I Wanted to Go to the World Cup


QMore than two years ago, I began planning a trip to see the World Cup in South Africa. I cleared the trip with all the appropriate supervisors at my firm a little more than a year ago. I had planned on taking off two weeks (because you don’t fly all the way to Africa just to watch a soccer game and go home). I had a safari and some other side trips planned after the match. I know it’s a lot of time to take off, which is why I gave the firm so much notice, but it’s a big firm, so it shouldn’t have been too hard to find someone to cover for me while I was away.  I’m sure you can guess where this is going.

A week ago, I was told I would have to cancel my trip because some work had come up. But, not just any work—work for a department I’m not a part of. I work on the corporate side, so things have been a bit slow, but litigation is fairly busy, and they wanted a “corporate perspective” on one of their matters. I tried explaining that I had been approved to take the time off and there were at least a dozen other people with enough free time who the litigation department could use. No dice. Apparently I’m the only man for the job. (I’d be flattered if I wasn’t so pissed off.)

And it gets worse. I was initially told I’d be compensated for my vacation costs that I couldn’t get refunded. But, the HR department had a different story. According to some pencil-pushing shrew, it is law firm policy that employees must purchase only fully refundable airline tickets, so basically, I wasn’t going to be compensated for my airfare. If you’ve ever bought fully refundable tickets, you know they’re a whole lot more expensive than regular seats, and when you have approval for your trip a year in advance, you don’t think you need them.

A junior partner who I work with a lot heard what was going on and offered to help me get compensated, and it’s a nice gesture, but he’s a service partner. How much pull can someone have if they still have to bill 3500 hours a year? In a better economy I would just quit. In fact, before all the finance jobs disappeared I had been planning to make the jump into banking. It doesn’t look like I’d be able to find another job for a while if I quit, but it doesn’t really feel right letting my firm steamroll right over me. Is there anything I can do other than just accept my sad fate?

Oh, and just to add insult to injury, the partner who ruined my World Cup trip explained that the deadline on the project was set in stone, couldn’t be moved, because after that date he’d be on his way to the Shanghai World Expo. Please tell me there’s an option other than just sucking it up.

AThis might surprise you, but you have two avenues for recourse. The first is promissory estoppel. The firm made you a promise that you would be able to take time off to go on this trip, and you reasonably relied on that promise in incurring travel expenses, and now the firm has broken its promise. You’re entitled to be compensated not just for the costs of the trip, but the actual value of seeing the World Cup live. It’s a pretty open and shut case, and even a rookie litigator could win this one.

Your second claim is going to be a bit more tricky. Even though it may seem un-American, you actually have a legal right to your vacation time. Paid vacation is earned compensation just as much as your salary. The firm can no more deny you your vacation than it can decide to withhold your paycheck. You may need to make a good faith effort to use your vacation days later on in the year, but if the firm keeps insisting you stay in the office and your vacation days expire, you can sue and get compensated for them.

These are both entirely valid claims, except for one minor detail: this isn’t a first year contracts class, it’s the real world. So, yeah, you’re pretty much screwed and have absolutely zero recourse.  Really, the only thing you could do in retaliation is jump ship. But, as you’re aware, there’s not yet another ship to jump on to. Take the money that was once your vacation fund and start building a permanent vacation fund. Polish up your resume, and start contacting head hunters. The finance market is starting to recover, and jobs will be coming back. Maybe not right away, but within a year you might have a real shot at leaving.

The trouble is, if you’re like most people, you’ll stay angry for a few weeks, maybe even a few months, but eventually that anger will subside and you’ll go back to accepting the day to day drudgery of law, as if that’s the way things are supposed to be. Find a way to constantly remind yourself that you want out. Get a World Cup postcard and pin it to a bulletin board in your office. It will take a long time to find a new job, but if you can keep yourself motivated and actively looking, you will eventually find something. Keep some money in the bank so you can afford a pay cut if necessary, but most importantly, stay angry.

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.

28 Comments

  1. Alma Federer

    July 5, 2010 at 9:12 am

    The poster does not have many options.  Your best bet is to do as Bitter Lawyer says.  Look for another job, but I have to tell you, there are not good jobs out there, because the few that are out there are being beseiged by many other lawyers looking for work.  The best you should try for is to go to a smaller firm where people are more human.  The managing attorney at my firm has been very pleasant to deal with lately, as he has learned to respect me for my mind, and no longer ogles my body.  You should try and find a firm that will not treat you like a piece of meat.  Believe me, I have been there and it takes along time to get people past the fact you are both beautiful and bright.  Most men just want you for sexual purposes.  You are a lawyer, remember that and make them remember that too.

