was I right to call the employer of some obnoxious, trash-talking jerks on my train?

A reader writes:

You very kindly answered a previous question from me that really helped me – thank you! But today I have a dilemma about something I did, that’s divided my friends. I’m genuinely interested in the different reactions, and I promise I’m not just looking for validation, I promise, so would love a neutral opinion….

I was travelling on a late weekday from London to a the large city I live in. I was in the quiet coach at the very front of the train, which is mobile phone free, usually full of people who are working on something, or have been, or just want a nice peaceful ride home. Halfway down the carriage from me were three young lawyers, who talked for 45 minutes in very posh voices about problems in their company, with their cases and so on – especially about how much they disliked one of the company partners in particular, with enough information that despite trying to just get on reading my book, I knew if I typed three words into google I could find them all. They were beyond indiscreet, and being so in a really stupid public place as the train ended in my city and in this carriage at this time, everyone in it lives, works or both in the city.

The people down my end of the carriage were rolling our eyes at each other every now and then and grinning at especially loud/egregious parts (“I’m nothing if not a team player”, screeched the one who had been especially indiscreet and rude about the management), but when a guy nearer them asked them if they could keep their voices down a bit, they spent the next hour coming back to lambasting him, and talking about how everyone around them was boring, etc. and being even more obnoxious, just, it seemed, to prove the point they could be.

So, next day, I typed my three words into Google, found this partner’s details immediately, and rang up and spoke to her secretary about overhearing them giving away enough information about the company and clients that I thought the partner needed to know this was how her staff were representing them. The secretary was pretty horrified, said that there’d been drinks at the main London office that day, and that she’d definitely alert the partner.

Obviously, I think I was right – if I were the manager, I would definitely want to know about staff talking about the company like this in public, and being careful what you say in public has to be a basic lesson for any young professionals, let alone legal professionals. I told this story to a group of friends, and 3 thought it was great, but 2 of them think it was awful, that I could have got them sacked, and I shouldn’t have said anything. As a manager whose advice I love, would YOU (and the commentariat) want to know this kind of thing about your staff? Have you ever done anything like this, and/or what would you have done in my place?

These guys were stupid, and it would have served them right if someone from their firm or who knew their boss were in that train car.

As for whether I would have said anything in your shoes … probably not. I was firmly on the side of “not your business” when it was just them trash-talking their employer — that’s obnoxious and thoughtless and terribly ill-judged, but ultimately not at all your problem to intervene in.

But I’m a little more torn about it once they started being abusive to other people on the train. Saying “hey, your employees are trash-talking you in public” seems a bit like … well, busybodying to me. (That said, I have busybody tendencies, so I understand the impulse.) But saying, “hey, your employees made it very clear who they worked for and then obnoxiously mistreated people on a train” seems like a public service.

I’m dying to hear what others think though.

{ 554 comments… read them below }

  1. Juli G.*

    Yeah, I’m with Allison here. I would probably have just classified it as not my business.

    I think I would only cold call like this if they were doing something dangerous i.e. really egregious driving in a company vehicle.

    1. PEBCAK*

      I was with you until the OP mentioned that they were discussing cases. Giving away potentially confidential information is a much larger problem than just bitching about work.

      1. Apostrophina*

        That’s where I am on this. “That client was driving me up the wall today!” might be obnoxious but not my business. “That George P. Hufflemeyer case was driving me up the wall today!” is a different thing altogether.

        And berating other people on the train would just confirm that these people have no sense of discretion or proper behavior at all, so yeah—report.

        1. PEBCAK*

          In the US, at least, violations like this compromise the integrity of the court system, and are therefore a breach of public trust, and in some ways, everyone’s business.

          1. AnonyMiss*

            I was about to say the same thing. While I know that the marital communications privilege would probably protect what I tell my husband, I never talk to him about any of my matters at hand, or if I do, it’s in very broad terms (e.g. “we’re firing a deputy for doing some really stupid stuff in the jail”). Discussing client matters in public, where someone may identify something from some detail is an ethics suicide, and I would think the partners need to know of this.

            1. Liz in a Library*

              I would have called the firm, like the OP, for this reason. I am neither lawyer nor llama, but we have a ton of lawyers in our family and friends groups. Not a single one has ever given identifying details about a case while talking about work. It is just not done, and can cause a lot of damage to the case, the client, and the system as a whole.

              1. neverjaunty*

                N’thd. If these guys had shut up when they realized they were speaking loudly enough to be overheard, well, it would have been stupid but maybe they learned a lesson the easy way. Violating privilege and confidentiality and then being assholes when told they were doing so? I hope they got to work and found their desks cleaned out.

              2. Elysian*

                I don’t know if I would go this far – maybe it depends on the type of law? My clinic professor’s philosophy (in a litigation context) is that once it is “out there” in the public record – like you’ve filed a lawsuit against someone and all the documents are on ECF – its fair game to discuss. I mean, its always better to lean on the side of confidentiality if there is a question, but I once had someone basically say to me “Hey, I saw your name on the brief for XX v. YY.” It would be really weird in that situation not to at least acknowledge my client. Though obviously there are a lot of times I wouldn’t want to talk at all – like before we actually file, or if we consult and decide not to file, etc.

                I guess in this one I would say I don’t know what is or isn’t confidential and what they are and are not free to talk about, so I wouldn’t make the call.

                1. neverjaunty*

                  Right, but on top of privilege is the issue of client confidentiality. It’s one thing if opposing counsel asks “Are you representing Bob Smith in that case?” and another thing for me to be drunkenly yelling in public about all the things I’m doing for Bob Smith.

                2. Elysian*

                  Sure, but from what the OP describes it sounds mostly like they were complaining about a partner at their firm and the client info was incidental to that. Something like “Ughh, the Partner assigned me to the Bob Smith case at the last minute and now I’m working 35 hour days trying to catch up!” or something. I mean, its not GOOD behavior, but it isn’t something I would personally be calling the firm about.

                3. Blurgle*

                  Just mentioning the “Bob Smith case” in public, even without details, should be enough to get a lawyer instantly fired. The only exception I can think of is if the lawyer is involved in a criminal trial and his position is already known to the public.

                4. OP*

                  OP here – I don’t know the type of law, though I guess I could have googled more and found out – but it was along the lines of “OMG I hate the Purple Teapottery account so much!”

        2. Portia de Belmont*

          I don’t know how the British legal system works, but here, talking about cases in enough detail to identify the parties outside the office will get you very fired very fast. There’s a famous story out of LA where a law firm sent their employees to opposing counsel’s office building. They rode the elevators all day, and gathered enough information to just destroy the opposing counsel’s argument at trial.

        3. Anonna Miss*

          Imagine if it were “That George P. Hufflemeyer case was driving me up the wall today! His soon-to-ex-wife’s lawyer is sniffing around, and is close to finding the $10M we stashed at Acme Bank in the Caymans, and I had to dance around that all day!”

      2. yup*

        I’m thinking a “partner” would be just like a head counsel for a body of lawyers, so yea, I think the partner would want to know what’s going on with attorney-client privileged information being yelled into the public. They probably want to know about the derision, too, but may or may not care depending on how it affects the company’s ability to attract or retain clients.

        1. Rayner*

          A partner is one of the main legal people at a firm. Like in Jackson and Bingham, Mrs Penny Jackson and Mr Bonham Bingham are lawyers sharing a practise. The idiots on the train may have been lawyers working at that practise. The op called one of the two head honcho’s secretary.

        2. Green*

          How do you know it was “attorney-client privileged” information? I don’t think you can assume it’s attorney-client privileged if you don’t really know what that means.

      3. JJ*

        I agree. I’m an attorney and it’s obvious that we have an obligation to keep our clients’ information confidential. I’d absolutely want to know if attorneys working for me were sharing confidential, privileged information in a public place. It’s beyond stupid and unethical.

        1. Green*

          I am also an attorney. OP said they discussed “problems with their cases”; what about that makes you think that they were sharing “confidential, privileged information” and being “unethical”? OP also doesn’t have any way of knowing that, so *at best* OP should have said, “I don’t know if you realize this, but I can tell which cases you’re discussing! FYI!” and moved on with life.

          1. elikit*

            Because interacting with these jackweasels turned out so well for the first person that tried it?

            1. Green*

              Great job addressing the substantive issue of the fact that LW has no idea as to whether they were sharing “confidential, privileged information” and really just wanted to get some dudes who were loud in the quiet car fired.

              1. OP*

                Seriously, it wasn’t about getting them fired – if I had been going for that I would have done something more public…

                1. Green*

                  (1) What did you hope would happen? (2) Would you have felt compelled to call their employer on the trash-talking of the boss or client information you heard if they had not been obnoxious?

      4. PurpleMonkeyDishwasher*

        I 100% agree with this. In lots of jurisdictions, what these lawyers did (spouting off identifiable client details in a public space) is a breach of the ethical rules governing lawyers, and could be grounds for official sanction or disbarment (and the partner supervising them could be on the hook as well for a lesser ethical breach like “failure to supervise”).

        If I was a partner and my associates were breaching client confidentiality, I’d want to know about it, because everyone’s legal license is potentially on the line when that happens.

      5. Zillah*

        This is my take as well. I wouldn’t look askance at anyone who chose not to call the firm, of course, but I don’t think the OP is wrong to do so.

      6. M-C*

        Totally agree. Trash talking your boss is stupid. Discussing cases in public is criminal. Literally so, in the US. The partners needs to know about this, because they’d be ultimately responsible.

        And least y’all think this is merely a legal problem, I can assure you that tech companies would not look kindly on this kind of behavior either, nor would pharmaceutical ones, just off the top of my head for industries I know about. There are many confidential aspects to work that must be respected, that’s what offices are all about.

        1. Green*

          A what now? Discussing cases in public is not criminal. There are lots of armchair lawyers on this thread with some interesting notions about the law.

          The only people who know whether what they said was privileged (or even confidential) are the attorneys. There are literally millions of cases that are public, often with all the sordid details spelled out in public filings. OP was just annoyed at their (what sounds like obnoxious but not seriously offensive) behavior and instead of addressing *that* she decided to call their employer with trumped up concerns about confidentiality or complaining about their boss. If you’re willing to jeopardize someone’s livelihood over it, you should at least try to resolve the issue in person first.

          1. Finn*

            And the OP had to do a Google search to find the name of the partner. So yeah, they were loose enough with where they worked and apparently the partner’s identifying characteristics that someone listening could, by search, discern who the partner was. But even that is very different than shouting out privileged or confidential information — and to me this doesn’t read as though they did (if the OP had to search for the name of the partner, I just don’t believe privileged or confidential information about cases was tossed around, because I think the OP would have said he/she knows or had enough information to Google the names of the companies involved in the litigation and contact them too to get these guys in trouble).

            1. OP*

              The search was something along the lines of Firstname + Teapots + Nottingham – it was a basic 10 second search rather than a deep Google-fu attempt

              1. Green*

                You reported them for badmouthing their boss, who you had to look up, on a train. It’d be one thing if you were on the non-profit board with the boss, recognized who they were talking about, and let her know. This was definitely a Google-fu attempt; it just wasn’t very deep. I get that these dudes weren’t being very nice on the train, but address THAT instead of tattling on workers doing what every worker ever has done: complaining about a boss. (Also, if you haven’t worked at a law firm, you have no idea how unreasonable partners can be…) I mean, if we recognize a letter writer’s place of employment here, should we call them up and say they have someone complaining about their boss/coworker/company?

                1. OP*

                  Maybe we have different definitions of google? Would it have made a difference if I’d looked the company up in the phone book? Genuinely interested, because in my mind there’s a difference between the research-style googling for information, and A+B+C

                2. Green*

                  I think this whole thing is busybody territory.

                  – You didn’t recognize the boss.
                  – You also didn’t recognize the clients. (And as noted before (1) you have no idea if the information is privileged, (2) you have no idea if the information is even confidential.)

                  You had to additional work (beyond looking up the phone number) to identify the people involved. And it was definitely an f-u to them for being rude. So it doesn’t really matter to me how long the google search took.

                  (If there were an actual threat to the general public or clients — i.e., a uniformed driver who is drunk off his behind, then the work to figure out what’s going on to intervene is justified.)

          2. brownblack*

            It may not be criminal but it could certainly get somebody disbarred, at least in the US, depending on the details.

            We are all getting too much into the weeds here, especially given that the letter writer didn’t really tell us many specifics about what she heard. I come from a large family of lawyers, law enforcement, judges, etc. and I can tell you for sure: if I overheard a bunch of lawyers loudly and inappropriately discussing a case in a crowded public place, I would probably do exactly what the letter writer did. I wouldn’t need to jump to any conclusions or assume who may or may not be acting illegally; I imagine it would suffice to tell the firm what I heard, and let them decide what to do.

            1. Green*

              “Depending on the details.” Um, yeah, the details are what matters here. I am an attorney and there are lots of cases where the representation, the client, and many of the sordid details are all on the public record. There are also general gripes about a client (billing protocols are a big one, deadlines, etc.) that wouldn’t be ethically problematic. (“I hear you’re on the Teapots case. Man, they don’t let you bill for travel. That sucks.”) And there are also lots of things they may be saying in public that are just fine (“Rick didn’t do great at the deposition practice; we’ll have to work on that.”) that are generally fine to say in public because nobody knows who or what you’re talking about. There is zero indication that they were talking about anything that was *actually* privileged or even confidential.

              Also, it takes a lot to get disbarred, for better or for worse.

              1. California*

                At least in California, your duty is to preserve client confidentiality. Documents filed in court are generally open to the public. If the facts you are discussing are set out a court document, then they are hardly confidential.

                1. Green*

                  CA attorney also. Agree, but I would also extend that argument to things that all parties are aware of (i.e., a deposition transcript) and could attach as exhibits. Obviously one should take steps when talking publicly to minimize eavesdropping and people putting the story together (no last names, ditch the client name or refer to the deal by its codename, speaking quietly, using a screen that prevents people from seeing your computer easily), but the gist is that the OP has no idea whether the information they were discussing is confidential or privileged unless it’s like:
                  “Hey, I am working on the Project Candybar deal.” “Oh, what’s that?” “The one where Company A is going to announce the acquisition of Company B next week!”
                  “Are you working on the X criminal case?” “Yes! He told me he definitely bribed those foreign officials!”

              2. brownblack*

                If the OP heard them discussing their firm’s billing policies and called their boss, then yes, she is a busybody. I am obviously giving her the benefit of the doubt. The fact that they also acted like jerks sort of tips the scales for me.

                1. Green*

                  The fact that they acted like jerks is really just relevant to the fact that they’re jerks. If she’d called their bosses and said “They were jerks on the train and were carrying bags with your firm’s name on it.” then that may have been fair. (But I would still have gone with an in-the-moment, “Hey, maybe it’s not such a great idea to act like a jerk when everyone on this train knows where you work.”) It’s not relevant to whether they should be reported for complaining about their boss.

          3. lalla*

            The way I see it is this – the boss is in the best position to decide if this is a big deal.

            If she – with her in-depth knowledge of the business, the staff and their cases – thinks that what was discussed is a serious breach and a disciplinable offence, then the OP was absolutely right to notify the partner.

            If the partner understands the situation and thinks it’s not really an issue, then nothing will happen to the people in question and all the OP has done is waste a little of their own time.

            Whether or not these people’s livelihood is in jeopardy is entirely the decision of their boss, who will have her own ideas about what is ethical or good practice or an acceptable representation of her business. The OP has put the partner in a position to investigate and make a decision. If the OP hadn’t contacted the partner then the partner would be completely in the dark and would be unable to make any decision at all.

    2. Allison*

      I’ve actually wanted to do that twice. Once because a truck was driving dangerously – trying to pass cars on a street that was one lane in each direction, using the “left turn only” lane to bypass traffic, tailgating cars and revving the engine to intimidate the other drivers. The other time was because a van full of roofers slowed down next to me when I was shoveling my car and all the guys wolf whistled me, which was gross. But each time I looked up the company, I found it was a small, local business, and likely a sole proprietorship where calling ran the risk of either speaking directly with the offender, or someone close enough to the offender that they would defend the behavior and cuss me out for complaining. Didn’t seem worth the risk.

      1. Sunshine Brite*

        Reminds me of a story that someone from college told me about calling one of those how’s my driving numbers. It was an 18 wheeler and the number went directly to the driver’s cell. The driver and his wife began yelling at him and drove dangerously following him closely all the way into town because there weren’t really alternative routes.

        1. Holly Olly Oxen Free*

          Woah. Scary. I’ve thought about calling those numbers before. I won’t now.

          I did call a limo company once because the driver of a limo pulled up next to me and rolled down his window, yelled at me, called me an entitled B****, said F*** you and gave me the finger all because he was blocking the road and I dared to honk my horn for half a second to let him know I was behind him. Yup. I called his company about 5 seconds later.

          1. Gene*

            That reminds me, I have a windshield camera running at all times when I’m driving. I need to download one clip and send it to a trucking company.

            I sent one to the Chief of Police here regarding one of their officers driving like a penis on the freeway. I heard from other officers that everyone in the department got reamed about driving manners and defensive driving at shift calls over the next few days. With the video shown, so they all know who the offending officer is.

              1. Gene*

                After a non-fault accident where my employer ended up getting sued anyway, I did a lot of research and settled on the Viewsonic V747W (~$180 from new egg). Besides the full HD recording and wide dynamic range, it doesn’t have GPS. GPS can be used against you. Say you are exceeding the speed limit by 2 mph; no real difference in the accident, but it’s evidence of contributory negligence.

            1. Holly Olly Oxen Free*

              The first time I read “driving a penis.” You can imagine the questions that arose.

                1. V.V.*

                  …while fighting evil in an ambiguous way.

                  What is everybody looking at?

                  … Nothing!

            2. LBK*

              I am laughing like a madman at “driving like a penis”. It’s just so evocative.

              1. Creag an Tuire*

                If you drive your penis that sloppily, you may not get the chance to do so a second time.

      2. lowercase holly*

        i had an airport shuttle run a stop sign near my house. after attempting to contact the company to let them know, i just posted the story on various reviews platforms (yelp, etc.). i didn’t get the license or van number so there wasn’t a lot else to do.

      3. Annon*

        As someone who receives those calls, thank you. Really. I need to know when my drivers are not driving well. Those that get complained about don’t last long. The truth is there are not too many of those calls, thank goodness. Because when there are, whoa.
        I can also say, if a rock kicks up and hits your car or breaks your windshield; I can’t help you. :( That is why in our state it is mandatory to have glass coverage.

        1. Allison*

          That’s good to hear, but as you may have seen in this thread, it’s sometimes hard to tell whether you’re going to speak to the person’s boss who will actually take your concern seriously, or whether you’re going to end up speaking to the bad driver who’s just going to yell at you. Or if you’ll end up speaking to someone who will angrily defend the bad driver’s bad driving, and tell you to eff off.

          1. M-C*

            You know, it -is- a phone, you can just hang up. Block their number if they try to call back. Don’t just hand over your personal info in the first 30 seconds before you’ve checked who you’re talking to, and it’s a pretty safe thing to do.

      4. Cath in Canada*

        A friend of mine who used to work at a vet school called a company once and asked if they could please remind their drivers to slow right down when passing horses on campus – she’d been leading a horse along the side of the road, and it got spooked by a close-passing fast-driving delivery van (she was able to bring the horse under control quite easily and definitely wasn’t angry or anything). They called her back an hour later to say that they’d fired the driver responsible. She felt awful – she hadn’t wanted him to lose his job, just to slow down!

        1. Zillah*

          I wonder whether they’d warned him about similar issues multiple times in the past.

          1. E*

            Or perhaps it was a violation of company policy and they decided this was a bad enough offense to deserve termination. Your friend was definitely right to want to keep everyone safe.

            1. Jessa*

              This, because the horse could have spooked out of her control and into traffic, which could have killed/injured the horse. And if someone had been riding, not leading, both the horse and a person could have ended up dead, as well as other drivers being injured (it could cause a huge pileup depending on traffic.)

      5. peanut butter kisses*

        I was sexually harassed by a guy driving a work truck with the phone number on the side. You better believe I called that number to complain.

        1. Bri*

          I did the same thing when one of Liberty Tax sign drivers jumped out in the middle of the road( while we were moving) To dance in front of us. It was superbowl sunday and people in our military town already drove like maniacs and I’m sure half the town was drunk. I was pretty ok with him getting fired.

      6. Hlyssande*

        I did it once, when I saw a taxi driver chuck a fast food bag out of his window. The dispatcher was extremely apologetic to me and angry at the driver.

      7. Dutch Thunder*

        Reminds me of the time I was in the car with my dad and someone tried to push us off the road.

        …You probably shouldn’t do that to an off-duty police officer. We wrote down his license plate, and he got a fine in the post not long after.

        I wish there had been some way to automatically capture that driver’s facial expression when he opened that bit of mail.

    3. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      I think I would only cold call like this if they were doing something dangerous i.e. really egregious driving in a company vehicle.

      I have called companies for exactly this – a few months ago I was on my commute when a plumber’s van sped past me and proceeded to weave in and out of traffic (on a residential street!) honking his horn and cutting people off. I dialed the number that was written prominently across the back of the van and let them know that their employee was a hazard.

      1. Jamie*

        I called once when a truck in front of me had a small fire in the undercarriage. It was way in the back and I didn’t know how long it would take the driver to notice and I was worried about their safety.

