The Crying Game

Law Firm 10 Columns, Law Firm 10, Lawyer 30 Comments

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 retarded 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.

Go figure.

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.

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  • Alma Federer

    Yes, I can relate to LF10’s situation.  I too get dumped on by a guy at work, Bill, who is still sore that I would not go out with him when I first joined the firm.  He was a senior associate and now he’s a non-equity partner.  Every time there is a dirty job, he recruits me to help and inevitably he has me work on it with a first year associate.  But usually it’s too complicated for the first year so I wind up doing the bulk of the work because I am smart.  In my firm, though, it does not matter how smart or good looking I am.  All the partners only care about how much work we can do and bill.  The managing partner is actually sympathetic to Bill, because I think he too has been sexually rebuffed by pretty women like me and LF10.  So hang in there LF10, I know it’s tough, but we have to work twice as hard to be successful in this male chauvinistic world, where women like us are targeted just because we are pretty.

  • Guano Dubango

    LF 10, I am sad for you.  I understand you have been abused at work, and you are sad.  I can make you happy.  I respect women like you.  I have LLM from Georgetown, and am working in NY City.  At some point I will return to my home country, and I want to be able to bring with me someone like you.  If you are capable of bearing me children and wish to return to Ghana with me in a few years (after we build up a nest egg), please let me know very quickly.  There have been many women interested, but the problem either is (i) the women do not want to return with me to settle permanently in Ghana; (ii) the women are not gainfully employed and capable of earning enough money to support both of us and our expected lifestyle, both here and in Ghana; (iii) the women are not very pretty; they must be at least attractive enough to ensure that I will always remain true only with them; note: the ideal candidate will be very beautiful, and petite (less than 2 Meters tall, and less than135 lbs —in Ghana, nearly all the women are heavier than me and give off a lot of heat—which is not desirable, even in the hill country where we will live; (iv) the women must be capable physically of bearing me at least 3 children, preferably male, to carry on the royal Dubango name.  YOU, LF10, seem to meet the criteria I have spelled out.  You seem to be very pretty, earning good money, and I hope you are young enough to bear me 3 young Dubangos.  I would like to try to make this work with you.  If you wish to meet with my Aunt, who will be visiting the USA to approve potential mates for me, let me know.  Thank you.  Sincerely, Guano

  • BL1Y

    The lesson here is when you’re getting overloaded with work, open communication channels.  If someone tells you to drop another person’s project to work for them, immediately tell the other person.  Don’t be passive aggressive, don’t be bitchy.  A simple “Just wanted to let you know I’ve been instructed to work on XYZ immediately, so I won’t have PQR when expected” will suffice.  Don’t copy e-mails and don’t start providing evidence like you’re putting someone on trial.  A little FYI will go a long ways.

  • BL1Y

    Also, cut the sex bullshit.  Men get this same crap, and women dish it just the same.  You didn’t try dressing like a man, you dressed like a professional.  You didn’t act like a little girl, you acted like a normal human being that shouldn’t be expected to do 100 hours of work overnight.

  • Anonymous

    BL1Y, be nice to LF10.  She is good looking.  If she looked like a water buffalo, no one would really care.  But because she is good looking, we must at least pretend to care about her situation.  We do this because we get tangential benefits for comforting this beeotch.

  • BL1Y

    Please learn the difference between “is good looking” and “claims to be good looking.” Alma can fill you in on the details (did you know people tell her she looks good from 30 feet away).

  • KateLaw

    I feel her pain.  I once cried in front of the Dean of my law school after an incredibly stressful week.  I was so disappointed in myself over the whole thing, but it ended up being no big deal once I got past the initial humiliation.  I think professional women try their very best to be taken seriously and when you hit a breaking point and expose yourself in such a vulnerable way, it can really feel like you’ve totally set youself back in the eyes of your superiors/collegues.  However, I think it ends up making you seem like more of a real person rather than some type of work horse.  Unless the unsuspecting witness completely lacks a sense of humanity, they’re likely to hold off on judging you in a way that will negatively affect you in the long term.  I think LF10’s post illustrates this.

  • Bitter Guy

    Funny Alma, I would’ve thought an incident like this would rub you the wrong way, but I suppose you’re just one of those better than equal types.  (As in, you want to be treated as better than equal – equal treatment except when it benefits you to have it otherwise, e.g., you can start crying to get guys to ease up on you with the work.  Wish I could do that!) LF10, you have just shown why women are not the equal of men in the legal workplace – you play the girl/family card rather than playing by the same rules, if I cried because someone was dogging me for more work I would be out of there on the next round of layoffs.  But women want to, and get to, play differently – just don’t be surprised when the guys keep that in mind.

  • Frat Guy Lawyer Type

    The first part of professionalism is realistically assessing how much work you can do.  Putting up with a screaming jackass and blowing off more important work, i.e. work that was assigned by “Equity” is unacceptable.  As Clint Eastwood said, “a man’s got to know his limitations.” Sometimes you can’t avoid conflict and be professional.

