Articles of Frustration: Part 13 – Scotch with Sociopaths

scotchfire

May 2015

Here follows the weirdest, most unbelievable instalment of this saga.

By the time that I had returned home from Victoria, the window to secure an articling position for the 2015-2016 term was closing.  I did not have any other prospects on the go by mid-April.  I begrudgingly began to look at the possibility of applying for positions that had started to crop up for the 2016-2017 term.  Much as it pained me to admit, I would rather take an articling position in a later year than rely on getting into the LPP program at Ryerson.  Trying to push this prospect as far back into my psyche as possible, I settled back into life in the Mississauga area.  Much like the summer before, I spent a lot of time with friends.

Back in February, I had noticed an advertisement seeking 2015-2016 articling students for employment with a national firm.  As with previous instalments in this odyssey, I hesitate to mention the firm’s name.  While it has offices all throughout Canada, most locations have one or two lawyers apiece.  The head of the entire organization is well known for his litigation work (as well as for some other, less scrupulous activities).  Of course, I realized then (as I do now) that beggars cannot be choosers.  I sent an application by e-mail to the contact person listed in the advertisement and waited.  The advertisement had specified that the only positions available were for Alberta and Saskatchewan.  This was not ideal, but I figured that I had to follow up with every lead I could.

For weeks, I heard nothing.  In an effort to be proactive, I called the firm and asked to speak with the person in charge of hiring.  After a few minutes of waiting on hold, I spoke to what sounded like an older, slightly distracted man.  I explained who I was and that I had sent an application in response to the articling advertisement a few weeks previously.  The gentleman on the other end advised me that he had never received my application and asked me to send it again.  I promised to do so, thanked him for his time and hung up.  Though I ultimately re-sent my application, my overall enthusiasm for the position was low and I forgot about the exchange shortly after.

A couple of months passed.  Two weeks after I moved back to Ontario, I received an e-mail (with a typed letter attached) from the firm.  The letter’s author (who apparently was the head of the entire firm himself) invited me to come to Regina for an articling interview on Friday, May 15th.  The letterwriter also asked that I get in touch with his secretary to pick a date and confirm the schedule.  Finally (and most interestingly), the letter promised to send me $650 for travel expenses, should I accept the interview invitation.  This was the first time that a firm had offered to defray any expenses incurred by myself during the interview process.  Indeed, I had spent a good chunk of money up until this point on travelling and accommodations related to articling interviews.

Believing that I had nothing to lose, I promptly got in touch with the letter writer’s secretary and confirmed my attendance  When I asked what time I should be there, the secretary advised me that “any time in the afternoon is fine”.  And, no, this was not an invitation to pick a specific time in the afternoon – this was her telling me that I could just show up any time during the afternoon without specifying.  This was very odd, so I got to her agree (for my sake) that I would show up for 2 PM.  Before hanging up, she advised me that a cheque for $650 was in the mail to me.  The next few weeks were spent in that all-too-familiar loop of anxiety/nervousness/excitement.  I selected a flight time and a hotel that was located close to the firm’s offices.

To be perfectly frank , I was not very enthused with the idea of working and practising in Regina.  I didn’t know anyone from there, it was a long way from home and I had heard less than nice things about the city itself.  My typical ritual in the weeks leading up to an articling interview included: looking online for apartment rentals nearby, investigating the likely salary range of the city where I would be working and daydreaming about finally having a little bit of money.  Despite my misgivings, the process for the Regina interview was no different.  At the very least, property rentals were way cheaper than in Toronto.  Also, each apartment rental came with a powered parking spot!  Although I thought that this was a hip/urban way to charge the electric vehicles that everyone in Regina obviously drove, a friend of mine later pointed out that these “powered” spots were to prevent one’s car from freezing overnight.  This was apparently quite common in Regina.

My flight to Regina touched down at 10:30 AM on May 15th.  Though I had heard of this previously, one cannot appreciate just how FLAT the landscape is in Saskatchewan until you see it with your own eyes.  It felt as if the horizon went on forever.  It was a beautiful May morning and, in an effort to save a little money, I walked the five miles from the airport to my hotel.  The sight must have been a little odd – suit bag in one arm , backpack in another, huffing and puffing all the way to the downtown core.  Still, the weather agreed with such an arrangement and I had checked into my room by noon.  I took a shower, tried to uncrease my suit and mentally ran over the questions I would ask in the interview.

