Modern Partner, Ancient Tricks


Meet the new century, same as the old century.

For years, I was an associate at a very large multinational. At one point, I hated every second of my job. In fact, I hated it so much that I signed up to go back to school to obtain the most worthless of degrees: The LLM. During that time, I started shopping around for new jobs. One such shop, a plaintiff securities fraud boutique, offered me a few interviews . . . and at last, I landed in front of Named Partner X.

Very frankly, he said, “All resumes I’ve looked at in my life can be divided into two piles. One is full of wash outs, and one is full of loyalists. Which one are you? When you figure that out, give me a call.”

Comprehending that “wash out” most often correlates with crazy hours, competitive and untrustworthy colleagues, boring and un-compelling work and other such conditions of general misery, I opted to stick with my old shit job that at least gave me enough time to slum it with the night school kids at Temple Law.

Two months later, I got the axe. Two months after that, my ex-office’s litigation department went defunct.

Six months down the road, one of the headhunters who, just one year ago, used to kiss my ass and take me to lunch, decided to expend five seconds of her precious Macys.com time to call and inform me that Named Partner X’s firm was looking for a staffer.

At first mention, I mentally checked the “opt out” box—wanting to leave the law altogether and do something I actually enjoy. I never meant to get laid off, but I figured I might as well use the opportunity to shoot the moon. But the opportunity sounded too perfect: Learn, research, write, get paid.  All things I could obviously handle.  Plus, the subject matter was right up my alley (corporate fraud and financial crap). So I signed on.

For the first few months, I was deliriously happy. Yes, I was stuck in a cattle pen with other staff attorneys and treated like dirt. But the work was interesting, and I didn’t feel at all isolated—much like that form of torture so common in BigLaw.

Not to mention, plenty of unsolicited attention from Named Partner X had me feeling like the newest golden child. (Because no matter how much we say we hate it and think it’s a joke, it’s the best feeling to have that little gold star pasted next to your name, isn’t it?) Every other day or so, Named Partner X would stop in my office just to drop a devastatingly un-funny one-liner (“It’s Friday! You know what that means? Only two more days til the work week!” or, “Now that I’m in the room, has the average IQ gone up?”), not wait for much of a response (I’d maybe let out some girlish giggling) and leave. It was painfully obvious that I was on his radar. I just thought it was his professional radar.

One unassuming morning, as I was absorbed in work, Named Partner X sneaked up behind me and said something snarky about what I was typing.  Just then, he put his hand on my shoulder. And it felt weird—at least for someone generally unaccustomed to any sort of workplace touching. But whatever, just some obnoxious male power-trip thing common in every American law firm. And since I had never been the recipient of a partner’s power-drunk flirtatious advances before, I was still enjoying the attention. It’s assuaged my poor, devastated laid-off ego. (I’m not ugly, but I’m no “LF10.” I don’t get good-looking men hitting on me at a bar until close to closing, after they gave up and got too drunk to do better.)

But then, last Thursday morning, I was in an empty office across the hall taking a phone call from my brother when Named Partner X snuck up behind me and grabbed me with both hands on my waist. All tickly-like. It scared the crap out of me (which, I assume, was his intent), but all I could do was say into the phone, “I gotta go, the boss is trying to grab me.” I he perceived that has a passive validation of his gesture and chuckled. I was actually being literal. By the time I hung up the phone and turned around to fully react, he was gone.

For the rest of the day, I felt possessed. I couldn’t resist and blabbed about. All giggly and nervous-like. To anyone listening within a 50-foot radius. “X just GRABBED me!  Can you believe? No wonder I’m turning into a rabid feminist!” If only I wasn’t too dull-witted to realize this was making me enemies.

The next day he stopped by my door, stuck his finger in my face, wagged it and said, “You. Follow me.”

He pivoted and walked—forcing me to run after him down the hallway. While he is short, I am so much shorter that following his brisk pace required I jog. Awkwardly. In heels.

He gets me in a private office, slams the door and launches into some version of an apology whereby he keeps insisting that people need to have thick skins in his office. Yeah, that kind of apology. And the best part? Me and my response.

“Oh, no problem. I’m fine, and I love it here. I’m used to stuff. I was in the Army.”

But next thing I know, I got moved downstairs. My own space with a window, but still now firmly off his radar.

