Thursday, March 12, 2009

Zoe to be fired from his job?? The perfect storm of events at the law office.

Okay, it's been a few weeks since I last wrote because I had a job emergency come up that needed to be taken care of. In short, my boss has been holding work back from me these past few months causing a whole bunch of problems, and he has been threatening to fire me because there apparently is not enough work in the company to keep me employed.

This would be a big problem if it were true. I believe that I don't have enough work to do -- I've been complaining about that for some time to my higher-ups in the law firm. One time I wrote a letter to the partners asking for work and my boss (the partner to whom I am assigned to work under) stormed into my office screaming at me that I will get myself in trouble by rocking the boat. It was only later that I found out that there was plenty of work in the company, but my boss was keeping much of it and not assigning it to me despite my outstanding record of producing good work and way before the deadlines. When starving me of projects to work on didn't work (because I started to look for work with the other partners), he decided to work on another approach. He thought, "let's overload Zoe with deadlines he can't possibly meet."

Then I would go from famine to feast where I would be given a project that should take around 20-30 hours and a week or so to complete, and I was given the project to do TWO DAYS before the deadline, causing me to be at work until all hours of the night for nights in a row leaving my wife stranded taking care of the babies more-than full-time. I saw this as a test, and the three-or-four times this happened, I did what I was supposed to and I completed the project producing efficient, high quality work.

This last part however is what caused the emergency. This time around, my boss decided to give me a very complex and poorly written patent application to fix up, and I spend a number of hours and I fixed it up. Then he told me that I was supposed to draft the specification from scratch, so I got to work, and every day I e-mailed him where I was, a copy of my work, and questions I had on the path I was taking. He never read my work, never answered my e-mails, and never gave me any direction. Instead, after spending hours at a time going fully down one path, without looking at my work, he would tell me that he wanted me to write the specification in a different way, causing me to spend hours redoing everything I just did the previous time. Then when I completed my work, he would tell me to do it a different way, and I would redo my work all over again without him looking at the previous version. This has been going on daily for the past two months now. I did raise objections to him not reading my work or giving me feedback, but he insisted that he'll only look at the completed application, however, each set of directions he gave contradicted the previous set of directions, yet, I was able to do what he said, exactly as he told me to do it so I didn't think it was so bad. However, I did notice the HUGE amount of hours that were mounting up on this project, and I knew how many hours the client expected it to take and so I saw a catastrophe about to happen.

In short, prior to leaving work on Friday, he came into my office demanding a completed version of the claims and the specification. When I told him what I already e-mailed him, he started on the "no, I didn't want X. I wanted it Y." Funny enough, the way he wanted it was EXACTLY the way I gave it to him the previous version. Had he read the work I was giving him, he would have not made that mistake. Anyway, he demanded to see a copy of the specification as I had it (as if I wasn't sending him updates every day), and I confronted him about not getting feedback from him and so he agreed to meet me on Monday to review my work.

On Monday, we met and he was frustrated and he did not understand the flow of the patent application, and he wanted it a certain way which was in direct conflict with the way I had all 60 pages of the specification written. He also demanded that I give him an accounting of the hours I billed on the project because he couldn't figure out where I was spinning my wheels (pretending to be oblivious to or forgetting the fact that I was spinning my wheels following the different versions of his instructions). I was sure I was going to be fired, but by that time, I was no longer worried about getting fired because I figured out his game and getting fired appeared to be a certainty; I just couldn't figure out when it would happen. It appears to me as if he was either completely mismanaging the project, or he was intentionally causing me to redo my work and spinning my wheels to make me appear to be incompetent. I would give him the benefit of the doubt, but he has done things in the past to make me understand that he is always looking for a new way to cause me to be next in line in the unemployment office.

Anyway, my plan is that if I get fired, I will move my family to the state where our in-laws are, because my wife would really appreciate the help and the company. I would also return to school full-time to finish the electrical engineering degree I have been working on part time since I graduated law school and got this job. My wife also wants to go back to school, and so together we would be students again. To support this change, we would either take out loans (an option I am uncomfortable with) or one or both of us can get a part-time job to pay for our expenses while going back to school. Then, by the time we graduate, my wife will be able to go to work in her new field (she disliked her former occupation), and by then, the economy will hopefully have recovered.

