I Told a Partner to “F Off”

Q Okay, so I think I just ruined my career. In short, I told a partner to “F*** off.” Yes, I actually used the F-word.

To make a long story short, Douchebag Partner (hereafter referred to as “DBP”), told me to draft a Promissory Note (a small part of a much larger transaction) and send it off to the client for his approval.  DBP gave me all the specific details—terms, interest rate, etc… He also gave me “the perfect precedent” to use.  In other words, all I had to do was fill in the blanks, make a few simple, conforming changes, and send it to the client.  And that’s what I did.  Unfortunately, DBP gave me the wrong terms. The principal amount was 86 million, not 76 million. The client got pissed and sent DBP a bitchy email. So DBP threw me under the bus and blamed the mistake on the new, careless associate.  Me. To cover his lie, he stormed into my office and yelled at me so everyone could hear how reckless and negligent I am. Before I could defend myself, he just walked away, muttering under his breath, “Practicing law requires focus and dedication.”

So I sat in my office for a few minutes. Be calm. Don’t go crazy. Don’t do anything stupid. You’re a third-year associate. You have a good reputation. The job market sucks. You’re getting married in five months. But it didn’t work! I rushed out of my office, hurried down the hall…and barged into DBP’s office and told him he was out of line for yelling at me—and blaming me for the mistake in the first place. It was his fault. Not mine. He gave me the terms. I didn’t make them up. DBP’s face reddened, his neck stiffened, and he started insulting me all over the place. He said I had a bad attitude, I was arrogant, I’m not as smart as I think I am.

I was stunned. He made the mistake, but I was suddenly the asshole. So I told him to go f*** himself and walked out the door.

Since then, we’ve had minimal face-to-face contact. I’m still working on the deal, but the assignments are now delivered to me via email or through a senior associate who’s also working on the deal. It’s now been three days since the blow up, and I’m worried I just destroyed my career. Any advice?

A First, let me say that I applaud your ballsy-ness. Congratulations! It takes guts to tell a partner to f*** off. It’s much easier to bite your lip, say nothing, smash a coffee mug, yell at your girlfriend, eat a bacon cheeseburger. And pretend Asshole Partner never humiliated you in the first place. But that doesn’t mean it’s smart.

It’s like that scene in Goodfellas where “Spider” (a young Michael Imperioli) finally tells Joe Pesci to go f*** himself. Deniro laughs, applauds Spider for having big balls, throws a bunch of cash at him, then Pesci shoots Spider twice in the chest.

It feels good to say “F you” to an unfair, unkind bully, but sometimes it gets you killed. In your particular case, if DBP is, in fact, a powerful partner—if he has a good reputation, brings in lots of business, etc., you might be in trouble. There may be no way of fixing the problem, unless, of course, DBP is far less douche-y than you suggest and realizes he was out of line, forgives and forgets. The odds of that happening, however, are close to zero. If, on the other hand, DBP is a putz and everyone knows he’s a putz, you might be okay.

Either way, here’s my advice. Go to DBP’s office and apologize for your outburst. Tell him that you were out of line and you’re sorry. You’ve been working hard, you’re under lots of stress, have lots of personal issues going on, etc… It sucks, I know, but you have to do it.  After that, talk to the most powerful partner you know and explain to him what happened. In other words, get out in front of the problem.

If DBP is powerful, be very careful about calling him a liar. Be respectful and deferential, but explain your point of view and apologize for the mistake. If DBP is a putz, you can be a little more negative in your characterization of the events leading up to the F-bomb.

The only other thing that matters here is YOUR reputation. If you’re smart, bill lots of hours and play well with others, your odds of recovery are much greater. Next time, just smash a coffee mug or eat a bacon cheeseburger. It makes life a lot easier. Good luck!

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.

24 Comments

  1. Steve...

    June 7, 2010 at 10:14 am

    Bad advice…don’t be a pussy…F*%# that dude, go make cheeseburgers and hang on to your pride.  At least you’ll be able to sleep at night and still screw like a man.  Cave in and you will always feel like a putz.

  2. Big Jim

    June 7, 2010 at 10:46 am

    Disagree with Steve–If you want to keep your job or make partner, that is.  No way around it, dude.  You have to swallow your pride.  If you don’t give a shit and want to leave, I agree with Steve.  In that case, kick his ass too!  it doesn’t matter.

  3. Steve

    June 7, 2010 at 10:57 am

    It’s really a matter of what you’re willing to live with…I dropped the F-bomb on my last employer and left him holding the bag.  I just got tired of working for unethical morons.  Ended out having to hang a shingle and am doing P.I.’s and crim defense.  Is it a success story ala lifetime channel..? no.  Living hand to mouth.  However, I sleep like a baby and feel pretty good about who I am and what I do.  If you’re o.k. sucking it up then by all means do so.  But know that there is life after the big law B.S.  As a plus, my 70 hour work weeks now hover around 50 +/-

  4. BL1Y

    June 7, 2010 at 11:08 am

    One of the best traits an attorney can have is the ability to recognize when he’s right and fight back against bullshit arguments.  Maybe the partner will recognize that and respect you for it.  Just kidding!  Partners are petty, egotistical, vindictive assholes who care only about keeping clients happy and billing big hours.  You sir, are fucked.

