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Lawyers Club of San Diego is a specialty bar association committed to advancing the status of women in the law and society. We use this space to share articles written about Lawyers Club events and programs and items of interest to our members which are relevant to our mission. The opinions outlined in content published on the Lawyers Club of San Diego blog are those of the authors and not of Lawyers Club. All members are encouraged to participate respectfully in discussions regarding the topics posted on the blog. Guest writers are welcome. Guidelines for writers may be found on the Leadership Resources page.

 

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Stories to Solutions: "A Damn Good Lawyer and Her Bully, a Story Years in the Making"

Posted By Amanda Allen, Tuesday, March 28, 2017

A Damn Good Lawyer and Her Bully, a Story Years in the Making


I am a two-time NCAA champion softball player. My coach used to yell at me. I persevered. I got better. She raised me up and told me I was greatness in the making. She told me that if I came to the field every single day and gave 100%, I would help our team. I would be the best I was capable of being. That is all she asked of each of us, every single day. We took responsibility for our actions and controlled only the things we could control, letting everything else go. That is how we became champions.


As a first-year attorney at a firm, I tried to apply my championship mentality to the workplace. When the bully threw paper at me from the doorway of my office, I picked them up and was determined to write a better motion, to be a better lawyer. When he put his hand in my face and stopped me mid-sentence in front of my colleagues saying, “Stop, stop talking,” I let it go, because I cannot control his actions and time spent on that was time spent not getting better at being a lawyer. When on a conference call with a client, I dared to speak to the client about the TRO motion I was drafting . . . he rolled back in his chair, flailed his arms around and ran his pointer finger across his throat to silently, yet loudly, admonish me for speaking during the call. After the call, in the calmest and most condescending voice he could muster, he said a phrase I will never forget, “Amanda, sweetheart, darling, you only speak on a conference call when I tell you to speak.” The male colleague in the room was disgusted, but said nothing. He said nothing. Barely in my third year, I was reaching my threshold. He became more hostile when his clients began to prefer to call me, when I started working on my own cases, and when he messed up a case and I refused to take the blame.


The daily aggressions were a thousand tiny paper cuts. One afternoon, he greeted me with a light-hearted, jovial, “What’s up bitch?!”. I thought about rolling with it, but instead of shrugging it off, I said to him, “You will not talk to me like that. I will leave and come back and we will try this again.” I came back and he responded with, “It was just a joke. You know – what’s up homie?” I was tough. They thought I was a perfect match to handle his combativeness. They were wrong.

 

After more than four long years of this treatment, I had had enough. By then, I had started to work on my own cases, and I realized I was a damn good lawyer and he was jackass. My repeated complaints fell on deaf ears or resulted in meaningless conferences where the bully apologized and got a slap on the wrist. Then he behaved for a couple more months, but he was a bully and he was not going to change. Despite anger management classes and many half-hearted attempts by the powers-that-be to reign him in, he was never going to change.


When I left to go out on my own, the firm asked me why I was leaving and I told them to pursue different clients, make more money, and control my life. All true statements. I did not tell them that after working for the bully, I could not imagine being partners with attorneys that kept someone like that as their partner. Yes, they were great lawyers who taught me a lot. But they messed up when they put up with him. I probably would have stayed for many more years, but their refusal to put integrity above their bottom line was no longer something that could be overlooked. 


After the Lawyers Club July 2016 Luncheon on Sexual Harassment and Bullying, I was inspired to put “ideas into action.” After nearly 3 years, I scheduled a meeting with the managing partners of my old firm and told them a more complete version of why I left. I thought that if I could help one other woman avoid what I went through, it could make a difference–and it was a difficult conversation, to say the least. I practiced my first few lines, much in the way you would practice for oral argument at a hearing. At first, they seemed to make excuses by stating that they removed the bully. Eventually, they acknowledged that it took them four years to let him go. In fact, they had complaints about him before I even arrived to the firm. In that moment at the table, I realized that these lawyers sincerely lack the consciousness and tools to act differently. I can only hope that, they have a greater awareness and that all of this will spare some new “tough” attorney years of tiny paper cuts.


What I did not anticipate from the conversation with my former colleagues was the gift I gave to myself by standing up and speaking out. There is a confidence and power I have gained from running my own successful practice for three years that laid the groundwork for having that conversation. I finally forgave myself for not speaking up earlier, and for not fighting back while I was at the firm. The truth is, I was not ready at that moment in time. I did the best I could at that moment, by stopping the bleeding and focusing all my energy on my new firm.


Be kind to yourself when you are being bullied or harassed. You are doing the best you can. Just know that at some point in the future the opportunity will arise for you to speak out for yourself or someone else, to stand up for yourself or someone else, and to take action. Maybe that time will be next month, or years from now, but the time will come and you will be ready.



Amanda Allen is the managing attorney at Aguirre Allen Law, APC where she practice business, real estate, and craft beer law and she is the founder of Enrich, a co-working community for lawyers where they focus on providing solo and small firm lawyers the support they need to achieve success personally, professionally, and financially. #lawyerhardlivewell 

Tags:  bitch  bullying  enrich  firm  ideas into action  LCB  new attorney  Stories to solutions  Sts  young attorney 

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Stories to Solutions: "What’s a Girl Boss to do When It’s Not Just Lunch? – Part I"

Posted By Chelsea Chatsworth, Wednesday, March 8, 2017

What’s a Girl Boss to do When It’s Not Just Lunch? – Part I

 

I endured various forms of sexual harassment during the early part of my career. I have decided to share one such incident here with you. 

