Setting: The Firm, the very first day.
It seems like only yesterday that it all began.
I remember being walked around the firm at 9.00 a.m. on a Monday by an overly-friendly HR woman. Joining me were a driver, a filing clerk, two secretaries and three chambering pupils (I was repeatedly told that we should refer to ourselves as “chambies” not “pupils” — I’ve no idea why this was so important).
We were taken to every nook and cranny of the office, the seven of us tailing the peppy woman sheepishly (except for one chambie, who was a feisty she-man type seemingly intent on claiming the alpha-chambie role early on — I could see people actually flinching as she dished out her death-grip handshakes).
I had prepared meticulously for the day — picking out a professional not-too-tight pinstriped black pencil skirt, matching jacket and crisp white shirt. I dispensed with the neck-scarf at the last minute, thinking it would be too showy. I was thinking — “Yeah, I’ve arrived, this was what I had slogged through four years for,” and my first impression was that it bloody well didn’t look much like those law firms off the telly, despite being one of the biggest and best (or so the internet proclaimed) in KL. It certainly didn’t look at all as impressive as the floor on which my interview took place two weeks before.
That level was all mahogany, sparkling glass, pristine carpeting, imposing leather-spined law books and nippy air-conditioning.
These levels were tatty plywood partitioning, stained and frayed carpets, stacks and stacks of yellowing files and paper, and musty smoke-tinged air. Yup, I’d arrived alright — I just wasn’t quite sure where.
I said “interview” earlier, but it really wasn’t much of an interview — all my meticulous interview prep was pretty much wasted on the two partners who interviewed me.
They didn’t ask me to list my strengths and weaknesses.
I wasn’t queried on my reasons for applying there.
And there sure as hell weren’t any questions about the law.
The ten minutes was basically filled with both of them taking turns to drill home the point that I would have to accept 15-hour workdays as standard for the next nine months at least — “Don’t expect to see daylight, your parents or your friends. Being a lawyer means dedicating your life. It’s like being a monk.” The partners didn’t look like what I expected either — one was a fat Chinaman with bad grammar — “So when you working here ah, you don’t expect you have a life lah huh, no party party karaoke all” — and the other was a balding unshaven Malay guy with a wrinkled white wing-collar shirt who started very chattily, but quickly and quite obviously lost interest when I said I wasn’t inclined towards litigation.
At the end of that morning tour, the chambies were shown to a small room, and told that there would be five of us housed in there. There were two long desks, three ancient-looking desktop computers, and a phone. “Chambies don’t have internet connection,” the HR lady announced, like a death sentence, “if you need to do research, you can use the library computers… but there’s CCTV there.”
Alpha-Chambie wasn’t listening — “Eh, I chup the seat next to the phone!”
And so began me Livin’ La Vida Loyar.
Alter Ego has been a corporate lawyer in Kuala Lumpur for many years. Livin’ La Vida Loyar is a weekly semi-fictional, sorta-kinda-fact-based, non-chronological account of her experiences in the legal industry. She is writing this column anonymously because she doesn’t want people around her to know that, when she’s furiously typing on her BlackBerry in their presence, she is actually taking notes for this column! Plus of course there’s all this mumbo-jumbo about client confidentiality and getting disbarred. If you have an interesting story to share from your experiences as a lawyer, or (if you’re a non-lawyer) your encounters with a lawyer, please email her at [email protected]. Confidentiality is guaranteed. She thinks tweeting should be left to the birds. As all fiction is to some extent autobiographical, you may think she’s writing about you. She’s not. Jangan perasan. You may also think you know her. You don’t. Jangan kay-poh.