  5. R Smith

    June 7, 2010 at 11:19 am

    He was way out of line in yelling, and he has to know it. But SRD–“shit rolls downhill.” So apologize for your intemperate outburst if you want to keep your job: someone has to end this standoff and its not going to be him. Work some weekends and redeem yourself (yes, yes, I know you don’t think you did anything wrong-but you did–NEVER send anything to a client without the partner approving it.). With email, there is no excuse not to have shot the final by him even a few hours before it was sent to the client.  If you had you’d be way better off right now.  If you can’t see the reason you screwed up, you’re naive and won’t last there or anywhere else.

  6. Anon

    June 7, 2010 at 12:32 pm

    Don’t fight battles you can’t win.

  7. Magic Circle Jerk

    June 7, 2010 at 1:00 pm

    Screw these pussies.  You’ve already Lathamed yourself, so you might as well go out like a man. Take a shit in his desk, give his wife his gf’s phone…. let the real fun begin.

  8. Fired Lawyer

    June 7, 2010 at 7:01 pm

    There’s two things to consider here.  First, whether your job is screwed or not.  To be honest, that moron of a partner will never forgive your comments, even if on the surface it looks like your apology is accepted.  By treating you that way in the first place, he has indicated that he is an asshole, and he’ll use you until you become too expensive or until he finds a younger, newer, cheaper attorney to do your job, then he’ll fire you.  In my experience, asshole partners never change, and your days are numbered no matter what you do.
    Second, man up and get out of that toxic environment as soon as possible.  You need to be looking for another job beginning tomorrow morning, and you need to be looking both inside and outside the legal world for work.  To tell your boss to fuck off is serious stuff, and indicates that you really don’t give a damn about this career.  Your subconscious feelings are coming out.  Listen to them.  Find a new job.  Find a new firm.  Find a new path in life.
    I too worked for a boss who consistently played “change the rules/facts” and blame his mistakes on me.  It wore me down to the point that I spent my past six months almost entirely doing as little work as possible, and looking for a new career.  Leaving the law is so refreshing, and it’s amazing how much you can enjoy life once you no longer work in a law firm, even under the weight of crushing debt.

  9. quado

    June 7, 2010 at 11:34 pm

    I’m agreeing with most of the people on here.  A.) You’re fucked at that firm.  B.) That’s not a bad thing.
    One thing that makes working this job tolerable is to have other options in the fire. 
    You should always be seeking other employment, other firms, other positions within your current firm.  SOMETHING.  It gives you the mental ease of knowing there is always a way out. 
    I worked as a city cop and hated it.  Knowing that I was in law school and had an out made that job almost stress free.  I knew I was going to leave and didn’t let the BS of that job get to me. 
    Even now I work for a great smaller firm, but I’m always looking around.  I’m even looking at federal positions that pay 120k and have student loan forgiveness.  Just putting it out there.

  10. Alma Federer

    June 8, 2010 at 3:37 am

    It is VERY dangerous to say bad things to a PARTNER.  They are partners because they own the law firm, and even if they make a mistake, they cannot admit this to the CLIENT.  When I was new, 3 male associates followed me around all day.  I told them I was not interested in dating them but they kept following me around.  Finally, I asked the managing partner to do something so he called the 3 associates in and told them bluntly to leave me alone.  I was SO happy the partner did this for me because I did not want to have any kind of social relationship with these 3 male associates.  So partners CAN help you if you know how to ask for help.  And even if they are difficult, you must remember that you are all on the same TEAM.

  11. Frat Guy Law Type

    June 8, 2010 at 5:23 am

    Why not just call him out and ask him if he wants to settle it like men in the parking lot? 
    I have to commend you for having balls the size of coconuts.  I agree with the above advice about explaining what happened to a more powerful partner who knows and hopefully likes you.  Then get into the litigation side.  Your temperament isn’t right for the shit you’re doing now.

  12. Kaylee

    June 8, 2010 at 6:22 am

    When the partner gave you the terms, did he send you an email or memo where he wrote down the incorrect terms and then you put them as he provided them into the promissory note?  Or were you standing in his office with a notepad while he dictated the terms to you to write down?  If it is the former, you may have some recourse if this ever gets brought up in an evaluation because you can prove he gave you the wrong information.  But if it is the latter, it is his word against yours, and in all honesty, are you absolutely sure you did not write down the wrong terms?  After all, mistakes happen to the best of us.  And were there any other terms that were wrong, or just that one number?  Again, if you can prove he gave you bad information, while you should still apologize, you have grounds to say he should apologize to you.  But if you only have your notes from his dictation, you better suck it up and quickly or you are probably going down.