So now, not only has the partner in charge of my immediate financial future totally forgotten about me and my slim savings account, the staff attorneys all HATE me. For various reasons. Some are pissed because downstairs I now have my own space with a window—something that takes most staffers five years to get. For others, it’s the sad, unspoken jealously of having never been groped by grabby-hands Named Partner X. Topping it off: I don’t even have a fricking lawsuit to cover my ass if I get canned.  All he has to do is not give me more work.

The real worst part: I kinda liked him. There was something sexy about his particular blend of being an obnoxious, liberal Jewish dude who takes time to pester his contractor staff attorney underlings—the attorneys that even freaking secretaries think they’re too good for.  I had even grown to appreciate his witty banter—in 30-second intervals, at least—as long as didn’t mind the lame Henny Youngman impersonations.

But what I’m starting to realize is that he was just looking to make a younger woman uncomfortable so she would kiss his butt and further entrench the personality cult that is his law firm. And I was just one of plenty of female employees who, in this job climate, will cooperatively run down the hall after him upon whisper and wag of his index finger. It’s not right.

But unfortunately, being right doesn’t always keep you employed. It seems David Letterman is hardly a cautionary tale.  And sometimes it feels as though nothing has changed since the days of Mad Men.

Read more anonymous tales of Associate Abuse. Or consider contributing your own.

13 Comments

  1. Alma Federer

    October 28, 2009 at 3:20 am

    I think this woman has a point.  She should be able to have a place to work free of sexual harassment.  This applies to all women.  You can see if men will make a play for a woman who admittedly is no beauty, think how much worse it is for girls like me, who are both bright and beautiful.  People like me have to put up with gropers all the time, from men on the train to men at work, whose hands always seem to wind up on or near my breasts.  I have to think these guys simply are boors, from all of the commercials on TV glorifying sexy cheerleaders.  Why don’t these guys just go to a football game and grope there?  This, my dad, tells me, is the price I must pay for being beautiful, but I really wonder sometimes.

  2. Anonymous

    October 28, 2009 at 4:03 am

    Man says to God: “God, why did you make woman so beautiful?”=============

    God says: “So you would love her.”==============

    But God,” the man says, “why did you make her so dumb?” =======================

    God says: “So she would love you.”=================
    This is the problem as I see it.  Men like pretty women, but women are so dumb that they cannot appreciate the men.  ================
    This woman has LLM, yet she is stupid.

  3. BL1Y

    October 28, 2009 at 5:42 am

    The trouble with sexual harassment is that women tend to send ambiguous signals.  When the associate laughed at jokes that weren’t funny, it’d be reasonable for the partner to take this as an indication that she might be interested in him (and the associate even admits that she was).  Women choose to avoid the risk of outright rejection (and sexual harassment suits) by giving subtle hints, so they should be the ones to bear the risk of having those signals misinterpreted.  But of course, they don’t.  No way you can defend a sexual harassment suit by claiming a woman kept laughing at your unfunny jokes, yet this is a method used by a lot of women to convey their interest in a man.  Explaining why you thought a woman was interested in you (either to defend a suit or to bring one of your own) makes a man just sound like a nutter conspiracy theorist.  Sexual harassment claims would get a lot more respect and credibility if women accepted an equal role in starting relationships.  Until then, it’s unfair to penalize men with the risk of legal liability just for compensating for women’s passivity.

  4. Craig

    October 28, 2009 at 5:54 am

    BL1Y, while you may have made a point somewhere in there, in this case there is an employer-employee relationship.  Laughing at unfunny jokes is a time honored tradition of employees and close to an unwritten rule.  The boss would have his hands all over everyone if the standard was if she laughed at an unfunny joke or not.

  5. BL1Y

    October 28, 2009 at 6:05 am

    Craig: Good point.  In another context the laughing would have been a stronger indication of interest than it is here.

  6. Robert Smith

    October 28, 2009 at 7:55 am

    Craig hit it on the head.  The workplace is not a harem or amateur night at the Improv.  Asssociates laugh at dumb jokes and “excuse” actionable touching because they want to keep their jobs. Its every partner’s obligation to take a reality test of how “funny” he is by making jokes to younger women outside work. He will make the deflating discovery they won’t laugh at all, because they don’t need to. But…an associate that is the object of some partner’s minor infatuation and who wants to keep her job shouldn’t go public as this one did: that alienates the partner. It makes the firm split them up. It puts a “I will sue” banner on her back that repels other partners. A woman can deflect attention w/o alienating the man. Its done outside law firms all the time (“I have a fiance” “”Really Mr. X, what would your wife say?”). He saves his ego and thinks she’s great.

