I’m Losing the PR Battle to Evil Partners


I’m a midlevel associate in BigLaw, and I am on the road to being fired.  Not laid off.  Fired.

I get glowing evaluations.  I’m in demand.  I have more work than I know what to do with.  I have phenomenal experience, mentor younger associates and bill over the minimum hours required. I rarely turn down an assignment.

So why, you ask, would I be fired?  Simple.  I pissed off two partners.  I’m not sure how I pissed them off, but I did.

Now, let me put that in context.  At least 15 partners in my practice group think I am a great lawyer, including one of the top trial lawyers in the country.  But there are two partners who hate me.  These are not important partners—one is a nobody, and the other’s star is falling, plus he’s not in my practice group.

For the record, I don’t use “hate” lightly.  We’re talking a vendetta.  Two evil men of Irish descent who would have been assets to the IRA if given the chance.  But obviously this is BigLaw where everyone is civilized, and no one goes around throwing Molotov cocktails, blowing things up or killing each other.  Instead, they use the power of PR.

These two evil Irishmen walk the halls and express concern about me in memorable sound bites to anyone who will listen. They concede my work is good on the merits, but that’s not the problem.  The problem is ME.  They say I am “too opinionated,” I am “a know it all,” I “lack judgment,” I am “not a team player,” and that I have “sharp elbows.”

All damning statements to say the least, especially for a female litigator.  But mainly they are damning statements not based in fact and completely at odds with everything 15 other partners are saying.  The problem, however, is that those 15 other partners aren’t saying it as loudly and constantly as the evil Irishmen.

I’ve tried everything. I’ve tried talking to the evil Irishmen.  I’ve tried begging.  I’ve tried crying.  Nothing stops them. Hell, I’d have sex with them, if that would change things.  In another economy, I’d find a new job at an even better BigLaw firm and flip the evil Irishmen the bird on my way out the door, but unfortunately, jobs are scarce, and I need the paycheck for as long as I can hang on.  I’ve tried to rally my supporters, to no avail.  Instead, I either get puzzlement or useless advice about needing to change the evil Irishmen’s opinions.  “How?” I ask.  “Do great work for them,” they reply.  But my work isn’t the problem.  They simply don’t like me.  And when I tell my supporters that, they usually reply saying, “Don’t let them control your career and let them ruin it—you’re a great lawyer.” At that point, I walk away.  What can I say?  My supporters are letting them ruin my career by silently watching them sound bite me into oblivion.

I would like to make a career of this firm, but now I just need to hold onto the job until the economy turns around enough to find a new one.  What can I do in the meantime to minimize the damage so that I don’t get fired for at least another year?  I’m at a complete loss.

First off, take a deep breath and a walk around the block.

Now, as for your predicament… You’re in a bind.  Ain’t no doubt.

The worst part of BigLaw is the need to make every douchebag in your department like you.  If you’re not careful, it will drive you insane.  (And I know—trust me—I almost got in a fistfight with a sociopathic M&A partner once.) But the honest truth is that BigLaw isn’t as stupid and petty as you suggest.

If 15 partners in your practice group, including one of the top litigators in the country, truly think you’re awesome, then you’re fine.  Case closed.  The evil Irishmen can go to hell.  (Though I should warn you that one of my favorite movies is In the Name of the Father, and I’m originally from Boston.  But for the sake of this piece, I’ll assume you were slightly insane while writing this and don’t really hate the Irish.)

But if 15 partners simply LIKE you, and the evil Irishmen really do HATE you, you’ve got a problem.  “Partner hate” trumps “partner apathy” every day of the week.  Frankly, I’m worried that since you haven’t been able to rally your supporters, the indicators suggest “like” and not “love.”

My practical, proactive advice is this: Try one more time to talk to the evil Irishmen.  Take them to lunch.  Just try to talk it out one more time.  Be blunt.  Tell them you’re worried about your career and that you want to fix things. Let them tell you to your face why they hate you so much.  But don’t be confrontational.  Listen to their reasons and accept some blame for the misunderstanding/tension.  If they refuse to have lunch, then it’s time to move on and go to Plan B, which is finding a powerful rabbi/mentor at the firm, like maybe the Mr. USA Top Litigator dude you mentioned earlier.  Hopefully, he’ll tell you not to worry and that if push comes to shove, he’ll protect you.  If he doesn’t, well, it’s time to start worrying.

The bottom line here is that sometimes people just don’t like you.  It’s frustrating, infuriating and unfair.  But it’s part of life and part of BigLaw.  The tricky part is making sure the people who actually LOVE you have more clout than the people who don’t.

