorney called and said I could come in and see how things worked out. On the first day of work, I noticed the office layout; it had a reception area, a closet, and the attorney office. So, no office for me. The attorney said I could use his office because he was in court several days a week.
He was in court one day a month. I set up a client appointment when he said he would be out. Miraculously, he returned and high jacked my interview. I was relegated to taking notes. When I was paid for the work, he told me I had to negotiate the check through his trust account.
Six months later, my story is that I quit due to mistreatment, newly made-up rules about fees and client stealing. That curd monger might tell a different story. His name suited him, Holadollar.
Out of options, an incredible opportunity dropped into my lap and I started my law practice. My office is small, so small that if you move one of the chairs, the door won't close. Nonetheless, I'm happy here. The window had a depressing view of chipped paint on bricks over the alley and a fire escape hanging by the sheer strength of rust. I put up a width of white curtains over the lower half of the window. They cast a white glow around the office as if I'm posing in a sunbeam for holy pictures.
Behind the bookcase, I keep a sack of potpourri (duct-taped to the cabinet). It covers the natural office odor which is a cross between diesel exhaust and banana peels. In the same theme, I've placed dryer sheets in my library books that have Eau de basement aroma.