I Overheard a Partner Bitching About Me

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Q“The rainmaker.” Every firm has one. This is a rare breed of lawyer: a unique cocktail of douchebag and perfectionist who is driven mostly by the need to keep referral sources in tact and deliver quality work product . . . until he passes the client off to another attorney to do the actual work. My firm has one, too. He is well-known in our niche as a difficult partner to work for, but he brings in so much business that partners look the other way as he is driving associates into the depths of hell.

Almost four years out of law school now, I have been at my current firm about a year and a half. Coincidentally, I thought about applying to this firm from my previous one when they were openly searching for associates. However, seeing as I was just a second year at the time, I decided I would be best served by waiting until I had more experience to apply to a firm of this stature. I have a lot of respect for the partners here, and always hoped I would end up here. About a year and a half ago, I was working with a partner at my previous firm on a case, and we were scheduled for a last-minute mediation. The court appointed “the rainmaker” at another firm (the firm I currently work for) to be an “evaluator,” i.e. try to scare the parties into settling to get the case off the docket.

The partner with whom I was working had a family emergency, and I, the second-year associate, had to handle the mediation. Somehow I did something to impress the rainmaker. Indeed, he interviewed me right there in his office, including asking how long I had been out of law school, where was I from, was I married, the standard fare. When I said I graduated from law school a couple of years ago, he seemed genuinely surprised. My inner law dork ego was at an all-time high.

It took about two weeks for the rainmaker to reel me in from my other firm, leaving the angry partners who had generously given me a job out of law school in the wake. I don’t know what I did to impress the rainmaker, but I was brought on to be his associate. He was notorious for scaring away associates. Lucky me.

Regardless, my first instincts about the firm were accurate—I did not have enough experience to be the rainmaker’s minion. The rainmaker needs an associate who can take a case and run with no supervision, because the rainmaker has no time to answer questions. The rainmaker cuts your time like a madman to make clients happy (that’s right, 70 hours the first month!!) The rainmaker is the Monday morning quarterback. He only likes to come in after-the-fact and slam your decision. It’s a lose-lose situation. You will never be as good as the rainmaker.

So I’ve heard. The other day, I walked to one of the partner’s offices to drop off some documents that she had asked me to review. I heard the rainmaker through the closed door, and unfortunately, within seconds realized he was talking about me.

“I brought her over here thinking she was really great . . . it turns out, she can’t really do anything.” He then cited a particularly difficult case he dumped on me, one which I begged him for help on because it had issues and facts outside my competency level. REALLY?? WTF. FML. In all fairness to me, I am going into my fourth year. Yes, I am not as capable as someone with twenty years of experience. I hardly think that qualifies me—even by rainmaker standards—as someone who needs to ride the short bus to work.

Here’s the dilemma. How do I assure myself that I have job security without blowing my cover? I can’t very well talk to the partner to whom the rainmaker was complaining, even though she is now my supervising partner. No way is anyone going to believe that snippet of the conversation was all I heard (although it’s the truth, as I ran away silently screaming out of fear they would suddenly open the door and see me).

However, at the same time, I fear my job is on the line. It’s not my fault the rainmaker thought I had the experience of a fifth or sixth year. I was very honest about my credentials when I interviewed. Now I’m faced with the decision of staying at a firm I love, knowing the rainmaker thinks I’m worthless (thus, I’ll probably never make partner), or hitting the road and settling for a job at a firm I don’t really care about.

AHow about this: I want readers to pipe in because, honestly, if they’ve read the whole thing—and I hope they have—then I think they should have some advice. And if the advice ends up being lame, overly snarky, or full of contempt, then I’ll weigh in more substantively. But my hunch is that you’ll get decent advice from readers in the comments. Am I punting? Sort of. But it’s a long question, full of good insight, and worth getting reader responses first. I rarely do this but we’ll see how it goes this time.

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  • Val

    You are correct, you will never live up to the rainmaker’s standards. Been there, done that. What the firm does not realize is that the rainmaker is a liability to the firm, regardless of his or her perceived attributes he brings to the firm. He or she will cost the firm 3 times more than he or she brings to the firm one day! Get out while you can, and do no let this individual make you doubt yourself. You did graduate from law school and it takes brains, endurance, and commitment to do that. Best of luck!

  • Ex-Bitter, Now Happy

    Talk to your supervising partner, but do not mention having overheard the conversation. Approach this as, “Hey, you’re my supervisor, and I’m in a situation that’s not working.” Tell her that you are asking repeatedly for help (even mention the particularly difficult case), but are not getting it, and are not getting your questions answered. If this rainmaker is typical, this is not going to shock her. She may be able to diversify your workload a little bit, or connect you with someone who can actually answer your questions.

    I certainly would not jump ship yet, if this is really where you want to work. I don’t know how big your current firm is, but if it’s of any decent size, the other partners are all well aware of how this guy treats associates, and have the luxury to take his opinions and reviews of those associates with more than a grain of salt. Provided you can start spreading your work to over partners (and with any luck, in a few years, away from rainmaker) and doing a good job, there’s every reason to believe you can (eventually) move up at this firm despite rainmaker’s misgivings.

  • Philalawyer

    I think that you are overreacting. You were brought into this situation because you showed promise in a pressure situation. The only thing that the rainmaker was saying was that he overestimated your basic experience. If I were you I would bust my ass for your current supervising partner and try to get another opportunity to work for the rainmaker. Everyone always bitches about rainmakers but business is what keeps a firm afloat. If you get back on his/her good side you can begin to build your own book of business by being the point of contact for the clients that he doesn’t have the time to deal with.

    You’re in a great situation. You obviously have the potential, all you have to do now is prove that you have the work ethic. Best of luck to you.

  • Ben

    I agree with Phila Lawyer to some degree. The worst part of being an associate with between 2 – 6 years expereince is that every decision you make is going to be second guessed until you know your partners. When making a decision you should ask yourself “what would the partner do.” When I am unsure how to answer this question, I will prepare a short summary of the issue and provide the partner with two or three plans of action and let them chose one. This technique allows me to get my two cents in and control the case to some degree. However, it also allows the partner to make quick decision while still being presented with alternatives. This will be seen less as asking for help and will let the partner know that you understand the issue, have digested it and are capable of weighing different plans of action. Just like a mother bird and baby bird. Either way, when you present the partner with multiple options you will be wrong less often, will get a better idea of how they want things done and will have more control over the case. Good luck!

  • Lionel Hutz

    I wouldn’t stress. Partners like this one bitch about their secretaries, their junior associates, their senior associates and their fellow partners all (and I really do mean all) the time. Your now supervising partner will have seen it all before – so don’t stress it too much (I know that this is hard to do). You were just unfortunate enough to be privy to the bitching this time. It will have happened before and, I dare say that it will happen again. After a couple more years you will realise that this is just an occupational hazard and not to worry about it.

  • Beth

    I had a similar situation in which I was brought on, straight out of law school, to replace a 5th year associate because I was very impressive in the interview. It was apparently unclear to the partners that hired me that I required some training before I could do everything a 5th year could do. I made the mistake of doing nothing and hoping it would blow over. It didn’t. You have to take action– take Ex-Bitter’s advice and try getting more work from other partners so you have someone to champion you when this guy get his feathers up. As many have pointed out– everyone probably knows this partner is a D-Bag, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t wield power. You are smart and capable. You got this job because of your skills. Find other partners who will be more supportive and to whom you can demonstrate your value.

  • Schills

    You should be glad you have the opportunity to work with another partner. Impress her, learn the ropes you have not picked up yet, and you will shine.