January 29th, 2006

As I approach the end of the egocentric addled post-college mania of our twenties, I’m learning to identify certain key moments in my past that shaped my personality. Events that, when they occurred, left no sign of their future importance, but have in fact imprinted every action I’ve taken since. While I realize living in the past is pointless, I still indulge in the occasional fantasy where I’m reliving these moments of past import or injustice, only now I’m my current self, ready and able to express my present take on the situation. Like the time my middle-school principal grabbed my arm and yanked me out of an assembly in sixth grade for ignoring another teacher’s order that I “move to the end of the line NOW!” After dragging me into the hallway, the erstwhile Mrs. I ranted in my face about disrespecting my elders. I quivered in my brown loafers and lowered my head in shame. Now, I’d like to shoot her a discerning look and point out that the teacher in question, an owly veteran of the local school system, had snapped at a ten-year-old for no reason, and that her messy divorce a year earlier, while unfortunate, did not excuse gratuitous meanness to children.

But in particular, there’s one conversation that I fantasize about the most. What I wouldn’t give to be 24 again, a bright-eyed summer associate, sitting in my first real law firm performance evaluation, but this time as my current self incarnate. I remember the scene vividly – I’m perched on the edge of my chair, nervous as hell, dressed the way all the real lawyers seem to dress in pin-striped black slacks and a light blue blouse. I’m thinking about how hard the firm recruited me, those senior partners who invited me to Cipriani to discuss why I should choose their firm over oysters and vodka tonics, and praying I haven’t been a disappointment.

In an opposite chair sits M. Partner, my reviewer, the walking epitome of Legend in her Own Mind. She’s staring at her lap and concentrating as I walk in, perhaps trying to levitate the furniture with her notoriously-still-intact beauty. Finally, she looks up at me.

M: “Alright, let’s begin. First I’ll start with your work performance ratings. They were overall very good, with one excellent mark.”

I smile broadly and relax. I’ve done good work! The rest should be pie.

M: “But as for the personal comments, which is the section of the evaluation discussing your individual fit with the firm, I must inform you that they were overwhelmingly negative.”

My head floods like a burst dam, my heart drops into my stomach and starts floating in a pool of acid. Negative personal comments? How could that be? I’d never been the girl that people didn’t like.

What I Said Then: “What? How? Um, I, uh, I mean, did I do something wrong?”

M: “Well, for starters, a few associates objected to a joke you made. You were at lunch talking about phone training, and you made a joke about it being too long. They felt that was disrespectful of the firm’s training policies.”

What I Said Then: “I, uh, I’m so sorry, I mean uh, I…..” my mouth hangs open.

What I Would Say Now: “Give me a Goddamn break. I found it pretty funny that this firm spends thousands of dollars interviewing and recruiting students from competitive law schools and hires them expecting brilliant future-attorneys, then sits them all down in a room for four hours to learn how to use a phone. I still think it’s freaking hilarious. An anxious, self-conscious summer associate, I made an expletive-free crack about it at a lunch because I wanted to break the ice and get the two older associates to like me. I feel pity for both you and them, doomed to trudge through life entirely devoid of irony or humor. That is truly unfortunate.”

M: “And in addition you don’t always attend the firm social events. People see and interpret that a certain way. It indicates a lacking desire to meet attorneys and build relationships within the firm.”

Then: “I uh, I mean, I’ve been to almost all of them, or at least I’ve tried to go to them, uh….” trying hard not to cry.

Now: “I get it, so my officemate, who does attend every single social event, is openly labeled the ‘party-girl slut’ by male associates. Meanwhile I, by occasionally skipping out on the endless boring dinners and cheesy Broadway shows to do outrageous things like spend time with my boyfriend, am the ‘cold aloof bitch.’ Ok, got it, I see how it works.”

M: “Also, partners have noted that you have not demonstrated sufficient appreciation for the hierarchy. In particular, you took too long to arrive at one partner’s office after he requested your presence.”

Then: “I apologize, I had no idea, I’ll apologize to him personally if necessary, uh, I mean, uh, I don’t remember the situation but I assure you I didn’t ignore him, I must have misunderstood his instructions and, uh….”

Now: “Let’s cut the crap. What you’re really saying here is that I haven’t kissed enough rotund, hairy partner ass this summer, and you’re punishing me for it. I entered this whole experience with the attitude that no one likes an obsequious bootlicker, and that if I would just be myself I’d be fine. Thank you for teaching me the important lesson that, in the law firm universe, the exact opposite is true.”

M: “You do understand the positive effect we’re having by telling you all this. We want to inform you of these issues now, so that you can be aware of them and take active measures. The firm cares about each attorney’s well-being and professional development, and we want to help you improve.”

Then: (trying to hold it together) “Yes, thank you, I’ll take active measures, I’ll improve. Thank you.”

Now: “How interesting. I didn’t realize that bullying female summer associates into performing humiliating song & dance routines at the firm’s summer outing, thereby requiring us to get up on stage in front of the entire firm in short black dresses, spike heels and fishnets, was your definition of respect for our well-being and professional development. But don’t worry, I have it all on video, so I can study it to learn. And submit a copy to my law school’s career services office while I’m at it. Thanks for your time.”

Immature? Yes. Solve anything? No. Satisfying? Hell yeah.

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