The firm’s office was only a five minute walk down the street from where I was staying.  I walked into the reception area by 1:55 PM, introduced myself to the receptionist and waited on a nearby couch for my interviewer.  Moments later, the head of the entire firm appeared with another applicant in lock step behind him.  The principal introduced himself (we’ll call him Mr. Vincent) and the other applicant (who we’ll call Kyle).  Shaking hands rather awkwardly, I did my best to appear causal and relaxed.  It did not seem normal to be introduced to another applicant mere seconds after meeting my interviewer.  I wondered if this meant that we would be interviewing in competition, like in some odd, terrible version of The Bachelorette.  Or, maybe it would be more like Gladiator and a lion would at some point be released.

In any event, it was not long before Mr. Vincent introduced me to the man I had spoken to previously about my application (Mr Gladstone).  The pair of them then advised me that Kyle would be interviewed first, followed by myself.  I was shown into an empty office (“empty” meaning that the person to whom it belonged wasn’t in the office, not that it was unoccupied) and did my best not to stare at the confidential documents that were strewn across the desk.  The office building that I found myself sitting inside was a sprawling, two-storey complex that housed one or two other businesses.  The main tenant appeared to be the firm and it seemed as though the environment was bustling, busy one.

Nearly 30 minutes later, Mr. Gladstone appeared in the doorway and informed me that he and Mr. Vincent were ready to see me.  Already, I noticed something odd.  Even when Mr. Vincent was present, Gladstone was always careful to refer to him as “Mister” Vincent.  In nearly all of my previous articling interviews, there was at least the veneer of informality present.  Noting this peculiarity mentally, I followed Mr. Gladstone down the hall.  This portion of the interview was to be held in Mr. Vincent’s office.  I sat down across from the two men and put on my best business smile.

The next 35 or so minutes were perhaps the most “normal” part of this entire experience.  Mr. Vincent and Mr. Gladstone interviewed me together and took turns asking questions.  It became quickly apparent that Mr. Gladstone was not a lawyer at all, but the firm’s “executive director”.  To this day, I am not entirely sure what his role was.  Presumably, he was involved in hiring and recruitment.  He also appeared to be in charge of payroll, fetching people coasters and picking up articling candidates from the airport.  Kyle had managed to snag a ride from Mr. Gladstone from the airport, I gathered.  I did not mention my five mile walk.

Although the interview followed a fairly normal trajectory, Mr. Vincent was a decidedly odd duck.  He was a gaunt, older man with a lined face and large, bug eyes.  His hair colour and thickness did not at all match the age of the rest of his body.  He alternated between staring at me, unblinking, and moving his eyes about the room as I answered his questions.  In reading about him and his work, I had discovered that he claimed to have personally billed upwards of two to three times more hours in a single year than even the most ardent members of Bay Street.  He also had a fearsome reputation as a litigator of various well-publicized cases.  The walls of his office were covered almost completely with pictures of him and his wife with various dignitaries and Canadian politicians.  He pointed out a picture of himself and a cabinet minister and mentioned them “ribbing” each other good naturedly.  I tried to think of an experience I could share to relate.  I thought of nothing.

Despite all this, I felt as though the interview was going reasonably well.  I had managed to make the exchange more into a conversation and I was no longer feeling self-conscious about interviewing in competition with Kyle.  As this segment of the interview reached its end, I shook the hands of both Mr. Vincent and Mr. Gladstone.  Keeping a straight face, I assured them that it would be a privilege to work for them and that I would be excited to start a life in Regina.  Mr. Gladstone showed me out and I thought for a moment that this concluded the day’s proceedings.  Instead, Mr. Gladstone led me to a conference room where Kyle had been waiting.  Digging into his suit pocket, Gladstone informed Kyle and I that he would like to take us on a driving tour of Regina.  He went on to explain that we ought to learn a little more about the city where we would be working.

At first, I was not sure that I had heard him correctly.  Don’t get me wrong – there was nothing particularly awful about taking a tour.  Usually, though, the tour is of the office building; not of the city in which the office building is located.  Still, I could hardly refuse.  And, really, it was not as if I had anything better to do at 3 PM on a Friday in Regina.  Nodding our heads with excitement, Kyle and I followed Mr. Gladstone out to the street.  Piling into his Mercedes (I let Kyle ride shotgun to show that I was a magnanimous candidate), I proceeded to ask every question I could think of about Regina for the next 45 minutes.