        I would call if there was serious reckless driving because I’m prone to guilt and I couldn’t live with myself if I could have prevented injury/worse.

        In the OPs situation? I’d have made a mental note never to use that firm, but I’d figure this kind of behavior bites everyone in the ass eventually. I HATE getting involved in other people’s drama/problems and will only do so if I feel morally obligated and this wouldn’t have even approached that bar for me.

        I’m the neighbor who will be quietly annoyed with someone for loud parties or cutting your lawn before the accepted time in the am but I’d never make an official complaint. If I witness anything which feels like abuse, violence, neglect of a child/animal then I’m reaching for the phone and f’ing pissed at you for making my involvement necessary.

    4. Indie*

      The difference is that lawyers have a higher standard of conduct concerning confidentiality than employees in other industries.

    5. sara*

      I work in a law office, and we are constantly reminded to avoid discussing work issues in public areas especially on public transportation (taxis, planes, buses). You never know who’s listening and you could leak confidential info. I’m not sure I would have rang up the office in this instance but I think it’s completely reasonable to do so.

    6. Way to Go!*

      I would ABSOLUTELY have done what you did. Those guys were acting inappropriately, in more ways than one, and should know how to act in public. If they don’t, hopefully they’ll learn their lesson.

  2. Dawn*

    This is the kind of thing that I would very much want to know as a manager, especially if I worked somewhere with high-stakes and high-visibility like a lawyer’s office. People come off one way in interviews and at work, but can be very very different in real life, and this is exactly the type of behavior that I’d want to know about. While we all would like to believe that our company’s influence over us and over how we live our lives ends once we walk out the door at the end of the day, truth is that we all are representatives of where we work in both big and small ways.

    Now, if these dudes were being total doofuses on their own, without talking about where they worked, and you took pictures and Google stalked them and called up their bosses to report that they were acting like… well.. young male lawyer-types then that would be really petty. However, these guys pretty much called it down upon themselves by announcing to the entire train car where they worked, giving out enough identifying details about where they worked that they were easily found, AND THEN acting like rude stuck up dudebros because someone had the audacity to suggest that maybe they should, you know, quiet down while they were riding in the Quiet car.

    I’m on Team “You did the right thing”.

    1. LBK*

      People come off one way in interviews and at work, but can be very very different in real life, and this is exactly the type of behavior that I’d want to know about.

      In reference to being jerks to other people, for sure. But if you’re able to be professional and productive in the office and then go home and whine about how much you hate your job, that’s no skin off my back as a manager. Complain all you want on your own time as long as your work is still good (although I think it’s rare that those truly coincide).

      1. Dawn*

        Yeah, and if they were just complaining, that’d be fine. I mean sure, obnoxious on the quiet train, but seriously none of my business.

        However, the line (for me, in my opinion) was crossed when they started being rude, condescending jerkwads to everyone else in response to a reasonable request (“Hey can you please keep it down in the quiet train?”) This is the kind of behavior that can cost a company money and potentially turn into a PR problem, which is A Very Big Deal with some industries where there’s a lot of competition- like a lawyer’s office. If I was their manager, I’d want to know about this so that it could be nipped in the bud before it became a huge issue for the entire firm.

        1. MashaKasha*

          PR problem was what jumped out at me too. How many people got off that train tonight saying to themselves, “wow, with this kind of attitude and privacy leaks, I’ll never do business with Marsh, Broflovski, Cartman and McCormick and I will tell all my friends and colleagues to do the same”? For that reason alone, I’m on the “manager needed to know” team.

          1. Jamie*

            They are lucky it was just one person calling in – their antics could just have easily been put online requiring much greater damage control.

    2. Anna*

      Same here. If they weren’t being really obvious about where they worked, it would be entirely different. But it seems they wanted everyone to know how important they were and since they really wanted to get it out there, it seems worthwhile to let the firm know how they’re being represented to the public. To me it’s no different than calling a company when you see a truck speeding. Management will want to know, for no other reason than it represents who they are to the public.

    3. Lizabeth*

      Wouldn’t the cases that they were discussing be considered “company confidential”? Having had a security clearance in jobs past that’s a BIG no-no and I would want to know about it.

      1. Kyrielle*

        THIS. And client-confidential as well (not just a company’s IP, which would be bad enough). Some aspects of my work, being talked about in public, could be a major breach of clients’ trust for me. Not a lawyer – but I’m pretty sure the same general standard applies there. It’s not even just their employer’s data, but their clients’ data they are putting out there.

      2. Mpls*

        If they are in the US, then it’s more than just “company confidential”, it’s a confidential privilege the attorneys are violating by talking about it where non-privileged people are present in a manner where non-privileged people would be reasonably expected to over hear. In addition to violating professional rules of conduct to keep client matters confidential.

        1. Apollo Warbucks*

          The letter says they were in London. The concept of privilege stills applies in the UK legal system.

      3. Blurgle*

        Much more than that. Lawyer-client confidentiality goes far beyond the usual confidentiality expectations in other businesses. Had this happened in Canada, dudebros could (and should) have been disbarred.

        No law firm would see the OP’s actions as wrong. If anyone on the train worked for the opposing law firm or their client it’s almost certain that dudebros’ firm would have found itself facing a judicial enquiry.

      4. Busy*

        This exactly – it’s privileged communication. They absolutely should have known better. What if the client had been on the train? Or a competitor? Or hell, the defendant/plaintiff/other side? Attorneys need to show discretion and keep the confidence of their clients. That’s lawyering 101.

        If this had been the US (and say, the Acela between DC and NYC), it’s very likely that some busybody on the train would have reported it to Above the Law (a legal rag blog), and it would have been HUGE news that would have potentially cost them their jobs. At least this way, the OP helps them learn a lesson they won’t forget, and they potentially just get a reprimand and a chance to save their jobs.

          1. Green*

            Again, there’s NO indication that it was privileged information. And anyone in biglaw knows that the failed staff attorneys (at best) at ATL aren’t exactly the greatest legal minds. Most have never been in biglaw, and zero have been partners.

    4. 42*

      Me too. Plus I detest people who talk loudly in a train car that’s reserved for a quiet ride. Grrrrr.

  3. Helka*

    I’m with you, Alison; my general stance is that it’s one thing to be talking about how you hate your job (after all, some jobs are real nightmares) but another thing to be just blatantly and openly awful to the people around you — if you’re going to be like that, you have to be prepared for the consequences of it. No sympathy for tremendous jerks who suffer the consequences of their jerkitude.

    1. brownblack*

      There’s also a difference between talking about how much you hate your job, and talking about how much you hate your job while citing specific coworkers, clients, projects, and so forth in such a way that anybody nearby could figure everything out.

  4. cuppa*

    I don’t know, I started on the “it’s not your business” side, and I don’t know that I would have called them up myself, but I kind of landed on the other side here.
    The thing is, law is one of those fields where you really need to be professional and discreet. I get the need to vent, etc., but you don’t do that to the point that they have here. To me, it’s no different than someone posting something bad about their workplace on Facebook and getting in trouble for it. It happens, and you can’t have that reasonable expectation of privacy, particularly when you are disrupting others and being a jerk about it.
    My husband and I both have a lot of confidentiality concerns in our workplaces, and we take them seriously. I realize that these guys may not have been talking about clients or other confidential details, but it should be something that they have in their minds and be aware that what you say can be heard even when you least expect it. I don’t think the OP did anything wrong here.

    1. bridget*

      It sounds to me that there was some confidential information aired – in the U.S., *any* information relating to your representation of a client is confidential, including the identity of the client, the type of case, etc. etc., unless you get a waiver from your client to disclose that information.

      1. bridget*

        I know the OP is in the UK – I keep saying “in the US” to indicate that these guys could potentially be under different rules than I am.

        1. UKAnon*

          I think it’s pretty much the same thing. I’ve known rules that you aren’t even allowed to disclose that a client has instructed you.

      2. Manders*

        Yeah, that was where my brain went immediately too. The OP said they were talking about problems with their cases. Even if they didn’t give the names of their clients, the letter makes it sound like they were loudly discussing information that should have been confidential. That’s a separate, and much more serious, issue than badmouthing the partner.

    2. UKAnon*

      OP says they were talking about their cases, so I’m prepared to bet that it would fall into the confidential category – which is what I would have considered reporting them for, though I probably wouldn’t have reported them for anything else (in all honesty because I’m just too lazy)

      1. AnonAnalyst*

        Yeah, this is where I come down, too. I’m not sure I would have put in the effort to report them purely for being obnoxious (although I do recognize that that’s a potential PR issue for the firm), but I may have for loudly discussing confidential information in a public place. Maybe it’s because I also hold a job where there are a lot of confidentiality concerns so I’m used to keeping details out of my conversations where people who shouldn’t might overhear them, but depending on what was said I could see that concerning me enough that I would contact someone at the organization.

    3. lowercase holly*

      also, if one is going to vent, don’t pick the quietest place around. not the smartest guys in the bunch.

    4. MissDisplaced*

      I feel like that too, went from “not my business,” to maybe it was good to point out to the employer. Being idiots is one thing, but it sounds like these guys really crossed a line in such a public place.

  5. Jennifer*

    Hooooooo boy, here is gonna come the drama.

    I think it was probably busybodying/none of your business, but also I’m thinking of the whole Adria Richards thing (Google it) and how at least in America, that turned out to be a lot more trouble to her than it was to report the sexually talking guys behind her.

    1. Anna*

      I think this is slightly different. In Adria Richards’ case, she wasn’t actually meant to overhear what was said. It was a conversation between two people sitting behind her that she overheard. These guys in the OP’s letter were being very loud and obvious in a room full of people and not doing a lot to hide their affiliation. Adria Richards’ also (and I could be misremembering) made no effort to engage with them, she just tweeted their details out to the world and kind of hoped social media in all its rabid justice would take care of it. In this case the men were confronted and actually got worse.

      1. Just Another Techie*

        I think it’s totally unfair to describe Richards a “hop[ing] social media in all its rabid justice would take care of it.” She was frustrated and upset, and vented, as many of us have done. I don’t think she did anything ethically wrong although it was probably tactically unwise, given the blowback that landed on her.

        1. SystemsLady*

          I think if she had omitted the picture, there wouldn’t be a discussion about this and all (and mixing in the circumstances, the mens’ behavior would still have been addressed).

        2. fposte*

          Yeah, I don’t know the details, but there are plenty of places to vent that aren’t public and identifying the people you’re complaining about. When you make a choice to do that, I think that’s more than just frustration.

        3. Cari*

          I’m with Anna. It’s exactly why she did it. That sort of thing is becoming a trend in certain circles and it is totally not on.

      2. SystemsLady*

        Eh, I’m going to have to correct that, even if it is a bit off-topic.

        Adria Richards was at a convention and was simultaneously passive aggressive complaining about the jokes and trying to get the convention staff to come talk to them for her on Twitter. Which they did.

        She didn’t tweet names/employers or anything, but she did post a picture. I can’t remember if their names or employers were visible from their (mostly obscured) tags or not. Anyway.

        By a couple days later, a social media firestorm had broken out and both one of the two men and Adria Richards had been fired from their respective jobs. (though, if you ask me, I doubt either company would’ve found cause to fire their employee if not for the social media explosion)

        The rumor that the men reacted poorly is also incorrect and probably comes from the fact that a bunch of other men got angry for them. Both of them apologized when convention staff came to talk to them and they were rather civil about the whole thing, saying it was a reminder to be more thoughtful of what they say (though of course they were, again civilly, upset she posted the picture).

        Was that the best way for her to address the inappropriate jokes? No, she should’ve talked to them directly first. It turns out these guys were open to listen to her, anyway. And with her having so many followers, posting the photo was a clear lapse in judgment.

        Did some rabid social media justice brigade subsequently come out in response to “help”? Yes, and so did the “I want to be inappropriate and you can’t stop me” brigade.

        Perhaps this distills down to one relevant point: don’t address things like this that occur in real life on social media.

        Anyway, I’d agree this is in no way similar to the Adria Richards incident, even if you omit the fact that the case didn’t directly involve an employer at all.
        1) It’s not like anybody is going to know it was OP who reported them, even if this somehow becomes a big news story.
        2) Somebody did try to confront them about their behavior, and they reacted in a poor manner…while clearly identifying which company they worked for and talking about confidential matters. That, moreso than simply complaining loudly about work, is something a manager would like to hear about.

        I never would’ve had the guts to do this, OP, but I think you were perfectly justified in calling in.

        1. Marcela*

          I don’t think she should have taken the picture, yes. But in her same shoes, I wouldn’t have tried to talk to them. My experience doing the same thing in the past has taught me that they won’t be open to discuss the matter. I’ve been told I’m sensitive, it’s just a joke, etc. etc. Only when somebody else was involved, oh, surprise, they guys were open to they idea that “perhaps” I had a right to be uncomfortable, and the best course of action was for them not to say such things.

        2. Lanon*

          See, if you know you have such an effect with your following, and you do it anyways, is not a “Lapse in judgement”. It’s morally deplorable and not only sets back the cause she purpoted to be supporting massively but also solidifies her as both unemployable and untrustworthy in all future situations.

  6. LBK*

    I think this is something I would daydream about doing but not follow through on. I’m with Alison that complaining about their work isn’t your business to report – if there’s issues to be identified, I think it’s fully the manager’s responsibility to do that, and I think venting about work outside of the office should generally be met with selective hearing by anyone around (although on a quiet car is a very obnoxious and rude place to do it).

    Berating someone else while seemingly representing your employer, though – that’s definitely something I would want to know about. Although it depends on how exactly you were able to identify them; I suppose I don’t know any law firms in my area well enough to be able to identify them even from the partners’ names, but I guess it depends on your scope of knowledge and how well-known the firm is.

    I was thinking about this in comparison to the recent letter about the nude photos and the “what you do outside of work isn’t your employer’s business” tenet. This example strikes me as fair game, though, since there was a more clear link to the employer and ergo more closely representing “this is what people who work for this company are like” (as well as being a much more objectionable activity).

    1. Colette*

      I’m with you – I think it’s fine to report this but I probably wouldn’t bother. I would, however, make sure never to do business with that firm.

      1. RubyJackson*

        That would have been a justifiable call to make to the office. To let them know that the OP had overheard things and seen some behavior which would make her never use the services of that firm.

  7. SandrineSmiles (France)*

    Okay, strictly speaking, it was a “none of your business” moment.

    However, here’s why I think you did well:

    1) You got to hear stuff that was probably confidential
    2) The employees did end up harassing someone else
    3) I’m all about griping about work, but this went way too far anyway.

    Thanks, OP!

    1. OP*

      Thank you – and to every one that’s commenting, whether you agree or disagree :-)

  8. SJP*

    English person here… don’t know if it varies by nationality but i’d have totally done the same. They made their bed in and now they have to lie in it.
    What if OP was one of their clients, or worked with that company… Hell, i’d abso-frickin-lutely would wanna know if my staff were slagging me off so much that it was massively obvious who they worked for..

    If it were someone slagging off/ranting about their job to a friend then fair enough.. but on a train where loads of people are gonna hear you and put two and two together being this obvious and obnoxious, fair game

    1. Nutcase*

      Another Brit here completely agreeing! I would have done exactly the same as the OP. There’s really no excuse for being that obnoxious. They could have easily vented about their days without publicly dissing their employer and clients. Even better, they could have done this venting anywhere else but in the quiet carriage. If they had employed some common sense and common decency everyone would have come out of this situation a lot happier.

      1. OP*

        I have been wondering to myself how much British quiet carriage etiquette played a part in my response – BUT had it been in a standard carriage I wouldn’t have heard it any way, so…

        1. ReanaZ*

          Aussie not Brit here, but yeah. the fact it was in the quiet carriage is the part that makes me most outraged in all of this. THAT IS A SACRED SPACE.

        2. wordum*

          I was like :-O not the quiet carriage!! That’s sacred. I have no shame in glaring at people who are making too much noise there and I’ve definitely had dudes go all defensive and ‘mner mner she thinks she can tell us off lol’ about it. Although usually after a bit of posturing they pipe down.

          As an aside, a friend of mine just posted on twitter that she’s never been so embarrassed in her life as after telling someone off for chatting on their mobile in the quiet carriage… but it turned out she actually wasn’t in the quiet carriage. Mortifying!

        3. SJP*

          Absolutely, there are just some rules/unspoken rules you just don’t break.. the quiet carriage is one of those. I’d have done the same thing OP. As so many people wrote, fair enough if they were being obnoxious but the fact they A) spoke about confidential client information on the train is a massive no-no.
          B) If I was a manager and my reportee’s were slagging me off so openly that it was easy to decipher the company and someone rang me, i’d be glad to know.

          I was thinking about this on my way into work today and nowadays so many people trash talk, diss their employers and stuff so publically and then are astonished that someone heard/saw and they got fired for it. You absolutely reap what you sow!
          With social media especially it’s so easy to find this stuff out that it’s ignorant to do in the first place but even more so to be butthurt when you get found out..

          I’d love to be a fly on the wall when they get called in their bosses office about this..

    2. Mander*

      I’m way late to this discussion, but throughout I’ve been thinking that the worst part of this was that they were doing it in the quiet coach! That makes any kind of breach of social norms or etiquette ten times worse.

  9. MH*

    Maybe say something to the conductor first because they shouldn’t be talking if they’re in a quiet car.

    1. UKAnon*

      An eminently sensible suggestion you might think. But no! You’d have to *find* a conductor. On British trains, that is far more difficult than it sounds almost all of the time. (The one exception is when you aren’t sure if you’ve bought the right ticket, at which point they walk past between every station)

      Seriously, I was once stuck in a train carriage with an abusive drunkard for a full hour. I finally reached my station, which was where transport police boarded, but there hadn’t been any train staff in the interim, and that wasn’t even a busy train.

      1. SJP*

        I was about to say the same thing as UK Anon, they’re basically never on the train so good luck finding out

      2. Carrie in Scotland*

        It also depends on how busy the train is – some of the ones just before/after work can be so busy it’s ridiculous (aka sardines in a can).

        No conductors? There ARE usually ticket people onboard, and they would come down the aisle and coaches and ask if anyone has joined from so and so station (the last stop or 2) but again. this might depend on how busy the train was at the time.

        1. UKAnon*

          Yeah, it sounds like an evening commute out of London, which means that nobody was moving – you can’t even get to the loo unless you’re really lucky.

        2. UK HR bod*

          The ticket inspectors only focus on checking tickets, they don’t care about the comfort of the passengers! Given the OP’s description, there’s a fair chance this is Southern Rail to Brighton, who charge plebs who have to stand in first class when there was nowhere else to go.
          I understand the MYOB responses, but equally, there are so many idiot sharing confidential info on trains I don’t think it’s wrong to report it. I was very tempted to call a company when I was able to read ridiculous levels of detail about someone’s grievance (including the grievance, outcome, names, company) – I only didn’t because I’m inherently lazy. And yes, I could have looked away – but it’s well known people on trains read over the shoulder. People should learn some discretion.

          1. OP*

            Not that line, for which I’m always grateful because I have friends who do that commute, and pity them every time!

      3. Elkay*

        Yep, agree completely. Even if you can find a ticket inspector I suspect they wouldn’t be able to do much unless the guys threatened them.

      4. Elizabeth West*

        Yeah, I only saw a conductor or attendant a couple of trips. Nobody but me to tell the asshole on Southwest Trains to can it after he started a row with someone over the priority seat and then wouldn’t shut up about it.

        I never tried this, but you could tweet–that sometimes works with airlines.

        1. Elkay*

          Tweeting is good because it’s public, the company want to be seen to be dealing with it (train company wouldn’t care but the guys’ company might) e.g. “Sitting on a train to Peterborough listening to 3 guys from @biglawfirm loudly discussing their ‘idiot’ clients”

        2. Merry and Bright*

          Yes! I get the Twitter feeds from South East trains and they can be pretty good free entertainment when passengers are sounding off!

      5. OP*

        Yep, on these trains you basically see a ticket collector once in the 2 ish hour journey…. Which can be frustratibg, but that’s the system

    2. esra*

      If it’s anything like the GO in Toronto, the quiet car basically hopes signage and public shaming will do most of the work.

  10. B*

    If they were just bashing the company, and being rude to others, I would say none of your business. However, they are lawyers talking about clients and therefore broke confidentiality. That in my world is a huge error and one I would want to be told about. Especially if I was able to quickly google the clients.

    1. LBK*

      I think you could complain about a client without violating confidentiality if, for example, you’re not saying any details of the case or their names. “That guy we had in court today was such a douche” doesn’t seem like a breach of confidentiality to me.

      1. B*

        I completely agree. But from the sound of it I would assume they gave away client details as well. If they didn’t and it was more of a random complaint then yes, complain to the conductor and be done.

      2. neverjaunty*

        Right, but griping about opposing counsel is very different than revealing CLIENT INFORMATION. And then being a douchecanoe when told other people can hear it.

        1. LBK*

          I meant a client, actually, not opposing counsel. You could easily have a client you didn’t like and were griping about without revealing details of their case.

    2. Anon369*

      Agreed – I’m in a field where we’re privy to market-moving information and as a manager, I’d want to know about this.

