Turn the other cheek?

August 1, 2012

Does complaining about ill-treatment damage your career, wonders The Survivalist

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Sometimes it falls to the Survivalist to point out the uglier truths in life. Today is one of those days. So pop a cold tin, sit back and just absorb, ‘cos you’ll know I’m right.

You’d think, what with the legal profession being all legal, n’all, that it would be one of the best places to enforce your rights.

Surely, the thinking will go, in an environment where everyone knows about the law, lives by the law, it’s much less likely they’ll go about doing stuff like, well, breaking it, no?

If you’ve been shoved into a disabled toilet at the office party by a vodka-soaked senior partner or had the lecherous old tosser on the fourth floor pinch your bum by the photocopier or heard the head of corporate call you a ‘f***ing poof’ under his breath, you’ll know this is far from the truth in some law firms.

The tricky question

The real question for the budding junior lawyer – not usually, it has to be said, the white, male, middle-class, heterosexual ‘decent chap’ recruited with partnership in mind – is this.

If it does happen to you, do you do anything about it? Should you even take legal action against your law firm?

Of course you could. Of course you should, in an ideal world where guns don’t exist but unicorns do and where everyone’s nice to one another and your career path isn’t likely to be utterly annihilated by doing something so thick to yourself. Yes, to yourself.

If you want your career to go anywhere, want to be taken seriously, this is the Survivalist’s Real World guide to harassment and discrimination.

The sensible option

First off, don’t go blubbing about it to anyone. Check your firm’s policies to see where you’re at. Then go see someone in HR, preferably the head of HR, and quietly report what’s happened. Consider their reaction.

If they have the kind of expression that passes over someone’s face when a rampaging elephant destroys their living room just after they’ve decided not to buy contents insurance, start working on your cv. The chances of this ending well for you are nil, whatever the policies say.

The horrible truth is that it kind of depends on who has done something to you. Post-boy? Yeah, they’ll fire him in a heartbeat. Head of corporate who bills ten mil a year? Not a hope.

Your treatment, rightly or wrongly, will depend not on the actual Rights and Wrongs of things. It’ll depend on your power-relationship to the offender in question. And the thing about much abuse is that it’s the powerful who abuse the less-so.

The best you can hope for if your abuser is way up the food-chain is a nice compromise agreement, a pay-off of some kind and a good reference when you leave. Yeah, when – not if. It’s gonna happen, so you might as well start looking around.

Keeping schtum

By the way, on no account go into any of this with a recruiter or especially an interviewing firm. When they ask, your reasons for leaving the firm are entirely career-related. Progression, cultural fit, whatever you gotta say. Anything but the truth.

If the case is so serious that you have to take time off or, god forbid, end up suing your firm for harassment or whatever, you need to start thinking of a Career Plan B pronto.

As much as it irks the Survivalist to say, if you try to prove a point, to be a hero, that’s you finished in mainstream law unless you can bury that tag so it don’t ever come knocking.

Clean exits

The reason for all of this is obvious when you think about it. The law is personal. People will hold grudges. Word will get around.

They can’t give you a bad reference but a neutral one will do the trick just as well, and off-the-record briefings are commonplace. Troublemakers, rebels, difficult characters – especially female difficult characters – struggle.

Your best bet is to get out quickly, cleanly and get yourself to an environment – friendlier law firm, in-house, local government – where it’s not likely to happen again, or if it does, somewhere the procedures are much more robust.

Remember, this is about you and your career. They probably ain’t gonna learn, so don’t try to teach them. Just get out and get on with your life somewhere you’re appreciated.

Tough truths. Sorry. But stay frosty. TS

The views of The Survivalist are not necessarily those of the epilogue, or Professionals In Law.


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