I Loaned a Partner $20

QThis Partner I work with a lot (and really like) borrowed twenty dollars from me last week. He was running late for some dinner meeting and needed a cash for a cab. It’s not a big deal, but it’s been a week and he hasn’t paid me back. Should I ask for the money or just let it go?

AYou spent $150,000 to go to law school and you’re willing to potentially risk your future for 20 bones? Come on, dude, think big. I know it’s annoying and all, but it’s not worth creating an awkward moment for such a small amount of cash. Even if the interaction goes perfectly, and Cheap-Ass Partner apologizes profusely for forgetting about his debt, you’re upside is . . . 20 bucks. (And please, spare me the speech about principles and self-respect and “It’s the right thing to do.” This is business, not freshman year Philosophy!)

On the other hand, if the conversation doesn’t go perfectly, and your polite reminder annoys Cheap-Ass Partner, whammo, you’ve just alienated an important career ally. In this scenario, your downside is . . . who the hell knows? Exclusion from important cases and deals? Average rather than glowing reviews? Passive-aggressive professional interchanges for the rest of your career?

It’s simple. The potential loss here is way, way, way greater than potential profit. So do yourself a favor and do what all the big banks are doing these days—take a charge against your earnings and write off the bad debt.

Next time someone asks for money, just say you’re broke. In case you haven’t noticed yet, lawyers tend to be cheap.

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. BL1Y

    January 16, 2009 at 6:32 am

    Ex-Bitter is right on this one, amigo.  Moreover, what the hell is $20 in the grand scheme of things, two drinks for some hot broad at the bar?  Suck it up and be a (wo)man.

  2. BL1Y

    January 16, 2009 at 7:02 am

    You can tell the previous post isn’t by me (the original BL1Y), because I very rarely buy a girl a drink, and sure as hell wouldn’t spend $10 on one.

  3. chad_broski

    January 16, 2009 at 7:23 am

    This is the dumbest piece of advice I’ve ever heard. Partners are not some type of superhuman entity that need to be coddled and preened, they’re people. If someone owes you 20 bucks, go get your fucking money back. If you don’t have the balls to stand up to some cheap ass partner (who probably just forgot about it and will be embarrassed about forgetting when you remind them), how will you ever have the balls to stand up to some jackass opposing counsel or some crotchety judge? This is an opportunity to show you’re not one of the wilting wallflower giant pussy associates. Go get your fucking money.

  4. Ex-BigLaw

    January 16, 2009 at 7:51 am

    Chad is right.  If you don’t have the stones to ask, you don’t have the stones to make it in this business.

  5. Anonymous

    January 16, 2009 at 8:01 am

    Chad has a lot of pent up testosterone.  Let’s see about getting the $20 back to buy him a blow job.

  6. chad_broski

    January 16, 2009 at 8:17 am

    It’s not pent up testosterone – it’s pent up rage at the idea that asking a partner for the 20 bucks he owes you is somehow a bad one. If I lent someone $20 and forgot about it, and later found out they were too scared to ask for it back, I’d lose respect for them forever. I’d never staff them on a case because I’d figure they’d be too much of a pussy to litigate. I’d put them on doc reviews and research projects, where the pussy litigators belong. Coffee is for closers!

  7. Big Picture Boy

    January 16, 2009 at 8:19 am

    Chad_Broski: ah to be so naive.  must be nice to be so hard ass and tough.  are you a loan shark or a lawyer trying to make partner?  it’s not about standing up for your rights, it’s about makeing a smart, measured decision—analyzing the pros and cons.  in other words, it’s about using judgemnt.  SOMETHING GOOD LAWYERS ARE SUPPOSED TO DO!

  8. chad_broski

    January 16, 2009 at 8:35 am

    Big Pic – you’re so wise. Have fun dwelling in mediocrity forever. If you don’t show some backbone in this gig, you’re dead meat. If anything, asking for the money and getting it back will be a confidence booster for the letter writer. The scenarios laid out by Ex-bitter are entirely implausible … what kind of an inhuman asshole would get mad at someone for asking for their money back, and start giving them poor reviews and excluding them? Nobody is telling the letter writer to be a dick or make it into a big deal – I’m sure a casual, private “remember that 20 bucks you borrowed?” would elicit an “oh shit, I totally forgot about that. Sorry. Here you go.” and not a “how dare you ask me for the money I borrowed from you. The nerve!” Can you really think of anyone who’d get mad about being reminded of a minor debt? How is that a bad career move?

  9. BL1Y

    January 16, 2009 at 8:39 am

    Actually, I can imagine a partner getting upset because an associate asked to be repaid $20.  Most of them wouldn’t, but there are some crazy assholes out there.  Better to find out now before you get stuck working with one for the next 10 years.

