can I warn people about my horrible boss?

A reader writes:

The year before I started law school, I worked for a lawyer who was a solo practitioner. I was a legal assistant (she referred to me as an “administrative assistant” on payroll, but as a “paralegal” when billing clients for my time).

Highlights: she threw binders at me and the other assistant (they always landed next to us, but still), screamed and yelled constantly, belittled us personally, screamed at us in front of other lawyers, asked inappropriate personal questions (“do you prefer circumcised or uncircumcised penises?”), and invaded personal space (she used to lean over my shoulder, yell, and pound her fist on my desk when she was angry). Once, she sent my coworker to a hospital with a demand letter — we told her several times the hospital was part of a multi-state chain, and the local one was not where their legal department was and therefore not where you send a demand letter. The hospital staff refused to accept the letter, so my boss screamed at my coworker to leave the documents containing our client’s privileged health info on the hospital doorstep.

My first week, I went to file something with a clerk in a judge’s office, and when she saw my boss’s name she said, “Oh honey, you’re the new one? If you ever need to talk, you just come see me.” The judge heard her and agreed.

I started having multiple panic attacks each day. I could continue, but at this point I’m just venting.

I stayed there for just under a year because I was applying to law school and didn’t want to have to explain why I’d quit so soon. When I got my acceptance, I handed in my two weeks’ notice. She hired four different people to replace me, and three quit before my last day.

She was able to get away with all this because she almost exclusively hired people like me: fresh out of college, no legal experience, applying to law school. Everyone who worked for her was nervous to quit a job too soon and mess up their applications. Also, when you take the bar exam, they write to all your employers to get references, and legal employers are said to carry more weight. We were afraid that if we did anything about her behavior, she’d write nasty things about us to the bar. We also feared getting fired (she threatened to fire people on a regular basis).

So here’s my question: I’ll be taking the bar exam next year. She’ll get to write a reference on me to the bar, and then her ability to hurt me will be gone (I even live in a different state). Is there any action I can take to protect future employees from her? Can I report her to the Better Business Bureau or something? Do I have enough to report her to her state bar? I don’t want any other innocent folks to get stuck working for her and being abused.

This isn’t a Better Business Bureau thing; they handle consumer complaints related to things like fraud and service, and they explicitly say they don’t accept employer/employee disputes.

I can’t speak to whether there’s enough here to report her to the state bar, but perhaps lawyers can weigh in on that in the comments.

What you can do, though, is this:

1. Write a Glassdoor review. Small businesses often don’t have Glassdoor reviews at all, but that doesn’t mean that future job candidates won’t try looking her up there. Make sure they find useful information when they do.

2. Talk to people in your network and be honest about your experiences with past employers. That may not do a ton in this particular situation since it sounds like she has a small firm and so the chances of you running into someone who at some point will consider taking a job with her are low, but in general sharing information with people about employers is a good thing. Don’t pull your punches if you’re ever asked about your experience with a past employer by someone considering working there. (That doesn’t mean that have you to go into full-rant mode with a stranger; you always want to keep in mind that your words could be repeated. But there are professional ways to communicate that it was a bad experience.)

3. If you were referred to the job with her by someone, let that person know what your experiences were so they don’t refer other people there. (This is especially important to do if your school hooked you up with the job in some way.)

I wish there were more you could do. Unfortunately your options are fairly limited aside from the above.

{ 251 comments… read them below }

  1. Another Sarah*

    I could have sworn Alison published a letter last year about someone who tried to warn her colleagues that their new incoming boss was a trainwreck and no one listened until things were too late. I can’t seem to find it anywhere in the archives but I do remember it and this letter definitely reminded me of it.

    Good luck on the bar exam OP! Alison has given good advice here. I would also say that if her reputation is known by the judges and clerks at the local court it will most certainly be known by the bar association. I hope you find success in your next chapter and can leave her in your rearview mirror.

      1. Bday Girl*

        This. Her terribleness will be known by many in her legal community. I don’t know about your state, but in ours the people who go over the background check packets for people who are being admitted are lawyers themselves. Chances are good her reputation will preceed her and leaving her employment early hopefully will be given the appropriate weight.

        I would also consider reporting her to your State’s agency that oversees attorneys, confidentially if possible. If her behavior is that erratic and violent, then maybe her fitness as an attorney needs to be evaluated.

