Q) Okay, so I think I just ruined my career. In short, I told a partner to “F*** off.” Yes, I actually used the F-word.
To make a long story short, Douchebag Partner (hereafter referred to as “DBP”), told me to draft a Promissory Note (a small part of a much larger transaction) and send it off to the client for his approval. DBP gave me all the specific details—terms, interest rate, etc. He also gave me “the perfect precedent” to use. In other words, all I had to do was fill in the blanks, make a few simple, conforming changes, and send it to the client. And that’s what I did.
Unfortunately, DBP gave me the wrong terms. The principal amount was 86 million, not 76 million. The client got pissed and sent DBP a bitchy email. So DBP threw me under the bus and blamed the mistake on the new, careless associate. Me. To cover his lie, he stormed into my office and yelled at me so everyone could hear how reckless and negligent I am. Before I could defend myself, he just walked away, muttering under his breath, “Practicing law requires focus and dedication.”
So I sat in my office for a few minutes. Be calm. Don’t go crazy. Don’t do anything stupid. You’re a third-year associate. You have a good reputation. The job market sucks. You’re getting married in five months. But it didn’t work! I rushed out of my office, hurried down the hall . . . and barged into DBP’s office to tell him he was out of line for yelling at me—and blaming me for the mistake in the first place. It was his fault. Not mine. He gave me the terms. I didn’t make them up. DBP’s face reddened, his neck stiffened, and he started insulting me all over the place. He said I had a bad attitude, I was arrogant, I’m not as smart as I think I am.
I was stunned. He made the mistake, but I was suddenly the asshole. So I told him to go f*** himself and walked out the door.
Since then, we’ve had minimal face-to-face contact. I’m still working on the deal, but the assignments are now delivered to me via email or through a senior associate who’s also working on the deal. It’s now been three days since the blow up, and I’m worried I just destroyed my career. Any advice?
A ) First, let me say that I applaud your ballsy-ness. Congratulations! It takes guts to tell a partner to f*** off. It’s much easier to bite your lip, say nothing, smash a coffee mug, yell at your girlfriend or boyfriend, eat a bacon cheeseburger. And pretend Asshole Partner never humiliated you in the first place. But that doesn’t mean it’s smart.
It’s like that scene in Goodfellas where “Spider” (a young Michael Imperioli) finally tells Joe Pesci to go f*** himself. Deniro laughs, applauds Spider for having big balls, throws a bunch of cash at him, then Pesci shoots Spider twice in the chest.
It feels good to say “F you” to an unfair, unkind bully, but sometimes it gets you killed. In your particular case, if DBP is, in fact, a powerful partner—if he has a good reputation, brings in lots of business, etc., you might be in trouble. There may be no way of fixing the problem, unless, of course, DBP is far less douche-y than you suggest and realizes he was out of line, forgives and forgets. The odds of that happening, however, are close to zero. If, on the other hand, DBP is a putz and everyone knows he’s a putz, you might be okay.
Either way, here’s my advice. Go to DBP’s office and apologize for your outburst. Tell him that you were out of line and you’re sorry. You’ve been working hard, you’re under lots of stress, have lots of personal issues going on, etc… It sucks, I know, but you have to do it. After that, talk to the most powerful partner you know and explain to him what happened. In other words, get out in front of the problem.
If DBP is powerful, be very careful about calling him a liar. Be respectful and deferential, but explain your point of view and apologize for the mistake. If DBP is a putz, you can be a little more negative in your characterization of the events leading up to the F-bomb.
The only other thing that matters here is YOUR reputation. If you’re smart, bill lots of hours and play well with others, your odds of recovery are much greater. Next time, just smash a coffee mug or eat a bacon cheeseburger. It makes life a lot easier. Good luck!
This column originally ran in June 2010. If you have a question for Ex-Bitter, email it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org