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Q. I am a third-year associate at a large firm. The partners I have worked for generally love me. They say things like “You are the best associate I have ever worked with.” But associates I am working with have criticized my work, typically for very small details, none of which have been substantive. Sometimes they are right, sometimes wrong. Frankly, I am not detail-oriented, and it is not uncommon for me to misplace a comma or mislabel something. However, on the substantive work I am usually (in my mind, at least) right on. What’s worse, they copy the partner I am working with. I have suggested to such persons that it is in their best interests to tell me if they have a problem first, let me correct it, and move on. What the hell is wrong with these people? Don’t they know that if I ever catch them screwing up I will find a way to let the whole firm know? How do you handle such jackasses? Should I even worry about them? A. Yes, you should worry. I think you’re deluding yourself. Your version of this story is: You’re a smart guy, the partners love you, and these pedantic “jackasses” are just jealous of your success so they stab you in the back. Another, more-convincing version: you are a smart guy who doesn’t bother with details; other people have to do the unpleasant chore of making up for your laziness; the partners, unaware of the problems you cause and the help you get from others, heap praise on you and ignore your detail-minded friends; thus, your co-workers become resentful and tell on you. You need to take a good look in the mirror and seriously evaluate your performance. If your problems haven’t hurt you yet, I think they will further down the road. Your colleagues undoubtedly get tired of having to vet your work thoroughly, knowing that you have a tendency to “misplace a comma or mislabel something.” (By the way, I corrected all the spelling and grammar mistakes in your letter, so I think I know what they’re complaining about.) In any event, lawyers are expected to be detail-oriented and picky. While there’s certainly a major place for substantive thinking, the “small details” (like whether the controlling case you’ve cited has been reversed on appeal) can trip you up and make everyone — the firm, the client, the supervising lawyer, you — look incompetent. Also, you wind up costing the client time and money because others have to spend time doing what you should have done in the first place. It’s inefficient and unfair to leave the details to others. Rather than lying in wait for your peers to make mistakes so you can rat on them, take steps that will strengthen your performance and make you a better lawyer. You have a responsibility as a professional to attend to the fine points. Do the hard work to revamp your drafting habits so that you are more conscientious. You can also try mending some fences. Admit frankly to your colleagues that you’re trying to be more attentive to details and that you appreciate the help they’ve given in the past. They may feel you get lots of credit while they toil in obscurity. If you can be more of a team player, some of this resentment might melt away. You can tell the partners about the great help you had on a project, so that your peers can share some of the limelight that they quite correctly believe they deserve. Q. The males in my firm (a transactional firm with 14 attorneys) often hang out together, have drinks after work, go to lunch, participate in sports pools, go to sporting events, and even play poker together on the weekends. The female attorneys (two of us) are almost always left out. I rarely get asked to lunch or other activities. Granted, some of these guys are friends from way back, but some are not. Nor is it an age thing — the youngest male associate is younger than I am and he gets invited routinely. I’ve worked here for four years and I think everyone likes me. On the rare occasion that I am invited, I always accept if I can. Besides the fact that my feelings are hurt by this exclusion, I wonder if I’m missing any opportunities during these informal gatherings. It’s obviously a pretty social group, and I’m not getting to socialize like my male counterparts are. A. You’re right to be concerned. As many men in law firms have pointed out to me, it’s comfortable for men to hang out with men — and indeed, women have said they tend to go out more with their female colleagues. Many will say this is only natural, as it’s how people feel “comfortable.” This would be fine if after-hours partying didn’t have career consequences. But there’s little question that the informal networking in law firms is a key way to get to know partners, which makes them feel more comfortable handing out great assignments and helping to advance careers in other ways. So if women are systematically cut out of the drinks at the bar or of the basketball games, they are likely to miss out on the professional benefits, too. While the impetus for unisex socializing might not be malicious or intentionally exclusionary, the effect can be exactly that. Interestingly, there’s a big gender gap in the perception of this phenomenon as a barrier to advancement. A survey of lawyers by Catalyst done in 2001 revealed that 52 percent of the female respondents believed that exclusion from informal internal networks was a barrier to women in law firms, whereas only 16 percent of the men thought so. Another survey, conducted last year by the Committee on Women in the Law, of the New York State Bar Association, found that while fully 96 percent of the men agreed that both males and females had equal opportunities to engage in outside social outings, a significantly lower percentage of women — 69 percent — agreed with the statement. Data like this should be a wake-up call to those in charge. Partners in particular should take responsibility for the fact that those after-hour cocktails can translate into strong professional bonds. In many companies, supervisors avoid perceptions of favoritism or exclusion by going out with everyone who reports to them or dividing their attentions among small groups, or not socializing with any of their direct reports. You don’t say whether you think that you have, in fact, missed out on opportunities; perhaps it’s not clear. In any event, your feelings are hurt by the casual assumption that the women won’t want to be invited. You may need to be more straightforward about your wish to be included. You say that when you’re included you always accept, but perhaps the men aren’t sure that you actually enjoy yourself, or that you want to come. (I’d bet they’re completely unaware that your feelings are hurt.) When you’re included, you should say, “I enjoy going out with you guys. Make sure to let me know when you’re going again.” If you’re left out again, you can kiddingly say something like, “How can you guys have fun drinking without me?” If the guys-only behavior persists (and especially if you notice that others get more work opportunities than you do), I’d consider being more direct, and saying, “It seems like you think that the women won’t want to go out with the guys, but that’s not the case. We would like to go but we hardly ever get invited. Please think of us next time.” These approaches could help shift the tide from the males just assuming that it’s OK to leave you two out, to assuming that you want to come along and routinely including you. Holly English, a former litigator, is a consultant with Values at Work in Montclair, N.J., which helps organizations build high-performance workplaces. Her new book is Gender on Trial: Sexual Stereotypes and Work/Life Balance in the Legal Workplace (Law Journal Press). She may be reached at [email protected].

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