        1. Hoya lawya*

          “If her behavior is that erratic and violent, then maybe her fitness as an attorney needs to be evaluated.”

          I am skeptical that the behavior described rises to the level of sanction. It might if the bar could be convinced the comments concerning circumcision constitute sexual harassment, but without more that is a stretch, and generalized yelling and invading personal space will not. Rudeness, bad manners, and general poor management are not issues a state bar will get involved in.

          Carelessness with “privileged” work product might, but I am dubious that the envelope left at the hospital truly contained privileged attorney-client communications. It was correspondence clearly meant for a third party (the hospital) and thus is unlikely to be privileged in the legal sense. (I can’t speak at all to HIPAA issues involved.)

          Also, on whether it is appropriate to deliver legal correspondence to a branch of a hospital other than that where the legal department is based: I am not a litigator and don’t claim expertise on service of process (although these documents appear to be correspondence, rather than formal service). However, I would advise OP to research this question before assuming it is inappropriate. It does not inherently strike me as incorrect to deliver documents to an address that is, ultimately, a business establishment of the entity to which documents are addressed, regardless of where the lawyers actually sit. The willingness of staff there to accept letters may not change that equation.

          The above is not legal advice.

    1. Hoya lawya*

      “I would also say that if her reputation is known by the judges and clerks at the local court it will most certainly be known by the bar association.”

      That is not at all certain. A judge’s chambers is usually a local institution, particularly if it’s a state court or some kind of municipal court. The state bar may be located a long distance away.

      That being said, the “recommendations” required of previous employers are likely to be in the nature of confirming previous employment, if that, and not letters of recommendation in the conventional sense. Not all state bars will require even these, so check with the bars in states in which you intend to practice.

      Also, most state bars are happy to answer inquiries about the admissions process, often on a no-names basis. There is likely someone you can call in the membership office to discuss the facts and circumstances of your case. State bars will not generally allow a previous employer to “blackball” applicants due to a poor working relationship; the standard is far higher than that.

    2. MD Lawyer*

      Once you are admitted to the bar, you will be subject to ethics requirements, one of which is to report unethical behavior on the part of other attorneys. Your state bar should have an ethics line for lawyers, where you can call and ask for guidance, usually anonymously and without naming names. I’d start there – call them, describe her behavior, and ask if this would fall under behavior that you have a duty to report to bar counsel.

      1. Hoya lawya*

        The answer is almost certainly “no.”

        1. What did the attorney do that violated the rules of professional conduct in her state? Yelling at employees and being a jerk boss is not the same as unethical conduct under state bar ethics rules.

        2. Even if the attorney did behave unethically, the ABA model rules (which may or may not apply, depending on which state OP is in) require reporting not all ethical violations, but only those that “raise a substantial question as to that lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer.” So I question whether there is any affirmative reporting obligation.

        3. Even assuming a duty to report, I doubt it would reach “unethical behavior on the part of attorneys” that occurred before you become a member of the bar, which would be the case here.

        1. NotThatCompany*

          Instructing an employee to leave privileged and private health information on the steps of a hospital seems to rise to the level of “report to the bar.”

          1. Hoya Lawya*

            Instructing an employee to leave privileged and private health information on the steps of a hospital seems to rise to the level of “report to the bar.”

            As I noted above, a letter delivered to someone else’s counsel is almost by definition not a privileged communication between an attorney and her client. It’s a communication between an attorney and someone else *concerning* her client, and is thus fair game in discovery.

          2. Anon for now*

            Couldn’t it also still be confidential, even if it’s not privileged? There are two sources of duty to protect client information. The definition of confidential information for lawyers is much broader than what the attorney client privilege covers.

            Either way, I would take steps to see if this is something that can be reported; even if the state bar doesn’t do anything this time, it may make it easier for people to leave the job in the future without hurting their bar chances, or make it harder for the state bar to ignore the next thing she does.

  2. Will "scifantasy" Frank*

    If you were referred to the job with her by someone, let that person know what your experiences were so they don’t refer other people there. (This is especially important to do if your school hooked up with the job in some way.)

    Yes to that last point. In fact I would suggest talking to your law school’s Office of Career Services about her. I know you said you worked for her before law school and that she’s taking advantage of students still applying, but spread the word as best you can.

