Saturday, August 19, 2006

A Paralegal's Life...

and why it sucks to be one.

The convergence of totally unrelated happenings, an encounter with an asshole attorney yesterday, and talking about why I hate my car, and what I was dealing with 5 years ago triggered a memory of the second biggest asshole lawyer I've ever known. (The new title holder was declared yesterday.)

But this story is 5 years old, so it' safe to tell. It happened back when I worked for The Big Homebuilder Which Must Not Be Named. During that time I went to South Florida with the lawyer I worked with (aka Boss) and our outside counsel engaged to handle a large construction matter. We'll just call him Dick. You'll see why in a minute.

Dick is a partner in a big Florida firm. I feel perfectly safe calling him an asshole in public, because I'm not using his name, and any Florida legal staff wandering in here will no doubt have their own guess at who Dick might be, because his name is legion. If we got all of these Dick partners together, we could probably fill a section of the Citrus Bowl - but I digress.

So anyway, we went to South Florida on some business function, and I had the Powerpoint presentation Boss and I were doing on my laptop. Dick spent the entire first afternoon remarking - over and over - that no paralegal in his firm would ever be issued a laptop. Paralegals shouldn't have laptops. This was my first clue that Dick had issues, and also hadn't quite figured out that he worked for us and I was, say it with me now, his C...Cll...Client. That's the word! We went to dinner that night, the three of us, and Dick made it clear that he was offended that I joined the Attorneys to eat. Apparently In His Firm, a paralegal would have been left in her crate in her room with a bowl of water and some kibble. It went on like this throughout the trip - constant digs and "jokes." I shrugged it off, because he was generally without class or social skills.

Okay, so we got through that trip, and not too long after, Dick was working on a matter for us during the time my husband collapsed, was diagnosed with terminal cancer, etc. etc. I of course had to go back to work after his diagnosis, and Dick was working on a matter I was managing.

I had liberal time off from my employer to take my husband to his palliative radiation. So the next time Dick called to discuss the status of the matter I was managing, I explained to him that I was going to be out of the office quite a bit in the coming weeks, I explained to him about my husband's condition and that I had to take him to daily radiation treatments for several weeks, and that if he needed anything and couldn't reach me, my assistant was well versed in the status of the matter, so he could call on her if he needed information.

I was already accustomed to people getting very quiet and uncomfortable when I told them what was going on, and I certainly understood that because really, what the hell DO you say to someone telling you something like that? I never expected what he said after the silence.

Tone of cold disgust, "Well, how long is THAT going to go on?"

As I said, Dick had a little problem with the idea that a paralegal could also be a client. Obviously he had bigger problems that THAT, but even an obnoxious lawyer generally doesn't spit on the person who reviews his bills.

I told my boss at the time, the head lawyer for the region, about this conversation, and his reaction was immediate: "That asshole and his entire goddamn firm isn't getting any more of our work. Ever." My boss was angrier than I was - I had to talk him out of firing him on the spot, but we were nearing resolution of the matter Dick was handling and it would have been a pain in our ass to replace him.

But this is how paralegals are treated by some lawyers. Not all, certainly, but enough that we all have stories like this - usually not as offensive as this particular Dick, but there are lots of lawyers like Lawyer Dick. Unfortunately, some of them are women. Someday I'll tell the story about the associate who cornered her secretary in her office, shrieking at her until the poor girl thought she was going to be physically attacked. Or the husband and wife firm I worked for, where the wife would walk into her husband's office and slam the door so hard the pictures would jump on the walls, and the staff, including me, cried in the car on the way home every day, until we all quit.

I've always said I'd write a book someday, but I'll end up letting it all ooze out here.


Debi said...

what a DICK!!! :)

Thanks for the shout out - knit some socks girl!!

Geogrrl said...

As much as I hate to say it, in my experience female bosses can be bigger assholes than male bosses.

carlarey said...

One of my friends recently went in to her (and my former) boss' office to tell him that she would be needing to take some tim off because her father had just been diagnosed with terminal cancer. His response? "Well, life's terminal, honey."

Janet said...

Oh. My. God. I thought I'd had some heinous work experiences, but no one ever acted like that when my mother was dying. Or when my hubby took off two days after her funeral and I ended up off work for two months. Catherine, I swear, I'd've reached through the phone and killed him.

poormary said...

That is just not right. Period. You've got to believe that Hell has an especially extra warm corner for guys like that to curl up in and spend eternity.

Catherine said...

Carlarey's friend's experience is the worst - when your own employer treats you that way. Mine was an example of how some lawyers think being a paralegal makes you a maidservant (manservant) to ANY lawyer, at any time, even when said paralegal works for the corporation employing his arrogant lawyer ass. I know Dick would never have treated anyone else in the company the way he treated me. It never occurred to him that I had the power to get his ass and his firm banned from doing any of our very lucrative work ever again. I did enjoy that part. But this is why I can't wait to scrub off the Scarlet P.