How many times had I written the words - Esperanza A. Cervantes, Attorney at Law - in the margins of my notebooks? Hundreds, at least. The sight of those words had kept me going when a lack of sleep, demanding professors, and my snippy fellow students had done their best to make me give up. I had to keep going. I was not going to give up or fall short of my goal.
Now, it seemed that I had reached that goal. I had taken my diploma, received a prestigious position, and was ready to show the world just who I was. My hair was pinned up in a flawless French braid. My new gray suit fit me perfectly. There was not so much as a speck of dust on my new, black shoes. I was ready to face the world, and I showed it as I strode purposefully into the offices of Pemberton, McCardle & Kane on K Street.
My bubble burst with but one sentence spoken by the human resources lady:
“You will begin as a junior clerk, Miss Cervantes.”
Her oration did not improve.
“After all, no one is allowed to practice law until he or she has successfully passed each and every portion of the bar exam. [Duh!] When you do, you will receive a performance appraisal. If the partners agree that your performance at Pemberton, McCardle & Kane has been up to our high standards, you will receive a promotion to senior clerk. If, after a year…,”
On and on she went. The bottom line was that the firm did not have legal secretaries; paralegals filled that role. The clerks, therefore, filled the role of paralegal. Their law degrees granted them no more than a better title. In short, I had to prove that I was worthy of being a lawyer before the firm would allow me to be a lawyer.
Excuse me, but what have the past three years been about, years of spending night after night in the library stacks, poring over cases that dated back two centuries (in this country to say nothing of the English cases we read to show where our own law took its basis)? I could have taken a correspondence course in paralegal studies and done this work.
Wisely, I did not voice my opinion. That was something new, yet it was something essential, according to the voice of my mentor at the law review:
“Pick and choose your battles carefully” and “keep your own counsel” rang in my ears as the stone-faced woman, who sat supremely behind her desk, continued her spiel.
“I will tell you up front that only ten percent of those who come to work here remain after they pass their bar exam.”
Something told me she was not exaggerating. Something also told me that Pemberton, McCardle & Kane was one of those firms where one did one’s time in order to have the big name on a resume before venturing out into the real world. Well, that was okay. I could do that, too, if need be. Something told me that need would be.
“As a junior clerk, this will be your salary,” the HR woman went on as she slid a slip of paper in my direction.
The sum written upon it was miniscule. I had been led to believe I would receive twice as much and told her so.
“That will come at the end of the first year – if you are still here. Now, in addition to your salary, you will receive health insurance, life insurance, and disability. You will not become eligible for our 401-K retirement program until you have successfully completed your first year. You will not receive paid parking; however, there is a Metro stop only two blocks away at either Farragut West or Farragut North.”
At least the Metro ran close to where I lived. In fact, it would be a very short ride, only a half-dozen stops to Farragut North. Still, it wasn’t the lifestyle I had envisioned. I found myself wondering why I had bought a car. Making the payments on it was not going to be easy on the salary this woman was quoting me.
The news did not get any better when the great stone face took me to meet my supervisor. She, too, was a stone face, only older and stonier.
“This is your new junior clerk, Miss Cervantes.”
“Oh. Another one,” Stone Face II said in a dull, monotone voice that told me Stone Face I had been telling the truth when she said very few people survived at Pemberton, McCardle & Kane.
Nor did the news improve when my sister called that night to see how my first day had gone.
“I told you Washington was down and dirty! What did you expect, a tea party?”
“Shut up, Amelia. You sound like that icy HR bitch!”
“Careful or you’ll become just like them,” Amelia warned me.
A chill ran down my spine at the idea that I could become just like the two women I had met that day. Yet, a sensation in the back of my mind told me that becoming just like them would be the only way to survive among them. I went to bed that night shivering in fear.
TO BE CONTINUED
Copyright (c) 2008, Virginia Tolles, All Rights Reserved