    I don’t know for sure if this is a state bar reporting matter but I’m skeptical/pessimistic that it would be. I have (thankfully) avoided run-ins with the disciplinary committee.

    1. Blue*

      It might also be worth flagging her for the pre-law or career counselors at any universities near to her office. I can imagine them sending soon-to-be-grads in the direction of local lawyers for short-term positions prior to law school, so it’d be good to get her on their radar (if she’s not already there, that is…)

    2. one-jurisdiction lawyer*

      Hm, I would think throwing objects at employees would, at a minimum, constitute assault and thus easily qualify as worth a disciplinary investigation by the bar. After you’re admitted to the bar, I don’t see the harm of reporting her to her bar. Sorry to hear you went through this — and good for you for trying to prevent it from recurring!

      1. Jaz*

        Wouldn’t the questions regarding circumcision preferences also fall under potential sexual harassment?

      2. Hoya lawya*

        “Hm, I would think throwing objects at employees would, at a minimum, constitute assault and thus easily qualify as worth a disciplinary investigation by the bar. ”

        It’s obviously inappropriate behavior. However, the judgment that it constitutes “assault” for tort law purposes is conclusory; OP states that the binders thrown “always landed next to us,” which suggests that the boss did not intend to hit the employees, and thus did not have the requisite intent to commit assault.

        And even if this behavior constituted “assault” in the sense of a tort law class exam, we’re talking about an incident that probably happened several years ago; the binders were probably not really that heavy; no one was injured; etc. A state bar with limited resources is unlikely to sanction someone based on that alone.

        I do not think that — based on this letter alone — OP should report this lawyer to the state bar.

        1. Anon for now*

          The textbook definition of assault is 1) attempted battery or 2) conduct that puts the victim in immediate apprehension of battery. Throwing a binder at someone is definitely assault, whether you miss on purpose or by accident. It’s just not battery.

      3. Anita Brayke*

        You bet I’d report violent behavior such as pounding on a desk, screaming and throwing things even if they’re “just” binders. Even at 2 years old there are consequences for that kind of thing! And even if nothing could be done about it by the bar, I can’t think how it would hurt to report this toddler-having-a-tantrum-type behavior!

    3. Bilateralrope*

      The administrative assistant/paralegal thing sounds pretty dodgy and far more likely to have a paper trail proving that it happened. I wouldn’t be surprised if the state bar cares about that far more than anything else that happened.

      1. Traffic_Spiral*

        True. Basically stealing money is one of the few things that you can get in trouble for with the bar, so improperly billing clients might qualify.

    4. Meh*

      Agreed about Career Services! I used to work in the Office of Career Planning at a law school. If we received unsavory feedback from multiple students (not just one disgruntled student) we would immediately take them off of our list and warn students we knew were pursuing opportunities with those firms. My boss has a great reputation in the city and when appropriate and necessary would
      approach the firms with the feedback, of course, without naming names.

    5. Sally*

      If you were referred to the job with her by someone, let that person know what your experiences were so they don’t refer other people there. (This is especially important to do if your school hooked up with the job in some way.)

      I hope the school would pay attention to the OP. When I went to the health services office at my alma mater after being sexually assaulted by a doctor they referred me to and asked them to at least not send women students there, I don’t think they did anything because I heard from other students that they had been sent there. It was really disappointing and disheartening.

  3. Alfonzo Mango*

    I’m not sure if this exactly applies to law, but OP mentions not wanting to quit just so that they stick it out a year. Remember that in that year of hell, you’re also losing out on valuable skills and experience you would be learning in healthy, functioning work environment. Not only are you being berated, you’re falling into the sunk-cost fallacy.

    1. Jana*

      This is so important to keep in mind. That year can also destroy your self-confidence, potentially making things more difficult in your professional life (and maybe even personal life).

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      The problem is they believe that they may not be hired by someone else and snap up any scraps they get. Sadly in law at that level it’s very likely they won’t find another place to hire them, so it’s not all just rooted in unfounded fear.

      So a sunk year of abuse isn’t a waste of time in that sense.

      1. Blue*

        Especially considering how long it can take to find a new job. It hardly seems worth the effort when you’re only going to be there for a couple of months. I also suspect the clear end-date makes it easier for people to convince themselves to stick it out. Like, “I’m not stuck in this position forever – I just have to make it until August!” The light at the end of the tunnel is falsely comforting in these cases, I think.