  11. bridget*

    I think if they belonged to a profession where confidentiality isn’t so SUPER IMPORTANT, I would say mind your own business. But, assuming that the confidentiality rules for lawyers in the UK is similar to those in the United States, giving away client information like that is a huuuuuuuuuuuuuge no-no. Lawyers can be, should be, and are summarily fired for doing things like that. In the United States you could also be disciplined by the bar. I’m less concerned about being generally obnoxious and bad-mouthing their boss than the client information that was shared; if that were the extent of it I might also fall on the “mind your own business” side.

    It’s as if, in the US, you heard a doctor or nurse loudly violating HIPAA in public. For the sake of their clientele, I think you are totally within your rights to say something.

    1. another US attorney*

      I agree that they fact that they were discussing cases is what puts it over the top. Even if they hadn’t, though, their trashing the firm and being rude to other people on the train might justify calling the partner anyway. They identified themselves as employees of a particular place, and then proceeded to represent that place poorly. I don’t know if I would have actually followed up the way the LW did, mostly because I’m lazy, but I don’t think it was out of line.

  12. Sarah Nicole*

    I would have called and said something about them trash talking the employer and about how they were rude to others on the train. I understand that in most instances this wouldn’t be my business, but they sounded pretty darn extreme. I’d say this is the exception to the rule because it was so ridiculous. I know I don’t have anything concrete saying that this should be an exception, it just feels right that someone should say something in this type of situation, and I would feel comfortable giving this employer a call.

  13. Tax Nerd*

    I beg to differ; if they were being so indiscrete about their opinions regarding the firm, they might also be equally indiscrete about the clients and the clients’ matters. While under other circumstances (for example, speaking ill of one’s manager at a retail store) would be most inappropriate, I would not be as concerned, as there are no professional ethics breaches likely, and would not notify the store. In this situation, given that these persons do have access to very confidential information, I would do as the OP did.

    1. LBK*

      Eh…I don’t think this is necessarily true. The stakes are totally different with talking about your own work vs. revealing legally protected client information.

      1. Beancounter in Texas*

        Ditto. I have days where I really want to quit my job and I’ll rant and rave about my employer. I’m his senior bookkeeper and I know confidential information about not only his companies, but his personal life too (as we manage his personal checkbook). I know his cash worth. Would I betray it? Never. Even when drunk. Complaining to vent and get it out of my system is not the same as betraying trust and using the confidential information to sabotage him.

  14. Can-Do*

    I would normally also air on the side of keeping my mouth shut, but being indiscreet about the inner working of a law firm (and potentially cases) seems a dangerous game I’d want to be aware of. In the tech industry, you’d be fired in a heartbeat for this.

    While not directly related, it always surprises me how little people understand the impact their off-hours activities can affect their employment. Hopefully this recent case will spur the discussion everywhere: http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/hydro-one-ceo-calls-conduct-of-employee-fired-over-fhritp-vulgarity-reprehensible

    1. Alternative*

      I was hoping someone would mention this! I was glad to hear the one guy was fired, and I hope the other one is too. They both treated the reporter in an absolutely disgusting manner. It’s pretty infuriating to watch the video.

  15. AnotherAlison*

    I’m on the side of MYOB.

    My husband owns his own business, and has a van with his phone number on it and walks around in company shirts. At various times, we’ve had employees with company vehicles and shirts. I definitely want to hear a customer complaint, but to me, what the OP describes is not her business. When we get complaints about someone, it’s usually bad driving BY my husband TO my husband. To which he rolls his eyes because he was there and knows the complaint is often exaggerated. Even if he was wrong, it’s more of a “Oops, my bad” moment, rather than an intentional road rage move, that he is aware of, because he’s driving a freaking cargo van and cuts people off inadvertently at times.

    Would I want employees being verbally abusive to community members or trash talking my company? No. But, I find it insulting that Random Stranger from the public thinks I’m such a bad manager/business owner that I don’t know these employees’ true colors. For all you know, they’re already on PIPs.

    1. neverjaunty*

      You find it insulting that Random Stranger doesn’t think you’re omniscient?

      The partner probably knows these kids are a-holes. She may not know that they are indiscreet a-holes who violate very strict ethical rules.

    2. RGB*

      It seems like you’re saying as a business owner, that you’d rather not have to hear critical feedback from your potential customers about people who work under your brand, because it’s some how insulting to you personally? Seems a little odd.

      1. The Strand*

        Great point.

        “…he rolls his eyes because he was there and knows the complaint is often exaggerated”. If multiple strangers are approaching you often – your words – and telling you that you’re driving dangerously, then that’s a cue to think about your driving. If the same kind of complaints keep happening, and there’s no “horns effect” you can easily point to – people who don’t know you or each other are criticizing you for the same thing – well, it’s reasonable to consider that you and your behavior are the one constant. Maybe it isn’t everyone else — maybe it is you.

        In addition to RGB’s comment… Other drivers usually have no idea whether they were cut off deliberately, to be rude, or because the vehicle was malfunctioning, or because it’s a “oops, my bad” moment. It sounds like he cut someone off because the cargo van is hard to handle (that’s what you meant, right, when you said “he’s driving a freaking cargo van and cuts people off inadvertently at times”?) But having good intent doesn’t negate the danger of his actions.

        I don’t care why someone drives dangerously. I might ask myself, “Are they texting? Are they lost? Are they drunk”?, which might actually be valuable if it tells me what to do next (e.g. a tourist who’s lost might pull off at the next exit, for an amusement park; all I have to do is hang back). But ultimately, I’ll call if I think it might help someone else from getting hurt. I don’t report people for not wearing motorcycle helmets – their business – but I have called the cops when I witness road rage or dangerous driving (a person driving the wrong way down a road or going under the minimum speed limit, eg 40 MPH on a highway, no hazard lights, when other cars are going 75 and 80)

        If it is true that he “cuts people off inadvertently at times”, and he’s getting complaints, it may be time for a cold, hard self-reflection. Maybe he can change or add a mirror, or add stickers indicating where his blind spots are. Maybe he can get feedback from a trusted friend who drives behind him.

    3. AllisonAllisonAllisonetc*

      yeah, I’m also confused why you would be insulted. There’s plenty of my “true colors” that my employer knows nothing about that the right combo of busybody and crappy manager could end up with me fired (I’m talking more along the lines of “drinks often” and “is queer” than being a privacy violating douche on a train though). It’s entirely possible and even likely that a manager doesn’t know all the (real or imagined) bad behavior their employees get up to off hours. People calling in are trying to do you a favor (even if they are meddling busybodies), not insult you.

    4. Pennalynn Lott*

      Wow. My boyfriend and I own a residential and store front window cleaning company. We have several employees wearing logo’d shirts with phone numbers on them, as well as driving vehicles that have our business name and phone number on them. I would absolutely want someone to call if one of our employees was doing something stupid, *especially* if it’s my boyfriend (the co-owner). I don’t need our insurance rates to go up because one of our guys had a case of road rage or “I’m more important than everyone else on the road, so get out of my way” syndrome.

      Our guys work by themselves, so we have no way of knowing how they treat our customers or the public when we’re not there unless someone tells us. The *last* thing I would be is insulted if someone called me to let me know what my employees were up to. If anything, I would be grateful.

  16. insert pun here*

    This is the part that seals the deal for me: “problems in their company, with their cases…”

    Lawyers deal with confidential information all the time. I have no problem whatsoever reporting folks who are, or seem like they might be, disclosing confidential information inappropriately — whether it’s health, legal, financial, whatever.

    Do I complain about my employer? Yes. Do I do it without disclosing financial or otherwise confidential information that I am ethically bound to not share? Also yes. Not that hard, guys.

    Separately to the issue, people who are loud in the quiet coach (“quiet car” in the US) should be thrown from the train while it is still moving.

    1. danr*

      Well, on my local train line they can be removed at the next stop, or a special stop can be made if it’s an express. It’s usually the transit police who come on board and do the removal.

  17. RoseTyler*

    In most professions, contacting their employer would be overkill and busybody-ing.

    In the legal industry and with the expectation of attorney/client privilege, if they said anything identifying about matters or clients you were right to call and notify the firm.

  18. CAinUK*

    You did the right thing – but that partly depends on how much you flagged with the secretary.

    If you flagged the statements these jerks made about that partner, or the things they said while “blowing off steam,” I would be less supportive and feel your call was more vindictive than constructive.

    If, however, you simply mentioned they were indiscreet about clients AND had bullied a fellow passenger while identifying who they work for – that’s fair game and something their employer SHOULD know.

    1. Sophia in the DMV*

      Why would it be vindictive? I would think it’s helpful to know as much detail as I can

      1. CAinUK*

        Because the call would mainly be seeking revenge on these douchebags for talking loudly – which is understandable, but not a good enough reason to call the employer IMO.

        But, as OP mentions below, that wasn’t the motivation – the motivation was to tell an employer that their employees were being indiscreet about clients (and I also think bringing up their bullying other passengers would have been warranted). That IS worth mentioning.

    2. OP*

      It was definitely more along the lines of your 2nd suggestion, not repeating what they said, but more saying they were talking about the company and cases in a way that it was easy to identify them ( very British!)

  19. Allie the Libbie*

    I’m with OP but I don’t know if I would have been brave enough to follow through. I hear people complain all the time about work, but I don’t know where they are. However, in a law firm setting, if you’re giving away identifiable information – I’m not surprised if it came back around and bit you. Just overhearing that would make me question the reliability of the firm, and I’m sure that’s not what they want.

  20. Malissa*

    I would be of the opinion, Not my circus, not my monkeys, unless they gave enough details about the clients to identify them and their legal troubles. Then it’s all about breaching client confidentiality and well I know a manager would want to know about that. But if that information isn’t there, I don’t care how much they hate their job or their coworkers.

    1. Dan*

      Yeah, I’m of the opinion that if you ever want to speak to someone’s boss about something, you’re messing with their livelihood. If you want to do that, the bar is pretty damn high.

    2. Anon Accountant*

      Absolutely agree. I’d feel differently if I could tell who the client were and their legal troubles. Otherwise I’d be more ticked they weren’t quiet on the quiet train car.

  21. Amber Rose*

    Abusive and otherwise inappropriate behavior should have consequences. Like the dude who was fired from his fancy, 6 figure engineering job for doing the FHRITP thing to a reporter.

    When you’re a kid and you pull this shit, someone tells your parents and you’re punished. Nobody thinks that’s wrong. So why should it be wrong to tell someone appropriate that an adult is behaving wrong? Obviously they didn’t learn when they were kids and need further consequences.

    1. Amber Rose*

      Or in other words, if you insist on behaving like a child, expect to be treated like one.

      Phone submitted early. :/

    2. fposte*

      Gosh, I’d entirely missed the FHRITP phenomenon. I think I liked life better before I knew about it.

      1. Partly Cloudy*

        Agreed. And it’s pretty sad that the guy who started it was STILL the #1 pick in the NFL draft.

      2. Sarah Nicole*

        Oh my God, I had no idea what that was and googled the acronym at work. Never googling acronyms at work anymore. Never.

        1. Amber Rose*

          I’m sorry, I should have added a NSFW addendum. My bad!

          I’ve been having an entirely awful day and should probably just absent myself from society for a bit until I’m thinking straight again.

        2. AnonAnalyst*

          Same here! Hopefully if someone looks at my internet activity they’ll see the only thing I clicked on was an article about the recent incident where the engineer was fired (maybe that will help?)

      3. I'm a Little Teapot*

        I’d missed it too. Kind of makes me hate humanity.

        But it makes me happy when scum like that Canadian engineer get fired.

    3. Just Another Techie*

      I also feel like there’s a difference between calling and complaining about someone who is obviously well-off and rubbing their wealth & status in people’s faces, as the lawyers in this story did, vs someone who might well be sent into financial ruin by being sacked.

      1. fposte*

        I don’t know, though; I feel like that’s inherently considering obnoxiousness to be rubbing people’s faces in wealth just because people may have money, not because of their behavior. Plenty of obnoxious people don’t have a ton of money, and I still don’t feel obliged to put up with their being disruptive or abusive.

        1. Just Another Techie*

          > that’s inherently considering obnoxiousness to be rubbing people’s faces in wealth just because people may have money

          Uh, no. The lawyers in this post were absolutely being obnoxious regardless of their wealth, and there was an additional layer (or so I perceived it) as “look at how important and posh we are therefore we are entitled to be obnoxious.” That’s not saying that people who aren’t wealthy can’t be obnoxious, but that I’d hesitate more about reporting their obnoxiousness, knowing that reporting them might mean no food for their children.

  22. kac*

    I would have lasted about 10 minutes before telling them they were on the quiet train, and needed to be quiet or go elsewhere, and thus wouldn’t have made it to the point where I heard any of the juicy gossip. But, having worked in companies with UK/US offices, and having many British bosses, I realize that is a very American response on my part.

    1. Kyrielle*

      But someone did tell them to quiet down, and they kept going *and* became abusive toward that person. I think you’d still have heard the juicy bits. :|

      1. kac*

        It sounds like the other passenger said something along the lines of “Can you please quiet down?” but I probably would have gone with a more forceful, “This is the quiet car, and everyone in here is required to keep the volume down. If you would like to continue speaking, you need to relocate to another car.”

        Admittedly, these people sound like real ass-hats, so it might not have made a difference.

        1. Sophia in the DMV*

          Me too. I ride the Amtrak regularly and speak up when people are having loud conversations while in the quiet car

          1. Bunny*

            I love that translation chart, but I feel like it is missing on some nuance.

            For one thing, the meaning of “not bad” varied depending on the tone used. Because excessive enthusiasm is as hard for us as rudeness. So “not bad” said in a neutral or polite tone means “I am somewhat disappointed”, while “not bad” in a surprised tone means “I’m really very pleased!”

          2. OP*

            Yes, this – the guy who asked them to keep it down was polite but direct, exactly as you imply

  23. Daisy*

    I hate and despise people talking in the quiet carriage, and if they’re rude to people telling them to quiet they should be hurled bodily from the train. I think you are a hero. (This is seeing it entirely from the ‘serves them right’ point of view- I don’t think you had some sort of ethical obligation to their company.)

    1. Nutcase*

      I am firmly in the ‘serves them right’ camp too. I wouldn’t be invested in the future of either party (employer or employee) but telling the employer would make me feel better because the employees were so obnoxious. Maybe it could be seen as petty but the OP was loudly given all of this knowledge and she had every right to do with it what she wished. The employees can’t have expected any privacy here.

    2. Jamie*

      I can see being rabidly annoyed by this, but wouldn’t the response be to complain to the train company? If the goal is that rules of the quiet car are enforced then it seems to be it makes more sense to go to the people who can address the problem rather than the behavior of random people.

      Even if the jerks got fired that doesn’t mean they’ll be any quieter in the future where enough complaints to the train company could result in a solution.

  24. fposte*

    I think there are three categories for me. There’s the “I would want to know” category–if they were sharing significant confidential information or if they were being abusive/criminal while being identifiable. There’s the “I’d be okay with somebody reporting it but I wouldn’t feel a need to be informed” category, which is if they were being significantly jackasses above and beyond the situational norm if not abusive or criminal. Then there’s the “I don’t know why you’re calling me” category, which is the “teacher was at a bar” kind of category. This one could be category one or two, depending on exactly what happened.

    But my decision as a reporter isn’t based simply on whether or not a manager would want to know. Lots of people want to know things that I don’t inform them of. My personal challenge would be deciding whether I was doing it because of how mad they made me or because what they were doing was that bad. Though I have a big impulse in the moment to complain when mad, that’s more about me wanting to punish people who made me mad than it is about correcting a problem, and I don’t tend to feel good about those later.

    (BTW, I recently called in a compliment about a local postal worker, which the USPS makes it weirdly hard to do, and you would have thought I told them that they won the lottery. Clearly praise isn’t something they get much.)

    1. UKAnon*

      “BTW, I recently called in a compliment about a local postal worker, which the USPS makes it weirdly hard to do, and you would have thought I told them that they won the lottery. Clearly praise isn’t something they get much.”

      This! I always feel comfortable complaining where I genuinely think it’s warranted because I also always try and make sure to send in praise for particularly good service etc.

      1. Sophia in the DMV*

        Me too! I feel like people hardly ever receive compliments so when I get outstanding service, I tell them and their manager

      2. Nutcase*

        I sent a compliment to McDonald’s once because the girl in the drive thru of my local restaurant was always just so warm, friendly and efficient. I got a very surprised sounding reply back from their customer services team thanking me for the compliment and assuring me that it would get relayed to her and her manager. I think its just as important to compliment good service as it is to report the bad. Both are quite satisfying if the message gets through.

    2. kozinskey*

      I like how you break this down! The three categories make sense to me. Also, kudos for sending in deserved praise. We as humans should do that more.

      1. fposte*

        I actually had to lie to the USPS voice mail and say it was a complaint–it didn’t recognize “compliment” or “praise.”

  25. Molly*

    I think you were right to call! As a manager, I don’t know if I would necessarily want to know this was happening (I guess if I managed lawyers, I probably would) but as a train-rider I think you were 1000% justified. Anyone that annoying on public transit deserves to be shamed.

    1. neverjaunty*

      Believe me, I would want to know if associates under me were blabbing about client matters in public to the point that other people told them to pipe down, and then KEPT IT UP after insulting the people who gave them the warning.

  26. JB (not in Houston)*

    I’m siding with the OP on this one. As a lawyer, I would absolutely 100% want to know if one of the lawyers who work for or with me have been drunkenly indiscreet in a public place. There could have been breaches of confidential information. Plus, although we often fail, lawyers are supposed to not act like that in public because we are officers of the court and representatives of the legal system, and we’re not supposed to do anything to undermine the public’s confidence in the legal system. (I know, ha! but that’s how it’s supposed to work) Lawyers Being Indiscreet In Public is something that Above The Law has talked about on more than one occasion. It’s really not ok.

    But also, just a manager, I’d want to know if my employees were being awful in public in a way that could link them back to my organization.

    1. Cat*

      Yeah, I wouldn’t have called it into the firm but I probably would have sent it in to Above the Law.

      1. Busy*

        See, and that’s exactly why I think what the OP did was such a favor to the jerks on the train. Here, we would have sent it to ATL, and it would have been game over for them. While I don’t doubt they’re jerks, I don’t necessarily want someone to never be able to work again.

        1. Cat*

          I don’t know if I’d have named them or not. I guess it depends on how egregious they were being.

        2. OP*

          I don’t know what ATL is, like Rate My Professor for lawyers? But thinking about it, I wouldn’t use that kind of service for this, I would always choose to go to the partner, because they can choose the response (though that could be because friends have had odd experienced with RMP that they couldn’t delete.. Inc a positive but weirdly sexual rating(

          1. Cat*

            Nah, it’s a legal tabloid blog. It semi regularly publishes stories of lawyers making asses of themselves by doing this type of thing on the DC–>NYC train.

    2. DC Anon*

      Yeah, I was just about to comment that if this had happened on the Acela or NE regional, it probably would have been recorded on someone’s phone and posted to Above the Law before the train even got to its destination. The indiscreet lawyers here probably got off easy with just a call to the partner. Especially if it happened on the quiet car.

    3. Malissa*

      Exactly! When people gain certain certifications one of the requirements is that they will not do anything to discredit the industry. Lawyers, CPA’s, and teachers are examples of this. Not loudly discussing client information on a train is something that would fall under this requirement.

  27. The German Chick*

    I wish the guy who asked them to stay quiet would have received more support by other passengers on the spot. This being said, it was the quiet coach, the lawyers were asked to keep it quiet, and chose to ignore it – you have my ok.

    1. anoner for this*

      Having been both the person who stands up and the person who doesn’t it is hard work to stand up, and at the end of a long day sometimes you just don’t have the capacity to be the person who is now turned on. Because that would be what would happen, this gaggle of lawyers would have turned on anyone and harassed them instead. Some days you’re willing to do that, and some you aren’t. (I’ve done it mostly when I felt like my privileged would help, I’m white and getting someone to stop shouting at a woman who wasn’t and instead he turned on me but to a much lesser degree, that’s when I have done it. But there are plenty of times where it’s just too hard to deal with having someone harass you some more.)

      1. Zillah*

        And intervening can actually escalate the situation, depending on how you do it – and that’s a problem in itself.

  28. Joey*

    that sounds more like you wanted them punished ala a library monitor than any attempt to look out for their employer.

    If I got that call from you sure Id be worried but Id also wonder if it was that bad why in the hell hasnt the passenger who was the target of the rudeness complain

    1. Colette*

      There are passengers who wouldn’t complain, though, even if they’re the target. I’d probably be one of them (assuming they were just jackasses and not committing a crime) – I’d be happy to never deal with them again, and making a complaint would probably require giving my name and contact info, which I wouldn’t want to do.

    2. Mike C.*

      I’m with Joey here. Outside of specific information regarding clients, this feels like a revenge fantasy more than anything else.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I disagree, because they were giving enough information that it made them and their firm identifiable. I would not want any employees of mine acting that way–it reflects badly on the company.

        1. Mike C.*

          Does it really reflect badly on the company, or is it a fear that someone else might think it reflects badly on the company?

          1. Colette*

            Personally, I try to avoid doing business with jerks – and an incident like this would probably make me choose to do business with a different firm. So yes, I think it could affect the firm.

