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February 16, 2010 10:30 AM

Deferred Associate Diaries Part II: The Little Things

Posted by Ed Shanahan

By Andrew Ardinger

On a recent Friday afternoon, with the weekend looming large, I rolled up my sleeves and took on a new assignment. Ducking into the kitchenette in the corner of the Public Interest Law Project's Oakland office, where I'm spending the year, I found a sponge and soap, ran some warm water, and steadily cleaned the mugs, silverware, and loose plates lining the sink. I wiped down the counters and washed out the coffee pot. A coworker happened by, noticed my work, and nodded his approval. I moved the pointer on the chore wheel to the next name on the roster, one of our codirectors. The kitchenette was spotless. (Read Ardinger's first post on being a deferred associate.)

This was not the first time that cleaning intersected with my legal career. During my 1L year at Stanford Law School, I inadvertently submitted a previous version of my resume to a potential summer employer. I had prepared it a year or so before, while applying for a position in the travel and hospitality industry. It emphasized, in part, my efficiency at scrubbing toilets, changing beds, and washing dishes, experience hard-won from a camp near Tahoe I had worked at during college. "I know you must get this a lot," the interviewer began. "But what exactly do you mean by 'advanced housekeeping skills?' I was just wondering how that relates to the law." I didn't get an offer there.

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Pleased to finally have an answer to that question, I headed out the door. Most days, once I leave the office, I plug in my headphones and head for BART, but I had driven across the Bay to visit some clients that day, so I found myself strolling back to my car, taking in the scene more than usual. 

During the week, so much of my waking life is spent in the office that it's inevitable that the environment of a building has some fairly significant influence. Even if the effect is tough to pin down exactly, it's nice to notice, when possible, the little quirks and perks that combine to create it. As I walked to my car, I made a list of a few things that color PILP's milieu.

The elevators in our building are pretty remarkable. The one on the right, until recently, had to be manually pulled shut because of a dated spring. The one on the left, though, will occasionally open on its own as I approach. There’s never been a button pressed, another person inside, or a call it's answering-it just seems to sense my approach and be eager to help me along. That has only happened a few times though. When it does open as soon as it sees me, the whole day feels marked as special, the same feeling I get when I wake up to see a rare bird perched on a branch outside my window. 

Despite my good mood, Friday was not a red-elevator day, and I took the stairs. On the way out, I passed the security kiosk. The building’s managers installed monitors, and a radio is left on, but nobody is employed to watch or listen. One day, as I headed out to lunch, I saw a woman leaning impatiently against the security desk. I asked if I could help her, offering to point her toward whatever group she was there to see. No, she told me, she was late for her appointment, but she would just wait for the guard to return.  I tried to explain the situation and again offered to point her toward the folks she was looking for. She thanked me curtly, rolled her eyes, and continued to wait. She had moved on by the time I returned.

Out the door, and now almost to my car, I passed by the Off Broadway Café, a sandwich shop across the street run by the friendly, voluble Brenda that also doubles as PILP’s de facto lunch spot.  The first time I went there, she gave me a free cookie; the second time, she remembered my name; and the third time, she informed me that I had a regular order.

I reached my car and began driving back to my place in San Francisco in a light rain. Just after crossing the Bay Bridge, as the light was really starting to fade, I caught a glimpse of the Orrick building as I continued down the highway. I thought back to the summer that I had spent there--how I was initially drawn to the firm because its San Francisco office is housed in a green, energy-efficient building with a lot of natural light, and how I had noticed during my callback that the café there was serving bison meat instead of beef for health and ecological (and taste) reasons. I thought of the security guard I got to know over that summer, who, when I stopped by for an event this autumn, remembered me and brought up a couple of the jokes we had made.

I thought, as I walked up the steps to my apartment, hey, two totally different work environments, Orrick and PILP, but two great work environments, as well--both comfortable, interesting spaces populated by cool, creative people. I was going to tell one of my roommates what I had been thinking about on the drive home, but he cut me off before I could start: "Hey, man--you think you could make a dent in those dishes? They're really starting to pile up."

Andrew Ardinger is a deferred first-year associate at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe. He is spending the year at the Public Interest Law Project in Oakland. This is the second installment of his Deferred Associate Diaries.

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