      2. one-jurisdiction lawyer*

        It might be worth temping (maybe legal temping) instead of putting up with that kind of abuse.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Are their temp agencies for strictly lawyers?! I’m familiar with the major one for Accounting but without experience, they won’t take you as a temp!

          1. Jessie the First (or second)*

            Temp agencies for legal work often do not require experience – at least, they do not for attorneys. As long as you are admitted to the Bar you’re fine for basic doc review work; I can’t speak to legal assistant/paralegal temping, but such temp agencies do exist.

            Also, though – avoiding abuse seems IME to be a more challenging goal in the legal field. This is an industry full of screamers. (I have a nice, abuse-free job now, but it was hard won, let me tell you.)

      1. Anna*

        This isn’t just a jerk boss; this is someone who is abusive. There isn’t much to gain from multiple panic attacks daily.

        1. Snarl Trolley*

          Strongly agreed, and in large part just due to the havoc panic attacks and anxiety/the fight or flight response wreaks on the brain. OP isn’t going to be learning much of anything when FoF response shuts down their short-term memory and impedes attentional processes. This is just a bad situation, pretending otherwise is ridiculous.

        2. Michaela Westen*

          I had a boss who was verbally abusive, demanding, manipulative, loved to hurt people and start fights. The only reason I made it 5 years was my excellent colleagues.
          OP’s former boss is much worse. A person who can survive that without serious damage would be a superhero, and I’m not sure if it’s possible for anyone.

        3. Bagpuss*

          Yes. I had a boss a little like this, in my first job after I qualified. He never threw anything at me, but he did throw stuff at other people. He would scream and yell, and he would lie about stuff, criticise staff to clients and lie to other managers at different locations.
          I only worked there 18 months but it left massive damage – totally destroyed my self-confidence , and had a huge, lasting effect. It took me years to get past the point where I felt I had to constantly cover my back against my own boss.
          Dealing with a boss (or coworkers)who have different attitudes or ways of working to you is a great skill. Working with someone who is a abusive isn’t.

      2. Snarl Trolley*

        Nope. Learning to deal with bosses who have different personalities than you’d like, who have a very different communication style than you, who differ in their priorities and expectations than what you might otherwise intuit – learning to navigate working with those kinds of people is a good job skill.

        Dealing with legitimate jerks – the casual sexists and racists and dehumanizers, the bosses who yell and intimidate through voice volume or physical presence, the ones who *give their employees panic attacks* through their behavior? Yeah, a lot of bosses like that are unfortunately out there, but that isn’t something anyone should have to put up with, and not just dismissing it, but making it seem like it’s an actively VALUABLE skill is highly messed up rhetoric.

        1. Hoya lawya*

          There’s no real evidence that this boss was a sexist or racist. She had a temper (yelling, etc.). Were this a long-term position, I would advise OP to look for a different job.

          But here, we’re talking about someone in a position for a year, not longer, and possibly less. A paralegal position does often look good on the resume when applying to jobs during 1L/2L summer, particularly when the candidate is competing with people who have no work experience between undergraduate and law school. The one-year paralegal job will certainly look better than temping.

          It does not seem that OP was in physical danger, or suffered illegal workplace discrimination, even if the working conditions were not ideal. I believe she made the right call in sticking out the year, as her acceptance to law school illustrates.

          1. Snarl Trolly*

            “There’s no real evidence that this boss was a sexist or racist.”

            I was speaking in both generalized terms about bosses who abuse their authority and OP’s boss.

          2. m*

            i think the “Dealing with legitimate jerks…through their behavior?” statement was more of a general across multiple kinds of terrible bosses that included many items OP used to describe their boss rather than saying OP’s boss was all of them. OP’s boss may not have been sexist or racist, but those bosses do exist and fall under the category of undesirable employers and potentially toxic and harmful (physical or just psychological – which as mentioned before can cause memory and physical health issues) environments.

          3. Michaela Westen*

            I think a person with this attitude has never been in an abusive environment longer than a day or so. Having to take abuse day after day is damaging no matter how skilled the person is at dealing with problems. It causes physical stress and emotional trauma and long-term can cause PTSD and other bad emotional/mental effects that can’t just be willed away. I’ve seen other posters here mention decades of PTSD from one abusive job of a year or so.

