I Love BigLaw, But I Hate My Prestige-Whore Partner


QI work at a prominent white-shoe firm in Manhattan. Unlike most people, I actually like being a lawyer. I work long hours, but really enjoy it. Crazy, I know.

The thing that’s driving me crazy, however, is the intra-firm snobbery. In particular, there’s one Harvard/Harvard partner (Robert) who always refers to me as his “second-tier project.” It was kind of cute the first time he said it. Not so cute the second time. And really f#@king annoying the tenth, eleventh, fifteenth time.

I don’t mind working for Robert, but I can’t stand his constant, not-so-funny shtick. So, my question is: Should I tell him I don’t like being referred to as his “second-tier project?” If I do, will he still work with me? Will he ruin my reputation? Please advise. For the record, I went to George Washington, graduated top 5% and was on law review.

AThe most amazing thing is that you don’t mind working for this elitist, unfunny, condescending, insecure tool.  You’re either incredibly understanding or suffer from abused-associate syndrome.

Anyway, the answer is YES. You absolutely should tell Robert that you don’t love the “second-tier project” joke. You have two choices:

  1. Next time Robert does his thing, come back at him with a sarcastic response that makes him look like the dick he is. As in: “Oh my God, Robert, you totally busted me.  I keep telling people I went to Yale. I wonder if anyone will ever work with me because I only went to GW and was on Law Review.” Or something like that.
  2. Talk to him in private and explain, calmly but firmly, that his constant joking about your credentials is demeaning and that you’re worried it might negatively impact your career.

Whether or not he wants to work with you again is irrelevant. Taking care of yourself—and your dignity—is way more important. Good luck, and don’t let this jackass kill your BigLaw buzz.

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.

23 Comments

  1. BL1Y

    February 25, 2010 at 9:21 am

    Definitely should talk to him about it and tell him it’s inappropriate to make jokes about your school.  And when you’re done with that talk, go ahead and apply for unemployment benefits.  Or, you could just ignore the comments, he’ll eventually tire of it.  He’s prodding you to see what kind of person you are.  Do you let little things bother you, or do you let them roll right off?

  2. Alma Federer

    February 25, 2010 at 9:24 am

    I was not from a Harvard either, but I was on the student counsel at my law school and I did write a paper that was published.  As a result, I know I am not the smartest woman in my firm but I am the hardest working.  My managing partner loves that I can handle my clients and they always respect me.  I know people from Harvard, and they are not all smart.  Tell this guy that he if he was not president of the Law Review, or even on Law Review that he is a loser.  That should shut him up.  Also, make sure he knows that you view this as harassment if he keeps it up.

  3. Smurf

    February 25, 2010 at 9:25 am

    Horrible advice, especially option 2 – then you’ll just be the humorless second tier tight-ass who can’t take a joke.  Option 1 would be satisfying (“Good morning, first tier snob”) and might even work, but it’s risky and could easily backfire.  It all depends on your delivery and the relationship you have with the partner. Another option would be to embrace the reference.  For example, next time you get praise (if in fact you do get praise); say something like, “not bad for a second tier project.” Self-deprecating humor can be a very effective technique.

  4. Cosmo Kramer

    February 25, 2010 at 9:28 am

    Just tell him you slept with his wife!

  5. Craig

    February 25, 2010 at 9:58 am

    Probably the worst advice Ex-Bitter has given out thus far.  Definitely do not try to one up him making him look like a jackass.  And it is really a relatively harmless comment, so there is no need to have a serious conversation explaining that you don’t appreciate it.  It will just make you come off bad.  My advice would be to buy into the nickname, call yourself that.  Or maybe change it around a little.  Call yourself tier two once, or just the project, for a little.  After a short time the name will keep morphing (by your own doing) and he will stop calling you that, because you are playing out your own nickname. The key is to have it go away naturally.  There is no other way.

  6. BL1Y

    February 25, 2010 at 10:17 am

    USNews actually doesn’t list any schools as T1 or T2.  The have 1-100, T3 and T4.  Maybe I’ve misunderstood where the cutoffs are, but I’ve always assumed T1 was 1-50 and T2 was 51-100, which would make George Washington (#28) a T1 school.

  7. BL1Y

    February 25, 2010 at 10:20 am

    My bad.  When you search by tiers it gives 1-100, T3 and T4, but when you pull up an individual 1-100 school it does list that school’s tier.  George Washington is T1, not T2.  http://grad-schools.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-law-schools/rankings/c_final_tier+1/title+George Washington

  8. Real Rankings

    February 25, 2010 at 10:51 am

    Tier 1 is HYS.  Tier 2 is Chicago, NYU, Columbia, Duke, and Berkeley.  The remaining schools of the top 14 are T3.  The remaining schools of the top 50 are T4.  The rest are not worth discussing.

  9. BL1Y

    February 25, 2010 at 10:55 am

    I went to a top 5 school and I’m not even that big of asshole about rankings.  If this guy does decide to go with the smart backtalk, I suggest a hearty “CHECK YOU USNEWS AND WORLD REPORT.”

  10. R Smith

    February 25, 2010 at 11:15 am

    Craig’s advice is on the money.  No up side in alienating this guy and being cast as the whiny associate so insecure he can’t take a joke. Better to mention the guy to another partner and innocently ask “wasn’t Robert editor of the Law Review at Harvard?” They will doubtless know he was not and correct you and you can simply say “Oh I got the impression he was”. They’ll probably then snicker to other partners and presto-with little risk on your part, he’ll be teased and probably shut up. If the other partners aren’t sure, they’ll check. Either way, they’ll do your work for you. You’ll just like like an angelic associate impressed with the partner.

