People Unclear on the Concept

A law firm's sexual harassment case: An inside story Holland & Knight's Tampa office was, it seems, a hostile environment for women. And no one in the partnership, it seems, had the guts to publicly stand up and tell off a powerful partner even as he boored around at parties.

While the boorishness and severity of the problem at H&K's Tampa office sounds extreme (see the link above), my own experience suggests that inter-partner timidity may be more routine.

In the summer after my second third [corrected] year in law school, I worked in a very nice boutique law firm, a highly intellectual place, one that you might even think was somewhat progressive. [It did, however, have some notable Republican partners, including one whom I hypothesized — from a distance, as I never worked with him, just saw him at social occasions — might be the dumbest partner in the firm. He later got a major national-security-related government appointment, which was somewhat troubling.]

That summer, I overheard one of the partners remark to a group of male partners that he was still in charge of hiring receptionists, and that he made no apologies for ensuring that they were always beautiful (women, of course, that went without saying) as they were an part of the firm's image to anyone who came in the door. That was not, I thought, a BFOQ, but no one in earshot (including me, who didn't want to admit to eavesdropping) said a thing.

On the other hand, the firm I actually ended up working at, Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering (as it then was), had a culture in which receptionists were picked for their competence, and even associates could call sexism. The English partner for whom I worked in their London office found it quaint that I objected to client meetings in his (then) men-only club, The Athenaeum, even though it was reasonably priced, close to the office, and very exclusive. But he took it in good grace, Americans being notoriously funny about those things.

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8 Responses to People Unclear on the Concept

  1. Brad DeLong says:

    I *knew* I should have written down somewhere the places you worked during your law school summers!

  2. DW says:

    B.F.O.Q.–>Bona Fide Occoupational Qualification

  3. Michael says:

    About the acronyms: most acronyms on this site have little underlining under them which means that if you put your cursor over them a little explanation should pop up.

  4. Jon says:

    Come to think of it, if I’m not mistaken, I’ve worked for *both* the firm Michael worked for in the summer after his second year, and the one he worked for in the summer after his third. Never heard that comment, though.

  5. michael says:

    I’ve corrected the text — It was my third summer, not my second. And the comment seemed uncharacteristic of the place. Which only makes the silence of the response seem more telling somehow.

  6. Jon says:

    I did work with that partner, for what it’s worth (I was the associate and he was the junior partner in an associate-junior partner-senior partner team), and I had tremendous respect for him — not by virtue of his smarts (about which I don’t think I had a view one way or the other), but because he seemed an unusually decent and hard-working guy. That respect made his later role in taking the country to hell in a handbasket even more distressing to me.

  7. Jon says:

    (the one who got the national-security-related government appointment, natch, not the one who said he was in charge of hiring receptionists)

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