    3. NotAnotherManager!*

      I just hired someone who I suspect is coming from a similar situation as OP. We did ask why he was leaving after such a short time, and they had a crisp, looking-for-a-larger-firm-environment answer that I would almost bet money was a cover for “because my current boss is insane”. Small firms tend to be either awesome or crazytown – larger firms can hide their crazies better.

    4. Snickerdoodle*

      “Sticking it out a year with a horrible boss” just screams “The Devil Wears Prada.” Andy put up with screaming and irrational demands and suffered health problems and relationship problems all for what? In the end, the only real gain she got was sympathy from people who knew Miranda (the horrible boss). OP seems to be dealing with all of that already.

      Alfonzo Mango makes an excellent point that the OP is missing out on the real skills and experience from a healthier environment. Also, Alison often warns people about normalizing bad behavior; I don’t think the OP is doing that, but the sunk cost fallacy seems to be in effect. The panic attacks are to me a sure sign that leaving without notice would be fine because it’s unhealthy to stay.

      1. Hoya Lawya*

        “Sticking it out a year with a horrible boss” just screams “The Devil Wears Prada.” Andy put up with screaming and irrational demands and suffered health problems and relationship problems all for what?

        First off, there’s the small point that “The Devil Wears Prada” was fiction; even there, I thought the movie ended with her landing a job at some other magazine, not on the dole, but that’s neither here nor there.

        OP’s story is real. She was accepted to law school and, thanks to the paralegal experience, will have a leg up during on-campus recruiting over her classmates without such experience. She will be able to talk intelligently about working at a law firm during interviews.

        As for “missing out on real skills,” that would be a valid point if her alternative were “move immediately to another paralegal job for the remainder of her time until law school,” so that she could develop paralegal skills elsewhere, but realistically, for less than a year, that’s unlikely to happen. She is still picking up skills, and they will benefit her as an attorney.

        Again, my advice would be different if this were a long-term gig. (Even at this job, I suppose there’s a point at which the abuse is *so* bad that she’s better off throwing in the towel. If she felt in physical danger, that would be the case, for instance.) But my own view is that the leg up in law school recruiting outweighs a few months of yelling, binder-tossing, and circumcision comments. YMMV, of course.

  4. Oskiesque*

    Is it sad that I don’t find this surprising and my response is more of a “meh, that’s what happens in law firms: solo and Big Law”. As attorneys, many of us have been conditioned to take abuse (sadly). Luckily, I’m now in-house and could not be happier. Anyway, with respect to your moral character application and references, I practice in California and I don’t know what state you’re in, but California did not ask for a reference from ALL of my past employers. From what I remember, it asks you to provide a list of employers of your choosing who can vouch for your good moral character. One of my former law clerks asked if I could be their reference and I was more than happy to do so.

    Good luck! I wish I could say that your former partner is a rarity and an exception, but the legal field is full of people like her.

    1. AnotherLawyer*

      I’m in Illinois and I believe it’s similar here. I had to list all of my previous employers (every single one, including unpaid internships and summer jobs), but most were only asked to confirm the dates of employment. I also had to provide character references, who were not all former employers. Anyways, I know it’s scary, but I wouldn’t worry about one former boss single-handedly tanking your bar application, if everything else is fine. Good luck, LW!

      1. AndAnotherLawyer*

        It’s been a minute, but yeah this is how it is in Illinois. I have an… entertaining employment history and it was a challenge to get it all together (one of my former bosses was in jail for fraud, for one example). I remember being terrified that something in my past would come back to haunt me (I couldn’t have told you what, but something!) so I get how OP is feeling. I called it “bar exam psychosis.” But really, if your other character and fitness stuff is decent, one lukewarm or even bad response from an employer is not going to have much of an impact.

        I can’t believe I’m about to defend Big Law, but having worked as an attorney, clerk, or paralegal in just about every level of legal employment (solo practitioner, small firm, government agency, regional firm, big law) I’ve found the big firm to be the least abusive work environment, although I recognize my experience there may be unusual. But at least there’s an HR department, a supply closet, and a document management system. I would studiously avoid working for a solo practitioner whose spouse handles any aspects of bookkeeping or HR….

        Anyway, good luck OP!

    2. Kesnit*

      I’m licensed in Virginia and Maryland, and don’t remember all previous employers having to write letters. Given how long ago some of them were (and the fact that I was prior military, so good luck finding some prior bosses!), I can’t imagine that was the case.

