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His supervisor was named Randall, a ten-year guy on the verge of making partner, and thus under a lot of pressure. A Ness Skelton associate who didn't make partner after ten years was quietly shown the door. Randall was a George Washington law grad, which, in the city's pecking order, was a step down from Georgetown but several notches above Foggy Bottom. The hierarchy was clear and rigid, and its worst perpetrators were the GW lawyers. They detested being looked down upon by the Georgetown gang; thus they were eager to look down with even more disdain on anyone from FBLS. The entire firm reeked of cliques and snobbery, and Mark often wondered how in hell he wound up there. Two associates were from FBLS, but they were so busy trying to distance themselves from their school they had no time to lend Mark a hand. Indeed, they seemed to ignore him more than anyone else. Mark had often mumbled, "What a way to run a law firm." But then he figured that every profession had its levels of status. He was far too worried about his own skin to fret over where the other cutthroats had studied law. He had his own problems.

He had e-mailed Randall and said he would be dropping by to do whatever grunt work was available. Randall greeted him with a curt "Back so soon?"

Sure, Randall, and how were your holidays? Great to see you. "Yeah, got bored with all the holiday crap. What's up?"

"Two of the secretaries are out with the flu," Randall said. He pointed to a stack of documents a foot thick. "I need that copied fourteen times, all collated and stapled."

Okay, back to the copy room, Mark thought. "Sure," he said as if he couldn't wait to jump in. He hauled the documents down to the basement, to a dungeon filled with copiers. He spent the next three hours doing mindless work for which he would be paid nothing.

He almost missed Louie and his ankle monitor.


Like Mark, Todd Lucero was inspired to become a lawyer by booze-tinted conversations he'd overheard in a bar. For the past three years, he had been mixing drinks at the Old Red Cat, a pub-style watering hole favored by students from GW and Foggy Bottom. After college at Frostburg State, he'd left Baltimore and drifted into D.C. in search of a career. Finding none, he hired on at the Old Red Cat as a part-timer and soon realized he had a fondness for pulling pints and mixing strong drinks. He'd come to love the pub life and had a gift for schmoozing with the serious drinkers while placating the rowdies. Todd was everybody's favorite bartender and was on a first-name basis with hundreds of his regulars.

Many times over the past two and a half years he had thought of quitting law school to pursue his dream of owning his own bar. His father, though, had strong opinions to the contrary. Mr. Lucero was a cop in Baltimore and had always pushed his son to obtain a professional degree. Pushing was one thing, but paying for it was something else. And so Todd had fallen into the same trap of borrowing easy money and handing it over to the greedy folks at FBLS.

He and Mark Frazier had met the first day, during orientation, back when they were both starry-eyed and envisioning big law careers with fat salaries, back when they, along with 350 others, were horribly naive. He vowed to quit after his first year, but his father yelled at him. Because of his commitment to the bar, he had never found the time to knock on doors around D.C. and hustle for summer internships. He vowed to quit after his second year and cut off the flow of debt, but his loan counselor strongly advised against it. As long as he was in school he did not have to confront some brutal repayment schedule, so it made perfect sense to keep borrowing in order to graduate and find one of those lucrative jobs that, in theory, would eventually take care of the debts. Now, though, with only one semester to go, he knew only too well such jobs did not

If only he'd borrowed $195,000 from a bank and opened his bar. He could be printing money and enjoying life.

MARK ENTERED THE Old Red Cat just after dark and took his favorite place at the end of the bar. He fist-bumped Todd and said, "Good to see you, man."

"You too," Todd said as he slid over a frosty mug of light beer. With his seniority, Todd could comp anyone he damn well pleased, and Mark had not paid in years.

With the students away, the place was quiet. Todd leaned on his elbows and asked, "So what are you up to?"

"Well, I've spent the afternoon at dear old Ness Skelton, in the copy room sorting papers that no one will ever read. More stupid work. Even the paralegals look down their noses at me. I hate the place and I haven't even been hired yet."

"Still no contract?"

"None, and the picture gets fuzzier every day."

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