  2. Bitter Overseas

    July 5, 2010 at 9:41 am

    I think I’d just go.
    I mean, in 10, 20 years from now, what would you rather remember having done? Especially if you’re a huge football fan. Soccer, I mean.
    Do you really think sticking around will bump you up on the partnership track, or that anybody will even care that you stayed?
    Doesn’t sound like it.
    I don’t know how bad the situation is – and by that I mean on finances – but if you can afford to be fired (and have the guts to sue for being unjustly fired) and can maybe pull off getting by financially doing something else, then I’d probably go.

  3. quado

    July 5, 2010 at 11:10 am

    I’m feeling negative today. So, here it goes.
    1. Soccer sucks, if you want to take a vacation do a European sex tour.

    2. The jobs in finance are coming back??  Where the hell do you think this is?? India?

    3. Soccer sucks.

  4. Ace in the Hole

    July 5, 2010 at 1:39 pm

    Refuse – full stop.  You had pre-cleared this, and it is abjectly unreasonable to expect you to pay 3-4x or more for all of your personal tickets so that the firm can cancel them any time on a whim.  I had a client demand intrude on a vacation once – I had to leave after the first day of a trip.  I had met a visiting friend from another country in NY, and since the tickets could not be refunded at that point and the next time I was going to go I might not be able to get a decent fare, I asked that the client pay for a full fare refundable changeable ticket back to NY, as the only remotely reasonable (and even then only partial) replacement.  This was agreed without question, and I know of other people who have gotten the same, and never with hassle like you’re describing – don’t accept anything less, go to the partner who is assigning the work and tell him that if you are really and truly necessary for this assignment, right now, then his client will need to pay the cost of your canceled vacation; you should not be paying a financial penalty out of your pocket to do this work for him.  (Of course, if he refuses, your only option is to make your vengeance swift and merciless while you look for another job.)

  5. Guano Dubango

    July 5, 2010 at 2:30 pm

    I was also interested in going to the World Cup, in fact my Aunt Ooona offered to send me a ticket while Ghana was still in it (sorry USA, but I am a native of Ghana).  But when Ghana was ousted, my Aunt Ooona revoked her offer–she wanted me to go stop in Accra on the way over, likely to meet the wide berthed bride she has picked out for me.  She will not listen to me when I say I want American lawyer woman with good bloodlines.  She only wants local natives for me to stay in Ghana.  I told her I eventually will return to claim my birthright, but she will not listen.  So I sympathize with the dude that got cheated out of his world cup tickets.  I have neither tickets nor an American lawyer fiancee, though I continue to pursue that as well as Aunt Ooona’s blessing.

  6. Hannah Palindrome

    July 5, 2010 at 5:24 pm

    I think your firm/boss suck! European Football Rocks! I was in Germany for the World Cup and I had a Blast. I think you should have QUIT! You can always find another boring law firm job. The World Cup is a once in a lifetime experience like losing your virginity!  Memories…You only live once! Hope you get paid what is owed to you. Cheer Up! The next World Cup is in Brazil! The women are HOT! You should go to Brazil!

  7. BigLaw BLOWS

    July 5, 2010 at 9:04 pm

    Fact is, if you decide not to go on your trip, you should just admit the fact that you’re a complete bitch.  And then kill yourself.  I literally would walk into their office and tell them to f*ck off.  Ugh.  Law firm life is the worst life ever.  I broke away and started my own firm and couldn’t be happier.  Sure, the money isn’t quite as good but who gives a sh*t!  GET THE F*CK OUT!

  8. Guano Dubango

    July 6, 2010 at 3:06 am

    I am crushed.  I was considering Hannah as a potential spouse, but now I find out she is not a virgin.  I will have to reassess if I still want to take her as my bride, or move back to Alma.

  9. BL1Y

    July 6, 2010 at 5:15 am

    Which is more likely to be legit, a soccer player lying on the ground, holding his face, and writhing in pain, or a partner who saying an assignment is “urgent?”

  10. Soccer Fan

    July 6, 2010 at 10:11 am

    I disagree.  I think option #2 is to repeat that you had pre-cleared the vacation far in advance and that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  Put your foot down.  True, this may run the risk of getting fire/laid off.  But, at least in my opinion, it’s worth it.  The possible outcomes are (1) you get fired and look for a new job, which you were probably going to do after missing the world cup anyway, or (2) you establish that your vacations are not to be messed with and you get to go to the WC.  Seriously, you should go, you know the Spain v. Netherlands game is going to be awesome

  11. Happily Unemployed

    July 6, 2010 at 11:55 am

    Just sue them.  If you win, you get compensated.  If not . . . they’re going to let you go anyway.  Do attorneys get unemployment insurance?

  12. DD

    July 6, 2010 at 3:48 pm

    Go. You know what happens to people that let themselves be walked over? They get walked over. Done frequent enough it will become a habit. At some point in life you will have to put your foot down.

