We had been working around the clock for weeks on a deal. Well, working isn’t actually the right description for what we were doing. I had been slaving away for weeks. The partner spent that time yelling at me and the paralegal assigned to the deal.
Sometimes the partner yelled because he found mistakes in our work, which I guess I can understand, but mostly he yelled because he saw the two of us as his personal punching bags. And it’s not like his yelling could be construed as constructive criticism. Honestly, the yelling was rarely relevant to our work.
Last week, the partner called the paralegal a moron when he handed him the wrong file even though the paralegal handed him the exact right file a second later. But the partner still replied by insulting the guy’s mother. Okay, bad day, I guess.
Then this week, the partner walked into the conference room we were using. I had been working fourteen-hour days for as long as I can remember. He fired off a question at me, and when I paused two seconds to think of the correct response, he called me a dumb-f**k.
Okay, I know these deals can be stressful, and this was for an important client for our mid-size firm, but it was all going pretty far over the line. What were these ad hominem attacks all about? Where were they coming from? He was known around the office for being a bit cranky, and I know he got divorced in the last six months, but his behavior was ten times worse than people rumored it to be.
Finally, yesterday morning, I walked into the conference room with the partner already there and laying into the paralegal about something the conflict group had made an error on. It was still before 8:00 a.m., and the paralegal looked like he was about to cry. Before I could even sit down (or run out screaming), the partner looked at me and said, “Thanks for joining us today. Cutting it kind of close this morning, aren’t you? We’ve got a conference call in two minutes. Think you can handle that, dummy?”
We walked down the hall to his office, and I thought about standing up for myself (sorry, the paralegal is on his own), but to be honest, I was terrified. For weeks, the only words out of his mouth had been insults, usually spoken at a high volume. Our firm laid off very few people this winter—all from the real estate department—and the company line was they didn’t expect to cut deeper. But I knew that any opportunity to fire someone “for cause” could be one the partner would take if tempted. And I knew that any talkback could lead to him axing me without ever considering everything I did over the last months and all the dedication I had given to this deal. I’m not saying I deserve a pat on the back, but I deserve basic respect.
I kept my mouth shut and followed behind him a little to avoid any need for small talk—or what would have more like been terrible, awkward silence in close proximity. We got to his office and started the call. On the phone, the partner was crazy polite and even referred to me by name to the client. Midway through the call, the client had some concerns that the partner fielded with tact and even a little charm. I took notes. I actually wrote in the margins, “Wow, he’s being so nice.”
But in the last minutes of the call, the client asked a pretty precise question that the partner didn’t immediately have the answer to. Partner looked at me franticly to see if I had a particular document handy. I didn’t.
At that moment, I would have preferred he had just thrown me under the bus. I would have had no problem with that. But instead, he grabbed what was left of his cinnamon raisin bagel with cream cheese and chucked it at me. The bagel hit my jaw. I’m not going to lie, it physically stung a little. The ricochet was the worst part because it left a stain of cream cheese down my shirt. I looked up at the partner, wanting to rage out and punch him until he bled. But he had already moved on without even looking. He talked with the client for the next ten minutes.
When the call was over, the partner looked at my shirt, ignored it and gave me a list of things to follow up on. “You’ve got to anticipate better, dummy.”
I would love to report him, but I’ve resolved it with myself that I’m going to have to just grow a thicker skin. It’s not going to help me to bitch to HR about the partner with the biggest book of business in the firm who already has a manic reputation that no one seems to want to bring to his attention. I need this job. My kid needs me to need this job. And I can take the insults. But the next goddamn bagel that flies and hits me in the head will result in me getting escorted out of the building after whaling on his smug face.