  11. Anon

    February 25, 2010 at 11:28 am

    BL1Y: yeah, dude, that’s important.  maybe she should correct him on the technicality– excuse my, Sir, but technically, gw is tier 1.  just like harvard. 
    ps – i agree with the advice.  if someone continues to mock you and it’s insulting, let them know it’s uncool.  if you don’t, you’re a pussy.  which is why i guess all you tools think it’s best to shut up and take it.

  12. Bitter Overseas

    February 25, 2010 at 11:59 am

    I actually agree – somewhat – with the advice by the columnist. I think you’ve probably reached a point where you have to call the partner out, in some way or other. You can’t see continuing the way you are as a viable future. How you do that is almost entirely comprised of your personality, the prevailing circumstances, and even how much the tag really bothers you. But you have to flow too, my example is a little extreme: at my own company, a large conglomerate where I’ve been in-house about a year, someone no less than the CEO gets a kick, has always gotten a kick, about baiting me on certain religious/social norms I observe and adhere to. He’s even (and more than once) deliberately segued large meetings- with other managers/lawyers there- into mixing it up with me on my beliefs and convictions, baiting me, talking and mocking. And all these other folk usually sit around with these sappy smiles because they are both embarrassed and somewhat afraid of the CEO, with me on the hotseat. What happened was, in the middle of the second time this happened, on its own really – I started responding to the jibes, just a little at first, getting in a few tags of my own, and defending my own views, challenging his. Keeping it professional but making it clear I’d enjoy the ideological dust-up. Crowd laughs, gets into it! Half a hour goes by with this important meeting having zero resolved. You see, no one dares to re-sidetrack the CEO into business. But I gained a few fans of my own, and CEO and I now have this begrudging respect thing going (but he probably thinks I’m a dork for all I know). Basically, now, he still starts up with me occasionally, but he knows he had better come prepared. Anyway, that’s my rant, that’s what happened with me, for all I know such a response from you could get you fired. But do something, you’re a person not a prop.

  13. Hannah Palindrome hearts Ari Gold

    February 25, 2010 at 12:08 pm

    You’re a fucking lawyer! Grow some balls and tell him!

    Why are you asking for advice on here? Why don’t you ask him if you can take a shit! No sympathy!

  14. Guano Dubango

    February 25, 2010 at 1:50 pm

    I think this Hannah Palindrome would be a lioness in the sack; however, I would have to check my own package afterward to make sure she didn’t steal it.  I always appreciate a forthright woman.  With me it is quite the opposite of others who only let women be seen and not heard.  Hannah Palindrome, will you date me?

  15. Seniorpartner

    February 25, 2010 at 1:59 pm

    Face it–if you work for some snob factory in NYC, you ARE Tier 2 . . . infinity.  You will NEVER rate like Mr. White Shoes.  Suck it up.  You’re his punk.
    You could:

    (a) mention to Mr. Dickshoes that you’re an NRA member and very proficient with a handgun,

    (b) come from a southern family where an insult is grounds for a duel, and

    (c) any pussy who doesn’t pack at the office deserves what they get.
    Like Clint said in Unforgiven, when they mentioned he’d just shot an unarmed man–“He should have armed himself.”
    Problem solved!

  16. Anom

    February 25, 2010 at 3:03 pm

    I bet this jerk wears suspenders and lives in a real yuppy area.  Get some back bone and do not be his bitch anymore.  When you say something, just make sure the two of you are alone.  Use some humor. Give him a tiny mascot of your school with a note attached of the schools ranking with a bottle of cheap wine.

  17. Anonymous

    February 25, 2010 at 4:52 pm

    Just throw it back in his face.  Ask him what sort of firm it is for engaging tier two graduates.

  18. Bill Dugan

    February 25, 2010 at 7:07 pm

    This writer has no cohones if he doesn’t stand up to the partner.  Ask the Harvard partner when he stopped being a fudgepacker.  If that doesn’t stop it cold, repeat it in front of another partner.  That ought to do the trick.

  19. Schadenfreude

    February 26, 2010 at 7:46 am

    BL1Y – from the all-knowing-all-seeing interwebs, most people consider T1 to be the top 15 schools. Makes no sense to me personally, and I think that prestige whores in general can’t see the forrest for the trees, but hey, this is America dammit! We’re the country that doesn’t like the metric system either because dividing by 10 would be WAY too logical.

  20. BL1Y

    February 26, 2010 at 7:52 am

    “I guess we can’t all be as fortunate as you, to get to spend the fall listening to the Whiffenpoofs while we tailgate before cheering on Eli and the Dogs.  …Oh….Riiiight.  Well, Harvard’s a good school too.”

  21. Lawstud

    February 26, 2010 at 9:36 am

    Come on you need to say something to him. It’s not easy but needs to be said.

  22. StaggeringGenius

    February 28, 2010 at 10:48 pm

    This problem may resolve itself regardless of what the associate does or doesn’t say to the partner.  If the partner happens to read this blog post, he will no doubt recognize this “really f#@king annoying” partner, who has been identified by his first name, as himself.  And I’m sure that will go over wonderfully for the associate.

  23. Juniorpartner

    March 4, 2010 at 10:28 am

    George Washington?  Isn’t that in Missouri or Arkansas or someplace like that?
    It will take you a while to live down being from the Midwest.
    Law Review–you mean you can accurately check legal citations in mindless swill written by law professors?
    BFD!

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