  13. Bill

    July 6, 2010 at 5:23 pm

    This guy is a wimpy schlub.  Stand up and act like a man or no firm will respect you.  It’s the same with women. If you want to get one, take charge, and don’t let them pussy whip you.  Lordy knows that just like law firms, there are a lot of ugly women out there just waiting to get you in their venus fly traps!  Get a set of cohones on you and tell the firm to stuff it!

  14. Hannah Palindrome

    July 6, 2010 at 5:49 pm

    Guano-You can lose your virginity w/out losing your “virginity.” Anal Sex guarantees that I stay a virgin and will not get pregnant. Please take me to Africa to watch GERMANY VS. NETHERLANDS

  15. Guano Dubango

    July 7, 2010 at 3:36 am

    Hannah, I do not understand.  First you say that “World Cup is a once in a lifetime experience like losing your virginity! Memories…You only live once!” From this I (and others on this website) think you have experienced the loss of your virginity, and now you tell me that you still are virgin, because you only will allow a man inside your poop deck?  You misunderstand me.  I want a bride to bear me children, and I am not interested in preserving your virginity for someone else by giving only access to your poop deck?  I want to have children and a family and eventually go back to Accra to show you to my Aunt Ooona.  She will determine if you are eligible and have the wide berth to carry my children.  Please to advise if you will permit me and my Aunt Ooona to have a look under the hood to see if you qualify to become a part of the Royal Dubango family.  If you do, we will provide you with more than tickets to a game.

  16. Law Student

    July 7, 2010 at 10:13 am

    Option 3: Steal everything that isn’t nailed down.

  17. A Man's Man

    July 7, 2010 at 10:57 am

    Don’t be such a pussy

  18. anonymous girl

    July 9, 2010 at 5:54 am

    you are such a girl. Tell them that you planned this over a year ago, go approval and you are going to the world cup. They are messing with you because you are a pushover girl. Grow a pair already.

  19. @Guano

    July 9, 2010 at 2:44 pm

    You are my hero!!!!!!!!!!!! Greatest chat from a lawyer ever!!!!!!

  20. Hannah Palindrome

    July 9, 2010 at 6:27 pm

    Guano-You can lose your virginity in the Greek way. Spain vs. Netherlands!!!

  21. Guano Dubango

    July 10, 2010 at 9:10 am

    Hannah, you may not understand clearly my intentions.  I seek female with capacity to bear me children but not one who favors backdoor sex to preserve virginity.  I am not virgin, having had many sexual engagements with women in Ghana.  But they have no shape; all are 38 x 37 x 42.  I want woman with hourglass body, and I now will only have sex with women interested in marriage, and I will only date virgins.  While you may be technical virgin with intact hymen, if your poop deck has been crossed too many times, you will not be able to carry children, and sex during pregnancy will be virtually impossible.  If you are, in fact, still intact, and wish to be considered for my wife, please advise and post a picture of yourself o you tube so we can all see the merchandise.

  22. Hannah Palindrome

    July 10, 2010 at 1:45 pm

    Guano- I want a divorce

  23. Guano Dubango

    July 11, 2010 at 5:52 am

    But we are not married, and I have not even sampled your poop deck.  How can we get a divorce now?  If my Aunt Ooona found out I married without her blessing, she would ban me from the family compound and potentially block my heirdom and all of its spoils.  At this point, Hannah Palindrome, I can only determine if I can marry you after my Aunt Ooona and I make a thorough inspection of all important orifices.  If you pass, you will live a great life with me in Accra.

  24. Alma Federer

    July 11, 2010 at 7:51 pm

    What’s the matter, Guano, are you not interested any more in me?  I have beauty and brains and I have not let a man penetrate me.  Not that I am interested in you yet but I do appreciate the attention.

  25. Anonymous

    July 12, 2010 at 11:07 am

    Fellas, American women who want to go to World Cup generally are really looking for Dick. American men who want to go to World Cup generally are really looking for Dick.

  26. Amy

    July 12, 2010 at 3:37 pm

    I wanted to go to the World Cup too! Last WC I could have gone, when it was in Germany.  My brother lives there and some of the sites for group play were within 2 hrs of my brother.  Unfortunetly the plan got squashed when my brother and his soon to be wife decided to come over here to visit and have their American engagement party. =( But thats ok it will be in Germany again sometime and I don’t think they will be living anywhere else.  Just happy that in 63 days I will be over there to see my new baby nephew!

  27. Gunners = Glorified Law Dorks

    July 13, 2010 at 10:03 am

    Bang the partner’s daughter while he is in Shanghai and send him pictures on his cell phone. For an added bonus, nail her on his desk.

  28. R Smith

    July 15, 2010 at 3:38 pm

    Any lawyer taking a two week vacation much less the World Cup in this economy is sending a note saying “Fire Me!” to his superiors.  Guano, I congratulate you on finally getting over your unrequited Alma fixation.

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