Meet the new century, same as the old century.
For years, I was an associate at a very large multinational. At one point, I hated every second of my job. In fact, I hated it so much that I signed up to go back to school to obtain the most worthless of degrees: The LLM. During that time, I started shopping around for new jobs. One such shop, a plaintiff securities fraud boutique, offered me a few interviews . . . and at last, I landed in front of Named Partner X.
Very frankly, he said, “All resumes I’ve looked at in my life can be divided into two piles. One is full of wash outs, and one is full of loyalists. Which one are you? When you figure that out, give me a call.”
Comprehending that “wash out” most often correlates with crazy hours, competitive and untrustworthy colleagues, boring and un-compelling work and other such conditions of general misery, I opted to stick with my old shit job that at least gave me enough time to slum it with the night school kids at Temple Law.
Two months later, I got the axe. Two months after that, my ex-office’s litigation department went defunct.
Six months down the road, one of the headhunters who, just one year ago, used to kiss my ass and take me to lunch, decided to expend five seconds of her precious Macys.com time to call and inform me that Named Partner X’s firm was looking for a staffer.
At first mention, I mentally checked the “opt out” box—wanting to leave the law altogether and do something I actually enjoy. I never meant to get laid off, but I figured I might as well use the opportunity to shoot the moon. But the opportunity sounded too perfect: Learn, research, write, get paid. All things I could obviously handle. Plus, the subject matter was right up my alley (corporate fraud and financial crap). So I signed on.
For the first few months, I was deliriously happy. Yes, I was stuck in a cattle pen with other staff attorneys and treated like dirt. But the work was interesting, and I didn’t feel at all isolated—much like that form of torture so common in BigLaw.
Not to mention, plenty of unsolicited attention from Named Partner X had me feeling like the newest golden child. (Because no matter how much we say we hate it and think it’s a joke, it’s the best feeling to have that little gold star pasted next to your name, isn’t it?) Every other day or so, Named Partner X would stop in my office just to drop a devastatingly un-funny one-liner (“It’s Friday! You know what that means? Only two more days til the work week!” or, “Now that I’m in the room, has the average IQ gone up?”), not wait for much of a response (I’d maybe let out some girlish giggling) and leave. It was painfully obvious that I was on his radar. I just thought it was his professional radar.
One unassuming morning, as I was absorbed in work, Named Partner X sneaked up behind me and said something snarky about what I was typing. Just then, he put his hand on my shoulder. And it felt weird—at least for someone generally unaccustomed to any sort of workplace touching. But whatever, just some obnoxious male power-trip thing common in every American law firm. And since I had never been the recipient of a partner’s power-drunk flirtatious advances before, I was still enjoying the attention. It’s assuaged my poor, devastated laid-off ego. (I’m not ugly, but I’m no “LF10.” I don’t get good-looking men hitting on me at a bar until close to closing, after they gave up and got too drunk to do better.)
But then, last Thursday morning, I was in an empty office across the hall taking a phone call from my brother when Named Partner X snuck up behind me and grabbed me with both hands on my waist. All tickly-like. It scared the crap out of me (which, I assume, was his intent), but all I could do was say into the phone, “I gotta go, the boss is trying to grab me.” I he perceived that has a passive validation of his gesture and chuckled. I was actually being literal. By the time I hung up the phone and turned around to fully react, he was gone.
For the rest of the day, I felt possessed. I couldn’t resist and blabbed about. All giggly and nervous-like. To anyone listening within a 50-foot radius. “X just GRABBED me! Can you believe? No wonder I’m turning into a rabid feminist!” If only I wasn’t too dull-witted to realize this was making me enemies.
The next day he stopped by my door, stuck his finger in my face, wagged it and said, “You. Follow me.”
He pivoted and walked—forcing me to run after him down the hallway. While he is short, I am so much shorter that following his brisk pace required I jog. Awkwardly. In heels.
He gets me in a private office, slams the door and launches into some version of an apology whereby he keeps insisting that people need to have thick skins in his office. Yeah, that kind of apology. And the best part? Me and my response.
“Oh, no problem. I’m fine, and I love it here. I’m used to stuff. I was in the Army.”
But next thing I know, I got moved downstairs. My own space with a window, but still now firmly off his radar.
So now, not only has the partner in charge of my immediate financial future totally forgotten about me and my slim savings account, the staff attorneys all HATE me. For various reasons. Some are pissed because downstairs I now have my own space with a window—something that takes most staffers five years to get. For others, it’s the sad, unspoken jealously of having never been groped by grabby-hands Named Partner X. Topping it off: I don’t even have a fricking lawsuit to cover my ass if I get canned. All he has to do is not give me more work.
The real worst part: I kinda liked him. There was something sexy about his particular blend of being an obnoxious, liberal Jewish dude who takes time to pester his contractor staff attorney underlings—the attorneys that even freaking secretaries think they’re too good for. I had even grown to appreciate his witty banter—in 30-second intervals, at least—as long as didn’t mind the lame Henny Youngman impersonations.
But what I’m starting to realize is that he was just looking to make a younger woman uncomfortable so she would kiss his butt and further entrench the personality cult that is his law firm. And I was just one of plenty of female employees who, in this job climate, will cooperatively run down the hall after him upon whisper and wag of his index finger. It’s not right.
But unfortunately, being right doesn’t always keep you employed. It seems David Letterman is hardly a cautionary tale. And sometimes it feels as though nothing has changed since the days of Mad Men.