Saturday, November 21, 2009

Night Work

Trying to get the hang of night photography with the digital SLR.  I had a pretty good handle on it with film, but have not been able to get quite the same cool color mixtures that the old tungsten slide film would provide.  Will keep working on it, though.  I like the idea of continuing to work with film, but in reality the film boxes gather dust because digital is just so much easier and provides such faster feedback.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Dead Cat Bounce

The Seventh Circuit has spoken and . . . we lost.

Almost exactly ten months (10 months!!) after my argument, the 7th finally got around to issuing the opinion. I figured that because they had kept it so long, that the news was not going to be favorable, but I continued to hold out hope that we might win at least a partial victory on the sentencing issue. I am a little miffed at the way the court handled one of the issues, basically side-stepping our argument and ruling on a much narrower point of law than, I continue to believe, was at issue, but nothing in the opinion was dramatically unexpected.

For all the worry some people have over criminal convictions being overturned on appeal, the reality is that that the appellate courts rarely reverse the trial court. And - and again, in contrast to the T.V.-inspired idea that most non-attorneys have of the criminal process - cases simply do not get reversed on "a technicality." If you hear that a criminal conviction got reversed, it is a good bet that either the court, the prosecuting attorney, or the police
really screwed something up. The law is malleable, which is its strength, but also its weakness. If the judges want to rule in a particular way, there is almost always a credible argument that they can make which will allow them to do it.

So while I am disappointed, I am not surprised by the court's decision. Only good point is that my colleague at The Firm who took over as the attorney of record will have to take care of procedural hassle that is required to close out the representation. That is the ticket - come in, dazzle the audience, and then make your grand exit before you have to slop out the elephant cages.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Dead Weight

I have been carrying my camera around constantly lately, but I never seem to take any pictures. For going on almost a year now I seem to have lost my desire to photograph almost completely. I am not entirely sure what the problem is, but I think that a good part of it is that I have been in a type of mourning. In the middle of last year I had a hard drive failure. Correction, a hard drive failure with no recent backup. Correction, a hard drive failure with almost a year gap for any backup. Yes, I know . . . trust me, I know. You can't say anything to me that I already haven't said to myself a thousand times already. The hard drive that failed was my main data drive. It contained pretty much every digital piece of my life that exists - undergraduate assignments and research, my law school papers and outlines, letters to friends, scans of documents, word files and bits and pieces of various writings, all of my converted CDs and the newer digital only music . . . oh yes, and all my photography. Up until late 2006 the majority of my photography had been film-based (with a short foray into digital with a Canon G1 several years earlier). I had been scanning film for quite some time, and had gone back and scanned most of my early film photography as well. For the most part, a lot of that was diligently backed up on CDs, and what I did not have backup for on CD was still there, of course, in the slides and filmstrips that I had archived away. In late 2006, though I started shooting mostly digital, which then very quickly morphed into almost exclusively digital. For whatever reason, I was not very good about keeping backups of this and had not kept any backups of anything shot after about mid-year 2007. Why? I'm not sure, but it essentially boils down to a combination of laziness and complacency. I had hard drive failures before, but had gone a long stretch without one. I was a student on a limited budget and backup drives seemed expensive and besides I had a big spindle of blank CDs that I could use to make backups of all the new stuff I was shooting . . . eventually. Regardless, when the hammer fell, it caught me completely unprepared - no cd backups, no hard drive backups, no online backups of anything other than reduced-size, edited files, nothing, nada . . . zilch. And here is the part of the story that really gets to me. In the months leading up to that hard drive failure I felt like I had taken several of the best photographs I had ever taken in my life. I'm not saying they were going to knock Ansel, Mapplethorpe, or DeCarava off the map or anything, but they did represent what I saw as real progress in my photography. I felt like I had been stuck at a certain level for a long time and that in those last couple of months I had taken shots that showed I was starting to move forward again. Those shots, as silly as it might seem, were proof that I was growing artistically. I was damn proud of those shots. And now, they were gone. I had a few on-line, small, edited versions of some of the photos on a few sites, but the originals were all on that now useless hunk of metal sitting in my computer. I was in denial about the fact that these photographs were lost for quite awhile, quite a long while. I obsessively research data recovery services - expensive, unrealistic, unlikely. I tried every esoteric method I came across on the web to get the hard drive to mount long enough to grab even a few of the recent originals - no dice. I would like to say that eventually I gave up. But - and here I think is the secret to understanding my photography funk for the past year - I really didn't give up at all. I bought a new hard drive. I bought a backup hard drive. I upgraded my operating system so that I could run software that would automatically back up my data every night like clockwork. And then . . . I carefully packed away the failed drive in the box that the new drive had arrived in and set it on a shelf in my office closet - someday, I thought. Someday, perhaps I will spend the money just to see if any of those photos are recoverable. Probably not, highly unlikely . . . but perhaps . . . someday. And then I did not take one single photograph for six months. Since the hard drive failure I have probably, in total, pressed a shutter perhaps a hundred times. Perhaps even less. And some of those shutter clicks were to post stuff on eBay! My wife - the woman who I once, for fear that the film would degrade, had to goad into taking out the 36-frame roll of film she had had in her point and shoot for almost three years to be processed, even though, as she argued, there were still several frames left on the roll - has taken more photographs than I have in the same period. Recently, I have been trying to break the funk. I started carrying a camera around with me again. Right after I upgraded my smartphone to the new iPhone I giddily downloaded a slew of iPhone photo apps that looked "just so cool." (In two months I have taken 3, count 'em, 3 photos with the iPhone, by the way.) But the funk just would not break. The camera stayed in the bag. Or worse, it stayed hanging dead around my neck as I rejected one shot after the next, after the next, after the next. Then the other day I came home very frustrated. I had taken the camera out again to specifically take some shots, but I had taken only a few and hated each and every one. As I sat in my office wondering "What the heck!?" I realized that I was thinking of that old, failed hard drive and bemoaning the loss of those "beautiful," "breakthrough" photographs yet again. What the heck, indeed. It was at that point I knew what I had to do. I got up, went to my closet and took out the box with the hard drive. I went downstairs into the shared basement of our apartment and got out a hammer from the landlord's toolbox. A very nice hammer. A very heavy hammer. I went out into the alley behind our building and opened up the box, taking out the hard drive. I put the hard drive down on the ground, thought for a second . . . and then I beat the s--t out of that thing! Anyone wishing to retrieve data from that hard drive at this point will need a time machine. "It's dead, Jim." It was very satisfying. Is the funk over? Not sure yet, but signs are good. Ironically, I guess I missed the chance to document the hard drive abuse and make this story into a little photo essay. But I do find that I am getting that itch to get out trip that shutter again. I feel like getting rid of that hard drive was the equivalent of cutting the cable on an anchor I did not even know was there. Stay tuned.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The New Gig

