I Work with a Bra-Checker


QI’m a fourth year associate at a large firm. I work with a great partner. He’s friendly, engaged, a good mentor, and provides terrific feedback on my work. He’s also a “bra-checker.” That is, he’s a warm and outgoing lawyer who likes to touch people.

I noticed it during my first year working with him. Typically, we’d be in the hall and we’d chit chat about a matter or talk briefly about our respective families and at some point he would put his hand on my back and pat or rub it with the palm of his hand. He may say something encouraging or affirming but often he would say nothing at all. Just a rub or pat on the back—it’s what’s become known as his bra-check, and I’ve seen him do it with other associates, male and female. It’s just that the female associates are the ones who seem most troubled by it.

I thought it was a little weird at first but I’ve chalked it up to him being a decent, sound, and nice guy who has somewhat of a weird habit (though I’ve also seen him straightening the framed photos along the walls of the office, making me wonder if he’s got a mild version of OCD).

He’s not creepy or pervy at all. At all. He’s just nice and one of the rare “touchy-feely” lawyers I’ve met, including most of the women who work here. I’m inclined not to say anything to him but I also think he deserves to know that he’s considered the firm’s resident bra-checker. Should I say something to him or just let it go?

AFirst of all, most big firms—most offices or workplaces even—-have their own versions of touchy-feely bra-checking partners. Some are pervy, like the one we call Dirty Old Man Partner, and some are just plain out touchy-feely dudes. I remember one partner at my firm who made a habit of rubbing up your arm when you shook his hand, to the point that you thought “if he lingers one second more I’ll take the fucker out.” But it was ultimately harmless. Then again, there was another partner who exposed himself to a summer associate and he was disappeared by the firm within an hour. Goes both ways, and I think you’ll need to go with your gut on this one.

For me, though, the dude’s clueless, or he may have some semblance of a clue but it’s part of his little OCD-infused world to touch people, pat their backs, and to straighten his pencils out on his desk. Honestly, in a world without lawyers, what’s the beef? Except we are in a world of lawyers, and one person’s bra-check can be another lawyer’s three-year $100,000 case.

If he’s such a great guy—and it sounds like he is—talk to him. Dollars to donuts he’s already heard about it, will say it’s ingrained in who who he is, and will tell you that. Or he’ll be shocked to know he’s the resident law firm bra-checker and that his bra—or bro—checking upsets some of the associates. To know that, he may be embarrassed but thankful.

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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.

7 Comments

  1. Guano Dubango

    March 24, 2012 at 9:50 am

    I do not understand why a man would want to check in this way. If someone wants to see if a woman is wearing a bra, just ask her to jump up and down. It is then fairly obvious, unless of course, she has no mammary glands worthy of note.

  2. southern bitter

    March 26, 2012 at 7:08 am

    i think i’m missing something. if it’s truly a “bra check,” why is he doing it to male associates as well? my confusion aside, i’d be interested to see what would happen if you went bra-less one day. maybe that would cure him.

  3. Mandoline

    March 26, 2012 at 11:10 am

    DO NOT SAY ANYTHING. Let’s look at this from Learned Hand’s perspective, the potential cost OUTWEIGHS the potential benefit. If you tell and he’s not offended, then great, now he knows. [What's the major benefit for you, again??] If you tell and he’s embarrassed and/or offended, you could lose the trust of an ally and a mentor. Since it doesn’t sound like he’s a creeper, ignorance is bliss… for everyone.

  4. Daniel

    March 26, 2012 at 4:59 pm

    Going bra-less would be a big mistake. However, I would just not say anything. If it ever goes beyond just a bra check (like lingering or moving down the back), then I’d definitely say something. The risk of saying something (alienating a partner) is greater than the harm of possible creep factor, at least as you’ve described it.

  5. Evil Lawyer

    March 26, 2012 at 5:26 pm

    From: Evil Lawyer
    TO: Minon Partners (Male only)

    I attach the recent article from Bitter Lawyer as one more proof that women cannot be treated as other lawyers. Well, not if you value your career anyway.

    The partner described does not do anything like the “Passionate Partner” at Pillsbury did as described in detail in the Los Angeles Daily Journal years ago (not that he did anything wrong, even if PMS had an attack of the vapors when they found out). He was not tossing M&M’s into blouses as was the boob–i mean partner in San Francisco years ago.

    All this guy does is pat people on the back. Not an accidental brushing of a finely shaped breast or ass. Not a thigh pat during a deposition or trial. Not a leer. Just a pat on the back for men and women. For this he is tagged as a “bra checker.”

    So one more time:

    When you travel with a woman, no matter how reasonable she seems to be, you must treat her as if she is Catherine MacKinon with Gloria Allred for a mother.

    Don’t take the same car to meetings. Don’t take the same flight if you can avoid it. If you must get adjoining aisle seats. If you have to stay in the same hotel, stay on a different floor. If you eat dinner together, do not linger. If you walk her to an elevator, let her get in and then “remember” needing something at the desk.

    At the firm, do not touch or inspect the merchandise. Be extra careful not to be seen undressing a woman as you follow her while imagining how great it would be to pull off that skirt. (people will notice, and they can tell what you’re doing).

    If a woman is in your office do not gaze hungrily at her thighs.

    When she leaves, look down at your desk–otherwise she will feel your eyes on ripping off her skirt as she leaves.

    If she THINKS you are eyeing her, she’ll brand you a bra checker, elevator menace, creep, or whatnot. Management may red star your employment file and you won’t even know it.

    You’ll be the one accused. Just like this guy. You’ll be the one stuttering to HR that you didn’t even know she wore a bra etc.

    So no more pats on the back.

  6. Ellen

    March 27, 2012 at 5:53 am

    I do NOT like men looking at my breasts.

    The manageing partner also looks at my crotch ALL of the time. Not that he can SEE any thing, but I always wonder if he thinks he is going to find something there, especialy when I am sitting down.

    Once he said that their was a paper clip on my skirt, but I said it was the fabric, not a paper clip, so he could NOT brush it away. FOOEY on him. He has a wife he can do that to, not me. FOOEY!

  7. Schills

    April 18, 2012 at 12:45 pm

    This partner touches everyone. Adopt to his personality and get over yourself.

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