  • esqsss

    I think we have all been there at one point or another and I truly sympathize.  I don’t think the partner will think less of you for seeing that you take your responsibilites so seriously and are desperately trying to do all that is asked of you.  I agree that you should make anyone for whom you have a pending major assignment know when another partner preempts their project.

  • Craig

    There should be no crying at work.  You broke out into tears? I would have started laughing.

  • TNG

    you have to really learn to say “NO” sometimes and set those boundaries you have been talking about.  I don’t get you.  You let people push you around and live in fear of a bad review, even though your work product is good.  Say “NO”, set boundaries, and you will be respected.  If you don’t..and have mental breakdowns, so much for respect.  If they don’t respect you, you’ll never make partner, which I assume is your goal.  If the firm doesn’t give you the respect you deserve even after setting boundaries, then that firm is probably not the kind of work environment you want to waste your life in….  stick up for your dignity now or become psychological basket case later….you have only one life to live.  don’t waste it in a shitty work environment

  • Craig

    Maybe LF10 is just not a very good lawyer.  Or at least a slow worker. She always seems to have people on her for not getting their stuff done.  She seems to have plenty of time to write these articles for Bitter Lawyer though.  Maybe everyone isn’t a dick and too hard on you. Maybe you are just a slow processor and don’t work as hard as you think.

  • Abner G.

    I agree with anonymous.  If this girl were ugly, or even plain, we would not care.  But because she CLAIMS to be good looking, we’re all responding to her.  I say let her post a picture and the # of responses will go down.  A law firm 10 is equal to a real life 4.  If you don’t believe me, go to any law school and they’ll prove me right.

  • Anonymous Cinci Atty

    I agree with that, Abner G, but you also have to take into account the tier of the law schools that the firm hires from.  In my city, we have a tier 4 school somewhat near us.  The ladies that come out of there are capable and, sometimes, extremely attractive.  We’re talkin’ real world 8-9s.

    I guess you’re just talkin’ about NYC firms?

  • Anon Female

    Crying at work is not a good idea….but it does happen.

  • Bravo

    Guys, it doesn’t matter if she is a 1 or a 10.  She had deprived herself of sleep due to over work and broke down in front of a man who she thought was a nice person and from his behavior he is a nice guy.  Please do not mistake a few tears for weakness.  Okay young lady you cried, so get back to work and like a 10 lawyer.  Forget the looks, but do stay clean.

  • BL1Y

    When I was told I was getting The Big F- Off, I had the decency to wait until I was home before I cried.

  • Altruist

    Hey Bitter Lawyer: Help BL1Y get a new job!!!!

  • canadouche

    actually, being a professional would be turning down bulldog.  Equity is right.

  • Anonymous

    I suggest LF10 let BL1Y move in with her.  He can be her cook, maid and man-servant.  He will get free rent and all the lovin’ he can handle.  Another win-win situation.  How about it, LF10?  BL1Y?

  • Midwestern L

    Great graphic

  • BL1Y

    I actually am a pretty decent cook.

  • Pacific Reporter

    I cried in a 1-on-1 meeting with my boss once. It got me a promotion and a 10% raise.


    It’s unfortunate that crying reinforces the ridiculous stereotypes that *some* people nurture.  But that’s the facts.  Worse thing I ever did at West Point was cry in front of an upperclassmen.  the boys snickered and the women hated me.
    But everyone does it.  Just it’s not quite as disgusting if you’re pretty while you do it.
    Don’t ever bet the fat ugly girl crying.

  • Guano Dubango

    Men who cry are feminine.  Women who cry get men to comfort them.  I am available to women who need comforting.

  • ML

    My heart goes out to you on this, and I understand your conflict.  Just be happy that Bulldog is no longer barking in your doorway.

  • WOw…..

    Crying is not a sign of weakness. Had a man been in that situation he might have also had a nervous breakdown, they are not immune from it, though water might not come out of their eyes, they channel it to anger… which is also not an entirely useful emotion. The point being, you were no acting like a professional. The professional thing to do, is to see to the commitment YOU have made to your boss FIRST, and kindly explain that your plate is full, there is no way you can do this work without sacrificing quality… it maintains your credibility and is the TRUTH. Honest, you firm wackos, how can you consider yourselves lawyers when you can’t even advocate for yourselves? Another reason I hope to NEVER work for a firm.

  • Anonymous

    Something tells me LF10 wrote this story giving herself a little more credit than she probably deserves.  It’s easy when you’re the author to bend a little and shape a little to look like you were deserving of such waterworks.
    I’m not saying crying shouldn’t happen, I’m just saying I’d like to hear Bulldog’s version of the story.

  • Larry

    This woman sounds like a good old fashioned humpin’ with a caring guy would do her a world of good. Am I wrong?