      LW: Good luck on the bar! You can do it!

    3. Socractic Method*

      I was writing to say the same thing; I am licensed in two of the states mentioned here and had the same experience, where not all former employers are contacted. While I was in law school, I worked for an attorney who was subsequently disbarred, and it had no effect on my admission in either state.

      I 100% agree to contact your law school’s career service office, and any other local schools through which this person hires. I have no doubt my school would have cut my problematic employer off had he not withdrawn from career services himself after I quit. (He informed me just prior to tax time that I was being declared an independent contractor and had to cover my own payroll taxes.)

    4. Another Anon*

      I’m a law student in NJ and I know that if you are applying to the NY bar you have to list and get affidavits of employment from every employer in the legal field (not every employer ever), but there’s very little room on the form for the supervising attorney to really write a whole reference, it’s mostly to verify dates of employment and then there’s a small space for “did employee perform the job satisfactorily” or something along those lines….

      1. Another Anon*

        Either way this totally sucks OP and I’m so sorry you dealt with that, but I’m glad you got out!

    5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I suspect OP may be applying in NY, which requires letters or affidavits (as opposed to California’s relatively simple approach, which uses surveys and applicant-provided lists).

      With respect to aspiring paralegals and law classmates—I would be matter-of-fact about the experience, but only if the person is your friend or asks you directly. And I would definitely tell the career offices at your undergrad and law school.

    6. NotAnotherManager!*

      Back in the dark ages when I was a paralegal, there was a rainmaker who allegedly threw a stapler at an associate during a trial (not at the courthouse). Back then, it was “learning to deal with difficult people”, now it would be a BFD.

    7. CTT*

      Echoing what everyone here is saying to check what your state requires for references. I was convinced up until I actually started the application that they needed the address of every single place I had lived in my life and went into a tizzy trying to find the address of somewhere I lived for a year when I was three, and then I got into the application and it was just the last ten years. You sound like you know what the requirements are, but there are so many things involved in that process that for me it got mixed up a few times.

    8. Hoya lawya*

      “Is it sad that I don’t find this surprising and my response is more of a “meh, that’s what happens in law firms: solo and Big Law”

      Short answer: yes and no. The reality of practicing law is that sometimes people will be brusque and you will not be working banker’s hours. If that alone induces anxiety, law is not the profession for you. Unfortunately part of practicing law, like politics, is developing a thick skin.

      Some firms are known as “screamer” firms, whereas screaming at other firms would be Not Done. (That is not to say the latter are necessarily good places to work, merely that there will be less/no screaming.) The Vault reports will help you ferret out the screamer firms, if they’re not your cup of tea (at least insofar as we’re talking Biglaw firms).

      That said, even at screamer firms, throwing things (even if you don’t intend to hit the person) would generally be out-of-bounds, and I can’t imagine any environment where the comment about circumcision would be appropriate. So I think it’s fair to say this poster was in an unreasonable environment, even in the context of the legal industry.

      1. Jessie the First (or second)*

        “sometimes people will be brusque and you will not be working banker’s hours. If that alone induces anxiety, law is not the profession for you”

        I don’t think anyone with legal experience is laboring under the misunderstanding that “brusque” and “not [] working banker’s hours” are the issue here, though.

    9. Forever Scarred*

      “Is it sad that I don’t find this surprising and my response is more of a “meh, that’s what happens in law firms: solo and Big Law”. ”

      I had the same experience with a law firm in NYC that hired fresh college graduates as paralegals–intentionally hiring young inexperienced people who wanted a year or two of legal work experience before going to law school. It was a horrible HORRIBLE first work experience for me. The paralegals were treated like dirt, belittled, devalued and of course, burned out and over-worked. I had to deal with a mean screaming attorney too–Hollywood couldn’t have created a worse character, and the OP’s attorney-boss sounds the same. In retrospect, I can hardly believed it happened to me, given that my subsequent jobs were so normal and humane by comparison. I would never recommend this type of job scenario to anyone. Run away.

