Jump to content
Suzanne

Toxic workplace

Recommended Posts

Hi all,

I need some advice with my articling workplace. I started at the firm a month ago and I seem to have run afoul of one of the assistants, who unfortunately is also the boss's wife.

In general, I've been trying my darndest to figure out how to do my work and also ask questions when necessary. The other day the boss told me to ask that specific assistant when I have questions about using a certain software, but to make sure to read the manual first to see if the answer is there. So, I was using the software, had an issue, checked the manual, but the answer wasn't there so I asked the assistant.

She freaked out on me. I tried to keep calm and explain that the boss specifically said to ask her. She responded saying she needed to hear that from him, not me. She shrieked at me and called me a stupid girl. It took all my willpower to keep calm and not scream back. The boss was in the building and just said we'll deal with it on Monday (this being Friday afternoon).

Does anyone have suggestions for how to deal with this? I know I'm still making mistakes - I'm an articling student, no duh I make mistakes - but Jesus Christ she was completely out of line. She wasn't just raising her voice, no, it was a full on temper tantrum. It's not the first time she's gotten pissed at me, but it's the first time she's actually lost her shit. I don't know if I can handle working there until my call to the bar. Is this normal? Has anyone else had an experience like this?

A related thing is that the firm's expectations of me are unrealistic. They want me to figure things out on my own and not ask too many questions, but they also want me to ask how to do stuff instead of just trying things (I'm talking office procedures, not things I can look up on my own). Then when I ask the questions I've been told to ask, the assistant loses her shit. I don't know what the f they want me to do. Any suggestions of how to meet and, when necessary, manage the firm's expectations?

For more background, I know the assistant is recovering from a head injury so she has issues with anxiety and being overwhelmed. That being said, I'm not her punching bag. If she can't handle work she shouldn't be at work.

Also, I'm in a position with very little bargaining power. I started at a different firm and was let go because they wanted me to work for the firm during PLTC. I wasn't able to because I don't have a time machine. This new firm stepped up and took me on. Don't know why, since they clearly can't stand the fact that articling students don't know how to do stuff. I've been trying to figure out if it's something I'm doing wrong or if firms actually just treat articling students really badly.

I've had a few mild anxiety attacks working at this firm because of how bitchy both the boss and his assistant are. The handful of other people are great though, so I try to ask the other, non-yelling assistant if I have a question and the boss didn't clearly say who to ask. Still, my call to the bar isn't for six months, and that's a long time to have anxiety attacks at work.

I've worked at several places before law and in no circumstance would it be acceptable to scream at an employee/coworker. If most law firms treat people like this I might actually find a different career. This is bullshit. 

Any suggestions? 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

See what happens on Monday. Maybe it will be resolved. If not, ask questions to the other assistants even when you were “told” to ask his wife. I doubt he really cares or will ever find out who you ask questions to as long as the thing gets done right. You’re not going to win a battle of wills with the boss or his wife even if you’re right. If you can’t find a way to work around this then quit. You will not win any other way. 

  • Like 8

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

What saying, politely but seriously, "I'm happy to listen to feedback and instructions so I can improve, but name-calling and yelling are unprofessional and unacceptable"?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

You are not going to win this. 

Avoid her as much as you can. Do not even think about lecturing your boss on his wife’s behaviour. It’s not a good idea from any angle.

I mean, we can talk all day long about how it should be, but reading over your post history, now may be the time for you to put your head down and give it a solid six weeks before you make any major decisions.

  • Like 7

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I know I can't change them and that it's a bad idea to criticize the boss's wife, no matter how justified. I will for sure avoid her as much as possible. I don't know if I can handle it though, bring screamed at for absolutely nothing. Is it normal for articling students to be treated like that? How do people cope?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Most law firms are a pretty charged environment, while I don't think being screamed at is "normal", law is pretty far behind many other professions in creating good work environments. 

On the other hand, you are having problems with your second articling job. This is a red flag. Most people keep their heads down and work for a year. It is particularly difficult when you are just starting because everything is new; Hegdis gave you the right advice, you need to put in at least 6 more weeks. 

  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Take the above advice while you're there and start looking for a new job. 

Edited by pineapple21

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I know I can't talk back and I'm for sure going to start looking for a new job. What I'm asking for is practical advice on how to cope if she screams again despite my efforts to stay away from her. I have problems with anxiety, especially when someone treats me badly, which is why this is so difficult for me. And yes, I'm looking for treatment, but there's no overnight fix. Has anyone been in the same boat who can share what helped them?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Stop caring so much and don't ask anything of your assistant anymore, other than the basics. Avoid her. You've got six months left. Basically every lawyer I know has checked out of a job before moving to a new one at some point. Don't neglect your duties but keep in mind that you're not trying to advance there and you'll be moving on soon. Keep good relations with the other lawyers there who can serve as a reference if needed down the road. Seriously stop caring so much about this job and the people making it miserable for you. 