          2. Well*

            You really don’t care if your attorneys – the experts you want people to feel comfortable and confident coming to when they need advice on the most serious matters in their personal and professional lives – are acting like jerks on the train?

            Maybe I just come at it from a different perspective because I work in the nonprofit sector, but we always considered our employees and volunteers to be ambassadors of our brand. At trainings, we’d tell two stories about this:

            In one story some of our younger volunteers were coming back on public transit from an event in a neighborhood we served, and made a few off color jokes. Nothing about the neighborhood or the event, just the kind of jokes college kids make with one another…and the kind of jokes that aren’t really appreciated by churchgoing, mostly straight-laced older folks. Well, a few prominent community members were on the bus with them, and emailed our Executive Director the next day telling us how inappropriate their jokes were, how it wasn’t what they expected from our organization, how it made them question whether our volunteers were really a good fit, etc. It did significant damage to the trust that community had in our organization. We fought the uphill battle to improve our reputation for *years* in that neighborhood.

            Another time, we had some other volunteers coming back from an event one time who were on the bus with another passenger who was obviously unwell in some way – I don’t know if he was drunk or high or just had some issues, or what, but he was shouting, threatening other passengers, etc. Our volunteers talked him down, walked him off the bus at the next stop, etc.

            The very next day our ED got an email from the program officer at a foundation that had rejected applications from us a few times previously. It read something like “Hey – you might remember me from when you applied this last summer and I rejected you, again. I was taking the bus home last night and was very impressed with your volunteers. I don’t know what kind of training you’ve been giving them, but it clearly works. Do you have time to meet in the next few weeks to revisit your application?”

            I just…don’t see how a company wouldn’t care about this. Maybe if your products/services are such that public perception of your organization is just completely immaterial, but even then – you never know when a customer/client/donor/etc is in that train car with your employee.

            1. LBK*

              I mean, honestly, based on cultural stereotypes I kind of assume most lawyers are jerks. It seems like one profession where jerkiness is excusable, if not expected.

              1. Well*

                There are stereotypes around that, yeah, but that’s because most people’s experience of lawyers comes when they’re on receiving end, as it were. Have you ever gone to a law firm as a potential client? Most law firms – particularly big law firms – cultivate a very specific atmosphere designed to win your business. Solicitousness, competency, reliability, integrity, etc. They have to sell to clients just like any other business, and when their associates are acting like assholes on a train and easily identifiable as *their* associates, they don’t like that.

              2. Busy*

                We’re not mostly jerks! There’s just a few of us who are jerks. And trust me, as in-house counsel, I care if my outside attorneys are discreet and a good cultural fit (aka not jerks) almost as much as I care about them getting me a W or providing me with good advice. :)

                1. LBK*

                  I totally understand that not all (or not even most) lawyers are jerks, and on a one-to-one basis I don’t think I would ever pre-emptively assume someone was a jerk because they were a lawyer (the one lawyer I know personally is actually one of the nicest people I know!). I meant more in the sense that if I observed the scene the OP did, I think my programming would tell me to think “Well, what do you expect from a bunch of lawyers?” and I wouldn’t judge it as harshly as if they were, like, pie makers.

            2. Mike C.*

              I work for a company of over 150,000 people world wide. I think it’s pretty unreasonable to expect everyone to be on their best behavior at all times or to treat them as is they represent the company every waking moment. Frankly, it sounds like your “very prominent community members” were just looking for something to complain about.

              This isn’t to excuse abusive or unethical behavior, but I’m really uncomfortable with this idea that since you work for a company you suddenly represent them in all things, and that your professional career is suddenly at the whim of overtly prudish busybodies.

            3. Mike C.*

              You really don’t care if your attorneys – the experts you want people to feel comfortable and confident coming to when they need advice on the most serious matters in their personal and professional lives – are acting like jerks on the train?

              To directly answer the question you posed, so long as my lawyer is acting in an ethical manner and protecting my legal interests, I don’t care how s/he is acting in the quiet car of the train. If I’m in need of legal representation, there’s something very bad happening in my life, and behavior I might otherwise find rude, obnoxious or distasteful falls off of my radar in such situations. It’s difficult for me to care if this person is a jerk if they’re the only person standing in between me and serious legal and/or criminal situations.

              If they’re such huge jerks, fine them, kick them off, whatever. I’m not defending or approving of rude behavior here, but I don’t believe going after their livelihood is appropriate unless there are actual violations of their legal and ethical obligations.

              1. Zillah*

                But if they were discussing their firm and the cases in enough detail that the OP found them very easily, I think they were violating their ethical obligations at the very least.

                1. Mike C.*

                  I don’t know if that’s the case or how exactly that line is drawn, so that’s why I’m hedging here.

                2. Jamie*

                  The OP found the firm easily, they only say they were discussing problems with their cases not that the cases were identifiable. If so, then yeah – definitely not cool – but if there was no way to identify the cases or clients then it’s not an ethical violation in the professional sense. For me, anyway.

                  It’s like if you overheard a couple of doctors talking on the train and one was telling the other about how they lanced the grossest most infected boil they’d ever seen on someone’s butt today. If they named the patient that’s a HUGE violation – if they didn’t no one was hurt since there’s no way to identify the owner of the butt in question.

                3. Zillah*

                  The OP says upthread that they were naming the clients – so it would be more like a doctor saying, “Yeah, John Smith is a piece of work. I hate treating him.” At best. It may not have been an ethical violation – it’s not clear what exactly they said – but it’s still really unwise, and IMO, when you’re indiscrete and nasty, you lose your right to get offended when the people you’re baiting and disrespecting react in a proportional way.

              2. Not So NewReader*

                Sadly, though what people do in their personal lives bleeds over into their professional lives and can detract from their careers.

                My friend was seeking help from a locally known doctor. When she did not “get better”, her boss questioned the sick days and in turn questioned which doctor she was going to. Unfortunately, my friend told her boss the doctor’s name. The doctor had past personal issues that made newspaper headlines. The boss tried to maneuver my friend away from this doctor on the basis of his earlier behaviors. Leading up to, my friend felt if she did not change doctors she could lose her job.

                I am not saying it is right or it is wrong, but in some professional settings what you do in personal life DOES matter. People make business decisions based on what they know about a person and this includes info from their personal lives. Maybe these men do not care about that, but I am willing to bet their boss does care.

          3. Engineer Girl*

            I think it absolutely reflects on the company. I’d want my lawyer to respect me. These guys respected no one.

          4. Liz in a Library*

            It would absolutely brand that firm in my mind as jerks with whom I would never do business.

            I have exactly two businesses in all my life who have made that list, and I have absolutely shared the details of the egregious events that led to me not doing business with them many times. It could absolutely hurt their business by association.

        2. Joey*

          Oh gosh, so seeing employees blow off steam will cause you to change who you do business with? I can guarantee you that probably most workers complain about some aspect of their job/clients/customers with other employees.

          God forbid you see folks from the electric company or another utility complaining about their jobs to each other.

          1. fposte*

            It’s not because they’re blowing off steam, it’s because they’re being inappropriately disruptive and possibly abusive. Plenty of people manage to blow off steam without wrecking bystanders’ days, and I think most of us are fine with that steam-removal. But “blowing off steam” is not a get-out-of-jackassery-free card.

            1. Joey*

              Being loud in the quiet car sort of feels like it’s about as serious as talking loudly in a public library. Seeing as they had a few drinks with co workers before I don’t think making fun of someone who tried to shush them is that serious. Sure it was rude, but if you know where they work don’t do business with them.

              Let me put it this way, should everyone go around complaining to companies everytime we see someone from their company even mildly acting inappropriately? It feels really petty and more vindictive than anything. It reminds me of the citizens from when I worked in govt who we were sure had nothing better to do than look for stuff to complain about.

              1. Colette*

                Is it better to just decide not to do business with them than it is to let them know what their employees are doing? If it were my business, I’d rather get the complaint (and then deal with it as I see fit) than lose business and not know why.

              2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Hmmm, have you ever traveled in the quiet car? People take it really, really seriously, way more than talking loudly in a library.

                1. Joey*

                  I haven’t but I have been in movie theaters where talking texting phones etc were really frowned upon. And you tell a movie theater manager when it becomes unacceptable. You don’t call their work to tell them they’d probably disapprove of how their employees behaved in a movie.

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Quiet cars on trains are actively policed by the people on them, in my experience. Actively. Way different than movie theaters, even. It’s pretty awesome.

                3. Joey*

                  On second reading didn’t the op call the employer to complain about the nature of their conversation not necessarily the disruptiveness of it?

                4. Busy*

                  Alison is right – the quiet car is a thing of beauty and all the patrons of the quiet car silently (and sometimes not-so-silently) police it. Nothing makes me angrier than someone talking in the quiet car. Except maybe people who go 5 miles under the speed limit in the passing lane. There might be fewer f-bombs in my “please stop” conversations on the quiet car, but that’s about the only difference in the anger level.

                5. Joey*

                  But the op didn’t complain to the company about that. She complained that what they were talking about not the volume level.

                6. peanut butter kisses*

                  I work in a university library. They really want to promote an open friendly group study environment. We haven’t shushed in years. We do have spaces that are advertised as quiet floors in the main library but we have been told to not police the patrons and let them police themselves – which means that it is only quiet when it is closed. In my divisional library, we don’t get as many patrons so it ends up being quiet but it isn’t designed to be that way. We have a lot of spaces for group study and group project work that are taken up by solo students.

                  I notice the same thing going on at my local public library. Kids are excited to come in and see ‘their’ area and books, there is tutoring going on, and reference questions being asked and answered all the time. I would have to search long and hard for a quiet library.

              3. fposte*

                You just sniped at somebody for saying that they wouldn’t do business with these guys as a result–now it seems like you’re saying that’s an appropriate response after all.

                Aside from the seriousness of the quiet car (we got nothing like that ’round these parts), I’m strongly against the notion that they deserve more slack cut because they were drunk.

                1. Joey*

                  If you find it that bad fine, don’t do business with them. Personally I think that’s way way sensitive.

              4. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Joey, I was responding to your point that being loud in a quiet car isn’t a big deal. I agree it’s not a big deal to the employer (nor was it the point of what she reported to them), but it’s a big deal to the people who were there, which is what I thought you were disputing (which made me think you’d not been on a quiet car).

              5. Bunny*

                Based on OP’s letter, what those lawyers were doing was not “blowing off steam”.

                Not once has my “blowing off steam”, even when righteously drunk, involved being an abusive or aggressive shit towards other people (Honestly I care far less about the fact these lawyers were bad-mouthing their jobs than that they got shirty with another passenger for daring to ask them to not act like spoiled brats).

                I’ve got no patience for people who are inconsiderate towards others, and especially not when they are willfully so to the point of getting *worse* when called out on it. And I absolutely would not do business with someone who is that much of a shitbag – they’ve just shown that they will behave appallingly when they think there won’t be consequences for their actions.

                1. Elizabeth West*

                  THIS A THOUSAND TIMES THIS.

                  The rudeness they exhibited toward the person who asked them politely to tone it down, in the quiet carriage no less, cemented it for me. I wouldn’t expect them to treat me with any respect if I went to their firm after seeing them behave that way, and I would think their bosses would want to know that.

          2. Sarah Nicole*

            Yes, but I think the difference here is that workers are allowed to complain and blow off steam, but doing so loudly in a quiet train car and generally being obnoxious, all while potentially giving away client information is another story. And yes, if I had heard that type of thing, I may be inclined to do business with a different firm. How am I supposed to know that these 3 aren’t off somewhere spouting my information as a client to anyone who can hear? I think that’s a good reason to do business elsewhere, and in my mind that makes it a good reason to alert the partner of this situation.

            I don’t think anyone here is saying workers aren’t generally allowed to complain about their jobs. Doing so in this manner is what makes it a problem.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              I had a job where it was pretty normal to build up a lot of steam over the various things that were going on. Our bosses simply said, “Be careful where you are when you decide to vent. Places such as a restaurant or bar and other public areas are not appropriate places to be talking about the work we do here. Look around before you start talking, a private party in someone’s home may not be appropriate. Know who you are talking with and if there is a chance you can be overheard you need to change topics.”

              I liked this because it’s reality based. People vent. These guys were extreme and it was totally preventable.

              1. land of oaks*

                I have worked on political campaigns where there is a lot of very privileged information involved in everyone’s jobs, AND where there is a lot of going out and drinking involved. It is something the directors always discuss with new staff early and often: to be extremely careful of what you are talking about where. You never know when someone from the opposition might be in a coffee shop, on a bus, etc, or a reporter, or a video could get taken and sent to the paper. AND absolutely anything you did in public could at any time be held against your candidate or campaign, even if it didn’t involve information about work. This was extremely clear and we were always expected to be on our best behavior anywhere in public.

                If it ever got back to a director that a staffer had done or said anything rude, or been abusive to passengers on a train, *especially* if that rudeness had involved talking about anything about our campaign, you would have absolutely been fired on the spot. This is part of being an adult and knowing your actions have consequences. Anyone who is a lawyer, especially, should know this, and they made it easy for everyone to know who they worked for. And they got caught. That’s their fault. We don’t even know what their boss did about it, we don’t know that they got fired. But their boss should be able to have this information and decide whether to act on it.

          3. Engineer Girl*

            It’s a matter of degree. You are making this an all or nothing issue when really there are different levels of blowing off steam. These guys were definitely on the nasty end of the spectrum.

          4. neverjaunty*

            So as long as your employees are merely “blowing off steam”, you don’t care how they behave, how they act towards others, or what ethical rules they violate? Okay.

            1. Joey*

              If random person is calling me to complain about what my employees were talking about outside of work I’m probably going to mildly zone out and think to myself you’re “one of those people.”

          5. Well*

            They’re *lawyers*. They’re the people you’re supposed to go to for rational, calm, and reasoned judgment on some of the most important matters in your personal and professional life. The guy from the power company kvetching about how much overtime his boss has him putting in, or how onerous the new regulations are, or how he was out checking a lady’s lines today and man she had some serious lines IF YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN is probably going to annoy me on my commute home in the quiet car, but it isn’t going to make me switch power companies (not that that’s an easy option for most people in the U.S. anyway.)

            Some associate at a firm complaining about a client, in public, in a way that lets me easily identify their firm, is damn sure going to make me leery before I come to that firm with [a complicated tax matter/my messy divorce/my teapot patent] that I’d rather be kept private. Why wouldn’t it?

          6. Liz in a Library*

            It isn’t about blowing off steam.

            It’s about two things. First, they shared identifiable client information publicly, which several lawyers up thread have pointed out could lead to disbarment in some jurisdictions. Second, they continuously and loudly abused another passenger, which probably made that person feel pretty darn unsafe.

            Neither of those things is blowing off steam.

            1. Joey*

              Oh Cmon, many people talk about stuff that is confidential at work in ways that they wouldn’t want their bosses to hear. If the passenger was so abused the appropriate action would have been to complain to the train monitor

              1. neverjaunty*

                Oh c’mon. Do you not understand what ‘confidentiality’ means, and that “everybody does it” stopped being a good argument around eighth grade?

                1. Joey*

                  i don’t think you understand that confidential doesn’t always mean top secret. It frequently means the info is restricted in some way. Many people talk about confidential matters in public and they’re not necessarily violating confidentiality.

                2. fposte*

                  @Joey–okay, but if it’s not a problem, then their firm isn’t going to have a problem, and it’s no big deal for the OP to call.

                3. Cat*

                  Wait a minute here, Joey. If you’re a lawyer and you’re talking about either (a) confidential client information in public, or (b) your clients in a way that reflects badly on them even if you are not revealing confidential information, you are absolutely failing in your role as an advocate and fiduciary. Not even a question.

                  Do I bitch about difficult clients? Absolutely. But I do it either with my co-workers in private or, if I’m talking to friends, by anonymizing to a point where I’m absolutely sure neither my friend nor anyone else listening can identify the client. This is not like some random document that your officious co-worker labeled as confidential for funsies; this is serious and protected by law.

              2. Zillah*

                People upthread have clarified that you often can’t find a monitor, and it’s also worth pointing out that whether you seek out help isn’t necessarily indicative of how unsafe you feel.

                1. Joey*

                  The op did not complain to the company about unsafe, she complained about what they were talking about

                2. Zillah*

                  I understand that – but that doesn’t mean that she felt safe. I personally wouldn’t have thought about complaining about feeling unsafe, even though I likely would have in this situation, because it’s a lot more subjective.

              3. Chinook*

                “Oh Cmon, many people talk about stuff that is confidential at work in ways that they wouldn’t want their bosses to hear”

                Maybe in your circles but not in mine. And I didn’t grow up around professionals but blue caller workers. We learned as children certain things are meant only for certain ears and that telling the wrong person something they don’t need to know can cause all sorts of grief. Confidentiality exists for a reason – sometimes it is to ensure that someone’s pride is not needlessly injured, sometimes it is to ensure that the right people know something in the right order (i.e. no one wants to learn about their spouse’s death from a news reporter) and sometimes information needs to be kept quiet so that bad people don’t get tipped off that someone is about to catch them. There are hundreds of other reasons confidentiality exists, so please respect it when it is asked of you.

                1. Joey*

                  Are you saying attorneys can’t talk to other attorneys from their firm in public about cases /clients without breaking confidentiality?

                2. Pennalynn Lott*

                  Yes, Joey, the actual lawyers who have commented have said that discussing the specifics of a case with your fellow attorneys in public, in a manner that makes the details identifiable to even random strangers, is a breach of confidentiality and could get the attorneys disbarred.

                3. Cat*

                  You can talk about public details – e.g., you can describe the contents of a motion you filed publicly in court (or, more likely, because that would be boring, the story that the public facts reveal). You can’t talk about what your client told you outside that or the strategy decisions that went into it. You also can’t say negative things about your client or their case in public unless it’s completely anonymized even if it involves facts that would otherwise be public.

                  This is just one area where being a lawyer is different than other jobs.

              4. Mephyle*

                Oh Cmon, many people talk about stuff that is confidential at work in ways that they wouldn’t want their bosses to hear.
                You mean you wouldn’t be fazed if your attorney acted like this, and it was the details of your case that had been broadcasted to an unwilling audience? I think you are surely in a very small minority if that wouldn’t disturb you.
                About the other matter, complaining to the train monitor, British people clarified above that it’s nearly impossible to find an official to complain to.

              5. Liz in a Library*

                But several people (specifically users of the UK commuter train system) above have pointed out that there often isn’t an authority to report issues to.

                From where I stand, abusing another person in public is not something you have the right to privacy on. I would absolutely want to know if it was one of my employees, and I would absolutely discipline in severe enough cases.

                If you are talking about confidential things publicly, and you are in a position where you have an obligation to keep those issues confidential (as a lawyer does), you should absolutely expect workplace discipline, including firing if appropriate to the degree of the share.

                Trash-talking the boss is not even slightly the issue here.

              6. Elizabeth West*

                I couldn’t do that. I work for a business that serves the financial industry. If I were bitching outside work about clients, I’d probably get turfed out so fast the dust wouldn’t have settled in my cubicle before I hit the sidewalk.

                In addition to that, if I behaved like these turds while out and about and wearing my company badge, what do you think would happen? I’m pretty sure I’d get in huge trouble for that too. If the OP could identify their firm from what they said, that’s no different than me being a dick while my company ID bounces around on its lanyard for all to see. It would be, “An XYZ Company employee did this!” Aaaaand I’m gone.

      2. neverjaunty*

        Outside of specific information regarding clients – “but other than THAT, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?”

        1. Mike C.*

          Do you not see the difference in harm between violating attorney-client privilege and being a disrespectful jerk to others in public?

          1. neverjaunty*

            Do you not see that talking loudly about problems “with their cases” is the former category, not the latter?

            1. Mike C.*

              It really all depends on how that line is drawn and what was actually said. I wasn’t there and I don’t know what the de facto and de jure standards are.

    3. Malissa*

      Not everybody would stand up for themselves in such a manner.

      When client confidentiality is breached there can be serious ramifications. It the information that was leaked was about a potential buy out of a publicly traded corporation, then the if anybody in the car acted on that information and bought or sold stock, then they and the lawyers involved can all be brought up on insider trading charges.

  29. The Other Dawn*

    If they were just trash-talking me, I wouldn’t want to know. If they don’t like me, so what?

    If they were acting very obnoxious, talking about the firm, their cases (!!), and making it very obvious who they work for, I’d want to know. That can affect the firm’s reputation and can also get them in a whole lot of hot water, depending upon the kind of case information they divulged.

  30. MegEB*

    Is it petty and vindictive? Maybe. It’s hard to tell whether they were divulging confidential information so strictly speaking, it probably wasn’t your “business” to tell their employer. Would I have done the same thing? Hell to the yes. They deserve it for being so egregiously terrible. I would have called their employer, informed them exactly what they said, and slept well that night knowing I got them in trouble.

    That being said, I can be a vindictive person sometimes, so this probably doesn’t speak very highly of my personality, but there you are.

  31. jhhj*

    As a person who dreams of revenge, I’m with you, OP, and if I’m not sure it’s exactly the right thing to do, I don’t think it’s quite the wrong thing, either.

    But yeah, you should complain to the appropriate person on the train about loudness in the quiet car. I always feel awkward doing that, especially as it becomes obvious it is me, but typically that kind of complaint works.

  32. AMD*

    I think the real question is, if you as a a manager received this kind of feedback from a random stranger, what would you do with it?