    10. The other Louis*

      I fill out a lot of those forms for people applying to be attorneys in Texas, and most of the questions are very specific yes or no–confirm dates of employment, answer whether I know of any DUI, child support liens, drug use, or illegal activity. A “yes” would require explanation. There’s also a question about why the person’s employment ended. Answering yes when an employee didn’t have a DUI (or whatever) would probably put the ex-employer more at risk than the employee. Not a lawyer, don’t play one on TV, but I’d assume that a dishonest answer intended to damage the ex-employee and that did hurt their ability to become a lawyer would be far more actionable than any of the behaviors mentioned in the letter.

  5. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    If lawyers were disbarred due to being giant dillweed slapnuts to paralegals and admins…we would have a lot less lawyers :( Law is high stress and high burnout rate due to these personalities being imbedded throughout the system. Argh I’ve heard too many stories and read even more.

    I would just make sure you warn the people you’re networked with and leave reviews where possible. Sadly even then people will take risk thinking they can handle her, ick.

    1. The Original K.*

      I know a lot of lawyers and I’ve heard lots of stories like this too, unfortunately. When I was fresh out of college, I briefly dated a guy who was a first-year associate at a huge multinational firm and he was always talking about how partners would scream and throw things at him. They were rainmakers though, so that’s just how it was. (I think he’s still at the firm but in a different office.) My best friend fled BigLaw for an in-house counsel job and is much happier.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Given the fact the career is full of professional arguments, I just assume their natural instinct is to “fight” and “win” for lack of better terms.

        I interviewed only once for a lawyer admin and thank God that he wasn’t having any of it. He lectured me about not going to college immediately out of high school. Then was not impressed that my original goal was to work to save and go to school.

        He also went on about how the job was a job that someone should have for 3 years top. He immediately assumed at 19, I was already set on a path to be a support position forevermore. Bless his heart. I got a job as an accounting clerk in the end. Here I sit being a bootstrapping high ranking accounting professional. While my best friends got incredible degrees and graduated into a major recession. Bless that stranger lawyer in a small town thinking he knew my future. He was no Professor Marvel…

        1. Michaela Westen*

          I’ve always done support work and I’m happy with that. I had other priorities than a big career.
          I ended up in a position that’s higher-level support, it might one day lead to me being put in charge of something, and I got this position because of my experience.
          Still happy with my choices. I couldn’t handle the stress of high-level management anyway.

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            I respect everyone’s right to choose their career path. I would have been happy being an EA for much longer because I’m picky about who I work for. I was treated like royalty and got big bonuses.

            My career fell in my lap and I just kept climbing because the stair case was right there, I’ll happily skip on up it. Now I cackle from my spot on the balcony. I “don’t belong” here and it gives me life.

        2. NotAnotherManager!*

          I work with a number of attorneys who look down on people who are satisfied being a paralegal or some other non-attorney role. They consider anyone who’s not left for law school within 2-3 years to be intellectually inferior. They are balanced out by the attorneys who regret their career choice and tell all the paralegals not to go to law school.

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            It’s not just law. A lot of people with “titles” and thirsty for “prestige” are like that.

            I had some dude who owned a landscaping company once tell me during an interview “bookkeeping is so easy and I just don’t have time so I’m hiring”. Bless his heart. I didn’t take the job, he was still working out of his side shed and he’s telling me books are “not rocket science”. They sure aren’t! But I’ve seen what happens when you deem it easy and therefore aren’t careful. Have fun with rising overheads you didn’t see building and outdated pricing you didn’t see coming. Man, that accounting and administrative stuff…it’s a breeze…but he’s such a busy important guy…

          2. Hoya lawya*

            “They are balanced out by the attorneys who regret their career choice and tell all the paralegals not to go to law school.”

            These people are not generally telling the paralegals to become administrative personnel, but to choose career paths such as MBA/MPP instead.

            1. NotAnotherManager!*

              In my experience, they’re not giving much career advice beyond, “Don’t do it, man!!” :)

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Yeah—I’m surprised by the other lawyer-commenters who are suggesting filing a bar complaint. This is not at all what bar complaints are for, and I’m surprised folks are being kind of casual about the idea of OP sending one in.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        It’s sure interesting. Especially since a judge knows she’s terrible to admins, if she was doing reportable things…a sympathetic judge would have filed a grievance or mentioned it to her, I would think.

      2. NotAnotherManager!*

        Eh, given the number of people I see (not necessarily here) who casually throw out suing people – like that’s not a time and money suck that’s going to drag on for years unless you settle – as an easy solution, I’m not surprised.

