I’m Not the Partner’s Pet

My problem is twofold:

1. I have absolutely no rapport or connection with the Partner for whom I work.

2. The Partner overtly favors the associate behind me who has six-months experience.

I am a female, second-year associate at a top-tier firm, and I was recruited laterally from another top firm 12 months ago. The Partner I work for is female, as is the associate behind me.

I have tried over the past year to engage with my boss, but she shuts me down very abruptly every time—to the point I don’t even feel like trying to make small talk with her as she will literally give me a one-word answer and either walk away or go back to reading, writing or checking emailing. I made a very conscious effort when I first started on her team, but after six months of frosty, blunt replies, I admit I have somewhat given up.

As a result, the fractured non-relationship I have with her is impacting my workflows, and I know if I do not do something about it, I will be in serious danger of losing my job. Some weeks if I do not go and say “Hello” to the Partner, I will have no verbal contact with her the entire week. This is contrasted by the many trips she makes down the hall to the other associate’s office, where they laugh and chatter away.

The other associate gets better work than I do, and she gets more of the Partner’s time, better instructions and feedback on her work. In addition, the Partner has gone against firm policy by allowing the other associate leave entitlements that no one else in the firm has available to them—such as five weeks at full pay for a European trip.  Meanwhile, I was denied leave for one week to go back to my home state for a family funeral when I had accrued the leave. My boss eventually granted me the leave, but she insisted I had to take it unpaid.

Can you please advise as to what you think I should do to build a better relationship with my boss and suggest some strategies in relation to dealing with the favoritism she shows to other associate?

Okay, so the Partner you work for doesn’t really dig you.  Making things worse, she really digs this other, younger associate.  Happens all the time.  In banking, Hollywood, law, plumbing supply companies… Sometimes you just don’t like someone. 

When I was a Partner at a Big Firm, I hated lots of associates.  It’s just the way it is.  Sadly, there’s not that much you can do about it.  It’s like dating—sometimes you click, sometimes you don’t. 

But here are some helpful suggestions nonetheless:

1.  Try to be a more-productive, self-sufficient associate

Partners like efficient, smart, drama-free associates.  The better you are, the more she (and every other partner there) will “like” you.  Professionally anyway.  When I was a Partner, I always judged associates based on their productivity compared to their personality.  If you were smart, it was okay to be slightly annoying.  If you weren’t productive, it wasn’t.

2.  Begin to network with other partners

Clearly, you need to find greener pastures, so start chatting up other partners in your practice area and try to get involved in their cases/transactions.  Be persistent.  There has to be a partner somewhere who digs you.  If there isn’t?  Well, that’s a “you” issue, not a “firm” issue.

3.  As for trying to redress the favoritism issue—Don’t

It’s not your issue, sister.  Let it go.  Focus on points 1 and 2 instead.

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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.

20 Comments

  1. BL1Y

    August 31, 2009 at 5:13 am

    If you’re going to try to build a relationship with another partner, try to pick one who’s on the hiring committee, because when the axe drops, the hiring committee quickly becomes the firing committee.  Their favorites get saved first.  And Alex, really?  Baiting Alma this early?

  2. Anonymous

    August 31, 2009 at 6:16 am

    haha. Looks like Alma and Alex got tossed. FANTASTIC!

  3. BL1Y

    August 31, 2009 at 6:58 am

    Not really sure why Alex got tossed.  If it was a male partner and two female associates, it’d be fine to suggest that he’s favoring one because he’s attracted to her.  Is BitterLawyer homophobic? Or do they think lesbians need special coddling?

  4. Elaine

    August 31, 2009 at 7:15 am

    Hump’s comment may not have been sponge-worthy, but it was still entertaining. 
    We’re trying to live in a society.

  5. lawstudent22

    August 31, 2009 at 7:43 am

    I knew someone with a similar situation. not easy.