 

Edited by pineapple21
Sp
  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, Suzanne said:

What I'm asking for is practical advice on how to cope if she screams again despite my efforts to stay away from her.

There is a book called The Gentle Art of Verbal Self Defence which may provide some useful strategies. While highly influential, this particular title is a bit dated. You might be better off doing some research on your own to find a more recent publication. 

 

That being said, I have to defer to the expertise of the other commenters; your current employment situation does not seem like an ideal opportunity to practice assertive confrontation. Now, while that is not what Verbal Self Defence purports to teach, it should be emphasized that, when implemented poorly, even the most robust de-escalation or conflict avoidance techniques can come across as hokey or, worse, condescending. I suppose this is a long way of saying that I hope you find these resources helpful, but use them at your own risk.

Edited by Pete
clarity

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

To cope with anxiety you need to be proactive and get yourself into some CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) sessions. I have done this myself.

It is a structured and proven method that no amount of well meaning internet advice can match. Statistically it is more effective long term than drugs or anything else. 

You deserve to be happy and healthy. Invest in yourself and take a look. 

Law only gets more stressful from here. 

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
11 hours ago, Hegdis said:

To cope with anxiety you need to be proactive and get yourself into some CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) sessions. I have done this myself.

It is a structured and proven method that no amount of well meaning internet advice can match. Statistically it is more effective long term than drugs or anything else. 

You deserve to be happy and healthy. Invest in yourself and take a look. 

Law only gets more stressful from here. 

I would like to take some time to second this advice.

While articling, I developed a fairly serious mental health disorder that took an extraordinary physical and mental toll on me. I was away from everyone I knew and loved, my work was stressful, the hours were long, and in general my superiors didn't believe in positive reinforcement.

I took up the LSO's free counselling services, and they set me up with a mental health practitioner in seven days. That is an extraordinarily short time to have to wait for something like that. I assume you are in BC because of the PLTC, so I can't speak to their services specifically, but I urge you to make use of whatever resources you can. I was given 24 sessions - for free - and it made an incredible difference. I legitimately don't believe I would have made it through articling without it. 

  • Like 6

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

No, her behaviour is not "normal," but understanding and treating your situation as an "abnormal" one isn't going to help you make the best of it. I suggest trying to be more self-sufficient when it comes to asking for help. For example, after you read the software manual, maybe you could have used Google or called the software's customer care instead of asking the wife.  Basically, try to exhaust every means of self-help possible before going to her, or anyone else in the firm, for help. 

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This is not normal behavior. But, in general there seems to be an aspect of legal culture where it is okay for a partner to yell at a junior, a CEO to yell at any in-house lawyer, and etc., so it's not that far offside, relatively speaking and compared to other workplaces. I've experienced it, and a lot of people I've known have experienced it.

Frankly, there is no silver bullet solution. At the end of the day, your articling principal is always going to side with his unreasonable wife, regardless of who is right and wrong. You are collateral damage.

With all due respect to people who suffer from mental health issues, I would just avoid that assistant like the plague. I learned a lot from a legal assistant while completing my articles, so it is unfortunate you won't have that resource, but you will manage because you didn't get where you are because you are incompetent. I would just be ready -- if I was you -- to hit the first year associate market on the ground running at a new firm. Good luck.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Got to work today and the boss said his wife can be "difficult" so in future to ask him to ask her if I need software training. The boss at least said he ought to have told her he wanted me to ask her for training. The wife, on the other hand, has not apologized for her atrocious, incredibly immature behaviour. Let the record show that she's a godawful bitch who doesn't take responsibility for her actions. I wasn't really expecting her to apologize anyway, given her pattern of shitty behaviour towards me. No, I haven't said anything to her or to the boss. I'm venting here because if I don't I'll explode.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

That's an awful situation, I sympathize for you. I don't have anything to add to the advice here, but I'm rooting for you. That's also too bad about your previous position wanting you to work during PLTC. I don't see how that would produce either good quality work or good PLTC results. I definitely couldn't have handled both. I hope things improve for you soon.

  • Thanks 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Seems like your boss is pretty decent and conscientious. I'd take the silver lining here as I imagine there are many students who would trade their shitty boss for your shitty assistant.