    1. Blurgle*

      In a law firm? Instant dismissal, followed by notification of senior partners as to the potential for legal liability and a review of the firm’s malpractice insurance. Indiscreet drunken talk about cases in public would be an immediate firing offence no matter how detailed the talk got: they can’t know if opposing counsel (who could learn a lot even if few details were given) was on board that train.

      1. Elysian*

        Really? This seems like an overreaction when we don’t even know what they actually said (except that it was easy to identify the client). Without knowing what information was disclosed it seems too much to jump to “They said they client’s name, they’re fired!” I mean, its not a positive thing, but half the lawyers I know have had indiscreet drunken conversations, especially if they’re just won/lost a big case or landed a big (potentially public) deal, or something.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I think Blurgle meant generally speaking, as in what the normal SOP would be. I am not so sure that Blurgle agrees with it.

          In some human service settings, you can count on getting unpaid time off while they run the investigation into the matter. And if they are investigating you can pretty much figure you will be fired. And yes, there is enough to OP’s story to get a person in human services suspended from their job. (I have seen this a few times, now. It’s important to know the way the company you work for thinks and acts. This is one of the reasons why.)

          I agree in some instances this is definitely an over-reaction. But it is wise to be aware that sometimes things go this way.

        2. Indie*

          In the US a confidentality breach can cost 250,000 dollars. Malpractice lawsuits suck. OP was with in her grounds to call in.

    2. bridget*

      Depending on the extent and specificity of the case information disclosed, in the U.S. I would:

      1) Fire the offending associates immediately for breaching ethical confidentiality rules and perhaps attorney-client privilege. Report them to the bar, or risk an ethical breach yourself for not reporting. Cooperate in any investigation the Office of Professional Conduct chooses to conduct.

      2) Notify my malpractice insurance carrier – if anyone else in that coach was related in any way to the case being discussed, it could have dire consequences for the case and put the firm as a whole at risk of a lawsuit.

      3) If there is even a whiff that the train lawyers jeopardized the substance of a case by being indiscreet (either on that train car or otherwise), call the clients immediately, fess up, tell them you fired the associates, and will do everything possible to remedy the situation, if they still want to retain your firm on the matter. (If their indiscretion actually had any impact on a case, that would then trigger informed consent waivers if it reasonably looks like they may have a claim against your firm, which means you probably have a conflict of interest between the firm and the client now. It may be bad enough it isn’t waivable and the firm must withdraw and the client would have to get substitute counsel).

    3. Well*

      I think the answer is that it depends. I’d consider the context, and try to figure out what problem this is actually a symptom of.

      Do all the other signs point to my junior staff not being that invested in how the firm is perceived, and it was just a matter of time before something like this happened? Does it feel like maybe any associate at the firm could’ve done this…these just happened to be the guys who pissed somebody off enough that they called it in? That might mean there needs to be a larger effort to address this (in terms of training, or adjusting hiring practices, or whatever).

      Or – are the specific people involved generally problematic in this kind of way? E.g. maybe they’re dismissive of client concerns, rude to co-workers, etc. – this incident is just the latest in a pattern of behavior. Maybe this is something to give them feedback on specifically, or maybe this escalates the process I’m already going through.

      Or maybe Bob’s involved, and Bob’s my top performer, the guy I give all our most difficult clients (even though I shouldn’t!) because he’s so good at building constructive relationships, etc and this seems totally out of character for him. If that were the case maybe this is a flag that Bob’s either stretched to breaking, or that Bob was just having a bad day.

      Or maybe it’s some combination of all 3. I’d just try to figure out how this fits in with all the other jigsaw pieces of information I have about how my people behave before I over/under-reacted.

      Regardless, I’d definitely thank the person for bringing this to me and assure them that I’d be addressing this (without promising anything specific.)

      1. ThursdaysGeek*

        Or maybe it’s someone who decided they didn’t like Bob, and is trying to get him in trouble by pretending he was being loud and indiscreet on the train. So, you know, I’d consider him that innocent until proven guilty thing. So I would want to see if there was enough evidence to believe the person calling, and put it together with the other information I know about my people.

        I would not fire someone on the say-so of a total stranger over the phone. Seriously, that is jumping way too fast to a conclusion.

    4. land of oaks*

      As I said above, I have worked on political campaigns where this kind of thing was also a BFD.
      If someone called and said staffers had been out, been rude to people on public transit, and been talking in a way that made it clear they worked for our campaign, it could be grounds for immediate firing. This would not have been a surprise to any staff.

      The person calling would be asked for specifics to figure out how valid this accusation was.
      The staff in question would be called in, asked specific questions based on the accusations to figure out how likely it is that the staffer is being truthful, and to figure out what happened and what the staffer was thinking. Unless there were some major holes in the story, the staffer would be fired and sent home on the spot. If it was a mild case of just lots of loud complaining, and *not* the rudeness to other passengers, they would get a warning, and told that one more incident would result in firing.

  33. Erin*

    Sometimes I get the urge to do this to an acquaintance who always complains on social networks about work, “idiots” he works with and shames “morons” he is supposed to be helping with information as part of his job description.
    One time he actually posted an entire conversation. Without the name, but still, I wouldn’t be too happy if my phone call ended up on his wall for everyone to laugh at. Those people might lack some skills, but they are often above him in hierarchy, and he would have a problem if someone saw it and talked to his boss.
    Sure, working in customer service is sometimes frustrating, but you don’t get to shame people in public, even without the names.
    You don’t like the job? Get a new one, don’t badmouth everyone and everything in such an easily accessible place.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        To be fair to Erin, when you take the rest of the sentence out of the quote, it changes the meaning. With the full sentence, it reads to me like “stop the loud complaining and do something about it,” which feels reasonable to me.

        1. Mike C.*

          The general “stop complaining and do something about it” comment is at it’s heart a false dichotomy. It presumes that complaining about something isn’t useful in and of itself – recognizing a problem is the first step in solving it, and complaining is a great way to relieve stress.

          It also assumes that if you’re complaining, you’re not doing anything else. It’s a bad argument.

          1. fposte*

            There’s some decent research to suggest complaining enhances stress rather than relieving it, though. Not that I think that changes its allowability, but it may be misleading to go light on it on the theory that it’s therapeutic.

              1. Zillah*

                In moderation, yes – repressing everything isn’t particularly good for you, either. But while it feels good in the moment, fposte is right about there being research suggesting that frequent venting often actually makes your attitude worse, not better.

                1. fposte*

                  Some recent stuff finds it even with a single vent, as it were. It may feel good at the time, but the research subjects who vented were less calm later than those who didn’t. Behavior seems to affect your response more than emotions–looks like repressing may not be the bad thing it’s made out to be :-).

                2. LBK*

                  I think repression is problematic over long periods of time and for more serious crises – like repressing the pain of a breakup or a death for years. But repressing the pain of your manager being stupid in a meeting…that’s probably not sending anyone running to a therapist.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              This makes sense to me. I have noticed over the years that there are people who vent and people who try to fix the situation. Venters get less work done, they are more tired and many people do NOT like working with them. Not any thing scientific here, it is just what I have noticed over the years.

          2. LBK*

            There’s a very distinct difference between “recognizing a problem” in an attempt to take steps to resolving it vs. whining/complaining/venting about it. I think you and I have actually traded comments about this before, but tone, context and audience inform whether a complaint is being made as a step in problem solving vs. just to complain about it. In this case I highly doubt they were holding a brainstorming session on the train following post-work drinks.

            1. Joey*

              Most union organizing I’ve seen occurs when employees whine/vent/complain about stuff until finally they decide to do something about it.

              So it’s not like it’s inherently unproductive. It’s frequently just the start of the process.

              1. LBK*

                I’d think productive results coming out of this time of drunken vent session are far and away the exception to the rule – if they were frequently the start of a process, there’d be a hell of a lot more unions based on the conversations I hear/participate in practically every time I go out.

                1. Mike C.*

                  It’s really, really difficult to form a union. In my case, we had a large number of H1-B visa holders who were deathly afraid of being fired “for no reason” and then being deported.

      2. Erin*

        Mike, I don’t think you should quit after the first bad day, but this guy’s main form of entertainment is making fun of his coworkers, his boss, and his customers, calling them idiots and morons all the time, as well as complaining about his salary and everything in his job description. On Facebook, in public. For a few years.
        Of course, we all complain to our friends sometimes, but there are limits and this was very inappropriate.

        1. Mike C.*

          That’s all fine and good, I just see the “shut up and get a new job” trotted out when someone wants to needlessly minimize the complaints of someone else. If that’s not what you’re after then I see your point.

          1. Erin*

            I’m not minimizing his complaints, some must be valid, but when you talk to him you get the impression he’s the only competent person there, he has the answers for everything, looks down on everyone. He is one of the lower ranking people there, but will claim he could easily do the director’s job. (Literally, his words.)

            I don’t say it lightly, but if more than half of your wall posts are about how things and people at your job suck, you really need to take actual steps to change something. If he stopped talking about that, he’d have nothing to say.
            (He’s not a stranger on the train, so I know what he is NOT doing to help himself. He hates it when people suggest anything, but privately also knows the answers to everyone else’s problems.)

        2. Cari*

          In actual public, or in posts with restricted visibility (the virtual equivalent of complaining to your group of friends when over someone’s house)?

          If the former, no different to the OP’s situation. It would only be a matter of time before a customer or colleague sees and complains. If the latter, hide his posts from your newsfeed and leave him shouting at clouds.

        3. Not So NewReader*

          I wouldn’t want to put up with several years of serious venting from a good friend or a close family member, never mind someone I worked with. Change what you are doing or make peace with it the way it is. Years of venting is very draining for anyone who has to listen to it.

          BUT, if someone is interested in trying to make things better, I will talk with them anytime about the situation. There is a huge difference in the two scenarios.

    1. Manders*

      I have an acquaintance who does this too! The things she says about the people she works with are downright nasty, and she’s doing it on a Facebook account with her real name attached. And she’s complaining about her boss and her coworkers with tons of identifying details. She’s going to be in a lot of trouble if anyone from work ever sees what she’s posting.

      Around exam season, I do see a lot of teachers on Facebook posting funny mistakes their students made. I feel… kind of weird about that. All their accounts are locked down so that their students won’t see, and they’re only posting a sentence or two from an essay with no identifying details, but it still doesn’t feel right to me.

    2. Allison*

      Everyone needs to complain about work sometime, even for jobs they generally like. BUT it’s one of those things you should vent about in private, or anonymously if you must do it online. not only is it risky to complain about work on social media, but if you’re constantly complaining in general, people won’t want to follow you on that site and they may not want to be your friend in general, because they don’t want to be the target of your next rant.

    3. Sunshine Brite*

      Yikes. That’s a lot. He’s lucky he hasn’t gotten found out, especially with all the specifics.

  34. Allison*

    I’m sort of on the fence here, I don’t think it’s a totally black and white situation, and I would have wanted to do the same thing*. Honestly, what tips me in favor of the OP is the fact that they were pretty open about where they worked, so they were making the firm look bad – as in, it looks like they employ entitled assholes. Who wants to utilize a firm like that when they’re in legal trouble? Who would want to work there?

    If people know where you work, they may connect your bad behavior to that employer, whether that connection is intentional or not.

    *I’m a big believer in the quiet car. Any time I take a train where the quiet car is an option, I sit there. It’s so nice, and there’s usually plenty of seats. But I like the car because it’s *quiet*, and I get really mad when people sit there and talktalktalk the whole time they’re there. Either they don’t know, they don’t care, or they don’t understand that *everyone* has to be quiet, not just those “other people.” I’ve actually gotten up and discreetly reported people chatting on their phones to train staff when possible.

    1. Carrie in Scotland*

      To be fair, if the train is busy then they might’ve had no choice than to sit in the quiet car due to lack of space…a manager I once had used to commute in and the train got so packed with people that he sat in 1st class (he had a season pass) as there was no seats. He was told to get out of 1st class and sit in the regular, full up coaches.

      1. UKAnon*

        Well, at least we know they’re impartial in that! Even the Chancellor has to have the right ticket on a train.

      2. Allison*

        doesn’t matter why you’re in the quiet car. if you sit in the quiet car, you have to be quiet. In my area, the commuter rail allows people to stand when the train is full, so if you really can’t keep your trap shut while you’re on the train, you’re free to go stand in one of the regular cars.

      3. fposte*

        I think car rules trumps intention, though. It doesn’t matter whether you meant to sit in the quiet car (or, back in the day, the non-smoking car) or not; while you’re in it you have to behave by its rules.

      4. the gold digger*

        But even if you are not in the quiet car by choice, you still need to observe the rules. Just because there is no more room in the smoking car does not mean you get to smoke in the non-smoking car.

      5. Cath in Canada*

        I’ve sat under tables on particularly crowded British trains before. The kind of trip where if someone wants to use the bathroom, the three people who are standing in there all have to leave and join the crush in the aisle for a few minutes.

        Also, my cousin is a ticket inspector for a train company in the south east of England. He’s been physically assaulted twice, and is verbally assaulted on pretty much every evening shift. I wouldn’t have said a word to those lawyers in person, but I’d have been tweeting up a storm!

        1. fposte*

          I wonder if some of the OP’s fellow carriage-riders were doing just that, in fact; it’s possible her call wasn’t the only information the guys’ firm had.

        2. OP*

          On this line, you actively have to walk down past 8 or 9 coaches to get to the quiet one at the front, no one ends up there by accident, and if you do, it’s well signed (unlike some train lines where the quiet coach is inexplicably in the busiest part of the train…)

          1. Cari*

            Sounds like the one line/ train that’s my fave <3 it has so many carriages compared to the other one run by a different operator doing part the same, busy journey.
            I was on it once when the police decided to use the standard class quiet carriage to herd all the football drunks into… And wouldn't let anyone else out into the rest of the train :|

    2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      I can’t allow myself to get involved with this conversation. It will suck too much life out of me. I have Very Strong Feelings about the quiet car.


      Quiet Car 4 Life

  35. Cafe Au Lait*

    Here’s a tact you could’ve taken: looked up the identifying details of the firm. Including support staff/personal assistants to partners. Pretended to call, and loudly discussed all the ways the guys are being jerks.

    While I’m mostly a “roll my eyes and get on with my life” type of person, I probably would’ve made the same call too. The deciding line was when they started harassing the person who asked them to lower their voices.

    My guide for my public behavior is: act like yourself; don’t violate someone else’s personal space voluntarily; if someone doesn’t like what you’re doing, tone it down when they ask.

    1. fposte*

      I was thinking about that, but I think I’d be constitutionally incapable of even pretending to make a loud phone call in the quiet car.

    2. Cath in Canada*

      With a group of loud drunk guys who’ve already verbally assaulted another passenger, that seems like a very risky approach. I wouldn’t dare do that!

    3. OP*

      It was out of work hours, or I would have. I did think about seeing if they ended in the same taxi queue as me and saying something like “hey, was that X of the Teapot of Jocompany you were talking about?” but I didn’t see them in the station after we all got off, plus there were 3 of them and 1 of me…

  36. Carrie in Scotland*

    I can see where the OP is coming from but personally I don’t think I would’ve phoned up their employer. Depending on my mood I might’ve asked them to shut up, as it’s the quiet coach but sometimes trains are just TOO busy and people have to go wherever there’s a seat. If it was a quiet train anyway, then they should’ve moved away but if not, then I can see why they were talking.

    As far as I’m aware, the only trains that do have quiet/silent coaches are the longer distances ones with 5+ coaches rather than commuter ones but I could be wrong. It’s certainly the case from what I know though.

  37. Jake*

    1. I would’ve never even thought to do that.

    2. It doesn’t bother me that you did it.

    3. I do fear that this sets a very dangerous precedent. Where is the line for telling on people to employers? Unruly on a train While making it clear who they work for? Bragging about sexually exploits at the bar after handing out business cards earlier in the evening? recklessly driving home from work in a personal vehicle?

    At what point is a person’s life their own? Like I said earlier, I have no issue with what you did, but I do reasonably suspect that the exact same reasoning can be used to justify doing something I’d not be OK with.

    1. Mike C.*

      At what point is a person’s life their own?

      This is really the meat of the question here. The answer is self evident if there were legal or ethical boundaries that were crossed, but if not, this is a really sticky situation.

      1. Helka*

        But the point is that there were legal/ethical boundaries crossed. That is what is informing basically every single response here.

        1. Mike C.*

          All they said was that they talked about their cases and spent most of their time complaining about their jobs/bosses/etc. Here’s the part:

          Halfway down the carriage from me were three young lawyers, who talked for 45 minutes in very posh voices about problems in their company, with their cases and so on – especially about how much they disliked one of the company partners in particular, with enough information that despite trying to just get on reading my book, I knew if I typed three words into google I could find them all. They were beyond indiscreet, and being so in a really stupid public place as the train ended in my city and in this carriage at this time, everyone in it lives, works or both in the city.

          Were they discussing things covered under attorney-client privilege? Were they talking about legal strategy? Were they simply talking about which cases they had been assigned? Were they talking about public reports on the cases? I don’t know, but many of those possibilities don’t cross any legal or ethical boundaries.

          1. Jamie*

            Totally agree. Not smart =/= unethical. Even if details of the cases were mentioned if they weren’t identifiable it still isn’t unethical.

    2. neverjaunty*

      “At what point is a person’s life their own?” – in the case of attorneys, when they take the oath and become officers of the court. At that point, their right to blab confidential information goes away.

      This isn’t ‘a bunch of young lawyers were loudly bitching about their managing partner’.

      1. fposte*

        Yeah, the whole “officer of the court” thing gets pretty interesting. I don’t know if it’s the same in the UK, but in the US, it doesn’t leave you a lot of room. (Television dramas to the contrary.)

        1. Mike C.*

          I’m pretty sure just about every tv lawyer younger than Matlock would be disbarred in real life. And that goes double for anyone appearing on Law & Order.

          1. fposte*

            There’s a decent comedy sketch in the making there. Maybe Matlock could defend them.

        2. Cat*

          And UK lawyers have gotten in trouble for some similar stuff recently – like J.K. Rowling’s lawyer who told a close friend that she was writing mysteries under a pseudonym and then had that friend spill the beans to the press.

        3. Cari*

          I was thinking about Suits and how they’d all be disbarred every episode the way the characters talk business in public all the time. Really doesn’t give you the impression that in reality it’s actually supposed to be super confidential…

          1. Dynamic Beige*

            Once when I was on a train, a man near me answered a call on his phone (on our commuter trains, the upper deck is for quiet, the lower is not, we don’t have specific quiet cars and the conductor will mention this a few times during a trip to remind everyone). It soon became apparent that he was a criminal defence attorney because his side of the conversation (he was a loud talker) was all “but when the police came, did they ____?” kind of stuff. I was appalled. Within a short period of time, I had a good idea what this potential client had been charged with, but no identifying information. Still, IMO (and IANAL) when you’re on the train and there are other people around and a new/potential/repeat client is calling is to say something along the lines of “Don’t answer any questions. I’m not in a private location so I do not feel comfortable discussing this right now. Where are you? I’ll come by when I’m back in town later today, around X time, OK” and then text your associate/partner/paralegal/whoever to find out more about the situation.

            There have been so many times when I wish I could invent a portable Cone of Silence for people like this.

      2. Jake*

        I understand that, but clearly the justification/motivation of the OP had far less to do with confidential information being released than it did with getting back at them for being obnoxious.

        It goes back to my last paragraph, I don’t have an issue with it (partially due to the confidentiality concern) however, one could use the same thought process as the OP to tell the company about other crazy things like those I originally listed.

        1. Zillah*

          It’s actually not clear to me that the OP was motivated “far more” by the obnoxiousness than the client information.

          1. Mike C.*

            I certainly got that impression. There’s a focus on “posh voices”, the nature of the social norms of the quiet train car, obnoxious behavior and so on. Less on the nature of the employee/employer relationship, and a tiny bit that mentions the cases in passing.

            1. OP*

              Meh, it could be I explained it wrong, but I was trying to keep it short for Allison, and also not give away personal info (to note, I absolutely could have said what they were saying, with identifying info, but that seems far against the spirit of the site)

      3. Not So NewReader*

        A few lawyers I know insist that you can have a career in law or you can have a life, but you cannot have both.

    3. OP*

      If it was being unruly, talking sex etc, I would have never even thought of doing anything with it – but it was talking about clients and colleagues and the firm in a way that made it v obvious who they all were, and if I were their boss, I’d want to know.

    4. Three Thousand*

      I think harassing strangers does cross a clear line. That’s separate from the ethical breach of discussing client information. When you start harming others, your actions are no longer your business alone.

  38. itsame...Adam*

    Revenge fantasy come true :). You kind of stepped down to their level but I applaud you for doing it because people with an ego are very very annoying.

    1. OP*

      Ha, thanks!

      Maybe I should say, I do also make an effort to tell companies when I love their staff!

  39. Elkay*

    I think you did no wrong. Basically it’s unlikely they’re going to lose their jobs over this, they’ll get a rap on the knuckles if that but it probably makes you feel better that you took an action that might have led to them feeling some consequences. You have no power over them but you can go to someone who does. I kind of feel like it was a perfect storm of the loud chat/rudeness that pushed you over the edge (it would have done me too). If they’d just been chatting and you could hear their confidential discussion you’d probably write it off as them having a lack of discretion and think no more of it but there’s something in me that very strongly feels the need to complain to employers when their employees have been shitty.

