Georgia Bar Journal
GSB Vol. 13, NO. 6, Pg. 54.
How I Became a Bond Lawyer, A Memoir
GSB JournalVol. 13, NO. 6April 2007How I Became a Bond Lawyer, A MemoirJames P. MonacellIn 1976, I took my second air flight: Charlottesville to Atlanta. A law student, I would interview with one of the silk-stocking law firms that was looking for new blood in their banking practice. On the first trip, at the invitation of a different firm, I had worn my interview suit and been thoroughly uncomfortable in the cramped cabin of the Piedmont Turboprop. This time I wore faded corduroys, an orange pointy-collared shirt of that disco age, and a lumberjack jacket. The pinstripes waited in my checked bag.
The first interview trip had kept me tense. Unfamiliar airports and cabs, overly lavish accommodations, unfamiliar tipping rituals, and an onslaught of carefully-coiffed, lizard-belted attorneys. But the interviewers, apparently impressed with my University of Virginia credentials, mainly wanted to talk about themselves, I learned, sell their sumptuous firm and enjoy the outrageously chic meals that I was taken to. Now I knew how the whole interview routine worked. I would know to tell the taxi driver that the law firm was just down Peachtree St. and that I did not want to be taken for another circuitous fare. I could handle it all. It would be fun.
Waiting by the baggage carousel in old Hartsfield, I was feeling like a potential lord of industry. Everyone else's suitcase appeared, and a worry began to grow. Then the damn carousel stopped! My bag was nowhere. I found the baggage office. My suitcase had not made it on the plane in time, so they had transshipped it through Memphis. Leave my name and hotel and they would locate and deliver it in "no time." But in time for my pre-interview dinner? I slunk away to look for a cab.
I considered myself a resourceful guy. I had aced Constitutional Law and was a master at chess problems; I could handle this. It occurred to me that I might buy clothes on my Visa card before dinner. But where would I go in Atlanta, and could I afford it? Short as I was, any suit would need alterations. The airline guy had said I should not have to wait long for my stuff. I had several hours before having to meet my hosts and would, like a good chess player in an uncertain situation, "sit on my hands." Time passed with no word, until I felt compelled to act. I found a huge phone book. Muses, Davisons, Rich's-names and addresses that meant nothing to me. I went downstairs and scanned Marietta St. The Omni was an island amidst bleak warehouses and dingy storefronts. I had waited too long, I realized; I had no time to venture farther. It was Sunday. I could not call the firm. I resolved to meet the dinner interviewers with a big smile and a story of a lost bag that would have them chuckling and recounting my resiliency.
I was to meet them in the hotel lobby. As I entered the elegant oval space in my disco-lumberjack outfit, getting sidewise stares from the well-dressed clientele, my positive attitude ebbed. Presumably the attorneys would be looking for an archetypical Virginia man, known for his blue blazer, rep tie and Bass Weejuns. I cautiously circled the lobby, eyeing everyone in a suit, looking for the tell-tale signs of Atlanta lawyerdom: round "Harvard" glasses, tassel loafers, button-down collars. It proved not that simple, and after approaching a couple of prospects and being met with strained glares, I decided to take a wait-and-see approach. Eventually I saw two perplexed young men across the lobby who would glance at me and then huddle as if to say "That couldn't be him, could it?" I planted the planned smile on my face and approached. I intended to chirp "Are you looking for a well-dressed law student?" but my jauntiness faded as I crossed the room to distressed looks from the pair. I croaked "Excuse me, are you meeting Jim Monacell?" They may not have recoiled, but they at least blanched. I blurted on about the late bag and the uncomfortable airplane, and threw in an offer to pass on dinner or go buy clothes if it presented a problem. They said it was okay. They had reservations at Bernards and they were not going to miss the experience.
Bernards, I learned in the car, was then the place to eat in Atlanta. The irrepressible chef from Nicolai's Roof had tired of touristy Russian cuisine and opened his own spot, only 10 tables, in a strip shopping center on Howell Mill Road. The storefront we approached had a doorbell beside a solid door and a "reservations only" card. As we approached I imagined Bernard sizing me up and blocking my way. But we were admitted as the first guests of the night. I hoped the maitre-d would offer me a spare tie or suitcoat, hopefully something that would blend with an orange shirt, but he avoided eye contact and we were escorted to the least conspicuous booth. A senior partner from the firm -at three to one, they either liked my grades or...