While my wife is encouraging me to quit my job and go back to school regardless of whether I get fired, my opinion is that it would be nice to be fired so that I can receive an unemployment paycheck while we move to the new location and set up shop to go to school. Anyway, this is my plan, but I feel a moral responsibility NOT to do a chilul hashem and so I am working my hardest to finish this project and work diligently on every other project that comes my way until it is time for me to move on.

That being said, I couldn't help to think that it was a perfect storm of events where I had my first review with my boss this Monday, on the day I was fasting and leaving early, and the day before I was taking paid time off for Purim (I arranged this months in advance), and the 4-month date for the patent application is due this Sunday (which means in the patent world that it could be submitted on Monday), however I noticed the most interesting thing.

My boss has not shared the final and complete claim set to the client in over two weeks and the client is asking for it. Additionally, there is almost a certainty that we will miss the 4-month date for submitting the patent application because with all the wasted time, the half-day on Monday (the fast of Esther), and the day off on Tuesday, there is absolutely NO WAY it can be finished by the due date. Thus, I am almost certain that I will be fired.

To add evidence to my case, I had an office action due this past Monday. I had the completed office action prepared, completed, AND REVIEWED by him the week beforehand, yet he intentionally missed the deadline for filing my response to the office action (a slight note here, he demands that all filings with the USPTO be in his name regardless of whether he wrote the response or not). I was confounded when I found out he did this, but then it occurred to me that with the apparent mess-up with the huge amount of billing on the current application coupled with missing this Monday's deadline (even if I completed it in time which I technically could, my boss told me that he wouldn't submit it because he would need for it to go back and forth a number of times between him and the client which would take at least two weeks time), my boss is creating "evidence" to have me terminated.

If I were my boss, this is how I would play it (and I have a feeling this is exactly what he is doing). I would wait until I completed the application, and then I would fire me for "efficiency reasons" or "insubordination" in that I missed the deadline for the office action (which we both know is not true and I have documentation to prove it), and since I missed the filing date for the application I was working on. I (my boss) would still bill the client for the work I (Zoe) did, but I would give a discount and say that I fired Zoe because he was taking too long on his projects and missing deadlines. I (my boss) would then pretend to work hard on the clients application and I would present the complete claim set that I (Zoe) did, but I (the boss) would pretend that I did the work myself. Additionally, a few days later I would also present the 60-page specification that I (Zoe) worked on pretending that I (my boss) did it myself, and I would be the hero and Zoe would be canned, waiting on line for an employment check.

I have a feeling this is the way it will go down. However, as I said before, I *am* in school, and my wife could use the extra help which me being home with an unemployment check would provide. I would also use the unemployment to look for work, but at the same time, I would (and have) moved forward in starting plans for my transition into my in-laws' home town so that my wife can be nearer to them and so my children can have grandparents. This is the plan if I get fired, and if I don't get fired, I will still likely pursue this plan in the summer.

So this is what is going on. Long story told as it is without embellishments. I stayed quite late last night working on the application, and I will still diligently continue to work on it and I will have it ready to submit by either tomorrow or Monday even though I know it will not be submitted until next month. That being said, I am cool and calm with what is going on, and I have seen all the angles on how this can go down. All I hope for is that I can finish the project and do a good job, and hopefully I will be laid off because they don't have enough work for me rather than being fired over this one catastrophe which appears to be part of my boss' evil genius plan.


Ahuva said...

Just document everything (paying special attention to the record of sent messages/copies and the repeated changes in direction). Follow up all verbal conversations with a summary email of the meeting "to confirm that you properly understood the instructions."

If they try to terminate you for cause just provide the documentation to the HR department. Remember-- you won't qualify for federal unemployment if they terminate you for cause (although you might have one of those lawyer-job contracts where they give you x months of salary no matter what reason you were terminated).

Continue to do your best work no matter what the provocation, because the absolute last thing you want is to have them be able to say you did a bad job when you apply for your next. Is it possible to switch to one of the other partners you were asking for work? Whether or not the end goal is to move back to your wife's parent's state and go back to school-- getting fired is something to be avoided if at all possible.

