Sorority Gal at a Southern Firm in the 80’s

I just discovered your site. It's great. Maybe someday I could be one of your featured bloggers. I've been practicing for 18 years now. Early in my career,I worked at a medium sized firm where we got drunk at Friday night happy hours, hot-tubbed with partners at the annual firm retreat, and were put into a "co-ed singles condo" when attending mandatory out-of-town CLEs. My section's head partner informed me the firm would likely fire an unwed pregnant lawyer because of the negative impact on the firm's reputation. I was given a GI Joe as a birthday gift by one of my two direct-report partners. They told me I didn't have a long term future with the firm at my three-year mark with the firm, unless I showed real effort and brought my 2200-hour pace up to 2300. I was barely making the minimum required hours and not showing that extra "oomph." This speech was given to me by my other direct-report partner. The one who also commented to me, "I trust you so much more, now that I know you are a real woman," as I laid in his arms cuddled up at the aforementioned "co-ed singles condo" at the mandatory CLE. Evidently, kissing him again (he forgot our kisses that summer I clerked for the firm) showed him something important about my character he wasn't noticing from my work performance during the week. Did I mention the 21-buff-guy photos cut out and taped in hidden places around my office for me to find, a variation of the Easter-egg hunt? Was it a full man, or just the penis, attached to the mouth part of my phone? The truth is I genuinely laughed that day. I thought it was funny. Only now do I realize I would have been better served by having those men -in their 30s and 40s- model appropriate treatment of woman. I came from a background with questionable lessons about correct male/female interactions and would have benefited from being around sexually-neutral men. Was I laughed at, not with, those first years of my career? I didn't sue them. In fact, I was young and thought most of the sexy, naughty stuff at the firm was fun. I was fresh out of the sorority, so drinking and getting loose seemed natural and grown up. But it continued with other woman as well. There was my associate friend who had her knees bitten under the table by the managing partner as he pretended to be a dog at the Mexican restaurant. She kicked him. I guess the margaritas got to him. This occurred in the south. When I moved back to Seattle, I found the environment more tame, or perhaps I just worked at a staid firm. I've heard it existed here as well. Things are different now with my work. I have an all woman firm (by accident, not by intention). The energy feels clean, healthy and supportive. But I will admit that the sex-stuff crops up. One employee brought a "sex-strology" book to work to share. Periodically I find myself saying, "hostile work environment-stop the discussion" as someone launches into a raunchy story about the weekend. Sexuality is part of human nature. The trick is to cordon off that energy from the work place. It's a slippery incline. Where does talking about wedding plans deviate into inappropriate talk about the honey-moon? I've tried to tell this story about the early harrassment once before- to a classroom of law students- when I was invited to speak at solo-career day. Curiously, I was not asked back to speak. Maybe I was considered "off topic." Thank you for listening. It's hard to want to speak, and then not find the right audience who can appreciate the humor and poignancy of the story. I hope to convey it wasn't 100% awful and that's the irony of it all.


Susan Cartier Liebel

I think your story is a great story…it’s true, it happened…hind sight is 20/20 and maybe today you would handle things differently. But not everyone perceives themselves as a ‘victim.’ You didn’t harm the advancement of women (lol). Being indignant and litigious and donning your Gloria Steinem glasses is not the only permissible response to this situation.  I’ve been in situations that I was forced to handle (or not) in ways that I deemed appropriate and I they didn’t require lawsuits and righteous indignation.  Not everyone has to be a martyr for change. It worked for you, no scars.  But upon reflection you see it a little differently now.  Probably wouldn’t encourage the same behavior in your daughter…it’s all good. Susan Cartier Liebel, Esq.
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