    I’ve been shushed in the quiet coach (over-excited chatting with a friend) and I was mortified, obviously not everyone cares.

  40. AnotherAlison*

    If someone has already raised this, my apologies.

    To the lawyers weighing in here, doesn’t this put the partner in a sticky spot? If violating confidentiality is not allowed and the partner knows, does he have to report those guys to the bar?

    But really, could he even report them to the bar? It’s not known to him that the lawyers really did these things; it’s just second hand information with no proof. I don’t know, but for that reason, I’d almost rather not know.

  41. Just Another Techie*

    If it were most professions, I’d be “yeah, none of my beeswax” but these guys are attorneys. Agree with the comment who said that their giving away privileged information undermines trust in the legal system — that’s everyone’s business. Actually, I’d call if it were any kind of legally privileged information being discussed in public with names attached (so doctors or mental health therapists discussing their patients in identifiable ways, or priests talking about confessions).

  42. Blurgle*

    I think she did the right thing, not just for their employer but for anyone who engages them.

    Many people here are placing this line between confidential and non-confidential client information and saying that the OP should have kept quiet unless that line was passed. That line does not exist. All client information must be treated as confidential.

    You don’t discuss that stuff in public even without using the client’s name. Non-identifying details are only non-identifying to listeners who know nothing of the matter: it’s quite possible that in that quiet car there might have been an employee of the client’s opponent or opposing counsel who would have recognized what they were discussing and learned something that would materially affect how they handled the case.

    The OP did exactly the right thing.

  43. Ann Furthermore*

    Someone being a rude, obnoxious, jackass is annoying, but you should just mind your own business. Someone being a rude, obnoxious, jackass AND (from what it sounds like here) violating client confidentiality is a different story, and I think the OP did the right thing by speaking up. I would have done the same thing. These idiots potentially put the firm, and the cases/clients they were discussing, at risk.

    And it’s really a good reminder to be careful what you talk about in public. I got onto a plane once and sat next to this annoying creeper who told me that he’d overheard me talking on my cell phone before we boarded (and I wasn’t yelling or anything, he was clearly eavesdropping) and told me a few things about myself that he’d gleaned by listening to my side of the conversation. Ewww. He ended up being a harmless wacko, but he was a wacko nonetheless.

      1. Ann Furthermore*

        I know, right? The entire flight was super weird. He kept trying to engage me in conversation even though I had headphones on and was reading a book — international plane sign language for Leave Me Alone. Then when we were descending into Denver, he kept gawking at the amount of snow on the ground, because there had been a HUGE blizzard a couple days before that had dumped about 2 feet of snow on the city. Then he was stewing about how his wife was going to get to the airport to pick him up, since he was snowed in. I told him to take a taxi, and since he was (allegedly) travelling for business, expense it. Then he asked me how I was going to get home, and when I said a friend was picking me up he asked if we could give him a ride home! Good god.

        He kept badgering me, all the way through landing and taxiing to the gate, and I could see, through the space between the seats (I was sitting in first class) that a guy was sort of halfway turned around, listening to this whole exchange, ready to step in and tell the guy to leave me alone. But then I think he realized I could take care of myself when I finally said, in a very loud, clear voice, “Buddy, I don’t know who the hell you are, or anything about you. How do I know that you don’t have plans to kill both of us and leave us by the side of the road? It’s not going to happen. OK?

        1. periwinkle*

          The only thing that keeps your final response from perfection is the pronoun choice.

          “How do you know that I don’t have plans to kill you and leave you by the side of the road?”

        2. Kiwi*

          He sounds a lot like the aeroplane creeper from The Gift of Fear. I wonder if there was no wife (but that makes him sound “safer”, doesn’t it?) and he intended to ride home with you the entire time. He was working you from the get go (but, clearly, you had him pegged and set him well and truly straight).

          1. Ann Furthermore*

            I think he was too clumsy and oafish for me to be really afraid, but he was clearly trying to work some kind of angle. What really set me off before I started yelling at him was his offer to buy me a drink in the bar on the concourse (gee thanks, just what I want to do when I land, spend more time at the airport) and then said (I swear), “I promise I won’t try to slip you the tongue,” which totally grossed me out and made me want to laugh in his face at the same time. That was when I lit into him.

            Later I wondered if the guy sitting in front of us was an air marshall, because I could tell he really was on high alert, as if he was ready to pounce at a moment’s notice.

    1. AnonAnalyst*

      Oh man. Even though I’m sure no one wants to listen to my side of my boring phone conversations, I hate (HATE) talking on my phone in public. Now I have even more reasons to hate it!

    2. Jamie*

      I was the wacko once – although it was online and the person who was subject to it never knew.

      A million years ago when my daughter was a tween I was not letting her have a myspace account (told you it was a long time ago.) She insisted with the absolutely authority you can only have at that age that if you don’t list your city or name your school you’re totally anonymous.

      So I picked some random kid from some random state and told her where he went to school, general location of where he lived, when he was home alone, what kind of bike he rode, how many siblings he had, etc. I was making a point that just because you leave it out of your profile doesn’t mean someone can’t totally find you based on your posts, pics of you at school events, references to the mall you go to, off hand comments about what time your mom comes home, what days you have after school stuff.

      It was my little version of scared straight – I was trying to protect her but it still felt creepy.

  44. Coordinadora General*

    It seems to me a key piece of information is how the company actually responded when the OP called, which we are told is that “The secretary was pretty horrified, said that there’d been drinks at the main London office that day, and that she’d definitely alert the partner.” So in this specific case, it seems the company appreciated the call.

  45. Lurker*

    I’ve called construction companies before to inform them that their male employees are cat-calling and harassing women who walk by them on the street. I doubt they were reprimanded but it really irks me when men do that.

    1. Cafe Au Lait*

      Funny story!: Eons ago I worked as a student employee for my local community college. They were doing massive reconstruction during the summer. An email had been sent to all the employees that contractors were prohibited from cat-calling or whistling at individuals on campus. If anyone did, please alert your supervisor and they would forward the complaint to construction liaison. My feminist brain went “Sweet!”

      On the way into work one morning, some guy starts yelling at me. I don’t respond. He starts yelling louder. I roll my eyes. He makes some sort of comment and I continue to walk on. It didn’t bother me enough to report it.

      A month later I’m at my Dad’s family reunion and my aunt sits down next to me. She says “I’m very proud with how you handled the situation with Pat [her husband]. He was a jerk, and I want you to know that I reamed him out at home. It’s never appropriate to yell at women, especially young women, when they’re walking.”

      I had no idea my jerk-faced construction yeller was my uncle.

      1. fposte*

        It took me a moment to realize that he was yelling at you *because* you were his niece, not because he didn’t know and was accidentally catcalling his niece.

      2. another IT manager*

        Heh. Similar story:

        I was headed to work on a Sunday afternoon (the office was being recarpeted and they wanted me in to put the computers back together) and these two guys came up to me. Our office is in an “up and coming” neighborhood, and the 7-11 on the corner is a favorite panhandler spot, so I just avoided eye contact and kept going. I was about 6′ away when the one *not* dressed like a hobo called my name and I realized that it was 1) the facilities guy in charge of the project 2) the previous facilities guy who’d recently moved down to FL. The current facilities guy had (still has) a coat with stains, frayed cuffs, and a generally disreputable air; the FL guy was trying to thank me for getting his phone upgraded while he was moving. All I was paying attention to was the two dudes ignoring sidewalk rules outside Dunkin’ Donuts.

    2. some1*

      I reported a racist rant on a local news article. The person commented on the article through their FB account and had their employer on it – local fire department.

      1. Cath in Canada*

        I’ve alerted the local police (via their twitter account) to comments made on a local news article about new bike lanes. People were using what seemed to be their real names to boast that they’d been deliberately harassing cyclists who were trying to get onto those separated lanes, because they didn’t think there should be bike lanes on that bridge. Probably no consequences for the posters, but it felt good!

  46. AmericanInEngland*

    Woah. First, I work in the legal field. Second, I ride the train home from London frequently (was on a packed train last night) during the work week. Most nights, the ride is very quiet. I’ve learned (as an American living in England) that people here work quite hard to not make eye contact or speak during the train ride home. Most of the time this is true … everyone is tired and glued to their phone/iPad, but sometimes you’ll get a chatty group in the coach with you. In the past two years I’ve seen the “quiet coach” rule violated again and again and again. Some people simply ignore it. And when, on the rare occasion that I’ve seen someone ask the person violating the quiet coach rule to please lower his/her voice, it has always been met with a rude, defensive response, but this sounds way over the top! Long ago (in my twenties) I got in trouble for accidentally divulging some confidential information to a vendor about a client. Because I have signed a confidentiality agreement at every job, I had clearly violated it and was reprimanded. However, I hadn’t done it in a public place. I can only assume that these guys have signed confidentiality agreements (or something similar) and they have clearly violated them, and worse, in public. Add to that the rude behavior and yes, I would want to know about it. So yes, I agree with what OP did. If they get reprimanded or even sacked, then this will hopefully be a lesson learned, albeit the hard way. As a manager I would rather know immediately. What if someone else on the train went one step further? Instead of just googling and calling the partner’s secretary, what if someone working for one of the clients of the law firm was on the train? And he/she got home, called the boss and told him/her that details about their case were being openly and loudly discussed on the train? The client could fire the law firm, resulting in a loss of income for the firm. Or worse, the client could bring a lawsuit against the firm for violation of confidetiality. (of course, that’s my American “sue-happy” brain making the leap there). The ramifications could be much worse than just the OP calling to complain. While it’s not the OP’s job to worry about all these things, as a manager or partner I would still want to know about this because of the way it could potentially harm the firm and client relations.

    1. Joey*

      Oh please. You’re acting like lawyers don’t talk about clients/cases unless they’re behind closed doors.

      1. bridget*

        Whether lawyers do this or not isn’t really the point. The fact is that they shouldn’t, it’s very clear they shouldn’t, and there are very serious consequences if they do.

  47. Claire (Scotland)*

    I don’t think you were wrong to act as you did, but I personally wouldn’t have done it. I’d have spoken to the train staff about their behaviour and the lack of quiet in the Quiet Coach, because that is what would have actually been affecting me and what I would have wanted fixed. But I wouldn’t have even thought to bother Googling them, let alone called their company to report them. I don’t see it as any of my business.

    But I can see why you did, and I wouldn’t criticise you for making that call.

  48. Althea*

    I’m extremely concerned about the “bleed” from work into personal life, so I’m in the “not your business” camp. This has all kinds of modern iterations: someone tweets something racist, and twitter people forward to bosses trying to get them fired; journalists not allowed to attend political events even on their own time; people fired for being gay; being fired for being arrested but not convicted (like that lady who let her kid go to a park by herself and got arrested for it). If none of it ever affects your work, why should the employer have such power over your free time? It bothers me a lot.

    In this situation, I would speak to the annoying lawyers about being quiet and respecting the quiet car, call the conductor to try to get them to move, etc. but I would let them duck up their own jobs – if they have such poor judgment it will come out in the workplace eventually. Or if it doesn’t, then they haven’t harmed the workplace either.

    1. Melissa*

      People fired for being gay or journalists being unable to attend political events are not comparable to this situation…the talkers were the ones who let work “bleed” into their personal life by loudly talking about work (and potentially confidential work) on their own time. That’s when it becomes the company’s business.

      Posting racist tweets under your own power…ugly. Posting racist tweets under your university title and position (which is what the tweeter/commenter in question did)…that’s when you bring work into the realm and when work has the right to question you. That’s more akin to what happened here – if they were just being loud douches and the OP had to hunt for 2 hours to find out where they worked and report them, or just happened to know one of them, that’d be one thing. But they were being loud douches about work, openly disparaging their co-workers, bosses, and clients and disclosing private information. That’s what, to me, makes this different.

      1. Althea*

        I see it as the same. It is all personal time, and everyone should be free to express frustration about work in their own time. I could perhaps see it as different in the case of confidentiality – yes, they might be breaching something by speaking about it in a public place, but how is a bystander to know what is or is not confidential in someone else’s workplace?

        1. Zillah*

          It’s usually a fair bet that a lawyer talking about legal cases they’re working on in an identifiable way (or a doctor talking about patients in an identifiable way) is violating confidentiality. You don’t need to be intimately familiar with the specifics to know that.

          Here’s the thing: I generally agree that personal time is personal time. But, when you give enough (loud) details in a public place about your employer that they can be found with a quick google, you’ve opened that door yourself.

    2. Malissa*

      But if I heard details about a case, and I later get called to jury duty on that same case but don’t realize it until it’s halfway through the trial, their actions have just affected their work and possibly cost their firm thousands of dollars.

      1. Althea*

        Then the repercussions will occur because they harmed their employer by violating a confidentiality agreement. But again, how do you as a bystander know they were violating anything? You don’t know – this could happen and it turns out everything was public information and they cost the employer nothing.

        1. fposte*

          I’m with you in being generally concerned about the erosion of the line between private and public. But I think you’re missing something here, which is that calling about an employee doesn’t directly correlate with an employee’s getting in trouble. If somebody calls to say that my employee is talking about confidential work information, I think “No, she’s not” and that’s the end of it.

          1. Althea*

            That’s true, it doesn’t equate with the company doing anything about it. But it still seems awfully easy these days to forward information to an employer, and the employers all too often seem to err on the side of firing someone.

        2. Malissa*

          Because I, as a bystander, would assume that if they are discussing a current case, that really should be confidential information. At least I would hope if it were my case, that it wasn’t discussed loudly on a public train.

    3. LBK*

      There is a world of difference between people being fired for deliberately inappropriate actions they took (racist tweets) vs. being fired due to their employer’s intolerance (being gay). Let’s not equate all examples of personal life influencing professional life; when it comes down to it, whether it reflects poorly on the company or not, I don’t really want someone who’s openly racist to work for me. Has nothing to do with the health of the company, the potential for their views to hurt their coworkers, whatever. It’s purely about me not being down for continuing to financially fund someone who’s fine with espousing racism.

      And before we get into it, no, I’m not going to agree that if I can fire someone for being racist then a homophobic person should be free to fire a gay person, because the Constitution and free speech and blah blah blah. Severe misunderstanding of civil rights there.

      1. Althea*

        I don’t follow you. If you can fire someone for outside-of-work behavior that does not affect the company or the performance of the employee, how is firing someone for being racist any different than for being gay, or being a Democrat, or getting drunk on the weekends, or having an abortion, or basically anything at all that you personally think is “misbehaving” or that you don’t like?

        1. Mephyle*

          Because one of those things is not like the others. (Employers who would fire someone for being gay would not agree, but) all the other things are behaviours – choices. Firing someone for being gay is like firing them for being of a particular race – not a choice.

          1. Althea*

            I agree that being gay is not a choice, but others disagree and as a result it is perfectly legal to fire someone over it currently and many people feel justified in doing it. I just don’t see how me feeling justified in firing someone for a different (legal) reason is any better.

            1. OP*

              It’s absolutely not legal to fire someone for being gay in the UK. I’m with Mephyle, there’s a world of different between who you are (I think that’s “protected characteristics” in the USA) and what you choose to do for a living.

        2. LBK*

          I’m not talking about what you have a legal right to do, I’m talking about what’s morally sound. From a moral perspective, I sincerely disagree that any and everything falls under the blanket of “what you do outside of work is your own business”.

          I guess we’re really just trailing off into a discussion of what’s moral and immoral, though.

          1. Althea*

            Yes, it’s a discussion of personal morality, but moreover, how a boss’s personal morality is allowed to affect her employees. My own personal morality might make me want to fire someone for being racist; but someone else’s for other reasons that I don’t agree with. So why should I be allowed to fire someone for my personal beliefs, but other people can’t?

        3. Three Thousand*

          Being racist hurts people. It causes harm. Being gay doesn’t hurt anyone. This isn’t difficult.

          1. Althea*

            I happen to agree with you, but someone who thinks differently than me feels that being gay is harmful, or that getting an abortion is. I don’t see how you are drawing your lines. It is legal to fire someone for all of the above reasons, even though it is legal to do/be all of the above things.

  49. Charlotte Lucas*

    I think that once they started loudly discussing client information, there is a bit more of an obligation to tell, as this could affect their business/cases. It is a huge breach of confidentiality. What if you had overheard bankers discussing financial information? Or hospital workers discussing patient information? Their clients have an expectation of privacy, and that needs to be protected.

    If they were just being loud jerks, I wouldn’t call the employer, but I would contact the workers on the train to deal with people not following the quiet car rules. (In other words, treat it like I would disruptive people in the theater. Have the ushers deal with it. Then thank them profusely.)

  50. Melissa*

    I personally wouldn’t have done it out of laziness more than anything else, but if I had heard someone else did it my reaction would be “Serves them right.” So I’m with the 3 friends – I don’t think you did anything wrong. It’s not something I would do, but really it’s more their fault for talking so loudly that they gave away enough sensitive information to identify not only their firm but the partner they work for (what if a client, or potential client, had been on that train and heard them?!) and ALSO being so obnoxious that they motivated someone to call in.

  51. MK*

    You were being a busybody and interfering in something that’s none of your business. Frankly I don’understand why you didn’t address what was your business, which was their breaking the quiet rule, but you felt you needed to report their rudeness to their employer, and inform the partner that they were badmouthing them. You seem concerned about whether the employer would want to know, but that’s not really the issue; employers would want to know plenty of things that aren’t their business about their employees. Also, your mention of “posh voices” comes across a bit off to me, in a “these upper class jerks think they can do anything, I ‘all show them” way.

    I think you were justified in informing their boss only if a) the badmouthing of the partner was beyond simple gripping about a (perhaps truly bad) boss and reached really problematic levels, like racist or sexist slurs, and/or b) they actually revealed sensitive information about identifiable clients, and anyone who was on the train and can google is now in a position to have confidential knowledge about a case.

    That being said, I am not inclined to shed any tears for them. Yes, you behaved like an interfering busybody, but one of the reasons people behave with discretion in public is because the world is full of them. If there are consequences for them, they will be deserved. In any case, I doubt they will get fired based on a phone call by a random stranger complaining about their behaviour on a train.

    By the way, I am assuming you were able to identify these people pretty certainly by name? Because I am not sure what the partner could do with the information that three unidentified employees were rude and indiscrete on a train.

    1. Liane*

      Kind sir or madam, mayhap you could read the entire post before commenting, in future?
      The OP *did* state in at least one place that it was possible to identify the terribly rude lawyers and/or the cases they were working on.

      To everyone else, I am on Team OP Did the Right Thing

      1. MK*

        Actually, no, not really. The OP states only that they gave enough details about one of the company partners that the OP could easily find information and that she did in fact find this partner’s phone number. Now, I am sure it would be easy to find the law firm and the partner’s contact information. It’s less obvious that they could find out the names of the offending employees, but it could be, if the firm has a website that includes employees’ bios and photos (probable) or has very few lawyers as employees (not impossible) or these people actually refered to their last names in conversation (a bit unlikely). What I find hard to believe is that the clients were so easily identified by a random stranger, unless it was a high profile case that made the news, at least the local ones.

          1. MK*

            “What it was about” does not equal breach of confidentiality. If by hearing them talk about the Smith case, you now know that Jane Smith (whom you don’t know and are unlikely to ever meet) is in a custody battle with her ex, well that’s probably common knowledge. If they mentioned that Ms.Smith plans to immigrate to Australia with the kid once she gets custody, but isn’t revealing that to the judge, that’s a serious breach.

            1. Zillah*

              But they still shouldn’t be talking about that loudly in public. If it’s not a breach, great – but it’s still ill-advised, and someone should tell them that before they do breach confidentiality.

    2. Althea*

      “employers would want to know plenty of things that aren’t their business about their employees”

      This, exactly. Along with running unnecessary credit reports on people or trying to get them to show their Facebook pages (even when set to show only to friends).

  52. Looby*

    We’ve reported bad employee behaviour before. We won tickets to a baseball game that included a 2 hour bus ride there and back from a local chain restaurant. Employees from the restaurant were also on the trip – they drank on the way there (against the law), ignored the trip operator’s request to stop, got kicked out of the baseball game for disruptive behaviour and delayed the bus leaving.

    Had it not been announced they were employees of the restaurant, we wouldn’t have cared and just passed them off as stupid drunken idiots, but they made a point of letting people know where they worked. So we made it a point of informing their employers of their behaviour.

  53. anonnn*

    Absolutely would have done the same thing! Lawyer/client confidentiality is not something you can talk about in public

    Back when I was in school our professor told us this same story:

    We all take a train to commute downtown as we live in an “outer” area, our professor had gotten one of her students a PAID internship.

    About two weeks later while on the train home the girl was talking about how crap the position was and how annoying the job itself was – someone reported her to the company and she got fired. She later dropped out of the program altogether because no one in our tiny field would hire her for her internship. (She only had four months left!)

  54. Katie the Fed*

    Oooh this is a tough one. Honestly, might all come down to what kind of mood I was in that day and just how much they annoyed me. And they sound SUPER annoying.

    I kind of think these guys had no expectation of privacy and get what they get for being obnoxious in a quiet car. And you probably did do the partner a favor by alerting her – especially if they were discussing confidential case information.