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

    September 15, 2009 at 4:14 am

    If the two lawyers were Jewish, do you think Bitter Lawyer would have published a letter referring to the “two evil Jewish partners”?

  2. BL5Y

    September 15, 2009 at 5:08 am

    BL1Y:  Yes.  Except then there wouldn’t have been references to Molotov cocktails or the IRA.  People need to lighten up.  I doubt any Irish people out there (I am one) are really taking offense.  They could have said “fair skinned, red-headed, freckled men from Boston” – but didn’t anyone ever tell you to write concisely?

  3. Anonymous

    September 15, 2009 at 5:16 am

    Nasty, Nasty.  I don’t like the bitter references to sex.

  4. Anon

    September 15, 2009 at 8:35 am

    BL1Y: I think that was the point Ex-Bitter was trying to make.

  5. Bizaaaaar

    September 15, 2009 at 9:01 am

    BL1Y, is bitter lawyer really helping you find a job?  I want one too.

  6. Robert Smith

    September 15, 2009 at 9:17 am

    An associate probably has to go and you’re the favorite of some: the nasty ones want to keep their own favorite or take over the clients you work on, and have become openly desperate-trying to force you to quit, undermining your support or hoping you’ll make a fool of yourself.
    If you were dead meat, the “Irish” would be focusing on someone else or be out doing something productive. 
    Stop trying to appease the assholes: be respectful to all, do your work, safeguard it so it won’t be tampered with, do not socialize with staff and do your best to work as if you are what you probably are–highly talented and valuable.  Add work to your pile from partners that like you, so you can decline work from the assholes. Don’t volunteer for pro bono or thankless minefields like summer associate supervision.
    Do a mental check–if you’re worried about being perceived as too “hard elbowed”, adopt a few silkier habits-don’t put your feet on your desk ever, don’t slam your door, say “good evening” not “see ya” etc. Stick with the other work habits that ahve been successful for you.

  7. BL1Y

    September 15, 2009 at 9:24 am

    BL5Y: I agree that very few Irish would be offended, and the ones that would be would probably be offended by anything under the sun.  My point is just that we should get to make fun of Jews too.

  8. Dannyd

    September 15, 2009 at 9:41 am

    man, that is not a pretty situation. sounds like u should just find a better firm to work at.

  9. Anon

    September 15, 2009 at 10:00 am

    we should get to make fun of everyone or no one.

  10. Craig

    September 15, 2009 at 10:19 am

    Tough situation.  I think the best thing to do is not stoop to their level.  Just keep doing good work and don’t get involved with a back and forth with them.  Don’t go to other partners and complain.  Don’t rally your “supporters.” If your work is good, the partners that don’t like you will be seen as petty and vindictive.  Just stay above it all and you will be ok.

  11. Magic Circle Jerk

    September 15, 2009 at 10:36 am

    you’re just being a typical paranoid neurotic biglaw woman.  the leprechauns are NOT out to get you

  12. BL1Y

    September 15, 2009 at 11:37 am

    Use a cat’s paw.  Any direct confrontation with these guys will end badly.  What you need is to find a partner of suitable rank and boldness who will stand up for you when these guys talk trash.  Find someone who they’re likely to be around a lot, and try to do as much work for that person as possible, and bust your ass on it.  When you try to defend yourself, you’re likely going to come across as defensive, paranoid and bitter.  It’s far more effective to have someone else talk you up.

  13. EngineerdLawyer

    September 15, 2009 at 12:28 pm

    All the other posters need to give BL1Y a break. Sometimes. He talks sense. Mostly.

  14. prog

    September 15, 2009 at 2:53 pm

    The advice is spot-on.  If you really are as awesome as you say, then there should be some partners willing to go to bat for you against the evil guys.  If all the partners at your firm are willing to let a capable attorney get thrown out with the trash because a couple D-bags want you done, then you’ve got a bigger problem.  Namely, no one at the firm actually likes you and you need to fix that.
    There’s really only two possibilities.  You are either an annoying bitch that most people at the firm simply ignore, but two attorneys have decided to go after your for; or you are being overly neurotic about the situation and you are not actually in any danger of being fired.  Either way, the best thing to do is to simply become good friends with a couple of partners so that you know they will get your back.  However, trust me when I say that you will not endear yourself by constantly whining to other partners that these guys are out to get you.
    Another thing I would do personally is save every bit of evidence you can that shows these guys out to get your for no reason.  Any e-mails where they make BS comments about you.  Save all your positive evaluations from other partners.  Hell, save anything that even vaguely suggests a “hostile” workplace.  If you do get fired, and you really are a solid attorney, you sue the shit out of them.  Capable female attorney fired for no reason?  That’s practically sexual discrimination on its face.  Just don’t get caught documenting it all, or they may throw preemptively throw you out the door.

