Thursday, September 13, 2007

My Ted Olson Story

I really don’t have much to tell about Ted Olson. I’ve never met the man and I’m unlikely to ever meet him. What I do know is that his wife was killed on 9/11. She was in the plane that crashed into the Pentagon. But, since his name has come up as the next Attorney General, I thought I’d tell my one quasi-interaction with Mr. Ted Olson.

Prior to moving to England, I worked as a paralegal for just over a year. During that time, I worked at a firm called Gibson, Dunn, and Crutcher. (I started at another firm which I’m fairly sure was the devil incarnate. Needless to say, I didn’t last long.) GDC is the sort of typical DC law firm in that it is highly successful, politically connected, and hires people like me (at the time) to fill specific needs on a “temp” basis (although I was offered a very nice permanent position which I rejected). In general, I enjoyed working there because, all things being even, we had a pretty good crew and that made for a nice work environment (even if the majority of the work could be conducted by a well trained chimpanzee).

One thing that these types of DC firms have in common, however, is a distinct lack of space. This is because major (multi-billion dollar) litigations come there way, there are extensive discovery processes. We’re talking hundreds of thousands of documents that have to be reviewed, classified, redacted, and released to the opposition. And then the opposition’s documents have to be reviewed and classified as well. This requires three things: time, bodies (attorneys and paralegals), and space.

During one particularly high stress moment, my direct supervisor collected several of us and took us to the top floor of the firm where there was a large, empty conference room. We needed the space because our work area was a space absolutely crammed with attorneys and paralegals – there were probably 15 people in a room that should have served no more than 5 or 6. This meant that there was literally no possibility of laying out documents on a table or engaging in any type of organized sorting process.

When we arrived to the conference room we were overjoyed as it has ample table space (and a hefty supply of cold soft drinks and hot coffee) and would clearly meet our needs. After spreading out our materials, we got to work.

Probably 5 minutes later a very self-important secretary bustled into the room, oversized business suit swishing back and forth and hurriedly asked in a whiney voice, “Oh my god, what are you doing here?”

My supervisor, who was particularly adept at dealing with the self-important, calmly explained that we were using this space for an hour to process some very important documents and that we had approval from the facility manager.

That was insufficient. “Oh no, that’s impossible,” she moaned. “This is Ted Olson’s room!”

We were taken aback. “What do you mean ‘Ted Olson’s room’” asked my supervisor.

He’s coming to the firm!” she practically shouted at us like we were illiterate chimpanzees incapable of understanding the significance of Mr. Olson’s arrival.

“When? Today?” asked my supervisor, looking at her watch. It was just after 2pm.

“No, next week,” whined the secretary. “But we were told that no one could use this space. It has to stay absolutely spotless so that he is comfortable when he arrives. I can’t believe you didn’t get the memo.”

My supervisor, along with the rest of us, thought this to be ridiculous. Assuming we made a mess and didn’t clean it up, the cleaning staff would have an additional 3 days to return the room to the spotlessness we had found it in.

Tiring of exchanging words with the self-important, my supervisor called the facilities manager to get to the bottom of this. She made her arguments, she exercised logic, she fought the good fight, but at the end, we went back downstairs to our rabbit hole.

Because Ted Olson is coming.

Next week.

And he gets an entire f*cking conference room as his office.


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