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.