La Satira News Service
Washington, DC—In a little restaurant off D Street, Erik Praten takes orders, chats with customers, and delivers food to tables. Like so many of his peers, Praten finds “waiter” to be a description, not only of his job, but also of himself.
“This obviously isn’t something I want to do for the rest of my life,” says Praten, taking advantage of a work break to leaf through an analysis of Kelo v City of New London while sipping a latte. “I’m just waiting for my big break.”
Praten is one of thousands of other recently-graduated law students who come to Washington every year seeking a glamorous career in the legal profession. Rather than returning to his native Rostovondon, Kansas, after college, or even moving to one of the larger cities to practice law there, Praten moved here to gain the inside track into legal stardom.
“This is where it all happens,” Praten says. “Well, not ‘here’ specifically, as in this restaurant, but here in DC. This is where the Supreme Court is; this is where laws are written. If you want to work in the big time, if you really want to be a star, this is where you come. A lot of my fellow students, when they graduated, decided to start work at the bottom, becoming junior members in small law firms. That’s okay for them, but I know there’s something better in store for me.”
“I thought my big break had arrived earlier this year, with a liability case involving bismuth exposure; but that went over like a lead balloon. In fact a lead balloon would have had a better chance of passing as a liability case. But I’m confident, I’ll get there in the end.”
Later that evening, Praten is at one of his other jobs, busking for tips in a Metro station. Instead of playing an instrument or singing, though, Praten recites testimony and arguments from recent court cases.
“Oh, is that what he’s doing?” said one on-looker when asked about Mr. Praten’s performance. “That’s a relief. At first I thought he was talking on a cell phone; then when I walked past I noticed he didn’t have one. That was very worrying.”
Praten admits his efforts here have not been as remunerative has he might like. In a way, though, tips are a secondary consideration: the main goal is to get noticed. “It’s only a matter of time before some legal bigwig sees me and I can impress them firsthand with the quality of my research and analysis.”
Visibility may not be enough: the competition for jobs is so tremendous many would-be lawyers hire agents to push their talents at legal firms. Such agencies typically work on commission, taking up to fifteen percent of the lawyer’s salary for the duration that the lawyer is represented. “Fifteen percent is obviously higher than a lot of agency commissions,” admits John Q. Public, the head of one such agency. “But you have to remember, in this town the competition is fierce, the cost of living is high, and a lot of starting salaries are still pretty low. Plus, you have to remember who our clients are. Have you ever tried to work out a contract when the other party is a lawyer? There’s a lot of extra rigor involved.”
Besides the growth in the number of legal talent agencies, the influx of new talent is driving other structural changes. Some of the larger legal firms have started hosting talent nights, inviting amateurs and beginners to put their debating skills on display in coffee shops, small theaters, and other venues, for live audiences. Reaction from said audiences has been somewhat mixed. “I guess it’s an acquired taste,” said Dierdre Lawhead, a barista at a local Megabux Coffee franchise. “It’s not what I’d call entertaining, but I guess it’s better than reading the comments at the end of online news articles. Still, I have to admit hosting these things has improved sales of our Ultracaffeinated line of products.”
Praten has yet to participate in one of these talent nights. “The waiting list to participate in one of these things is enormous,” he said. “It’s really a matter of luck.”
Meanwhile, Praten continues to change his address as his personal economy dictates, often crashing with friends at their apartments or sleeping in his car–an especially challenging approach to life, given Washington’s reputation for quirky parking rules. “Every now and then I wake up in the impound lot,” Praten admits. “But it’s only a matter of time before I make it big. Life’s like a court case, you know; you have to write your own verdict. Before you know it I’ll be the talk of the town. You won’t be able to get me off Court TV. You’ll see my picture in magazines like Persons and Them. Even appearing in a tabloid like National Litigator wouldn’t be altogether bad.”
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