    I’m just not sure I would have been the one to drop a dime on them. But, if I were annoyed enough – perhaps.

  55. Ruth (UK)*

    While I wouldn’t have done this myself, I do not think you were wrong for doing it. I would have probably considered it not my business unless they were rude to me personally and my likely reaction would have been to move to another carriage. However, I don’t think you have done anything inappropriate by alerting their employer.

  56. A Definite Beta Guy*

    I’m dying to hear what others think though.

    If OP’s concern was confidentiality, OP would not have gone back repeatedly to how loud these obnoxious dudebros were in the quiet car.

    “So they talked about Barrack Obama’s child support…loudly! Did I add that? LOUDLY!!!! They were so loud!!!! I even called up the partner, and the secretary said there was…..*GASP*….drinking! The horror!

    I’ve reported compliance issues in the past. I work in healthcare, which involves HIPPA, and we had a lot of 20-something guys that just didn’t know right from wrong. You know what I didn’t include in my complaints? How loud they were laughing, as they tried pulling up people’s prescriptions. You know why not? It doesn’t matter. What matters was the breach of privacy. That’s it.

      1. fposte*

        And, in fact, it sounds like she was and reported more than one concern to the firm.

        Beta, I think it’s relevant here because of the situation. Somebody loudly drunk in a bar is one thing thing; somebody loudly drunk in a library or a church or a quiet car, and refusing to pipe down or leave when told, is quite another.

      2. A Definite Beta Guy*

        Pretty convenient out for a vindictive person. Not interested in giving vindictive people that kind of easy-out.
        Or see the poster above:

        When we get complaints about someone, it’s usually bad driving BY my husband TO my husband. To which he rolls his eyes because he was there and knows the complaint is often exaggerated. Even if he was wrong, it’s more of a “Oops, my bad” moment, rather than an intentional road rage move, that he is aware of, because he’s driving a freaking cargo van and cuts people off inadvertently at times.

        Yeah, people who complain tend to be vindictive busy-bodies and need to pass a pretty strenuous test for me to take their complaints seriously. If you spend half your letter, supposedly about confidentiality, talking about how offensively LOUD these dudebros are, well, what am I supposed to think?

        1. A Definite Beta Guy*

          Note, that doesn’t mean OP was WRONG, but doing the RIGHT thing for the WRONG reasons, isn’t exactly a recipe for life success. My point is that I see a lot of alarm bells that put me in squarely into “not my business” category.

        2. fposte*

          The letter’s to here, though; that’s not the same thing as a complaint. I know sometimes commenters get down on letter writers for how they wrote their account, and I think it’s unreasonable to expect people to write about what happened to them like they were making a case in court. This isn’t court, and they get to tell their story.

          1. Zillah*

            And I think that how loud they were being is probably quite relevant – the OP likely would have been less likely to report three guys talking quietly behind her about the same content.

              1. OP*

                Yes, this – I was halfway down the carriage, there’s the sounds of the train – this wasn’t overhearing something quietly spoken in the seats behind me, this shrieking indignation heard I dunno, 10 rows away

            1. A Definite Beta Guy*

              That doesn’t mean that they weren’t breaking the law, that means the OP didn’t hear them breaking the law. There’s a difference.

              “It’s okay to smash my neighbors window if I don’t hear you” isn’t a reasonable standard. “It’s okay to talk about your confidential case as long as you don’t think anyone can hear you” isn’t a reasonable standard either. So…no…I don’t think loudness is a factor here, at all.

              1. Zillah*

                Huh?? I don’t understand this comment at all.

                1) As far as I know, violating confidentiality isn’t necessarily “breaking the law.” It’s violating your ethical obligations and may get you in trouble with the body that oversees your profession, but that’s not the same thing as “breaking the law.”

                2) Loudness is absolutely a factor. When you’re loud and obnoxious, you’re drawing attention to yourself and broadcasting what you’re saying to a much wider audience. When you do that, you’re losing any expectation of privacy, and you can’t be annoyed when someone reacts to your poor behavior. You’re baiting them, and they’re going to react. It’s not that it’s okay to talk about confidential cases in public, it’s that explicitly drawing attention to yourself as you do it loudly does indeed make it much worse.

                3) What on earth does a neighbor’s window have to do with this? Your analogy doesn’t make any sense at all.

                1. A Definite Beta Guy*

                  It’s not that it’s okay to talk about confidential cases in public, it’s that explicitly drawing attention to yourself as you do it loudly does indeed make it much worse.

                  Why is it “much worse”? It’s a fireable offense because it’s wrong and breaches confidentiality in a big way. So what’s your gradation? 1,000 bad vs. 1,001 bad? 10 bad vs. 100,000 bad?
                  Give me a thought experiment. You hear a doctor whispering on the phone about your neighbor’s vicodin addiction. You think “oh, well, he’s whispering, he doesn’t know I can hear him, he’s a good guy, I won’t call anyone about it.”
                  Because that, while an understandable way of thinking, is wrong. The doctor crossed a huge, huge line. It FEELS worse if the drunken doctor was shouting at the top of his lungs, because then it’s GUARANTEED someone will hear it, but that doesn’t matter. The doctor crossed a huge line and jeopardized patient health information, even if he was just whispering on the train. It FEELS less wrong, but it’s actually just as bad. Our primitive primate brains just want to give him a break because whispering doctor is not an obnoxious jerk, but that doesn’t matter, he’s still unforgivably bad and needs to be reprimanded severely.

                  What on earth does a neighbor’s window have to do with this? Your analogy doesn’t make any sense at all.

                  Wrong things don’t become right because you do it quietly, and loudness just isn’t even a factor by comparison.

                2. Zillah*

                  I think we’re going to have to agree to disagree, because I think that the size of the audience absolutely matters. It’s not that it makes it okay to violate confidentiality if you have a smaller audience – it’s that the scale greatly exacerbates the problem, and I’m not sure how you can argue otherwise.

          2. A Definite Beta Guy*

            Sure, they get to tell their story, but if you’re expecting to me to sign on to going after someone’s livelihood, I expect proof beyond reasonable doubt, and I expect motivation to be legitimate public concern, not because someone was offending you on the Quiet Car.

            Going after someone’s livelihood requires a pretty high bar, IMNSHO. That means I put my lawyer hat on, and I cross-examine the story, and I wonder ‘well, is this REALLY necessary or are you just a busy-body?’

            1. Zillah*

              But the OP didn’t go after their livelihood! I’d agree with you if the OP was embarking on a vendetta to get them fired and picketing the building – but they aren’t. They made one phone call. If it’s not a concern, they won’t get fired, and I suspect that they won’t be.

              And here’s the thing: when you act obnoxiously, people will treat you like an obnoxious person. That’s just all there is to it. If you’re a jerk and spout out information that makes it easy to identify you while you do it, you can’t get the vapors when someone responds to being baited.

              1. OP*

                If I’d have been going after their livelihood, there are SO many better ways to do it – livetweeting their convo and @-ing their company in, eg

    1. Violetta*

      The loudness and the confidentiality issues go hand in hand. They were discussing confidential information, not just in a public place, but loud enough for a train car with dozens of people to hear it.

      Your work involves HIPAA, by the way.

      1. A Definite Beta Guy*

        Your work involves HIPAA, by the way.

        Haha, you’re right! A needed humbling experience for me, no doubt.

        Here’s a question: if this were in public and they weren’t speaking loudly, how would you feel?

        1. Violetta*

          Haha, I see that typo so much, I can’t help it…

          I would still think that was wrong, not sure how that’s relevant… but the loudness factor definitely adds to the problem. There’s being unprofessional (discussing a case publicly is bad enough) and then there’s being grossly unprofessional (discussing a case at a volume where a whole traincar of people can hear it, while also behaving obnoxiously, while also broadcasting identifying details of your workplace)

        2. lowercase holly*

          it would be less of an issue because their conversation would have been easier to tune out. the on-going loud talking is what got the OP’s attention. i don’t know what the rule is on quiet cars. no talking at all or only quiet conversations? if none at all, they may still have been audible.

          1. Cari*

            Quiet conversation, no talking on phones, phones on silent, and music set low when wearing earphones.

            Another thing to consider, is that with the quiet carriage being well… quiet… It is possible their conversation could travel to the next carriage. Especially when the doors between them open. And anyone standing in between might have been able to hear.

    2. OP*

      Heh, I’m British, it definitely wasn’t an issue of pearl clutching because people had been (gasp) drinking!

  57. Lily in NYC*

    I wrote in to an open thread a few months ago about seeing a pretty high-level coworker threaten to beat up a random commuter in the subway tunnel that leads to our office (he was chest-bumping the guy and being such a dick, only because they turned a corner at the same time and bumped into each other). General consensus was to let it go, so I did. But it still bothers me to this day! I think he knows I saw him because he used to be really friendly to me (even though I hate his incompetent guts) and now he doesn’t make eye contact when he sees me.

    1. fposte*

      I’m pretty sure I wasn’t one of the let it go folks, given, IIRC, you were talking about somebody in a high public official’s office.

    2. TheLazyB*

      I think I would have wanted to go up to him (if possible, not always possible on crowded trains I know) and be all ‘hiiiiii how are you? Wait what’s going on? Are you guys ok??’ Let him know he’d been seen but without making him lose face. Kinda glad he no longer makes eye contact. Idiot. (Him not you, clearly!)

      1. Lily in NYC*

        I was standing down the hall wondering if that’s what I should do and then it was over by the time I decided to go over and make sure he saw me. He’s really intimidating.

  58. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

    I did something like this once. I was driving in suburban Philadelphia. The driver of a branded (plumbing company) truck/van was frighteningly aggressive: tailgating, cutting people off, intentionally edging into the lane next to him to threaten the car in that lane. When he got out of his truck at a stop light and loomed over the driver in the car next to him I called the number on the truck. It turned out that it directed right to him, and he started cursing at me and looking around to identify who of the drivers near him had tried to call his boss. I threw my phone on the floor of my car, took the first turn I could find to get away, and called the police. It was genuinely terrifying.

    1. Lily in NYC*

      Wow, you are at least the second person to say that one of these calls went right to the driver. That is really scary.

  59. steve g*

    One vote for saying something, in this situation, so I’m with you. If they were just loud, then no. But discussing confidential client stuff in detail? I think it is ok to report it.

  60. NinaK*

    I, too, am on team ‘you did the right thing.’

    Anyone else think it is funny the the secretary’s response was the admission that they had been drinking at the office that day? I know office parties happen, but if she had been on her toes she might have kept that out of the conversation and just been shocked by their behavior.

  61. Anonymouse*

    Of course, you could have called the opposing counsel to the lawyers on the train. They would have listened and responded.

  62. Career Counselorette*

    Several months ago I was at an after-work event at a bar with my co-workers, and this guy came up to us soliciting donations for an organization helping youth with substance issues. But he was wearing a T-shirt that said something like “4 tequila shots: $15, 2 margaritas, $10, 3 beers, $15, taking the girl who drank all that home, priceless.” I was so horrified by the shirt, but I felt like I couldn’t say anything in the moment because I was just so angry and I get fatigued having to call this kind of thing out all the time. So when I got home I looked up the organization and I wrote to the Human Resources department detailing the incident. I made a point to stress that I’m also someone who works at a non-profit, and I’m someone who’s done a lot of volunteer work with victims of drug-facilitated sexual assault, and that I hardly think this is the message they want to be modeling for their youth with substance issues. The next day the Human Resources manager called me back immediately, equally horrified, and assured me that they were going to investigate it. She was really glad that I called, because they don’t solicit donations in bars with random volunteers, and she said they needed to know if someone was using their material for personal gain or otherwise.

    Ultimately I think it’s okay if what the individuals are doing or saying compromises the integrity of the organization or their clients in any way.

  63. RGB*

    I’m with you OP, I would have done the same and have before.

    My personal opinion is that there is a cultural difference between what is acceptable in North America, versus UK/Australia/New Zealand in terms of conversations you have in public and also the volume at which they are had. I think this situation you described is quite unusual, or would definitely throw up huge red flags to me if I witnessed it in the UK. However living in the US and Canada, I would probably ignore it because it seems to be more acceptable here.

    Often I wonder, in some larger US and Canadian cities, if people feel more anonymous in public and freer to divulge things (often at volume) that I wouldn’t expect to hear elsewhere. It’s something that shocks me even after living in the US for a few years. Generally living here, I just ignore it, or make lingering eye contact as if to say – yes I can hear everything you’re saying, perhaps you want to turn the volume down? Which has about a 60% success rate.

    1. OP*

      That’s super-interesting, I do wonder about cultural differences like this ( eg I have Dutch friends who are 100 times more hardcore than Brits on this kind of thing)

      1. Elizabeth West*

        We are louder in America as a rule (it’s funny but I find myself talking much more quietly when I’m in Britain), but I would not have ignored it if they were identifying clients and being rude to the other passengers.

    2. MissDisplaced*

      I think you’re right about the US being louder in public (I’m amazed at some of the personal information I overhear) but the fact that they were lawyers and being so brazen about it would really be shocking here as well. Especially if they continued after someone pointed it out to them to quiet down.

    3. azurelunatic*

      I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. One day one of my co-workers mentioned that she’d heard Facebook engineers talking to each other on the train (not in a quiet car, as Caltrain doesn’t appear to have those) about details of their work which were surely protected under NDA. (We do not work for Facebook.) She was disappointed in them but not entirely surprised, and pointed it out as an example of a thing not to do. (I don’t believe she reported it, in part because Facebook is a company the size of a small city; out of the 800 people on this 650-seat train, which 3 of your 50+ employees on it were the blabby ones? The logistics in a company that size are daunting if you don’t have names.)

  64. FD*

    Whoa, talking about cases in public is Very Not Okay. I would have called their employers just for that. The clients in many cases pay big bucks for the expectation of discretion and privacy, and having it discussed openly like that would be cause to find a different lawyer, if the client knew.

    That said, I’d also probably have spoken up to the trash-talking jerks.

    1. Retail Lifer*

      I would have been too much of a chicken to confront the guys, especially if they were being so verbally abusive. I’m more of a be-nice-to-your-face-but-make-you-pay-for-it-later kind of girl. I definitely would have reported them.

  65. RS*

    Considering that the only way someone could behave this way is by believing they are already above reproach — loudly criticizing your firm, and as AAM noted, being abusive to others on the train, especially in a car set aside for quiet work — changes the situation for me. If it were some coworkers blowing off steam, complaining about things in a perhaps a bit indiscreet, yet understandable manner, I would be horrified by OP’s actions.

    However, that is not the case. Instead we have “very posh voices” lambasting anyone with the audacity (and foresight) to ask them to quiet their voices. Imagine how safe in your position, how utterly untouchable, one would have to feel to behave this way. I say they deserve it! It could result in them being better lawyers one day, in fact!

    1. RS*

      To be honest though, not sure if I would want to be the one doing the reporting. I imagine these guys would not go down quietly, and may seek some sort of retribution of their own. Hopefully OP took steps to keep her identity private.

  66. Violetta*

    It’s well and good to say OP should have confronted them in the moment, but have any of you tried that and had good results? I take public transport every day and call people out very scarcely (and very politely! Genre “Sorry to bother, but could you please use your earphones to listen to that?”) and have gotten an agressive reaction 90 % of the time. No way I would have confronted a group of guys with seemingly very little regard for their surroundings.

    1. Cath in Canada*

      Yeah, same. The one exception was when I was coming back from a very drunken Glasgow wedding with a big hangover and a group of pre-teen girls were playing loud crappy music through cheap tinny speakers. I told, rather than asked, them to shut up, in a much less polite way than I ever usually would. I’m sure I was referred to as the “ohmygod can you believe that utter bitch on the train?” after that, but the other grownups on the train gave me some approving nods!

    2. OP*

      Yeah, if I was braver, I should have been more direct – BUT 3 against 1 and such…

      1. Elizabeth West*

        In an almost empty carriage, yes, I might have demurred. But that wouldn’t have stopped me from discreetly videoing and sending the video to the firm. And maybe posting the bit where they were rude to the passenger online!

    3. MeOhMy*

      I do it all the time on the bus here. Mostly to teenagers who think the whole bus wants to hear their music, but I’ll say something to anyone who is causing a nuisance. I rarely get aggressive responses, mostly people are embarrassed at being spoken to and comply quickly.

      I’m polite but not overly so about it, though. I’ll say “Excuse me, could you please turn the volume down/use headphones/whatever?” but I use my teacher voice and direct eye contact. It works for me.

  67. De Minimis*

    Years ago I temped for a company that was involved in a high profile breach of contract case. One of the lead attorneys posted signs everywhere to not talk about the case at all when in public. The main fear was that we might not know if a juror was there at the same restaurant, coffee shop, etc, and it would jeopardize the whole trial.

    If I were annoyed enough, I probably would do the same as the OP.

    1. neverjaunty*

      Yes, this. When we’re in trial we make a point of scoping out obscure restaurants and cafes that the jurors are NOT likely to eat in, and that’s only if we can’t make other arrangements (like eating in a conference room at the courthouse).

  68. Carrie in Scotland*

    Slightly off topic, but can I just say how nice & inclusive it is to have UK letters* being asked and answered on here, I think there has been a few recently – the person not donating to charity but dressing down looked like another one, but I find the cultural discussion and differences fascinating.

    *Also nice to see other countries when applicable.

  69. Cari*

    Oh man, I am dead set against contacting anyone’s employer over someone saying something you (general now, not OP) don’t like in their personal time. Like really strongly dead set. Especially when people lie or exaggerate to the employer just to get someone fired for having a difference of opinion.

    However, I can imagine with a job like theirs, their employer would definitely like to know if they have some employees with loud and loose lips when it comes to their job, their partners and clients. AND they were disrespecting the sanctity of the quiet carriage and other passengers, something that really steams my broccoli. Still not something I would have done unless personally involved, but if I were a fellow passenger, the passive-aggressive part of me would be happy to know someone felt just as incensed by such behaviour :-)

    1. Jennifer*

      I have a work culture where everyone is reporting on each other for every tiny little thing. I just found out that I got reported on for showing up to a shift on time instead of 5 minutes early. Why, you ask? Uh, there was a sudden giant loud drama that erupted in my work group at that time and I had to deal with it ASAP. Which I said. I’d bet half the office heard the yelling. And yet I still had to get reported for it?! Really?

      So yeah, at this point I’m inclined to NOT report on anyone for anything, no matter how bad it is or what was done to me personally. Because it really sucks to feel like everyone around you is listening in and reporting on everything you do. Hell, it’s kind of even worse when it’s on your own time. It was stupid of these guys to blab all that shit, but they thought they were in a “safe” environment, clearly.

      I’m not saying what they did was right, but still, at this point I ain’t saying shit to anyone about anything. It’s not worth the resentment and drama that everyone ends up feeling afterwards. Hopefully they never find out it was the OP who did it.

      1. Helka*

        How would they? I doubt the OP had to give a description of herself when she made the call.

        1. Jennifer*

          I hope they can’t find out it was her, I meant it that way. It’s about the safest way she could do it without getting busted, but you never know any more.

          1. OP*

            I would have given out my info if the secretary had asked, but I can’t imagine how the lawyers would access her caller ID…

  70. illini02*

    I’m firmly in the camp that it was a jerk move on your part. Now they have been jerks too, but I’m very much on the opinion that what you do in your personal life (assuming not terribly illegal or immoral) doesn’t need to be brought into your professional like. I guess I’m curious where it ends. Its not like they gave you a business card or something, whether it was easy or not, you still had to go out of your way to google and find out where they worked. Was your intention to get them fired? I don’t buy the fact that you just felt management should know. It seems you think they deserved to be punished and you wanted to be sure that happened. Would you have done this if they were in a bar or in a park, or was it simply because it was the quiet car and you felt like they were intruding on “your” area?

    On another note, people on quiet cars can be jerks. I once got on one with a friend by accident (there was a sign, but you wouldn’t see it if you weren’t looking). The attitude we got from people was ridiculous. Someone could have easily said something nicely to inform us, not act like we were killing puppies or something.

  71. illini02*

    After reading some of the comments and re-reading, I may change a bit. I guess the question is whether they were actually saying enough about cases to violate confidentiality, or just talking in generalities. Were they just saying “this case we were working on has the biggest idiot as a plaintiff” or did they say “In the Jones vs. BigData company, Jim Jones who is bringing the case is an idiot”? If its just in generalities, then I still say its kind of a jerk move on your part. If it was something that violated privilege, then I do think you were “somewhat” justified. however, even if the justification is there, it just doesn’t strike me as you doing this for altruistic reasons because you were concerned about the client, more that you thought the guys were jerks and wanted them punished for ruining your commute.

    1. RS*

      I think there is a class undertone to this that you are maybe missing — these lawyers were pretentious toffs who think they’re above reproach and sounds like OP wanted to prove to them they’re not. At least that’s how I understood her motivations.

        1. OP*

          One of my friends said this, and I dunno, maybe it could be, subconsciously? But hand-on-heart not a conscious motivating factor. I guess I emphasise it because posh voices carry much more than others, and because there’s a bit of a stereotype of “educated people don’t talk in the quiet carriage” which I encounter every now and then, and it baffles me.