  10. BL1Y

    January 16, 2009 at 8:41 am

    @8:38: I’m confused as to where people are getting the idea that I have some sort of harem lying around.  I have a girlfriend.  Or, did I miss a major plot point while I was in the bathroom earlier?

  11. BigW

    January 16, 2009 at 8:52 am

    I don’t think not asking for it back has anything to do with it being a partner.  The guy needed $20 for a cab and you gave it to him.  If you work with the guy a lot like you say, then you’ll get it back eventually.  Anytime you ‘give’ money to another coworker you should look at it as a gift that you’ll probably get back in-kind later.  Don’t go and ask the guy for the $20, the next time you’re out and about, let him buy you the first drink and consider yourself even.  Don’t be goaded into doing something like bugging this guy for $20, they’re just trying to screw with you.

  12. Big Picture Boy

    January 16, 2009 at 8:56 am

    Chad: I diagree.  I think partners at law firms are far more insidious than that.  The mere posing of an embarrassing question can yiled unwanted negative energy from a twisted, pathetic soul (ie, most partners).  Again, I ask: What’s the upside?  Dignity?  Self-respect? 
    You and I will never agree on this one, my friend.  But that’s ok.  And for the record, I’m not saying Cheap Ass Partner’s not a putz, or that the associate isn’t entitled to his 20 bucks.  I’m just saying it’s better to leave it alone.

  13. Alma Federer

    January 16, 2009 at 8:57 am

    Query if the situation were if a female associate borrowed $20 from a male partner?  Would the male partner ask for it back?  (Answer:  yes if he’s cheap and had no interest in the girl; otherwise no.).  The male partner, making a lot more money than the girl, will likely view this as benevolence, without necessarily expecting any quid pro quo.  The d-bag partner, of course, might well hope this advances his interest in the girl, but it would not necessarily result in same.  In any event, the girl, having borrowed the $20 should rapidly repay to avoid even creating the appearance for any future impropriety arising, whether in the partner’s head (upper or lower).  Females must learn to prevent these type of situations from occurring.

  14. chad_broski

    January 16, 2009 at 9:05 am

    Big Pic – that’s fine with me. I don’t think we have enough information to determine whether CAP is a schmuck or a normal human being, and that definitely plays into the analysis for how to ask for it back. I don’t disagree with the other poster who said it will probably come back around at some point. I just vehemently disagree that associates should kowtow to dickheaded partners out of fear for their career. My experience has been that the asshole partners use their intimidation tactics as a test, and those who wilt are those who get passed over, not those who show some fortitude and resolve.

  15. BL1Y

    January 16, 2009 at 9:06 am


  16. BL1Y

    January 16, 2009 at 9:08 am

    Chad: Please provide an example situation you have personally witnessed that illustrates your point.  Thank you.

  17. Big Picture Boy

    January 16, 2009 at 9:20 am

    Chad:  I actually don’t think we’re that far apart. I too cannot stand bully partners and associate ass-kissing.  It is important to stand your ground and create boundaries with these guys.  Being firm and confident engenders respect with this former nerds turned power brokers.

  18. Anonymous

    January 16, 2009 at 9:27 am

    Is BL1Y ticked because Alma wasn’t impressed wth the size of BL1Y’s apparatus?

  19. chad_broski

    January 16, 2009 at 9:31 am

    BL1Y – a particularly dickish partner I used to work with actually told me so. He said that he respected me for standing up to him when he tried to push me around, and that he often puts young associates under fire early to see how they react. If you puss out in front of an intimidating partner, you’ll puss out in front of an intimidating client or opposing counsel. And Big Pic – maybe we aren’t so far apart. It makes my stomach churn when I see these former nerds turned big shooters getting their way with young associate nerds who are too weak to stand firm, and think they’re doing their careers a service by acting like indentured servants.

  20. Anonymous

    January 16, 2009 at 9:32 am

    By the way, Mr. Hump, you may for once be correct.  Here’s a dating website that seems to corroborate your claim, which is fishy in nature.  Hope BL1Y lands a fresh one.

  21. hindsight

    January 16, 2009 at 9:41 am

    this dude’s mistake was lending money in the first place. he should have said the cab was on him and GIVEN the partner $20.  At worst, he blew $20 on nothing, at best he bought a favor and maybe the perception that he is a team player (and avoids the possibility of being stiffed on the loan -and looking weak). If the partner pays it back, it’s gravy.

  22. BL1Y

    January 16, 2009 at 10:16 am

    Dear Impersonator,
    Please stop, you’re wasting my flavor.

  23. BL1Y

    January 16, 2009 at 11:06 am

    For anyone wondering if there was a shtick lamer than mine, BL1Y impersonator has found it.

