I Work With a Foul-Mouthed Litigator


QI’m a fairly new associate at a large firm. For now I do a decent amount of motion and litigation work, which I like. I’m not a natural litigator but I find it interesting, engaging, and challenging. The problem is with a much more senior associate who cannot stop cursing, calling people names, and going out of his way to insult opposing counsel (though not to counsel personally). I’m talking pretty bad stuff, and frequently said. I’m not a prude, but I generally don’t like off-color language in the office or even at home. Should I say something to him and risk being labeled the office prude? Should I address it to a partner? I can deal with the whole macho atmosphere that pervades a lot of litigation, but the incessant cursing and bad-mouthing of others is a complete downer. Advice?

AI like the use of “off-color.” Makes me think you’re originally from the South or maybe Texas. Or you’ve read some Edith Wharton. Yes, address it to the foul-mouthed associate, especially if it matters to you. But be direct and firm and generally only immediately in response to something he just said. That will usually fix it, though I’m sure he’ll go off into a corner somewhere and tell his pals how some bit–umm, young female associate—can’t handle the pressure of a big law firm. But, so what? It’s your work that matters.

Honestly, this guy lacks a critical lawyering skill known as discretion. Sure, it’s one thing to slip an asshole into the conversation now and then, but to be so pervasive about it reveals that he’s got nothing else in his lawyering bag except crass. My bet is that his work product and work habits are not up to snuff and he covers it with his big boy words. It’s also possible—given the weird aura of acceptable bad behavior associated with litigators—that no one has called him on it. And, if it’s as bad as you say, there are probably plenty of folks in the office like you who wish someone would take him to task. Maybe that should be you.

But don’t address it to a partner, at least not unless it’s so bad as to be hostile or you’ve already done what you can do to make it stop, at least in your presence. You’ll just come across as a whiny crybaby who couldn’t stand up for herself. And then you’ll be moved into municipal bond work.

(Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/36961634@N00/1387413369)

Ex-Bitter is a former big firm lawyer who now doles out advice to anyone who asks. Got a question? Email it to advice@bitterlawyer.com. Or read more Advice from an Ex-Bitter.

1 Comment

  1. Guano Dubango

    November 18, 2011 at 11:32 am

    I agree with this answer. Men should be discerning, especially around the ladies. It is one thing if you are with the guys, in the locker room, but another if you are working in a professional setting with the ladies.

    I have always prided myself as being very discerning and reserved with the ladies as it has always benefited me. I suggest this dude do the same.

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