Why I Left the Law Firm Life: A Letter to my Former Boss
I heard my boss make remarks to clients and staff that were ableist, racist, ethnocentric, and sexist.
I’ve been sitting on this letter for some time now, a letter to my former law firm boss on why I left. With everything going on in my community, I felt that now was the right time, so I sent it this morning. I’m sharing it because many minorities have similar experiences in Law and other professions. Letter redacted and lightly edited for client confidentiality and other concerns.
Dear [Former Boss and Associates]
Given recent events, I felt the need to reach out to the firm and raise concerns based on my time there. I’m including all of you in this message, because you all may be in positions of leadership one day in the firm or elsewhere. I’m writing because, although my ultimate decision to leave was based upon the treatment of clients by my boss, I believe the firm has race and gender problems that have made it into the firm it is today.
I am grateful to have worked with a very diverse staff in the firm. However, it does not surprise me (or a number of other former firm attorneys I have since connected with) that, as of the time of my leaving, all attorneys in the firm were straight white men. There are a plethora of cultural and leadership issues that cause this. Stereotyping, inappropriate and unacceptable remarks, and other issues contribute to this state of the firm where minority attorneys–especially women–don’t establish a career.
For me, experiences of stereotyping began during my first interview. I thought about cancelling the second interview, but I really wanted to do the work. One of the inappropriate comments made by the man who would become my boss was, “Most of us go out for lunch.” He then paused, looked at me, and said, “You’ll probably go to Whole Foods.” It was a bizarre comment, but I realized even then, that my boss had “typed” me and that placing people into types would be part of the culture of the office. If it is not clear to you why this is a problem, please include this in a list of the problems. If you are inclined to dismiss this as a “misunderstanding” or as “unintended,” please include those as well.
While working at the firm, one comment made to me by my boss was: “Chris, during your time here, your personality will change.” Aside from being remarkably insulting, this comment most starkly manifested the (perhaps unconscious) position, that my boss thought his employees should all be, act, and feel like him. This may not be what he intended to communicate, but I ultimately decided that my skill, talent, and passion were worth more than a salary from a firm whose culture I found antagonistic at times toward my integrity and my person. This is one of many instances of remarks insulting to diverse persons, and certainly not the most egregious.
I heard my boss make remarks to clients and staff that were ableist, racist, ethnocentric, and sexist. He mocked a staff member for having a southern accent, perhaps not knowing that I’m from Texas. When one staff member got upset, I remember him telling me in an offhand comment how people wouldn’t complain because he is HR. I wish that I would have had the courage to stand up for our clients, our staff, and myself. I didn’t. And I feel sorry for that. Even if I was new, I was still an attorney and thus in a position of power.
One client incident stands out for me. [INCIDENT REMOVED FOR CLIENT CONFIDENTIALITY]…
If this had been an employee at my current place of work, they would have been fired. But it was my boss. So I fired the firm from my life. I can’t believe I just stood there while he… [REDACTED].
I am grateful for many things. I learned a lot while at the firm. I loved the work and my clients and my coworkers and imagined a future there. But I realized that I could not have a future there for myself as myself. So I left. I wish you all well. I hope the firm can change. But I’m not confident, given its current leadership.
The issue of an uninclusive culture is just one of many concerns. Others include the way clients are often advised, the lack of care for confidentiality of client records and personally identifiable information, inadequate time off, and a disregard for life outside of work. My recommendation would be a transfer of leadership and control over the firm.
If you want to know where I’m at now, I have an amazing job where I feel respected and wanted as I am, with a salary far higher than I made at the firm, and I received an award from my Vice President last year for my impact on the company. It was hard leaving my stable law firm job. After quitting the firm, I had to do temp jobs to pay the bills. But that’s what it took to seek integrity in that situation. So I’m glad I did it. It was not fun sending this letter to my old boss. But it needed to be said. So I said it. I hope you will, too.
You might be inclined to say that I’m “brave,” to praise me for it. I’m not looking for your praise of my bravery. I’m looking for you to be brave. Say something, so that we don’t have to.
Some notes on why Law is one of the least diverse professions…
When I was in law school, I worked with a mentor to prepare for interviews with a number of large local law firms. After doing a mock interview, we had a follow-up conversation. We spent very little time on my skills and experience. The majority of our conversation focused on adjusting the way that I talk and sit, smoothing out the lilt in my voice and sitting in a way to occupy space.
I realized later on that all this time was spent so that I would interview more like a stereotypical straight white man. I realized that my skills and experiences might not push me through the finish line, and it really did matter whether a straight white employer thought I was like them. While my straight white male classmates got to prepare for interviews by ensuring that they communicated their background and experiences clearly, I had to prepare by trying to talk and sit more like them. My female classmates had to prepare by considering whether their hair and skirts were too long or too short (or whether to wear a skirt or pants). This certainly isn’t the case for many legal settings, such as the Public Defenders Office or other public service practice areas. But these are the sorts of conversations that dominate preparation for Big Law interviews.
Law firm hiring, like much professional hiring, isn’t always about hiring “the best candidate.” Hiring for the best candidate can be very difficult. Often for professional jobs there are many candidates with roughly the same level of experience and skill. So then employers often hire based on who will fit in to the company culture or based on their “gut.” What this usually means is hiring people who are like the people already there. “Gut” is synonymous with “bias.” Most law firm hiring is like this, which I think is why the legal profession is one of the most lacking in diversity.