  • Like 5

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

You know, I think Suzanne has overall been reasonable to this point, and so I've provided feedback in the past and refrained from criticism. I'm not criticizing now either. It's hard to really know what's going on sometimes, because we only have one side of the story. But I still think Suzanne's various issues are plausibly on the side of bad luck rather than self-created problems. Eventually, when the string of bad luck gets so bad that there has to be a common cause, you start to look at the person the luck is happening to. But we aren't there yet.

That said, I'm starting to notice one trend. And the only reason I'm focusing on this is because it's the one thing in the OP's (or anyone else's) control. There are two sides to every problem Suzanne is encountering. One side is the problem itself - work-related, logisital, etc. The other side is her own reaction to the problem - that is, to the unfairness of it. And I'd like to offer a countervailing perspective here a bit.

Students who get into the legal marketplace sometimes have a grossly unreasonable expectation of absolute professionalism in each and every workplace. I'm a sole practitioner with a few employees. And I get people emailing me asking to be directed to the HR department. It's rare, but it happens. I hope to God none of my female employees become pregnant. Not because I don't recognize their right to become pregnant - just because I don't have even the first bloody clue what I'd do about it. I don't think I'm unreasonable - I certainly don't think I'm a monster. But I don't even know what happens when I get sick for an extended period. How am I supposed to provide a workplace that accommodates this for employees? The list goes on. You just can't expect the same level of professionalism and formality in a small shop as you see in a large firm. And students are utterly fucking blind to this reality, sometimes.

So let's turn this on its head for a moment, okay? Let's just take it for granted and assumed that your boss has a somewhat insane wife helping run his practice, who he depends on and who he presumably married because he's in love with her, faults and all, and certainly isn't going to dump because she suffered head trauma. Let's put yourself in his position. What do YOU do? Do you dump your partner because she's unfair to your students? Do you lecture your partner so severely that you put your own marriage at risk to salve your student's hurt feelings? Do you turf your wife from your practice because she's not able to do her job to the professional standard that you demand, even though you may not be able to afford a better replacement and even though your wife may not be employable anywhere else? What is it that YOU DO exactly?

I'm not saying that to excuse the situation. I'm saying it to give you perspective on the situation. There may be no perfect solution here. Even if everyone involved acknowledged how entitled you are to the fairness that you expect, it may be impossible to provide it. And it may be that basic. You either learn to live within what's possible, and stop expecting the world to become fair for you, or you decide you can't live with it and move on (again). You're in charge of making that choice, at least. But railing against the unfairness of it all is a waste of your time and mental energy.

I don't know if that helps at all. Maybe it doesn't. Maybe I'm making excuses for someone who doesn't really deserve them. I can't possibly know what's really going on or what the available solutions may be. Of course much of what I don't know even you (Suzanne) don't know either, so it may be helpful to keep this in mind. You don't know what these people's lives are like when they go home and stop being your boss and his wife and become just a couple trying to operate a very small business with all its difficulties and complications, while at the same time coping with their own real lives, which apparently got very difficult recently. You may think your feelings should be top of mind for them. In a perfect world they would be. But is that realistic, right now?

This is what small legal practice looks like - whether you work for someone else or at some point start your own. Get used to it. Because based on where you are right now, the odds that you'll find yourself working anywhere with a HR department any time soon just aren't that good.

Not meant to be mean. Hope you take it in the spirit it's intended.

  • Like 5

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

^^Diplock it's been a while since I've been on this board and had my run ins with you. Congratulations on your solo practice. Sounds like you're doing well with a couple employees. Good to hear.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
36 minutes ago, pineapple21 said:

^^Diplock it's been a while since I've been on this board and had my run ins with you. Congratulations on your solo practice. Sounds like you're doing well with a couple employees. Good to hear.

are you kidding me? It sounds like he is one pregnancy away from a human rights complaint.

  • Like 4
  • Haha 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.