Anonymous said...

dude, you are a bit too cocky about your own work product. it's hard to believe your version of things sometimes....oh well, good luck!

Anonymous said...

also, it is a terrible idea to try to get an EE degree the way you are doing it. i'm a patent lawyer with an EE background...i started reading your posts some time back (and i even posted last summer encouraging you to work for the USPTO. getting an EE retrospectively is a terrible idea and a waste of time and resources. you've already gone down this path of chasing a pipe-dream career. face it, this is not for you. instead, try to get some valuable marketable skills (programming, finance, something useful) so that you can pick up experience and live a comfortable middle-class life. life is more than just trying to appear prestigious. swallow the truth earlier and your life will be better for it. (gets off soapbox.)

Zoe Strickman said...

> it is a terrible idea to try to get an EE degree the way you are doing it.

Anonymous, please e-mail me at -- both myself and my wife want to know exactly what you mean about this, and what you're basing your opinion on.

(You should know that I *do* remember you, but I don't remember where or when you wrote me last. I followed your advice last year and applied to the USPTO and got rejected because my background didn't fit one of their art groups and they weren't hiring for business method patents (I even spoke to a friend who works there and couldn't get in through internal networking either).)

Ahuva said...

Anon, he's young enough to start over if he wants to (and can afford to with his growing family). If her parents are willing to support them while they both go back to school-- why not? (Okay, they'll be drowning in debt from a second set of student loans-- but I assume they're both intelligent enough to realize that and have decided that it's worth the price).

Zoe, I would urge you to consider at least portions of your current position to be an effort from Hashem to teach you a bit of a lesson in humility. People just starting out in their career are rarely as good as they think they are.

Zoe Strickman said...

Ahuva, I agree. I have never been one to boast my skills, and I know my weaknesses very well. When I say that my work product is good, I mean to say that I have received very high reviews from the partners, and I have always been VERY careful to adhere to deadlines and produce above-average work. I have never submitted something that was considered to be garbage quality; I learned never to do that when working for a firm in law school.

Anonymous said...

well, i'm not going to email you personally because i don't want to expose my identity. but, i will respond to you here. basically, you are someone who wants to go back in time. but certain things cannot be un-done. an example is the EE degree. you cannot go back and get a EE and think that you are the same candidate as someone who has an EE as their BS degree.

now, if the legal profession was based on merit or reality, then you could say well, electrical knowledge is electrical knowledge, what difference does timing make?

it makes all the difference.

the legal profession is about conformity, not about actual knowledge. now, you can deviate a little bit, but the totality of your circumstances are just too far from the norm. i've never ever met any IP attorney that went back for the degree. i mean, you are just trying to turn back time. that can work, if you go to the caribbean and become a doctor. i highly doubt it will work in the legal field, and not even in IP. you will just be a sham EE, and they will pass you up. especially in this economy, where even the more traditional EE's are having a really tough time getting jobs. and you've already graduated from law school (i think) which means each year that you don't work in a real law firm, you lose value exponentially. and sorry, but the current place you work is probably not a firm, in fact, i believe non-j.d.'s can get the same position you have (although i may be mistaken).

in any case, i am not the final decision maker. but you just seem way off base, and you're throwing more time and money after something just because you've already invested some time and money in this endeavor.

basically, the legal profession, especially now that the market has tanked, will not tolerate non-conformists. you may, in the end, land something. but you had better get assurances that what you're doing is actually worth something. don't do what you did with the patent bar - thinking you could be a patent lawyer without a technical degree.

why not just face reality and pick up marketable skills while you're still young and provide for your family and live your life? it's too late now, and that does not have to be a bad thing.

even i'm sweating in this economy, and i'm far more of a 'normal' candidate than you. good luck.

Ahuva said...

"each year that you don't work in a real law firm, you lose value exponentially"

This is true in most fields (certainly it is in mine-- computers). Is there a way that you can retain a part-time job in a legal field while going back for your degree? Would that maintain the value of your law degree?

No matter what, this economy is making things tough on newbees. Anon is certainly right about that.