  13. Douche Bag Partner Ombudsman

    June 8, 2010 at 8:00 am

    So this weenie associate is able to walk down to the partner’s office and tell him to fuck off.  But he couldn’t move his larded ass there to run by the partner, a promissory note for 86 million before sending it out to the client.  Why? Because little Mr. “I’m getting married i five weeks” didn’t want the partner to look at it and suggest changes that would require extra work. And how does he react when called on the carpet? He flies off the handle.  He’s a loose cannon. Another associate who thinks the Firm is blessed to have him, etc.  An associate who can’t even keep a grip in this worst of all legal markets.

  14. Juris Depravis

    June 8, 2010 at 8:58 am

    Great advice, Magic Circle Jerk.  I would just add “splooge in his coffee cup” to that list.

  15. Anon

    June 8, 2010 at 9:28 am

    Kaylee:  Yeah, that’s a great idea.  Litigate against the partner.  lots of upside in that.  Eat it and move on.  Or quit.

  16. Magic Circle Jerk

    June 8, 2010 at 10:10 am

    Juris Depravis: forget the coffee, go for his telephone mouthpiece. 
    Other creative ideas: crazy glue on his mouse/keyboard, subscriptions to gay biker mags delivered to the office, stripograms at work, dead animals in his file cabinet….
    the fun is endless!
    (OP: in all seriousness, get out while you can)

  17. Juris Jackoff

    June 9, 2010 at 2:53 pm

    Mittelman v. Witous, 171 Ill. App. 3d 691 (Ill. App. 1st Dist. 1988), aff’d 135 Ill.2d 220 (Ill. 1989).
    If you don’t mind taking a case all the way to the Supreme Court for a performance review based on false information provided by your supervising partner, you too can be a juris jackoff.

  18. Anonymous

    June 10, 2010 at 2:32 am

    If you were a woman, you would have additional “options” available to you to preserve your job prospects at the firm, assuming, of course, that the partner was not a homo.

  19. David

    June 10, 2010 at 7:17 am

    For future reference: anger management. Seriously, get help if necessary. Even revenge is a dish best served cold…
    You can defend yourself, be assertive, tell the partner it was his fault, sue him for defamation (slander affecting professional reputation? NOT A LEGAL OPINION!), whatever, and while some of that may lose you your job, you can do those things while still being a professional and behaving professionally. Obviously, the partner wasn’t professional, but being better than him shouldn’t be too hard.
    If I were e.g. managing partner at this firm, and fully believed the associate’s story, and fully blamed the partner, and fully agreed he should do as the associate advised (i.e. to f*** off), I would still have very big concerns about continuing the associate’s employment because I’d be worried about how he’d deal with stressful situations or problem clients generally, especially since the associate was the first to use profanity, and it was after seeking out a confrontation (after having been yelled at in his own office).

  20. Ace in the Hole

    June 10, 2010 at 9:10 am

    You should have a simple, man to man talk with the partner.  Tell him you regret cursing at him, but that it was out of line for him to make a misrepresentation to a client that you screwed up something when he was directly and indisputably responsible, and then to yell at you about something that was entirely his fault was completely inappropriate.  Tell him you want to move past it so that you can continue to work together in mutual trust and respect, and that you hope he will respect that you will stand up for yourself rather than allow yourself to be unfairly maligned, and that if he wants to throw you under the bus, you may be willing to cooperate in such a thing for the interest of the firm, but that he needs to clear it with you first and certainly not yell at you for something that was his fault – your team needs to be based on mutual trust and respect, not back-stabbing.  He may respond to this by respecting you for trying to work it out in a professional and businesslike way without bending over – otherwise, you’re screwed no matter what.

  21. Anonymous

    June 11, 2010 at 4:40 am

    Take your top off at the next staff meeting.  That will make the guy forget your mouth and focus on your boobies.

  22. been there done that

    June 14, 2010 at 9:59 pm

    I have blow up on two employers before. I didn’t drop the F bomb but I lectured them both in front of a group of subordinates. Both times it turned out to be the best thing I could have done. If you don’t stand up for yourself, people will walk all over you. And you can always have your job taken away or credit for a project or what have you. Something that you can never have taken away: your integrity. You have to give that away. I say bravo.

  23. Terry D

    June 23, 2010 at 2:53 pm

    Do not apologize! The damage is done. If this asshole gets you fired, he’s probably doing you a favor. You have guts, man; don’t sell your soul. Be true to your self. I am now self-employed, but when I worked at medium-sized firm a few years ago, I wish I would have done the same thing. But I didn’t, and I still ended up losing that job. Your subconscious is telling you that you are not a shit eater. That’s good, but in this business, that can be a liability. Be sure you know yourself so that the next time, you will understand the risk your taking by standing up for yourself. It was bull shit like this that almost made me give up this crap. By the way, don’t get married.

  24. EllaElla

    March 4, 2012 at 1:14 am

    I wish people reported back. I’d love to know how this turned out.

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