  24. Lady of Law

    January 16, 2009 at 11:37 am

    chad_broski and Big Picture Boy (who calls themselves a “boy” though?), hug it out already.  Total bros now.  What sucks is that if the advice asker is a woman, the only way she could recoup without detriment would be to use her charming feminine wiles if (IF!) she’s somewhat attractive.  If a female lawyer looks like how most of you assume that I do (moose!), then asking for her $20 back makes her a feminist battle axe.  Even more reason to stick with the advice and let it go.

  25. chad_broski

    January 16, 2009 at 12:00 pm

    We totally hugged it out. Now it’s on to you … the gender, race, creed, or bra size of the lender doesn’t matter. If you lend someone $20 and they forget to repay you, it is in no way out of line to ask for it back politely. Yes, there are all sorts of ways to be a giant douche about it – making a big deal out of it, doing it in front of other people, doing it over email, etc. The letter writer could be some giant whale with bad teeth and horrible breath, and s/he’s still entitled to get their money back. This isn’t that delicate of a situation – it’s not like the LW lent a murder weapon to the partner. It’s 20 freaking bucks. If they don’t have the stones (or ovaries) to ask for it back, they deserve to lose it.

  26. Lady of Law

    January 16, 2009 at 12:18 pm

    As far as I’m concerned, Chad, you sort of made my point.  It’s $20.  You won’t miss your mortgage without it.  Of course you deserve any money that’s rightfully yours.  But it’s not about whether you have “the stones” to ask for it, it’s about if you want to look like a person that obsesses over $20.  If the amount were greater, I’m sure Ex-Bitter would have said, “Hell yes.  Just politely ask.” But when it’s $20, it’s not about calling someone out to get what you deserve or making a point of standing up for yourself – it’s about whether you want to look like a person that would hound a co-worker (partner or otherwise) for a one-time, nominal debt.  And while that simply makes a man look like a cheap bastard, to some, it would make a woman look like a feminist nazi.  Hate to tell you this, but gender matters.  With everything.

  27. chad_broski

    January 16, 2009 at 12:33 pm

    Lady – yes, for most lawyers, $20 is a nominal debt that will not cause them to go into the poor house. Lots of people would just forget about it, and that’s fine. But the letter writer obviously wants it back, or else they wouldn’t have written the letter. I only responded to this in the first place because of the terrible advice given by Ex-Bitter. If you want your money back, there are tactful ways to go about it, and only the biggest asshole on the planet would think you were “cheap” or a “feminist nazi” for asking for it. Of course the manner in which you ask will have great impact on the partner’s impression of you. My original point was that it was totally ridiculous for Ex-Bitter to assume that a partner would blackball an associate for asking for their $20 back. I am fully aware of gender issues in the workplace, but I can’t think of any way this impacts gender issues unless you force it, which I think you’re kind of doing.

  28. BL1Y

    January 16, 2009 at 12:41 pm

    “If you want your money back, there are tactful ways to go about it, and only the biggest asshole on the planet would think you were “cheap” or a “feminist nazi” for asking for it.” Yeah, too bad the biggest assholes on the planet work in law firms.

  29. chad_broski

    January 16, 2009 at 1:27 pm

    “Yeah, too bad the biggest assholes on the planet work in law firms.” True, but if I worked closely with someone who blackballed me because I asked for my $20 back, I’d be out the door quicker than you could say Tobias Fünke.

  30. BL1Y

    January 16, 2009 at 1:53 pm

    I think the more likely outcome would be a passive aggressive jerk.  “Look out!  Don’t anyone borrow money from this guy, he’ll sick the repo men on you!”

  31. Anonymous

    January 16, 2009 at 2:43 pm

    Women can afford not to ask for it back, because men are constantly paying for their drinks, etc. etc.  So if the cow or moose is down $20 on this transaction, so what, she is still up hundreds by my count.  I say more power to the douche that took the $20 from her!

  32. Senior Associate

    January 16, 2009 at 2:44 pm

    Why don’t you just ask the Partner if he/she wants to go to lunch?  When the check comes, he/she will probably pick it up or remember that he/she owed you the money.

  33. BL1Y

    January 16, 2009 at 3:32 pm

    Most partners are cheep, unless there’s a client to take to lunch, in which case the firm pays for it.  In my firm, my partner wanted to have me reimburse him for the chicklets I was going to buy myself at the stationary store after lunch, when he asked to go in to use the bathroom after lunch.

  34. Shelly

    January 16, 2009 at 3:37 pm

    good advice

  35. BL1Y

    January 17, 2009 at 6:30 am

    If you’re going to impersonate me, at least say something funny.

  36. SDL20

    January 17, 2009 at 8:36 pm

    get over the $20, douche

  37. BL1Y

    January 20, 2009 at 10:22 am

    Stop impersonating me!!!!  WAHHHHH!!!

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