I Eat Lunch with the Secretaries


QI’m a midlevel associate at a big firm, thankfully not on the East Coast. Despite the tendencies of others around me, I consider myself pretty egalitarian. I abhor elitism and am finding out quickly I’m not often in the same company of people. One thing I do is eat lunch with the secretaries at the firm, in the pretty nondescript and boring break room. I enjoy it, loosen up a bit, and find myself gaining points with the support staff. But at least one partner and a few of my associate friends think it’s unbecoming, one even saying that I’m “suiciding” my upward movement at the firm. Thoughts?


AWait. You abhor elitism and you are at a big firm? Presumably (but not necessarily) you were an elite student in college, an elite student in law school, and now an elite lawyer among lawyers. And it’s now that you’re “finding out quickly I’m not often in the same company of people?” Wow. Where have you been? Did you hang out only with the janitors at law school? Did you slum around with the fourth quartile students? Let me guess. You sing Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” under your breath while researching the latest in securities law.

Abhoring elitism at a big firm is like abhoring the killing of animals but loving the hunt. But to each her own, I guess. Maybe that explains your odd rip on East Coast firms.

Here’s the deal. Eat with the secretaries. No one cares, and no one should (though it was less so in my day where there were separate lunch rooms for staff and for attorneys, and even a rumored “club room” for partners on an upper floor). But here are some things to consider. If any of these are true, stop eating in the break room and start going out to lunch with the partners and associates or, better yet, eating a tuna and rye at your desk while you work:

  • You consciously think you are “one with the people;”
  • You see it as a chance to get favorable treatment from the secretaries, a quid pro quo kinda deal;
  • You’d rather be a secretary; or
  • You think about it too much.

If you eat lunch with the secretaries at all (and that’s your choice), it has to be genuine, not some “back to nature” program where you think you are mixing with the commoners. But just make a choice and move on, taking what comes from it, even if it’s (unlikely) “suiciding” your chances at moving up.

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cuttlefish/5036215317/)

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.

6 Comments

  1. Strenuous Objector

    June 17, 2011 at 7:43 am

    Do the secretaries determine if you’re partner? No. Do they matter? Not really. I’d look after only my secretary out of personal need and no one else. Lunch is smoozing time, not snoozing time. If you don’t like that, then get out of the arena and into the public defenders office where you can have lunch with stenographers.

  2. Alma Federer

    June 17, 2011 at 9:47 am

    I think this is great, but I know a guy who did this just so that he could be close to a specific secretary. It’s a low-hanging fruit ploy with that guy, and she wound up getting preggo from him, and then had to leave the firm. So I would worry about the bona fides of any guy who hangs out with secretaries, unless all of them were over 55 and unattractive. This is most likely not the case, like in my case, where the secretary was a doe-eyed 22 year old who was very impressed with the young associate. But I’ll bet she was not banking on him deserting her after she got preggo! Fooey on these type of phony men! Fooey!

  3. Texas Lawyer

    June 17, 2011 at 10:27 am

    I married one of our secretaries. It was quite the scandal. We left that big firm and are now much happier.

  4. Hoosierstormcat

    June 17, 2011 at 3:50 pm

    It’s probably not something I’d recommend doing. In my firm, partners not only expect you to keep staff at arms-length, but there is also tremendous pressure to use lunchtime wisely. Eating in-house is not forbidden, but my partners would much rather see me out lunching with A-clients, referral sources, and prospective clients.

    But I guess if you enjoy it, I hate to tell you that you can’t. But there is some merit to what your colleagues are telling you. Whether that’s fair or not . . . well, it doesn’t really matter.

  5. mean partner

    June 18, 2011 at 2:13 am

    What an idiot. Where do the partners eat? where do the senior associates eat? yeah, go ahead a score points with the secretaries and paralegals. hope it helps at review time. “he is well liked by the secretaries.” yeah, that’s a winner. the only time you eat with staff is in bed on a nooner. smart associates have plenty of room to make partner if the competition is this clueless. even alma knows better.

  6. Guano Dubango

    June 18, 2011 at 7:24 am

    I think that I could eat with the secretaries, but I now have a different routine. I usually go for a walk at lunch and get a little exercise at the same time. I also shower at the gym before returning to work so that I will be fresh and ready for the afternoon. This is a good way to make sure the secretaries know I am clean.

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