The tour included a variety of neighbourhoods in central and suburban Regina, some shopping malls, the legislature, the University of Regina and Mr. Vincent’s house.  Speaking in a hushed tone of deference as we passed it, Gladstone pointed out the section of the house where “Mt. Vincent sits in his study and goes over depositions”.  I wondered if this was real life.  By the end of the tour, I felt that I was an expert in Regina’s local politics, public transit and general hotspots.  Mr. Gladstone drove us back to the firm, where Kyle and I followed him inside.

On our way in, we were introduced to a couple of younger associates.  One of them pumped our hands in a jocular fashion and spoke glowingly of the firm.

“It’s a really laid back atmosphere at this firm,” he assured us.  I nodded and waited for him to elaborate.  “I mean, like, for example, Mr. Vincent is totally cool with you sleeping in your office overnight if you’re working on something big.  That’s way more relaxed than a lot of other places.”  For a split second, I thought about laughing at his sarcastic exaggeration.  When his face remained serious, I realized that he was telling the truth.

From there, Kyle and I were shown to an empty conference room while Mr. Gladstone attended to some other business.  We made some awkward conversation about what we thought of the firm and where we were from.  I detected a slight accent from Kyle and learned that he hailed from South Africa, originally.  We got to talking about that for a few minutes when Mr. Gladstone re-entered the room.  He asked Kyle to follow him and I was left alone for about ten minutes.  I took this opportunity to check my phone and tell a few people about my tour.

Shortly thereafter, Kyle came back on his own.  Taking a seat across from me at the table, he excitedly mentioned that Mr. Gladstone had extended him an offer of employment.  I congratulated him and wondered if I would be shown a similar gesture.  More importantly, I wondered if I even wanted that.  Yet again, that horrible realization was sinking in.  There was no time left to be picky about the location or type of my articles.  The 2015-2016 window was closing and my situation was bordering on desperation (or so it felt).  Those thoughts swirled through my head as I watched Kyle’s lips move, excitedly talking about his new opportunity.

Mr. Gladstone popped his head into the room.  “Stephen, would you come with me for a second?”  Kyle shot me a grin that I returned feebly, and I rose to follow Mr. Gladstone.  Taking me into yet another empty (but occupied) office, Gladstone leaned in.

“Mr. Vincent is VERY impressed with you.  I think that prospects are good.  Right now, I believe he is drafting you a letter that will advise you of the next step in the process.  We can’t formally offer you a position just yet, there are still other applicants to consider.  Between you and me, though, it’s looking very good.”

If possible, I felt simultaneously excited and terrified.  Would I like living in Regina?  Are the winters survivable for a delicate specimen like myself?  Would my Tinder account continue to be red hot while I lived here?  The same, old questions went pouring through my skull.  To this day, I have not yet learned how to avoid getting ahead of myself.  I shoved these thoughts aside as I shook Mr. Gladstone’s hand and thanked him for everything.   My articling interview script came to my aid as I covered all of the obligatory kiss-ass bases: compliment the firm (check), state that it would be a privilege to work there (check), assure my interviewer that I had a great day (double check – what an awesome tour it was).

It was about 4:30 PM at this point.  Being a Friday, I assumed most employees at the firm were eager to get home.  I also supposed that the interview was coming to an end.  Just as I was about to say my goodbyes, Gladstone steered me down another hallway of the firm.  Apparently, it was time for the firm’s customary cocktail hour, held every Friday in one of the back offices.  My attendance would be welcomed (and, indeed, mandatory ), Mr. Gladstone assured me.

It may not come as news to many of you reading this, but I do not drink.  Like, at all.  I can count on one hand the amount of times I have ever felt even slightly drunk.  Still, I realized that this schmoozing was obligatory.  My plan was to have a single drink of whatever it was that was served, nurse it gingerly for an hour and then make my exit gracefully.  It turns out that cocktail “hour” was something of a misnomer for this firm.  In reality, the event would be more aptly described as a cocktail “f0ur-hour”.