So, here I am, back in the land of the gainfully employed. (And very happy to be here, thank you very much.)

I hit the ground running with my new firm on the last week of May -- I was in court on the first day! -- and have been going steady since then. This is definitely a very different experience from my "Big Law" job. My new firm is a small commercial litigation office that also does some probate litigation, a little attorney representation and a dabbling of other types of cases as well. I will be the the sixth attorney and the least experienced associate (which means, lots of routine court calls which now seem very exciting, but will probably lose their luster at some point).

The two partners are both great guys, with the lead partner being a real old-school litigator from whom I think I can learn a lot. Per my entry below, I am excited about the possible opportunities that taking this job opens up, and eager to throw myself back into the practice of law.

First on the list - buy a couple of new suits! Having the one nice suit that hangs behind the door in my office is not going to cut it anymore. Being in court on any particular day appears to be the rule, rather than the exception here. (And I would not have it any other way.) After that - I really need to bone up on the state court rules. Two years at The Firm and I know basically nothing about in-courtroom procedure. (The fact that I am validated in my belief that document review was basically useless for acquiring any practical skills, is cold comfort.)

Friday, May 8, 2009

Big Versus Small (A Shift In Thinking)

The job search has been pretty dismal in general, but is currently looking up and I hope to be able to report good news soon. As I said in the last post, the layoff may end up being a good thing in the end. 

I tend to stay too long at jobs. From background and observation I have an aversion to jumping ship when things get rough, even if it might be the wisest course. One of the good things about being back out on the market has been interviewing with the type of small firms that I did not look at during law school. The law school brings in firms for on-campus interviewing (OCI). As you might expect, these tend to be mid-size and larger firms that do regular, yearly recruiting. I got a ton of interviews through the OCI process, so, at the time, never felt the need to look beyond that resource.

