An old friend fails to make partner. What will Miranda suggest?
Miranda shifted awkwardly in her chair. Across the street, the new offices of Carrick Staniforth were rising like a giant steel-and-glass – well, Miranda couldn’t help but giggle every time she thought about the new building’s nickname ‘The Rabbit’ – and the drilling, hammering and sliding of large amounts of aggregate into mysteriously deep holes had been giving her a migraine all morning.
Now her headache was getting worse, if that were at all possible, and Carrick Staniforth was at the root of that too.
She proffered more tissues to the weeping mess on the other side of her desk and coughed politely, hoping that this would draw the sorry proceedings to an end. She needed to get on with the rather knotty compromise agreement she was reviewing for a corporate bond trader, who was being ejected from his position after an eight-month love affair involving copious amounts of Bolivian marching powder and the executive bathroom.
The weeping mess was her old schoolchum, Annabel Rottingham. She and Annabel had been friends since prep school, through the exclusive private Girls High School, on to Uni and through Law School. Parallel lives, they had always joked, although not only was one line rather fatter than the other, she thought uncharitably, it had always been a rather one-sided relationship. It had taken Miranda years, in fact, to work out that Annabel was in fact pretty much entirely self-absorbed and today was the crowning glory, a day when even if Miranda’s house had been flattened by a meteorite, her entire family wiped out by the Ebola virus and her new BMW convertible crushed by a herd of runaway elephants, Annabel’s problems would win…this was the day Annabel did not get partnership at Carrick Staniforth.
“But I just can’t understand it,” Annabel said for the 14th time, blowing a small bubble of snot from her left nostril. Miranda shook the tissues at her. “They promised. I mean they bloody well PROMISED!!!!”
“A…” began Miranda, but knew it was in vain.
“They put me through this wretched partnership training palaver for four bloody YEARS only to tell me I’M the one without the parachute when the plane is going down!”
It had been like this all morning. Annabel had starred in various catastrophic metaphors, failing to make the last lifeboat, being the only one not to win the lottery, being captured by cannibals, asked to walk the plank, appearing naked on stage in ‘Wicked’ – a metaphor Miranda couldn’t quite get her head around – and at no point had Miranda managed to get more than a couple of words or palliative murmurs in edgewise.
“Four partners made up in London, all of them MEN!!” Annabel spat the last word as if it were cobra-venom. Miranda used the last tissue from the box to wipe a gobbet of spittle from her desk and reached for her emergency box. “What can we do about it?”
It took Miranda a few moments to adjust to what happened next. Silence. A pair of reddened, mascara-blurred eyes stared at her from a pouchy, blotchy face. In her white-and-black Chanel, with raven-black hair, Annabel looked like nothing more or less than a very angry, very well-dressed panda. “Well??”
“Look, Miranda, I thought it was all very lovely when you decided to specialise in employment law, but I have to confess that I thought it was going to be a waste of time, certainly compared to something hard like structured finance…” – Annabel was a structured finance lawyer – “…but now I realise that it’s really a very useful area of law when one finds oneself hard done-by, and I had thought that after all this time and you being a partner and all, you might have something more to say for yourself. It’s discrimination isn’t it?”
Miranda took a deep breath and steeled herself. Her time in BigLaw had been relatively unremarkable, she now realised. She had performed to expectations but never really had an opportunity to show what she knew she was made of, the extent of her intellect or her grasp of the commercial issues underlying her chosen practice area. Joining SOAP as a partner had seemed like a terrible risk to those around her, including Annabel, but she knew that the deck was stacked against her in a big firm, and that although a start-up would be much harder in many ways, she would not only learn more but be able to be herself, perhaps for the first time in her life. She had always been ‘second-friend’, never the winner of any races or top of her class. She never got to ride the best horse in the stables, would never win a beauty contest or a spelling bee. She was always good old dependable, regular, nice, honest-to-goodness Miranda, who’d never hurt a fly. Nice. What a horrible, horrible word that was.
Miranda pursed her lips. She was going to enjoy this.
“Well, Annabel, in the court of common sense, in the justice of the street, yes, it is discrimination. But we have two major problems if we want to go along that route. First, we have to prove it, and that is going to be mighty difficult when the firm already has a female partner in the department…”
“Yes but she’s a total bi…” Annabel started, but Miranda cut in.
“That’s as maybe, but it substantially hurts our case. Plus, they’ll throw all sorts of things at you. They will say that a partner has to be all these things that you’re not, and we will get bogged-down in the minutiae of every non-partner thing you’ve done over the years.”
“But I have wanted this forever!”
“I know! And in the process you have stuck your four-inch heels into anyone who got in your way. Face it, Annabel, they don’t like you, and speaking as someone who knows you better than most people, you’re like the little girl with a curl: when you’re good you are very, very good, and when you are bad, you are horrid.”
Annabel stared at her, stunned.
“The other reason you are not going to take this case is that it will embroil you in a very long and very bloody struggle which you probably won’t win, but in the very public course of it, every other good firm in town will run a mile when they see your cv pop into their inbox. And even if you do win, you’ll get some damages but be just as unemployable.”
This seemed to settle Annabel’s rage somewhat. Miranda saw the dispassionate lawyer emerge. “So there’s nothing we can do.”
“Technically there is, but as a friend, honestly, I wouldn’t bother,” said Miranda. “The game is not worth the candle. I know if I were a partner at Carrick Staniforth I’d be under pressure to advise you differently, but I think in this case the best thing you can do is suck it up.”
“Suck it up…” repeated Annabel.
“Have they offered you anything, besides their sympathy?”
“They have…offered to put in a good word for me with a few other firms. And some outplacement thing. They’ll keep me on as counsel for as long as I need, they say, and there are a couple of small foreign banks they were going to cut loose but they’ve said I can have them.”
“Honestly, I’d take it.”
“You were never like this before,” said Annabel, dabbing at one eye, dry now.
“No, you weren’t. I rather like it.” She smiled, for the first time today, and Miranda couldn’t help smiling back.
“Look, you’re a great lawyer with…” Miranda started, her tone softer now.
“Oh, stow it, Penny-dreadful,” said Annabel, laughing as she used Miranda’s prep-school nickname. “Let’s go and have some champagne and charge it to the bastards’ expense account. Thanks, PD, it takes a really good friend to tell someone when they’re horrid.”
Miranda opened her mouth, starting to say something to backtrack, but Annabel shook her head and they both laughed. Even an old friendship had seemingly turned a corner.
SOAP certainly was bringing things up gleaming.