The drink of choice that afternoon was scotch.  To their credit, the men (and yes, there was not a single female to be found) were very generous in sharing their booze.  Every time I drained my glass and imagined that the punishment might be over, an associate was there to re-fill it.  I, a resolute non-drinker, had between 6 and 7 glasses of scotch.  Also, I had not eaten that day.  The entire world began spinning by Scotch #5.  Conversation was mostly bro-esque and focussed on local and national politics, work stress and the weather.  Kyle sat next to me, matching my drinks, scotch for scotch.  It was all I could do not to fall over or avoid saying something stupid and slurry.

The first hour passed with no sign of Mr. Vincent.  Due to his (reportedly) unshakeable work ethic, I imagined he was busy drafting a claim while sitting on the toilet or something.  Midway through the second hour, he arrived to the party.  In his right hand, he carried a thick, brown briefcase.  The room quieted down and pretty much everyone acknowledged his presence as he entered.  There was not one instance where he was referred to as anything but “Mr. Vincent”.  Following suit, I listened politely as he told a few war stories about troublesome litigation, political intrigue and some of his hobbies.  I noted that he was not drinking.

Minutes later, Mr. Vincent leaned over to open his briefcase.  Could he actually be pulling out some work to finish as we all sat here and drank?  Instead, within the briefcase sat a mickey of Captain Morgan’s, two clean glasses, a mini-tray of ice and two cans of Coca Cola.  I watched hazily as he extracted the contents of his briefcase onto the desk, mixed them to make a drink, put the contents back into the briefcase and shut it.  The booze was getting to me at this point and I considered whether the entire scene was an elaborate hallucination.  There was no one outside of a Bond film who actually carried their own drink mix around with them in a briefcase.  Everyone else continued talking and seemed hardly to notice.

Conversation waxed and waned.  The gathered lawyers had taken note of Kyle’s accent and inquired as to its origin.  Kyle explained that he was from South Africa but had been living and working in Canada for the past few years.  Someone asked why he left.  Taking a moment to consider, Kyle stated that South Africa, while a beautiful place, still faced a good deal of violence and unemployment in the wake of apartheid.  He made it a point to mention that racial tensions still exist and that the entire country is continuing to develop a reasonable infrastructure based on racial equality and human rights, but that this was a challenge.

At this point, Mr. Vincent chimed in.  “No, no, no.  Want to know why South Africa is having problems?  I’ll tell you why South Africa is having problems.”  We all listened intently.

“South Africa has problems because of all the lazy, uneducated black people there.  That’s all that is really going on.”

Deep in my alcohol soaked brain, a part of me realized that I had actually heard those words, that they were meant seriously and that everyone else in the room was feigning agreement with this kingpin of Regina.  Sickened as I am to remember it, I followed suit (or, at the very least, refused to argue).  Even Kyle acted deferential as he was lectured about his homeland by a foreigner.  Mr. Vincent went on at length about his theories regarding South Africa and its socioeconomic status.  It is hard to say for sure, but 15 minutes or so passed before the topic of conversation shifted.

Soon after, Mr. Gladstone joined the festivities.  He took a spot in the corner, poured himself a scotch and asked if Kyle and I were being treated well by the gathered group.  We nodded in a sycophantic way and flashed him eager smiles.  The rest of the gathered lawyers took that as an opportunity to ask if we had any questions about the firm.  Being that I could barely see straight, let alone form coherent questions, I let Kyle take the lead.  Being the smart, considerate guy that he is, Kyle asked about some of the firm’s demographics.  Were most employees from Saskatchewan?  How long had they been practicing?  Where did everyone get their start?

Mr. Gladstone took this opportunity to point out a feature of the firm that no one had even asked about.  Sipping his drink sagely, he addressed the issue of the firm’s gender split (or lack thereof, more accurately).  “Well, you know, a lot of our applicants notice there aren’t many women working here.  They wonder about that and there’s actually a pretty simple explanation.”  I braced myself for more wisdom.

He elaborated: “Women don’t actually want to practice law.  Sure, lots of them apply to law school, get articling positions and so forth.  After that, though, they pretty much all gravitate to government departments.  You know why?  Maternity benefits.  Women don’t want a career in law, they want to get their foot in the door some place, start a family and then just take maternity leave.  That doesn’t work for our firm, so obviously we don’t have many women.”

Once again, everyone nodded dumbly.  Everyone except Mr. Vincent, who was busy opening up his cocktail briefcase to pour himself another rum and coke.  I realized by that point that my glass was again empty, too.  An associate sitting just adjacent to me rectified the situation with a smile.

 

 

 

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