During the OCI interviews, I was never very impressed with the mid-sized firms. They had all the drawbacks of the large firms, without several of the advantages. My experience with the mid-sized firms was projected onto smaller firms in general, leaving me with a poor (and undeserved) impression. However, the recent interviewing that I have done has really opened my eyes and made me rethink things drastically. While the recent layoff is almost certainly coloring my thoughts to some extent, I have been really impressed with what I have seen so far and have been focusing my job search toward firms in the 5-25 attorney range.

At those firms I would be getting into court right away, and perhaps even running my own cases in short order. The big firms provide a lot of support of a certain type, but unless you get lucky and land an assignment on the one plumb project that comes down that year, it can also take a loooooong time to get actual trial experience or even get assignments where you are materially involved in the strategic aspects of a case. The small firm will give you that experience out of the gate, with the added motivational incentive of being put into a position where the possibility of spectacular failure is a very real option. (Of course, there is no chance for spectacular victory without the risk of its opposite.)

I think I know now what would be my ideal setup going forward and long-term, should my career stay in the private sector. I may not get that ideal immediately, but it is nice to have a new frame of reference and a renewed goal in mind.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Funny Thing Happened On The Way To World Domination

I got laid off.

Come to think of it, that really isn't that funny.

So there is this joke I (used) to tell about how I was surprised when I got called back for an interview with my (now former) firm (henceforth, "The Firm"). I had been so sure that The Firm wouldn't be that interested in me that I had been completely relaxed during my on-campus 20 minute interview - it was a wash out already, I figured, so I just went into it thinking it would be another good practice session, had a very nice and normal conversation with the recruiter, and then didn't think much more about it. The same was true for the call-back interview in The Firm's office in Chicago - no way they were going to hire some old guy with a ton of public interest/government stuff on his resume, so might as well have fun, enjoy the free lunch and hotel room, and not worry too much about it. The "joke" concludes that perhaps there was some mistake that got me through all the screening steps that should have alerted them that I wasn't "one of them" and that I kept expecting that they would realize their mistake and that I would get a little tap on the shoulder and a nice, burly man in grey to escort me from the building. 

On the morning of Friday, February 27, 2009,  I got the tap on the shoulder - although it was really a call from one of the hiring partners and a very civil meeting in my, at that point soon-to-be-former, office and rather than a security guy to escort me out I was given a week to "transition" all of the current matters I was working on.

But here is the thing about that "joke" - it was almost total bullshit. My way of being self-deprecating about having landed a very nice, very prestigious, and very over-paid job that I felt I was supposed to feel at least a little bit sheepish about. I was a cattle-rancher's son and suburban under-achiever, for crap's sake.
Truth was, though that I loved the job, liked the prestige, and felt like I deserved to be there. I was working beside smart and motivated people from much more impressive sounding schools, but when I looked around I didn't say "crap, I am out of my league," I said "yeah, I think I can take these guys." With the rare exception of a couple of truly mind-blowing legal superstars (and one up and coming superstar), I knew that if I was willing to put my shit down, I could hang. I didn't feel out-matched or out-classed, I felt like I belonged. I still feel that way, although it is a little hard not to internalize The Firm's apparent disagreement on this score.

So, I have been back out on the market for a little over a month. I fully anticipated being out here again at some point. (Even if I had decided that I wanted to shoot for the partnership brass ring, generally less than one in ten junior associates ever make it through to partner at the same firm that they start in.) I just did not expect it to come around so soon.

The gloss had come off The Firm apple a bit in the last six months. There had never been enough work to go around from the day I started back in 2007, but the second half of 2008 was pretty dismal. Work was extremely thin, and I had never landed a substantial assignment in the area of law that I was most interested in. The politics, bureaucracy and day-to-day bs that comes along with any large organization was even more prominent than it would have been had they been working us all to death (as would be usual, and as we had expected when we signed on).

Even still, I had sought out and landed several excellent work experiences - my Seventh Circuit appeal being a particular highlight - and had grown to be very close friends and colleagues with many people at The Firm. While my layoff may still end up being a relatively "good thing" in the end, it would be disingenuous of me to say that I was happy to be laid off, because I most certainly was not. Beyond the financial hit (mitigated by a generous severance package), I continued to be eager to show my stuff. To prove what I knew to be true, that I could hang.