  6. Brett

    August 31, 2009 at 7:53 am

    It could be something as simple as a bad first impression.  When I was at my old firm; we had, on paper, a brilliant 2L.  Good marks, law review, etc.  Problem was, he said something really condescending to my legal secretary on his first day.  I completely hated him after that and did everything possible to make him want to leave.

  7. Alma Federer

    August 31, 2009 at 8:20 am

    This website is always showing how lawfirms are running against women.  First it shows a woman who no matter how good she is, the firm puts her down.  Then it shows a woman who has a partner sitting on a plane and pawing at her in between drooling on her new blouse.  Then it highlights a situation where 3 women are involved and the woman in the middle is getting the short end of the stick.  Why is it that the women are always being put down?  I have none of these issues, and men respect me.  I don’t think it all has to do with my looks, either.  I am very competent and men respect me.  I would have it no other way.  The editors of this website are very mysogynistic.

  8. BL1Y

    August 31, 2009 at 8:33 am

    So many of the stories are about women being mistreated because we care when women are mistreated.  If this stuff happened to a man we’d just tell him to shut up, so his job, and not be such a sissy.

  9. BL1Y

    August 31, 2009 at 8:34 am

    Ugh…proof reading fail.

  10. Anon

    August 31, 2009 at 9:07 am

    Brett makes a good point.  I hate to say it, but i think this woman is probably just annoying or dumb, and that’s why the partner doesn’t dig her.

  11. Masshole JD

    August 31, 2009 at 9:39 am

    Good point, BL1Y. But I think arguing with Alma is kind of like Barney Frank talking with that “dinning room table.”

  12. BL1Y

    August 31, 2009 at 10:02 am

    I hear that from 30 feet away the dining table is quite attractive.

  13. PGuy

    August 31, 2009 at 10:04 am

    I think it’s amazing that working conditions in BigLaw firms are so horrible that our only advice to an abused associate is to suck it up, when if she were a non-lawyer client with the same problem you’d have filed suit against the employer before she left the initial interview.
    Why do biglaw associates have such low self exteem? More to the point, why are any of you acting like…well, lawyers?

  14. BL1Y

    August 31, 2009 at 10:12 am

    Part of it is the massive debt load lawyers start with.  It’s much harder to stick up for yourself when you’re royally screwed if you lose your job.

  15. Masshole JD

    August 31, 2009 at 10:29 am

    I think the other reason why lawyers in BigLaw don’t always stick up for themselves is that you know how easily replaced you are. Whether someone actually tells you, or it’s made clear, it’s well understood that the next guy or woman on the hiring list won’t have those complaints. That said, I think this is true of any high-paid profession, whether it’s law, finance or consulting.

  16. BL1Y

    August 31, 2009 at 10:32 am

    Anyone here work in a smaller legal community?  I imagine the problems are less common, since there isn’t an endless supply of eager lawyers.

  17. Brett

    August 31, 2009 at 2:10 pm

    BL1Y, I currently work in a smaller firm and I have to say the problems are a lot less frequent.  I think the smaller firms promote a better working environment; then 10 attorneys here are all very “family-ish.” Granted, the pay isn’t what it is in the bigs; but our attorneys still make enough to pay their bills and have fun.  In the bigger firms you’re just another small fish in a big pond and easily replaced.  Because of that, no one feels comfortable expressing their feelings; or, even admitting that they have feelings.

  18. Brett

    August 31, 2009 at 2:11 pm

    I meant, THE 10 attorneys.  Proof read fail x2.

  19. Robert Smith

    August 31, 2009 at 2:24 pm

    Either you’re annoying to deal with (and the associate behind you does better work) or this Partner is playing favorites for no solid reason.  If the former, its your own fault.
    If she’s playing favorites, the other associate will fail sooner or later: mistaking the friendship as a license to slack off, she will embarass the Partner by bad work, revealing secrets or presumptious behavior that will cause the Partner to pull back. You will be the beneficiary.  Keep working; do a good job. Maybe volunteer to assist another partner if possible.

  20. Guano Dubango's spouse

    September 4, 2009 at 10:49 am

    Take your meds and take this foot up your ass.

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