Female big firm lawyers must withstand many tests of emotional constitution in order to earn enough respect to be accepted as one of the guys. Many are clueless and think that dressing like a man is the answer. Others have the gift of callousness and are able to set effective boundaries. Me? I’m still perfecting my approach, but I may have just set myself back a couple hundred years. Well, at least as far back as nursery school.
In our litigation department, there’s a socially foolish cretin with adult ADHD who’s ostensibly kept around because he has some esoteric tax expertise and a bulldog reputation. Widely known fact: “Bulldog” is generally a synonym for “pushy brainless moron.” I guess he figures he can distract co-workers and opposing counsel from his idiocy by being relentlessly obnoxious. He’s also the type that’s too stupid to know he’s stupid. And not only is he incapable of legal analysis, I’m not entirely sure he can read.
Of course, Bulldog has no clients of his own. Real partners use him for depositions that require yelling and browbeating. That way, they can play “good cop” and benefit from a thoroughly harassed deponent without souring their individual rapport with opposing counsel. They also find him useful because he’s willing to travel anywhere at the drop of a hat and wears his United Elite status like a badge of honor. Anytime an out-of-state deposition of a tangential third-party witness needs covering, Bulldog’s on it.
Unsurprisingly, he treats associates (namely, me) to the same enhanced interrogation techniques that he uses on deponents. There really aren’t words to properly express the awful cloud he casts with his inhuman, nasty harassment and impatient needling. He’s the kind of freak who will stop into my office on his way back from the men’s room to see whether I’m working on his assignments. If I’m not, he’ll cross-examine me and demand to know everything that’s on my plate. Nothing prevents him from bursting in and launching into a tirade—neither the presence of another associate nor the phone to my ear.
In order to maintain his service partner status for an equity partner I happen to adore working for, Bulldog uses me as a pawn. Equity has big, interesting cases for great clients, and he treats the lucky few on his team with respect. And he never cuts my time. I’m obviously overjoyed that I’ve impressed Equity and secured a spot on his team, and I do my utmost to ensure that nothing tarnishes his opinion of my reliability.
Bulldog’s ruse generally begins when Equity calls a team meeting. Bulldog makes it onto the invite list because discovery in Equity’s cases inevitably calls for travel. At the meeting, Equity will fully deploy me with lots of work. Bulldog will volunteer to fly to some God-forsaken locale for a trivial but necessary task. Then Equity will mention a creative idea for a motion. After some brainstorming, Bulldog will say, “Want me to take a crack at it?”
Twelve minutes after the meeting, Bulldog will appear in my office and demand I do the research for the motion. Then, with the delicacy and grace of a starving, 10-month-old, rabid Chihuahua, Bulldog will hassle me several times a day over the next week. If Equity asks Bulldog how he’s doing on the motion, Bulldog will barrel in and scream at me. Completing the research doesn’t even deliver me from his evil, because then he’ll demand that I draft the legal section of the motion for him too.
“Since you’re the one who did the research, and you know the lay of the land.”
This diverts me from all the other work Equity (and the many partners I work for) expressly assigned me.
Such an ass face.
Last Monday, my workload was already bursting at the seams when Equity called us together for a surprise meeting. He threw a few more projects my way right off the bat. I started plotting out my schedule in my head. I had weekend plans to fly home to be the Godmother at my baby cousin’s baptism. I figured I would actually be able to still go if I spent almost every waking hour at the office until my Saturday flight. Then, audibly crashing through my thought process, Bulldog opened his fat mouth.
“I’ll take a crack at that motion.”
I tried hiding in the women’s bathroom for a few minutes after the meeting, but when I entered my office, Bulldog was waiting. I told him that I couldn’t do the research, but he threatened to take it up with the litigation practice leader if I refused. Since that’s the guy who decides whether I get raises and bonuses, the threat stopped me dead in my tracks, and I agreed.
I drained a six-shot Americano and started tearing through my work at the fastest pace I could muster. By Thursday morning—even though I had been chained to my desk for almost every waking hour that week—I still hadn’t had a chance to start Bulldog’s research. Equity must have been growing impatient with his failure to produce a draft because Bulldog began mercilessly baring his fangs during hourly visits to my office.
By Friday morning, I was on the brink of nervous breakdown. At 7:15 a.m., Bulldog tore my office door off its hinges when he stormed in.
“Where is it? What the fuck have you been doing all week?”
“I will have everything completed by no later than end of day Monday.”
“I’m not waiting until Monday. This has to be done by SUNDAY MORNING!”
I spent the next 10 minutes in a detached stupor, staring listlessly at my computer and making a meal out of the inside of my cheek when an email interrupted my catatonia. It was from Bulldog.
Opening it, I realized that the original email was from Equity asking Bulldog to send him a draft immediately. Above the forwarded message: “LF10, get me the research TODAY that I’ve been waiting on all week.”
And he cc’d Equity.
The room literally started spinning. In a clearer state of mind, I could have properly dealt with the situation, but I was too fried. I started trying to devise a way to save face with Equity when suddenly, my door opened.
It was Equity.
He looked pissed. My heart stopped. And without further ado, I burst into tears and started sobbing.
I had been able to avoid this very moment for over three years. The occasional 1:30 a.m. self-pity crying fit doesn’t count, since my computer screen is the sole witness. But here it was happening—and my body was physiologically determined to make it count.
I tried to speak, but couldn’t. I was crying too hard and had lost all self-control. The aghast, apologetic look on Equity’s face would have been equally appropriate had he walked in on me in a stall in the ladies room. He immediately started backing out the door.
“Wait!” I choked out. “I’m sorry that I didn’t finish that research—”
He cut me off.
“What the hell’s the matter with you!? I was just stopping in here on my way back from Bulldog’s office. I told him that his email to you was completely unacceptable. He had no business pushing that work off on you. He’s no longer allowed to give you any work without checking with me first. Don’t let him get to you, especially when he’s acting like an idiot.”
Maybe it was the combination of exhaustion and the toxic amount of caffeine in my system, but I swear that he closed the door to Handel’s Messiah.
Nine hours of sleep on my round-trip flight and one baptism later, I’m now left pondering the paradoxes that I’ve encountered down in the BigLaw rabbit hole. All I’ve surmised is that when I do my best to behave like a professional, it blows up in my face. But when I behave like a little girl and cry, I receive a level of protection that I’d previously thought impossible.
I’m sure I won’t hear another peep from Bulldog. The firm wouldn’t tolerate his existence in the absence of the hours he bills on Equity’s cases—he knows that. And (I hope) Equity is too busy to give the crying incident much thought. So, I suppose, all’s well that ends well. For the time being, at least.