  7. Me

    October 28, 2009 at 10:07 am

    Idiot! You should have said something to the man if you were offended. You stayed for the money. Don’t bring Letterman into your weird existence.

  8. Er, no.

    October 28, 2009 at 10:32 am

    Craig, you’re missing the point.  When our writer says “The real worst part: I kinda liked him.  There was something sexy about his particular blend of…” are you seriously thinking that Partner X was not getting these signals?  Of course he was.  His regular stops were a slow period of measuring, and when it escalated to a touch, she f-ed it up.  Doesn’t sound like sexual harassment to me at all – these were not repeated or offensive acts, quite the opposite, it sounds consensual.

  9. Craig

    October 28, 2009 at 10:50 am

    Er, no … you can just ask her out on a date if you think there is something more than just the employee trying to butter you up.  The partner’s strategy of touching her in increasingly inappropriate/consensual places until she finally said something is clearly not the right way to go about it.  What if she responded well to the waist grab?  Does he attempt to grab her breasts next, or will he just stay at the waist for a while?

  10. BL1Y

    October 28, 2009 at 11:48 am

    Craig, Er, No: I think part of the trouble here is that a lot of people (both men and women) don’t speak up when a boss or coworker’s actions are offensive.  Our default response to offensive conduct is often silent tolerance.  They don’t want to be seen as too thin-skinned, tattling over small things, and they don’t want to the other person to retaliate.  But at the same time, a lot of people (mostly women) signal acceptance through quiet tolerance, rather than any overt act.  He might be thinking “Hey, she hasn’t asked me to stop, she must like it,” but she’ll be thinking “I wish he’d stop, but I don’t want to be rude and say something.” Again, this just boils down to women taking more responsibility for starting relationships.  If women were more upfront instead of playing hide-the-ball so often, men would less often incorrectly think there was a ball being hidden.

  11. Er, no.

    October 28, 2009 at 2:01 pm

    Craig, you miss the point – SHE LIKED IT.  She screwed it up by blabbing about it.  To say he should have just asked her out ignores the way people relate in real life – signals are subtle, relationships change over time, people are physical beings, it’s not always a clean transition from relationship state A to state B, and trying to force it to be that often prevents the transition in the first place.  And who knows what signals she was sending here when she effectively admits she liked it and thought the guy was sexy?  Yes, the partner could have done things differently, though one grab of the waist does not a sexual harassment claim make – but the point is, Ms. Staff Lawyer is the one who screwed this one up by blabbing, and all the people foaming at the mouth about sexual harassment are failing to see that in a time and industry where people practically live at work, if you prevent relationships from forming at work by forcing them into a rigid (and frigid) little box, many of those relationships that are prevented will NOT be replaced by others happening elsewhere.  It’ll just be a lonely, suckier life for us all.  (Doesn’t affect me, I’m happily married, I just think a lot of this stuff is way overblown.)

  12. Guano Dubango

    October 29, 2009 at 2:33 am

    I think people need to loosen up.  There is not such problems in my homeland when it comes to copulation.  Not every time results in pregnancy, either.  It is strictly do not worry, and make the other person happy.  This woman should be happy that a man is showing her some attention.  In particular, because she is not a beauty.  Not that many men want to make love to something sloppy like this.

  13. Son of Guano

    October 29, 2009 at 9:04 am

    I beg the pardon of you illustrious commentators for submitting this late observation.  This woman is a typical example of the confused woman inhabiting the law field nowdays. She is obviously not as good looking as Alma claims to be and is not married. Has no finance. Has no grip on her job either, or she’d have seen the first termination coming.  Has senslessly pissed off a big supporter in her new job and had herself banished to the basement. Now she will be on career pins and needles–again–while she blames everyone else but herself for her situation. Solution for this inept lawyer? Marry someone now, while you are still young. don’t wait–you obviously cannot handle older men (flatter them), or land a younger one.  Ignore the blather from Cosmo and dried up feminists: marry now.  Someone like Guano is a fine catch and will treat you well as long as you reciprocate.  You might be able to persuade him to stay in US.

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