This blog is not intended to provide legal advice, legal services or legal anything else. Don't sue me. All I have is debt anyway.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Fiction and Nonfiction

I just finished reading Courting Kathleen Hannigan by Mary Hutchings Reed. The book is a little over two years old. Of course, when it came out, I was busy in law school, while largely pregnant. So, I'm slowly getting around to my reading list, and this one had been lingering near the top for awhile now. It's a great read, I highly recommend it. It's engaging, and kept me up way too late Saturday night finishing it. And unfortunately, the message is still very applicable for female lawyers today, and I recognize plenty of the characters in the book as being caricatures of real people I know.

The main character (and the author) graduated from law school in 1976, three years before I was born. Reading this book reminds me that I am only practicing law today because these women came before me. (And, of course, it being MLK Day, also reminds me that the sexism, racism, or biogtry we might face is nothing compared to what past generations faced, and there are doors open today that nobody could walk through previously. We should certainly be thankful for that.)

But, even though they broke into a male-dominated profession, and effected a great deal of changes, we still have a long way to go. Whether you're an ivy league-educated go-getter who won't be satisfied until you hike to the top and break a few glass ceilings on the way, or you're a mediocre graduate from a mediocre school who is just happy to be getting a paycheck and standing up in court, there's still plenty of sexism to face. It's just usually more subtle now, and you don't realize it until you're in the middle of it. For instance, from the outset, it might not seem like a big deal that a midsize firm doesn't have any female partners, even though they consistently hire female associates. Fifty percent of law school grads are women now, so it should be a level playing field, right? Just a matter of time until all those women make partner, right? Except too many women are pushed out of this profession in frustration and disappointment, and never make it to partnership. Or they're denied partnership, leave the firm, start over somewhere else, only to find they won't make partner there either.

It's what happens when it becomes apparent that you really aren't part of the club. When "client development" events involve golf, and if you don't play golf, so your job, rather than mingling with the clients, is to be the beer wench for all the men playing golf. At Mid-Size Firm's golf scramble, the senior women associates simply refused to attend. The junior women associates, however, were the beer wenches, and forced to wear matching outfits. Ugh. And sure, there are women who play golf, but I only know of two, and neither are lawyers. I know dozens of women who don't golf. I don't play golf. (And not for lack of trying on my part, it's just that the last time I was at the driving range, I'm pretty sure they had to reseed the grass.) It reminds me of when I worked in corporate sales at the now-defunct computer superstore, and my boss would often take clients out to a strip club. Seriously. He even ended up hiring a salesman who was a bouncer at the strip club, so he could get free passes and such. Gross. So, I guess, in theory, I could have gone with him to wine and dine what were also my clients, but, while I'm no prude, spending an evening with strange women's bewbs shoved in my face is not my idea of a professional atmosphere in which to strengthen client relationships.

Anyway, back to the book. One thing about the book is the fact that the woman suing for sexual discrimination is simply a horrible human being. She is a brilliant attorney, and incredibly hard-working, but she's a heinous bitch. The main character, Kathleen Hannigan, particularly hates her. But she can't deny that the woman should have made partner in the firm, on the basis that there are men just as awful as her who make partner, thus causing a rift between her loyalty to the firm and her loyalty to a greater feminist cause/telling the truth.

This bugged me about the story because, even though she was obviously discriminated against, I just didn't want her to win. Douchebags should not make partner, anywhere. If you verbally abuse your staff, not to mention your superiors, and are repeatedly insubordinate, you should be shown the door, not given partnership. So, while I appreciate the sentiment that when women exhibit this behavior they're bitches, and when men exhibit that behavior, they're aggressive and motivated, I just think it makes them all douchebags. Here's a better policy: no douchebags. Unfortunately, since douchebags have already risen to the management of firms (mostly men), that's unlikely to change. But hey, maybe a few public shamings (like from this guy) or disclosure of wrongdoings by a mistreated secretary will make douchebags rethink the way they treat underlings, let alone colleagues and clients. Maybe someday we can convince society that just because you're a lawyer, or a doctor, or someone else of grand self-importance that you still have to treat others with respect. Maybe we can start with policies that punish people for acting like bratty children instead of professionals, undermining the respect of our profession.

Anyway, in some respects, part of me feels like I'm hiding out here in Small Town, because the idea of going back to The City to work in a midsize firm, and being the beer wench while the male associates get face time with the clients and rise up through the ranks, just does not appeal to me. At the same time, if no one fights the fight, nothing changes. So I constantly struggle with whether I will ever go back and rejoin the herd. I rather enjoy the autonomy of a small firm. One boss, no other associates to compete with, no one being a dick to me on a daily basis. But, we'll see. I've never been much of a trailblazer, but I generally don't have a problem playing with the boys. Even if it means I'll have to take up golf.


Angie said...

Oh my god, I just found your blog,and this post really spoke to me, having just left the #2 sized firm in my city. Our city has a massive defection of female lawyers at the 5 year mark - I fit right in. I'm going to have to find this book.

Mary said...

I enjoyed reading your comments, and you are so right, that so much has changed while at the same time not much, and that we run the risk of lowering out standards to fit in! I hope that people who read CKH and your blog at least understand that while we've made great progress, there is a long way to go to get to that level playing field.
I'm so happy you enjoyed reading my novel. It means so much to me when it resonates with readers. And, thank you, too, for writing about it!

G Love said...

Shut up, you got a comment from the author! Woot!

When I was an HR Manager, the golf thing got on my nerves. The men took half days every week - 2-3 of them, in rotation, and since there were only about 9 that meant a lot of afternoons off. The women were never invited, and never got the afternoons off. We weren't even asked if we played golf, or wanted to. They just presumed. That - among five thousand million other things - is why I'm now a bitter old hag in law school.

Cee said...

It still surprises me when I hear about or experience prejudice or stereotypes about women among what are supposed to be intellient men- I know it shouldn't but it still does. When I start work in March I will be one of two women attorneys in a 17 lawyer firm!

風景 said...