Associate Swap: What Happens When You’re Derailed Off Partner Track

Bitter and Abused Columns, Lawyer 8 Comments

For the last two weeks, things have been pretty awkward around the Heathcare group at my fairly large Midwestern firm. And that’s because we have an unexpected new member on our team. She’s not a first-year, not a lateral, not even a new hire.  She merely hails from the General Corporate group down the hall. She’s a fourth-year swap. And when she joined us, we had to give up an existing associate from our department to head down to General Corporate and take her place.

I’ve been wondering why the hell two female lawyers quickly swapped practice groups unannounced and without justification. I’ve been asking everyone. For those of us who don’t know why, it’s all we can talk about. For those who clearly know, they can’t do enough to play dumb and keep their mouths shut. But I think I finally found out.

It’s good to be persistent.

The meek girl who doesn’t know lick about what the hell we do here in Healthcare but joins us anyway (we’ll call her Tara) is apparently at the center of a pretty major controversy. You’d never guess she had it in her, given that she’s mousey, quiet and never wears anything but earth tones, but she’s got management wrapped around her little finger right now.

She allegedly was involuntarily transferred because her Corporate group leader hosed her. And not only did he “abuse” her something good, he made her the new face of intra-firm discrimination.

See, things got really sticky around here during December’s performance reviews and bonus distribution—just as I bet they did at every firm. But Tara’s group leader took matters into his own hands.

From what I hear, during Tara’s review, she was told by her group leader that, while she was doing a great job, she would not be getting a raise or bonus in accordance with new law firm policy.

Then, in late January, Tara started to have a hunch that she was the only one who didn’t receive a bonus. The more people she asked about it, the more her hunch was confirmed.

Apparently, what really happened is that her group leader was looking out for his own bottom line, leaving a larger share of the salary budget for himself. He figured she’d never be bold enough to ask her co-workers about it. (Like I said, Tara is a worker bee who doesn’t talk much or socialize with anyone from the office.) So, he cut Tara’s bonus and justified it to the executive committee by telling them that Tara was now on non-partnership track.

Unbeknownst to her, the executive committee was put under the assumption that she was now, at best, working towards Of Counsel and no longer progressing towards partner. And based on that assumption, her group leader could justify not giving her a raise.

When rumors started to leak as to what really happened, the firm’s women’s committee found out and hit the roof. Not only was Tara’s corporate partner completely unjustified, he also happened to be the women’s group’s number one public enemy because of his reputation for being a lady’s man. Let’s just say he’s known for having sexual relations with more than a few women at the firm—in spite of his lovely wife of 25 years. The word “discrimination” was said to have been thrown around several times during their conversation about Tara.

So, the logical solution the women’s committee settled on was to rectify the situation by convincing Tara she was back on track and banishing her to a new practice group. But that meant an innocent, likewise-mousey girl was forced to give up her place on the Heathcare team (after three years of hard work) to go slave for a skeezy partner over in Corporate, AKA Tara’s former group leader.

As you might have guessed, nothing has happened to him. It’s ridiculous.

But that’s just how the abuse cookie crumbles around here, I suppose. Guess you can call me your law firm Gossip Girl.

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  • BL1Y

    Women hate men who hate women.  Women hate men who love women.  What the deuce?!

  • Long time reader, first time commenter

    I’m a guy, and not a very sensitive, PC one at that.  However, I’m angry for the affected women; I can’t believe management’s solution was to transfer associates to different practice groups.  Am I missing something? Is the corporate practice group so small that the corporate associate couldn’t work for other partners?

  • in the know …

    The switch had more to do with whom evaluated her performance and was responsible for her bottom line than for whom she worked.
    Would you want future bonus/partnership decisions made–or at least heavily influenced–by the partner who previously did this to you?

  • KH

    I think you made this story up out of thin air, especially the part about another innocent woman having to switch practice groups.  That isn’t logical, why not just let them both stay in HC?  Don’t get it.

  • amanda

    what bothers me is that you got into a “fairly large” firm based on some modicum of talent and intelligence, and you can’t be bothered to proofread your own work. 
    i find it hard to believe that the partner did that based on the idea that she would never find out.  anyone who has worked in a firm, or any other office environment, knows full well that the only things that stay secret are the things that are never said.  people are bound to talk about bonuses, i don’t care how tacky or inappropriate.

  • Anon_1L

    I fail to see what the gender of anyone involved has to do with anything. Looks like a quiet unassuming doormat got railroaded by her douche boss. That happens. A lot.
    But hey, since she has a vagina she gets to call it discrimination, while a dude in her position would just silently fume over it until he comes into work one day with a semi-automatic rifle.

  • ITK

    KH – the HC group only has 3 associates, so adding a 4th isn’t an option when the work won’t support it.  And it’s not a surprise she was moved to HC … female practice group leader.
    And how the hell do I (or anyone) know why he did it.  Maybe his practice group needed to make budget in a tough year for him to make more $$$.  (If he was that close, screw the pushover and hope nobody finds out.) Maybe he didn’t like her and he was trying to get to quit.  He’s slept with at least 3 of the staff, and nothing has happened.  This wouldn’t be the first big firm partner to think he’s invincible.

  • Sarcasmus

    I’m calling bullshavings on this one.  I don’t believe the women’s committee would have accepted replacing one mousy victim with another one.  See a key to telling stories is that the characters and plot have to be believable and consistent.  Go back to the drawing board.