When I worked in biglaw, I always tried to avoid working for female partners. It sounds odd, right? I mean, as a female associate, shouldn't I have sought out female mentors? Women who had been in my position, and overcome massive obstacles and somehow learned to balance work and family?
As it turns out, I'm not alone.
According to a recent article in the ABA Journal, not one of the 142 legal secretaries surveyed preferred to work for a female partner. Not one! Ninety five percent of the secretaries surveyed were women.
I can't say that I'm surprised. At all. From my experience (and this is ONLY my experience), the majority of female partners I came across were not pleasant to work for, and I avoided them to every extent possible. In fact, at my last firm I was more than happy to join a group where ever single partner was male. Why? Because over my five years at law firms, I found that most female partners fell into one of the following categories:
1) The aggressive bitch. This is the partner who doesn't think twice about yelling and verbally assaulting anyone around her. This includes associates, secretaries, and black car drivers (I've seen this firsthand). They are bitter and pissed and unapologetic. They are scary, scary people.
2) The passive aggressive bitch. This is perhaps worse than the aggressive bitch, because you think this woman is your friend. She takes you to lunch and gives advice and asks about your family. But then, when you least expect it, comes the sting. The sting is an insult that you can't even tell is an insult and it's usually personal: Wow, you are so stupid. To let you know how stupid you are, I'm going to let a senior associate deliver this message for me. Or: You really shouldn't leave before 6:30. I'm not going to tell you that, but I'm going to give you subtle, semi-rude emails to let you know that that's not acceptable.
3) The tuned out indifferent bitch. This is the partner that is so busy, both with work and family, that they don't have time for anything. They give you an assignment with a 24 hour deadline, but it takes them weeks to actually look at your work. When they finally do have an opportunity to review your work, usually late at night, they realize they had the research question all wrong. So, around midnight on a Tuesday, they will email you follow up questions, to be completed by 9am the next day (despite the fact that it won't be looked at for another week). This partner is not trying to be mean, but hey, they got assignments at midnight when they were associates. So you will too.
There obviously are exceptions. My husband is actually lucky enough to work for one such exception, and I LOVE her. But there aren't many.
So why is it that there are so many female partners like this?
Part of it is understandable. These women have had to overcome a lot. They have scaled the ladder in an industry where men make up the large majority of law firm partners. To achieve this, they no doubt have worked long hours, been verbally abused themselves, and given up time with their families or even having a family at all. As a result, I think many of them are bitter, particularly towards other women in the workplace. You need to get home to put your kids to bed tonight? Too bad. I'm not seeing my kids either You need to leave to take your kid to a doctors appointment? Hire an au pair. That's what I did. Or: You mean you actually decided to be a mother and a lawyer? I didn't. I decided to become a super powerful partner instead and forgo a family. So man up.
Male partners, on the other hand, I found to be much more understanding. Sure, there are some abusive jerks, but overall, they were not as hostile to female associates. Perhaps it's because many of them rely on their wives to carry the burden of childcare, since they are working all of the time. And because of that, there is an underlying sentiment, particularly of older male partners, that when it comes to kids, it's a women's job. This is obviously antiquated and conservative and not something that I necessarily believe. But you know what? It benefited me. When I asked for a part time schedule after Braden was born, I have to admit that I was somewhat relieved to know that the person approving that was a conservative man in his late fifties who deep down probably thought I should be staying home with my kid anyway. It may not have been helpful for my partnership prospects, but at the time, I didn't care. And ultimately, I'll never know.
Biglaw life changes you. Stress changes you. Fitting into a male dominated industry changes you. The sacrifices these women have had to make change you. Who knows what I would have been like had I stayed. Would my secretary have hated me?
It's a sad state. Women should support each other and build each other up. But in the law firm world, that's just not reality.
I hope that someday things change, but I'm not optimistic. And so, in all honesty, when the day comes that I try to reenter the workforce, I will hope, pray, and cross my fingers that the person interviewing me is a man.