  • Recent Posts

    • It’s understandable to want to map your career out and feel like you have a plan and are in control but as much as possible try not to feel like you need to do this right now. You’ll hear a lot of people who talk like they have it all figured out but they don’t and are just trying to calm themselves down by convincing others they have it figured out.  Just do your best in your classes and each day you’ll learn more about different practice areas and opportunities that may interest you. You’ll have 350 different career plans by the time you graduate and none of them will actually happen. I didn’t take a single class or participate in a single clinic in all of law school that’s relevant to what I do now. I don’t even practice Canadian law at all.  Just do your best in classes and forget the rest, at least until the end of 1L. Everybody who is convincing themselves (by trying to convince you) that they’ve put themselves on the path by joining some clinic or connecting with some professor or lawyer or whatever is wrong and you don’t need to worry about it. 
    • 1L is not a time when most people are at their best. They’re insecure and lost. That’s why it feels like high school. The friendships that I formed in law school that I still have are all from 2L and 3L, not that you can’t also form friendships in 1L.  Also, don’t feel like law school is the only place you can make friends. Get involved in something outside of law school and make friends there. It’s good to escape the law school bubble even when you do have law school friends.  It’s easy to feel like your legal career will be determined by how well you rank or fit in socially at law school but that’s true at all. It’s just a school. You’re a whole person outside of that.
    • Large firms may offer a wide range of general services. Individual lawyers in those situations will often be hyper-specialized, and know everything there is to know about one very specific section of that area. This level of expertise is a way to justify high bills - you have someone in the office who lives and breathes that particular clause.    If you want to be a 'well-rounded lawyer', you'd be more likely to be at the other end of the spectrum, where a sole practicioner in a small city might help people with a variety of legal problems, not knowing the details to the exactitude of the specialist, but being competent in several different areas, such as family/property/wills.    Family is certainly not an area that is limited - it's one of the ones you can be confident will exist in every community across the country. Now, whether there's enough work in that to sustain a practice is another question (see: general practice). I can't imagine, although have never bothered to research so could be completely up the wall on this, that there are many large firms doing OCI recruits with substantial family practices.    This seems a good time to mention, it doesn't seem clear what type of work you want to be doing. Governments and large firms hire through the On Campus Interview process, and a lot of careers officer time is spent on them, and they're certainly often a way to pay off debt quickly, but they're only one part of legal employment. Do you want to work in a glass tower in a major city? If so, that will necessarily limit your scope to that sort of employer. If you don't, OCIs could be a much smaller part of your world. 
    • Hey everyone! 1L here. I know I just started and all, but I want to understand how the career aspect of lawyering works.  I am getting a lot of anxiety in regards to knowing where I am going with law school. The debt is really hitting me and making me worry. I will try to keep this short and to the point. I apologize if these questions come across as dumb. They are likely super ignorant, I know your time is valuable and I honestly appreciate any insight you can provide.  I wanted to go to law school with the idea to help people with the law. People like regular folk. I was interested in family law (helping people with their familial relationships through the application of the law...helping people in distress, etc.) 1) I spoke to older students and they indicated opportunities in family law are limited, esp. with OCIs. Further, it became apparent that those Toronto firms/big firms that do specialize in family law don't hire too often/a lot. Is this true? 2a)  I really like Tort law, I have taken a course regarding it in my undergrad too. I always liked personal injury law. However, I remember talking about it at one of the socials and I felt like people would shutdown the conversation quick. I understand that it has a bad rep, but I am sure some clients do really need help. Is personal injury lucrative/are there opportunities? I know there are some PI firms on Bay.  2b) I read about insurance defence, is this in the scope of personal injury and tort law? Would this be considered as "corporate law"? It sounds interesting.  3) What is corporate/business law? I understand its law pertaining to corporate/business needs. But when people tell me they want to go into corporate and/or business law, what kind of law do they want to practice? Is it just that they want to be legal counsel for a corporation/business? I don't think merging businesses will bring me joy. Is there more to it?  To answer this, I reached out to some older students. They indicated that most corporate law firms are full service, where they offer legal services to a wide variety of cases. So, if a lawyer were to work/apply there, would they be expected to be well rounded in regards to the type of law they specialize in?  If I wanted to pursue a legal career with a specialization/interest in tort law, do I have a place in a corporate law firm? I hope you can see my confusion.  4) I have people telling me they want to do litigation. I know what that is, but what is that in the sense of a career? Do firms explicitly hire litigators? I thought a lawyer once called are litigators and solicitors. Are litigators people that only do litigation? And if so, do they have a certain type of law the specialize in or is it mixed (I think you can see my confusion lies somewhere with the idea of specializing)? I am assuming they need to be hired at a firm that has good amount of litigation cases.  Lastly, is it the case that a law student will find a type of law they want to practice, and apply to a firm that specializes in that type of law? Or is it more complicated than that?  I hope these are all appropriate questions. Feel free to be as blunt as possible, any advice would be great.  Thank you so much!           
    • I'm sorry you're experiencing this. I understand how sometimes it can feel like everyone has made their friends and it seems really cliquey. I too am an introvert and have difficulty making friends; I didn't have ANY friends until I was 13 and still find it hard to be in social situations. What helped was finding my "people". Don't focus on the loudest groups who have formed their clique already. Look for someone in the room who is sitting alone and sit next to this person. Say hi. Ask where they're from, what they did their undergrad in.You won't connect with every person you introduce yourself to but there's probably another person like you who is feeling just as alone.
×
×
  • Create New...