  15. Legaleasy

    September 15, 2009 at 5:17 pm

    There is an understandable level of resistance in what you are saying. What we resist, persists. What do you think would happen if you accepted and acknowledged that these guys don’t like you instead of fighting to change their minds? At the moment it sounds like you would do anything to get them to like you. Frankly, doesn’t matter whether they do or they don’t. Consider whether the level of energy and credence that you are giving to their animosity is accentuating it. ‘Breathe deep’ is great advice. I know it’s a challenge, but let go of all the strong feelings that you have around their behavior and see what happens. Every time a thought about what they are doing comes up, let it go on concentrate on the great work that you are doing and the people you enjoy working with. Concentrated effort for a couple of weeks and then check to look at what is different.
    Law firms are inherently horribly toxic environments to work in. I’m developing some programs to help address these kinds of issues because the way we behave in our firms impacts they way we treat our clients and ultimately the whole reputation of the profession.

  16. BL1Y

    September 15, 2009 at 5:44 pm

    Legaleasy = Best name on this site.

  17. Lady lawyer

    September 15, 2009 at 11:24 pm

    Just do your job as you have been doing, dress nicely not sexy, be pleasant and smile.  Don’t give up, revenge is best when your successful.

  18. Anonymous

    September 16, 2009 at 2:39 am

    Perhaps if you offer them sexual favours these men will become friendly to you, no?

  19. anon

    September 16, 2009 at 5:07 am

    The advice on this site is much better than anything I have ever received at work.  Thanks!

  20. Big Jim

    September 16, 2009 at 10:32 am

    Legaleasy: good avice.  Let them hate you.  Who cares?  You can’t control what other people think, so why try?

  21. anony

    September 21, 2009 at 12:03 pm

    This happened to me at a Biglaw firm.  I was well-regarded, everyone sung my praises, and then, suddenly, my “supervisor” was in a closed-door meeting with me asking a small client I had handled two months ago, a matter that was so inconsequential at the time, I had almost forgotten about it.  That something was me going the extra mile, at a client’s request, and _that_ pissed off the managing partner on the matter—he didn’t want to give the client the platinum-level service.
    All of a sudden, partners who liked me came by and told me to watch my back, because Managing Partner was on the warpath.  I was told by my supervisor “not to let it happen again” and told to keep up all of the rest of my great work.  So, thinking things were behind me, I worked harder and smarter than ever, and folks were still singing my praises, but managing partner was sabotaging me all over town.  I hung on for six more months, and was laid off. 
    Ask any HR professional—having a big negative (even if couched in passive aggressive mumbo-jumbo) in your file is a huge mistake.  Jump ship, to anywhere you can, before you’re out on the street.  Go somewhere that people reward you for your competence!  I landed somewhere great (with severance—it was a win-win), and I couldn’t be happier.  I don’t even have to worry about petty crap like “the situation” anymore.
    The PR battle is the battle.  So win it or leave.

  22. Bigfirm Parnter

    September 21, 2009 at 6:18 pm

    Anony: Let me get this straight.  You got screwed because you worked too hard for a client?  The Managing Partner was pissed you went the extra mile?  Really?  That sounds almost impossible to believe. Sorry, Ace.

  23. No-L

    September 21, 2009 at 10:15 pm

    @Bigfirm Parnter… Bigfirm Parnter???
    Regarding the situation… You tried crying? If these guys are misogynistic (hence, judging a woman as “sharp-elbowed” when they wouldn’t say the same about a man who behaves the same way), is that really a good idea?  And I don’t even think the line about sleeping with them is funny.  Seriously, the only thing I can say as a man is that if you seem overly agitated and running around to people about it, that will probably backfire, as others have noted.  Above all, stay calm.  Frankly, the one thing men can’t stand most is hysteria, or what they perceive as hysteria, so avoid it.  It might not be fair, but that’s how we are.
    Also, I agree with the poster who said to gather evidence supporting both your competence and your belief that these two are out to get you.  Document the shit out of things.  I keep a CYA file or email folder at every job, and it has come in handy.  But, you do have to be careful about how you build it.  Still, you might be upset by the situation, but if they are determined to hate you, there may be nothing you can do about it.  Perhaps it’s a good time to also make sure you have visbility amongst your peers in general, not just within the firm.  Maybe you can begin to lay the groundwork for a soft landing elsewhere if something bad does happen.  Do you network with other lawyers?  Do you have a presence with your clients?

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