It was 2011. I was a third year associate at Wolf Rebman, a small suburban law firm. My practice had started to grow, and the phone was ringing more constantly.
One afternoon I got a phone call from a girl I had worked with at AnapolSchwartz, Melissa. Melissa had impressed me quite a bit at Anapol. She was a hard worker, smart, and easy to get along with. Melissa always laughed at my jokes, too, which made her a great person in my book. I took her call.
“Hey Jordan, how have you been?” she asked.
“Good, we’re super busy here. I barely sleep anymore.” That was the truth.
“I’ve got some news for you… did you know I passed the bar?”
“No. That’s great news! Congrats!”
“Thanks, but listen, I gotta be honest with you. It’s TERRIBLE out there. I can’t find ANYTHING! No one is hiring.”
“That sucks. I’m sorry to hear.”
“So listen, while I try and find a job, do you mind if I intern for you? I’ll do it for free.”
“Actually, we could use some help. And don’t worry, we’re not that cheap – we’ll pay you. Let me ask Chris, but I’m sure it’ll be fine for a few hours a week.”
I went to my boss Chris and asked him if we could hire Melissa. She was good – I could vouch for that. She would work for free if we were going to be cheap, and I could really use a hand. We were so busy that I was barely sleeping and needed any help I could get. Plus, we could bill her out on files at a higher hourly rate. What was the risk?
After some hesitation, Chris agreed and let me hire Melissa on for about 10 hours a week, at the rate of $15 an hour. I don’t think we ever bothered to look at her resume.
Melissa didn’t have an office. We put together a makeshift desk for her in an unused corner. It wasn’t exactly a glamorous situation for a barred attorney to be making $15 an hour sitting in a cubby hole of a small firm. But Melissa was happy to have a legal job and she worked her butt off. She even volunteered to attend events we couldn’t pay her for, like depositions, motion hearings, and other work that would be duplicative. (though we usually just gave in and paid her for her time and ate it).
Melissa became a valuable part of the firm, and soon we raised her pay from $15 an hour to $25 an hour to make sure we didn’t lose her. Her hours went from about 10 a week to 40. Melissa became quite popular in our office due to her cheery disposition and sense of humor.
I had told Melissa this from the beginning:
“We’re a small firm. We can’t afford to pay you much. If you find something better, with a big salary and health benefits, TAKE IT. I will write you a letter of recommendation. We would pay you a bigger salary if we could, but we can’t. So if something better falls in your lap, run! No, sprint!” It was understood that Melissa was keeping an eye out for a real job. Although we wanted to keep her, we couldn’t afford to pay her what she was worth. But we could give her substantive legal experience and a paycheck, even if it was meager.
This relationship lasted for about a year.
Around the same time, one of our secretaries who was close with Melissa quit. The secretary took a job at a prestigious mid-sized firm. Apparently they were also looking for an entry level associate. She recommended they hire Melissa. One day she popped in my office.
“Hey Jordan, you got a second? …are you listening to Ke$ha?”
“Don’t judge me.”
“Listen, you were serious when you said you wouldn’t be mad if I interviewed for other jobs, right?” I was.
“Absolutely!”, I told her.
“Well, listen, I interviewed at a prestigious mid-sized firm last week. The place where Carley took a job. I gave them your name as a reference. Is that okay?”
“You’re damn right it is!”
Eventually the firm called. I gave Melissa the best recommendation you could give someone. “She is the best employee we have ever had. I wish we had the money to pay her what she is worth. We don’t. You do. Do it.”
Melissa got hired by this firm. When we found out, we went out for drinks. Melissa is still at the firm to this day.