      1. illini02*

        But my point is, if that IS the point of her doing it, then I don’t think that justifies her actions at all, in fact it makes this even worse in my opinion. If they weren’t upper class, would this be ok? If you know that these were people who worked at McDonalds, but their behavior was the same, would you call the McDonalds they worked at to have them punished? If the answer is no, then it should be no either way. But deciding to screw with people’s jobs just because you think they have sense of entitlement is still wrong in my opinion.

        1. RS*

          I think you are ironically using the platitude “everyone is equal” as a way obfuscating from the privilege and entitlement of these lawyers. I’ve seen this sort of thing before and I find it disingenuous.

          If they weren’t upper class, they wouldn’t be in the position they are in whatsoever. It simply would not be possible. And no, of course you would not do it for McDonald’s! Not only are the stakes dramatically lowered — what confidential information are they giving away? Big Mac sauce recipe? — McDonald’s workers are paid the bare minimum in wages and treated like expendable cogs by both their employers and the public. I do think the class disparity angle is something most Americans are only just beginning to recognize.

          No one has an expectation of discretion or propriety from a group of McDonald’s employees. People are going to make assumptions about them based on their status, based on the uniforms they’re wearing on the train. Just as people will do for a group of upper class lawyers speaking in posh voices. You’re not naive to this point!

          The bottom line is the lawyers should know better than to shout out enough information to allow her to report them in the first place. That’s absurd! And quite likely a violation of attorney/client privilege. It was these men’s own belief that the rules do not apply to them — also evidenced by their unruly behavior in a designated quiet car — that resulted in their (assumed) punishment.

          1. illini02*

            I think we are talking about 2 different points. As I said if they were really giving away confidential information, then I’m saying I do see the justification, because it is violating attourney/client privelege. HOWEVER, if they weren’t (which its not really clear) and the sole motivation of calling their boss was really to get them in trouble because they were jerks and not because they were concerned about the well being of the firm or client, I don’t think it matters whether they are rich or not. I’m no trust fund kid or anything like that. I’m decidedly middle class. So trust me, I know full well that rich people at times flaunt their privelege. However, its not my place to decide to screw with their livlihood to “knock them down a peg”. Plus, lets be real, all lawyers aren’t super rich. I have plenty of lawyer friends who make a good living, but I wouldn’t go around calling them entitled. But they can be jerks just like my teacher friends can be jerks. Just because they may make more money, I don’t think they deserve to be held to some different standard when they are on their own time.

            1. RS*

              That’s fair and I understand where you’re coming from. However, as a British person, social classes are much more stratified. It is nearly impossible to move between them unless by marriage, and even then, you face a lifetime of potentially being ostracized or worse.

              I completely understand why given the chance OP would want to report them — but you’re right, it’s a grey area. That is probably why OP is feeling enough turmoil about it to reach out to AAM. If it were an open and shut case, what’s there to answer?

              Not sure I would do it myself, but as I said elsewhere in this thread, I would also be afraid of reprisals. People like this probably have other social powers that may not be worth poking just for the sake of teaching them a lesson.

          2. Cari*

            If they were bragging about spitting in a customer’s food (or worse), and made it clear which Mcd they worked for, probably only then would it be anywhere near acceptable to dob a low-paid, food service industry employee in to their employer.

      2. OP*

        This is exactly what one of my friends asked me. If I’m honest, I can’t swear that the “bring the poshos down a peg” wasn’t part of it – I don’t THINK it was my motivation, but maybe it’s subconscious? BUT I wouldn’t have done anything if they hadn’t made it super-easy, I really didn’t have to work on this at all

        1. Not So NewReader*

          The flip-side of the coin is when you see stupid behavior you kind of want someone to explain to them why the behavior is unacceptable. And this was reeeally stupid behavior.
          1) Quite car, talking loudly
          2) Bullying
          3) Possible confidentially breaches.

          I think it’s human nature to want someone to effectively intervene. I am not sure that this necessarily means someone wants revenge. That is a jump in logic, to me. The problem is that we can not read the minds and hearts of other people. So your friends can only guess at what you were striving for here.

          I think what happened here was just so blatant, so over the top, that it just fell together for you to go ahead and report them. The outlandish behavior and the ease of contacting the employer in the situation was just the right combination for you to actually follow up. Let’s face it, they put so much information out there that they had to be aware on some level this could bite them.

          I reported bad driving once. I have seen plenty of bad driving, but this guy was using his tractor trailer as a weapon. He was tailgating so close that you could not read his license plate. And this was at 80 mph. Once the car I was in got out of the way, he did it to the next vehicle in front of us. I called. I had the time/location and I described the behavior. Because I was so specific with all my info, the woman I spoke with knew what I was saying was true and she assured me that something would be done.

          I have never called any toll free number before this incident. Now it is several years later and I have never made another call like that again. It’s not my nature to call. My point is that sometimes we see things that are so outrageous we have to report them. It’s not about revenge, it’s about what is right. It’s about protecting/supporting people who are not there or who are not able/not willing to stand up for themselves.

          It does not sound like it is your MO to report every little thing you see. This probably boils down to trusting your gut. Your gut said “Call. NOW.” And you did.

          The problem comes in where your friends were not there to see this whole thing unfold. It’s very easy to second guess, Monday morning quarterback and so on. They were not there. You and your gut were there.

          While you contemplate what those opposed to calling have to say, first realize that you cannot unring that bell. Second, don’t let those opposed pull you down, but do think about what you value, what you think is important and worth protecting. This can be food for thinking about “What do I stand for? What do I think is important in life?”

          Some people will go in on certain types of situations and others will not. That does not make either person wrong, they are just different, that is all.

          Personally, stuff like this happens to me, I tend to believe that I found a piece of myself or a part of who I am. Kick that around for a little bit and see what you think.

  72. LizNYC*

    As a former train commuter, I want to shake your hand! Though I’ve never done this (or thought to do it, actually), I wish someone would do this on the LIRR.

    1) These guys were potentially releasing confidential details about cases they were working on.
    2) They were harassing other passengers (and the conductor couldn’t/wouldn’t do anything?).
    3) Not necessarily the case, but given that their partner-manager is a woman and these three guys sound exactly like the type of guys who don’t think women should be in leadership, +1 to calling them out to their boss.
    4) If they lost their job over this, that’s their own fault. Would you want these jerks representing you?

  73. Jady*

    Unless they were doing something unethical in terms of their job (ie revealing sensitive/private information about their clients), I think it’s uncalled for to call their employer.

    We’ve all probably trash-talked our employer at some point. We’ve all probably been obnoxious in public at some point. “Tattling” on them to their employer is just childish to me.

  74. amp2140*

    I would have left it alone unless they were disclosing client information on the train.

  75. on the train*

    In my mind, once they became abusive to other passengers on the train, the letter-writer became justified in calling, and when they started violating client privilege and confidentiality, it became almost a duty to call.

    1. land of oaks*

      I completely agree.

      Plus, I feel like they brought it on themselves. They could have been jerks but about issues completely unrelated to work, and the OP wouldn’t have had any way to find out who they were and call their employer. By being idiots about complaining, they handed everyone on the train the information to hold them accountable for their horrible behavior.

      And to reiterate: Being abusive to other passengers on the train is totally something they should be held accountable for.

  76. Teapot Dome Scandal Puppet*

    Here’s a little anecdote about a friend of mine (rightly) calling up employers to rat out some awful employees.

    We were attending a pop culture convention that was being held at a hotel that was also being shared on Friday evening with, I believe, a conference for some sort of sales group. Our group of folks was fairly mixed in gender and also more or less bohemian depending on the person.

    At the bar, Friday night, a group of sales bros were being rather obnoxious and even harassing to many of the distaff attendees of our conference, trying to pick them up, making inappropriate remarks about their appearance, etc.

    So, my friend, also a woman who got a faceful of all this, asks in a really bright and friendly tone for one of the sales bro’s business cards, which was happily proferred, and which she later used to call the main office of said bro’s employer to share in detail exactly how they had been embarrassed by their employees.

    1. illini02*

      Yeah, that seems a bit much. So some dudes were trying to pick up a girl at a bar, she didn’t like how they did it, so she calls his boss? Thats absurd. If everyone is now going to get judged by how they act at the bar when trying to pick up someone, its going to get ridiculous. Words like harassing and inappropriate are very much subjective. If the guys were being crazy jerks, grabbing inappropriately, that type of thing, fine. But unless it was completely over the line, I think your friend WAY over reacted.

      1. Dan*


        What is wrong with people? How is that different than kicking a dent in someone’s car in a parking lot just because you can easily get away with it? SMDH!

      2. E*

        I disagree, because they handed out their business card. If they represent their employer in this way, the employer should know.

        1. illini*

          In fairness, he was asked for his business card. Without knowing how inapprorpriate the behavior was, its really hard to say that calling their boss to tattle is right. It is an adult establishment. Sometimes adult things happen there

      3. RS*

        I think that’s completely fair!

        Attending a conference is not the same as being out in a bar — you are absolutely representing your company. This sort of thing has come up before on AAM. It sounds like these men were making women feel uncomfortable, and yes, harassed by commenting on their physical appearance in a professional setting. Clearly the hotel bar is more casual than a boardroom, but not so casual that people can behave inappropriately with no potential consequences.

        Something incredibly similar happened to me, except the offending person was from a different branch of my company. I also felt a twinge of guilt for “getting him in trouble” but why should I have to? He embarrassed and caused me to be uncomfortable in front of my team by constantly commenting on my appearance and trying to ask me out. It felt hugely disrespectful and belittling.

        1. illini02*

          we can agree to disagree. You are at the conference, you are at a bar at this point. Its after hours. Put this another way. There are conferences all the time in Vegas. Do you think that anyone who goes out in Vegas if they are there for a conference is representing their company the entire time they are in Vegas? I think that people need to be able to have some fun. Your situation was different in my opinion because you worked for the same company. This person’s friend just went out of their way to get someone in trouble because it seemed they didn’t like how they treated someone else. What one person may find inappropriate another could find flattering. Again, I don’t know the context or what was said, but neither do you

          1. land of oaks*

            don’t harass women at a bar, and you won’t have to worry about being held accountable for your actions. Unwanted attention = harassing. Not complicated.

          2. RS*

            have to agree with you to disagree then, i’m with land of oaks here. why do you need to harass women to “have some fun?” unwanted attention is unwanted, period — and yes, i still think it’s a work function since each group is out with their colleagues collectively, and especially since the sales guys were more than willing to hand over their business cards.

  77. KathyOffice*

    I’m on the myob side of this. Not so much because it’s not a big deal (they’re lawyers, and confidentiality is important for them), but because as an employer, I’d have no reason to believe a random person’s account. I can imagine that lawyers can gain some enemies in their line of work, ones that would be vindictive enough to maybe make something up. I also see it as an avenue for someone to stalk and/or harass employees. You’re basically confirming that you’ve employed those people and confirming where they work, and you don’t even know who you’re confirming it to? Sounds kinda dangerous to me. And even though OP said it was easy to google based on what they said, guessing is different than an employer confirming it.

    I’d personally say nothing to the person who called, and then look into it myself. I definitely wouldn’t believe someone who cold-called with a complaint without further follow up, and I’d make sure to protect my employees in the process. Only way I’d see it differently were if it were the usual “tell us how we’re doing” numbers, or a driver endangering someone.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      This is why it is important for the reporting person to build enough specifics into the report to gain that credibility and motivate the listener to check into the situation.

      Half-baked, poorly done reports don’t carry much credence, nor should they.

  78. Marzipan*

    The one thing I’d say about the quiet coach is that, while you have the option to say you *do* want to be in it when you book tickets, you don’t have the option to say you *don’t* want to be in it. Which means that sometimes you get stuck in it even when you know it won’t work well for your journey. Not that that excuses them being tossers about it, but it can be an issue.

  79. azvlr*

    It all comes down to your intent when calling: Where you trying to get someone in trouble or trying to solve a problem?

    I really see both sides of the coin here. It’s not your problem to solve. On the other hand, witnessing bad behavior and doing nothing is something too many of us fall prey to. This sounds like a hidden camera show where they watch to see who will actually do something.

    Allison is always advising managers actually manage even when the situation is unpleasant. Granted you are not their supervisor, but this situation is similar enough that I think you were justified in your actions. 1) Tell the person directly that what they are doing is a problem and ask them to change their behavior = done. 2) Escalate this to someone who can do something about it. = done

    1. Jamie*

      I don’t think it analogous to being a manager because a bystander has neither authority them nor the responsibility to address the behavior.

      If there is no danger of harm I think the default should be not correcting strangers on their behavior. Obviously there are some judgement calls where it’s appropriate, but those are the exception rather than the rule.

      I’d hate to live in a world where we all went around asking others to change their behavior and escalating if they refuse. Some people have their tolerance meter set really low and this slippery slope could go bad very quickly.

  80. Collarbone High*

    One thing I want to flag on this, because it annoys me in general, is LW’s friends saying “you could have got them sacked.” No — if that happens, they got *themselves* sacked. They chose to act this way. This mindset is like politicians who blame the media for exposing their ethical violations, or people who tell rape victims that they’ve ruined their rapists’ lives by pressing charges.

    1. illini02*

      I disagree. I your action leads to them getting fired, you do have a part in it. Maybe their behavior gave you the ammunition, but you still gave the loaded gun to the manager.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        But would you agree that no matter what the behavior being reported? Are you responsible for getting a harasser fired if you report the harasser?

        1. illini02*

          No, I think there is context here. Reporting one of your co-workers for harassing you is completely different than reporting strangers on a train because you didn’t like their behavior. But I’ll be honest, if I complained about a sales person and their manager fired them on the spot, I’d still feel guilty because I DID have a part in getting them fired.

  81. anon attorney*

    I commend the OP above all for not posting about it on Roll On Friday :)

    It never ceases to amaze me how indiscreet some lawyers are prepared to be, given that a breach of client confidentiality (in my jurisdiction) could get you charged with an ethics complaint by the bar. I’ve never heard of anyone being disbarred for it, but it isn’t good. It also does nothing for your professional reputation. Clients don’t want their business put out there for all to see.

    Saying that, I probably wouldn’t have bothered, but I can see why OP did, and don’t think she was wrong.

  82. Dan*

    One thing no one seems to have mentioned so far (I read about half way down the comments) is that the punishment for these guys doesn’t fit the crime.

    Sure, they were bring loud obnoxious douche bags, sure, they were company look bad, but do they really deserve to lose their jobs and their livelihood for that?

    1. brownblack*

      If they were flouting their industry’s standard, accepted, well-known rules about confidentiality or discretion, then yes. Yes, absolutely.

      If they were just acting like idiots, I would still say yes, but maybe without the “absolutely.”

      Something tells me they haven’t lost their livelihood. They still have law degrees and bar admission (or whatever you have in England) and I’m sure things will be just fine for them in a year’s time. At least, that’s how it would work in America. You know, as long as they’re white.

    2. Zillah*

      But you’re acting like the OP fired them, evicted them, and stripped their clothes off their backs. She didn’t, so I’m not sure how the “punishment” doesn’t fit the crime. She just reported their poor, unethical behavior to their employer, who can act as they see fit.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      “Sure, they were bring loud obnoxious douche bags, sure, they were company look bad, but do they really deserve to lose their jobs and their livelihood for that?”

      I feel safe in saying that most of us here would probably lose our jobs given these givens that you say here. I think it is to be expected that poor behavior can cost you your job.

      IANAL, but from what is said here, it sounds like they have been told on numerous occasions what is expected out of them in order to retain their professional status. There are no surprises, no one is blindsiding them with unforeseen rules. The profession is not asking if people agree with the standards, but rather this arena is saying “if you join this profession, here are the standards you must follow”.

    4. OP*

      With respect, I have no idea what the consequence is, I definitely didn’t phrase it as “fire these jerks now”, or write to the CEO demanding their heads – I told the partner, and if it isn’t a big deal, as some people are suggesting, nothing would happen to them. BUT this way the partner gets to decide.

  83. Erin*

    I don’t think you were obligated to report it, so it’s not necessarily The Right Thing To Do but were you in the wrong? No, I don’t think so.

    I think Alison hit the nail on the head – the fact that they were rude to others on the train is what does it for me. If I overhead what you did in another context I’d let it go – coworkers venting to each other about work stuff in public is risky and stupid, but we’ve all probably done it at one point, and it’s not really anyone’s business.

    But yeah. They took it to another level there. They deserve what’s coming to them.

  84. marxamod*

    If one of my team members badmouthed my customers in public, loudly while also saying where they worked I would 100% want to know for two main reasons:
    1) You don’t know if your customers can hear you. My CEO has received calls from the CEOs of our customers about that sort of behavior and it’s really, really, really embarrassing. We have a lot of employees who travel and things get said in airports and on airplanes that would make you weep.
    2) It’s also something that, if I overheard it, would mean I never wanted to do business with that company. If my employees are losing me business, I’d want to know.

  85. brownblack*

    People are getting awfully hung up on what would be the right thing in terms of legal consequences – like, were these jerks breaking the law, or opening their firm up to legal exposure in some way. What about the fact that they were just acting like jerks? Who cares where they are employed, or what kind of confidentiality they may have to observe. They were being loud abusive jerks, and they repeatedly talked about their workplace. Even if I did nothing more than run a landscaping business, I would sure want to know if my employees were acting like @$$h()L#5 in public while dropping my business’s name.

  86. Purr purr purr*

    I can understand why people would think this was none of OP’s business but… I think I’d have either done what she did or been extremely tempted to do it but perhaps not followed through. At the very least, they’ll have learned a valuable lesson about keeping their mouths shut and not being rude to members of the public when they’ve made their employer’s name known. I think the worst part is that they were talking about cases. That’s a huge no-no and worth phoning the employer just for that.

    Actually, now I think about it, I *have* done something similar. There was a comment on HONY from a rape victim and I remember two women writing a supportive comment and a guy calling them the C-word and telling them to ‘Go get raped.’ I sent a screenshot to his company, which was easily visible on his profile, but I have no idea what happened with that.

  87. LK*

    I work in the legal field but not in the UK, so obviously OP’s country’s rules and laws governing lawyers may be drastically different. But as someone who recently sat through her firm’s lecture on what is appropriate and ethical to discuss in public (whether that public is online or in person), I will say that there are incredibly strict rules about what lawyers can say about their clients and cases which are imposed by the courts.
    If they were being so indiscreet on a public train as to speak poorly and specifically of their boss while also discussing cases, as a manager I would want to know–to me, that would speak volumes about their professionalism and ability to maintain the good reputation of the firm and the privacy and confidentiality of our clients. After all, one of their clients’ family members/employees/coworkers (or opposing counsel, judges, or those people’s staff) could be sitting in that public train car listening in. These gentlemen’s behavior could damage more than their fellow passengers’ good opinion of them, and at least in the States, the courts have held that appearance of impropriety is equal to the act itself in terms of censure and consequences.

  88. A*

    Halfway down the carriage from me were three young lawyers, who talked for 45 minutes in very posh voices about problems in their company, with their cases and so on
    I don’t know about Great Britain, but random passerby should NOT know confidential details about cases they’re working on. Nobody should know except the firm and the clients. The bar takes lawyer omerta, attorney-client privilege very seriously.

    This is what one lawyer had to do not to fall afowl of professional ethics.

    Oh. Legal and Professional Privilege in England and Wales

  89. Maggie*

    I was on a private residential coach (takes residents from CBD back home) and a drunk guy starts speaking very loudly on his mobile about a business deal. Not only did he mention the client’s name and the amount of the money to transfer, but also the account number and password.

    These city types are morons!

    1. Not So NewReader*

      “Someone emptied my bank account! I can’t understand how this could happen!”


    2. on the train*

      OK, what’s CBD? I googled it and all I got was information about cannibas. (This was on my work computer! Ack!)

  90. Jess*

    For complaining about their boss: no, it’s annoying that they did it in a quiet car but everyone vents about their boss sometimes

    For being rude to another passenger: no, I would’ve complained to the train workers, not the jerks’ bosses

    But for loudly discussing privileged client information? Hell yes I would have called their boss. That is unconscionable. It’s a violation of the laws these lawyers have sworn to uphold. They don’t respect their profession and they’re violating their clients’ rights to confidentiality. Screw them.

  91. Me*

    You were right. They were wrong, on every level. Why do you think people behave as badly as they do? Nobody thinks it’s their business to say anything. They sure want to complain about it though. Good for you! They deserve to be sacked. They may even learn something.

  92. OP*

    Thank you all for your comments, I’ve really enjoyed this discussion, and the QUIET COACH 4 LYFE crowd are making me feel happy, I hope I get to travel in one with all of you in lovely peace.

    I would like to clarify, for people who are thinking I was vindictively wanting to get people sacked, that wasn’t the tone I took when I rang – it was more, if I was their manager I’d want to know. To be honest I can’t imagine they’d be sacked, because of employment regulations here in the UK, there would need to be evidence not to get to a tribunal. And of course, I could have been much more public if I was after revenge etc.

    I’d also like to say to the people who think it was no big deal, it could absolutely be that the boss thinks the same, so nothing happened to them. Which is fine, but the partner has the choice.

    Anyway, thank you for the fun conversation, and thank you, Alison, for creating and maintaining this fantastic community, where we can have these conversations. I don’t comment much here, but I love the fact we can all disagree with each other without getting personal, and I value the chance to get such different perspectives, so much. It is such a great website, and I learn so much, and appreciate the efforts it takes to keep it so great.

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