 

I was a bright-eyed first year associate at a California law firm. Early on, the partners poured me a giant glass of Kool-Aid and I happily drank it down. The sweet beverage hit the spot. I could afford my student loans as well as excessive amounts of retail therapy (which is a good thing because I needed a lot of it)! I worked long hours and had dreams of making partner at said firm. At the time, I was too innocent to suspect the depravity that lingered just below the firm’s good marketing. However, I soon learned that the main ingredient in the Kool-Aid wasn’t electrolytes as advertised. It was poison that would slowly dampen my sweet soul. (Sorry to be all doomsday from the get-go, but stick with me.)

 

One day, I got an email from a partner named Mark* who I’d seen around the office from time to time. He was in his late 50’s (old enough to be my father), an expert in a complex area of law, powerful, rich (just ask him), and brilliant (again, just ask him). The email simply read, “Can I take you to lunch?” Mark was in luck because if my schedule allowed, I would always yes to those who outranked me. Such is life in the deferential world of law firms.

 

I viewed the email as a good opportunity given that I was in the market for a powerful advocate to facilitate my rise through the firm’s ranks. Perhaps Mark had heard good things about my work and wanted to be my mentor. Before our lunch, I studied Mark’s online bio like it was a job interview, tucking away smart questions for the inevitable lulls in our conversation. Example: “How did you land [insert Fortune 500 company] as your client? That’s so impressive [and so on and so forth, blah, blah, blah, just shoot me already].

 

I made my way to the lobby where our coworkers milled about like ants in a particularly high performing colony. I spotted Mark and extended my hand to greet him. To my surprise, he said, “Hi, sweetie.” Before I knew it, his face was getting closer to mine. Caught off-guard, I turned my cheek ever-so-slightly at the last second. His lips grazed the corner of my mouth and I stood stunned, thoughts racing through my mind. Why would he think it was ok to do that? Did he misread my body language? Can I gracefully bow out now? No, that would be too awkward.

 

Determined to turn the encounter around, I pressed onward. But before exiting the lobby, I noticed a few associates shooting disgusted glances my way. I can only imagine what they were thinking. Look at her, trying to sleep her way to the top. Then, I was stunned to see a partner in his 60’s wink at Mark, who in response, smiled slyly and placed his hand firmly on the small of my back.

 

We walked a block to a tiny restaurant filled with more coworkers. I prayed the next 50 minutes would fly by uneventfully. The lobby incident was mortifying and I couldn’t stomach much more unwelcome touching from this self-serving freak. The hostess showed us to a small table in the middle of the restaurant and I mentally cursed her for not taking pity on me and putting us in the back. Mark pulled out my chair, but I gently told him, “Thanks, but I’ve got it. I need to take my jacket off before I sit down.”

He replied, “Oh, I’ll help you with that.”

 

In the airiest possible tone I could muster, I said, “That’s ok, I prefer to do it myself.” He didn’t take no for an answer and stepped behind me, slipping my jacket over my shoulders and down my back, resting it on my chair. Oh. My. Gawd. Does he think this is a date? How could he have overlooked my sizeable wedding ring (as well as his own)?

 

The rest of the lunch was thankfully a bore, but the damage was done. Again, he guided me through the lobby with his hand in the small of my back. I frantically pushed the “up” button in the elevator, hurried off at my floor, and thanked him (for what, I wasn’t quite sure). I was flooded with anxiety. What weird signal was I giving off that made him try to kiss me on the mouth, touch me, call me “sweetie,” and take off an article of my clothing?

 

So began a two-year endeavor to avoid Mark. When I couldn’t avoid him, I was attempting to make the “friendship” work because he was so powerful. If I turned him down for too many lunches his feelings might get hurt, or worse, he might get mad and retaliate against me.

 

Hindsight being 20/20, I realized the only thing Mark found promising about me was my breasts. Unfortunately, he wasn’t the only powerful man at the firm who would try to make himself look better by having me attached to his side. I never reported their behavior for fear that lodging a complaint would negatively affect my career. Would it be easier for the firm to get rid of the junior “complainer” associate or the harassing senior partners who brought boatloads of capital into the firm? Exactly.

 

I was a young associate ill-equipped to deal with this situation, but I hope you can learn from my naiveté. Check back next week to read Part II, the solutions to this story, “4 Practical Tips for Dealing with Creeps in the Workplace.”

 

XO,

CC

 

Do you think this type of bad behavior is decreasing or increasing? Let me know why you feel that way in the comments.

 

*Name changed to protect the not-so-innocent.

 

“Chelsea Chatsworth” is more than just a pretty face and a pen name, and she can be reached at chelseachatsworth@gmail.com.

Tags:  associate  firm  harassment  hostile work environment  LCB  partner  quid pro quo  stories to solutions  Sts 

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