      3. Random Thought*

        You don’t think the billing thing is worth reporting? Hiring an admin assistant that you bill as a paralegal? I think you could make an argument on the morality of some of her conduct, but that in particular made me go, yeaaaaah, you prob could.

        1. Hoya lawya*

          “Paralegal” is not a defined job category; if she performed paralegal duties, and it sounds like she did, it’s appropriate to bill for them at paralegal rates.

        2. Eleanor Konik*

          Yeah most bar associations wouldn’t care at all about being a jerk to your paralegals, but that billing thing not aligning with the payroll sounds like the kind of “failing in your fiduciary duty to your clients” that as I recall from my ethics classes during the bar admission process being basically the only thing you CAN get disbarred for.

        3. Observer*

          I was also wondering about the one with mis-directing the demand letter and mis-handling confidential client information.

        4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I think it depends on your state. In some states, the work that OP did may have qualified as paralegal work, in which case the billing, for the clients purposes, was defensible (and a non-issue). Telling OP they’re an admin assistant and paying them that way is gross, but it may not be unlawful or unethical in the PR sense (although it may be unethical in the integrity sense of the word).

        5. Yet Another Suit*

          Exactly… Billing an admin as a paralegal is straight up fraud, and failing to keep client information confidential is an ethical breach. But given the amount of time that has passed, lack of access to proof, and possible concerns about reputation trashing (I know OP is in another state, but the demand letter claim may be specific enough Former Boss links the complaint with OP) may be why OP hasn’t considered this.

          OP, you have my sympathy. It’s better in-house!

          1. Hoya lawya*

            “Billing an admin as a paralegal is straight up fraud”

            Not if the “admin” did paralegal work. Being a paralegal is generally not a licensed occupation. I agree with PCBH’s comment above.

            “Failing to keep client information confidential is an ethical breach”

            Yes, but the incident in question involved a demand letter to an outside party. That virtually by definition is not “confidential client information”; it’s what you’re telling the hospital. The question is whether the attorney mis-delivered the letter, and I’m not even convinced of that.

          2. Jessie the First (or second)*

            Have to agree with Hoya here. It is not likely fraud. If in a given state you can do paralegal work without being certified/licensed as a paralegal, then you can bill an admin’s time spend based on the work she did (i.e., was it paralegal type work?) You can’t bill a non-attorney’s time as an attorney – because being an attorney requires admission the Bar. You can’t invent hours to bill that you did not work. You cannot bill at Person A’s higher rate when Person B did the work. But if paralegal is more job description than required-certification in OP’s state, then billing an admin at a paralegal rate for paralegal work is NBD.

        6. NotAnotherManager!*

          The “billing thing” is a complete nonissue. I have a ton of people whose internal job titles do not match their billing title. I have people that get billed out under different titles on different bills, depending on client billing requirements. One of my colleagues has hybrid secretaries/paralegals – they are billed out as paralegals when they do paralegal work. None of this is an ethical violation. Our jurisdiction has no education or certification requirements to call someone a paralegal, and when they do paralegal work, that’s what they go on the bill as.

  6. H.J.G.*

    This reminds me of an attorney I worked for as an admin when I was in college. I had 0 admin experience and as you can imagine was not great at it- endured lots of yelling, belittling, weird power plays (one time she made me scrub the floor while she stood over me, watching) and way more than I can record in a single comment. I eventually quit and took a workstudy job at school that paid half as much but it was worth it. In a very sad twist, I found out 4/5 years later that she had developed a very terrible form of dementia (very shocking for her age) and I’ve always questioned whether there was a connection to her behavior, which makes me hesitant now to share what were previously great “worst job ever” stories.

    Agree there’s not much you can do now that you’re out of there unfortunately!

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Dementia can create psychosis and she’s early onset, so she was likely suffering even before her actual diagnosis. So she most likely was mentally ill but that doesn’t diminish fact you were abused by her and I’m sorry you were put through that terrifying treatment.

      [Experience with working for someone with early onset Alzheimer’s, so we were quick to become educated. Thankfully my boss wasn’t inherently abusive but he suffered delusions and paranoia as he progressed. It was crushing to him to lose his mind as a previously successful business man and he was naturally stubborn and independent, so he didn’t go quietly into the darkness. Thankfully we knew and could defuse and easily ignore most things. Once he got combative, he was put in a facility :(]

      1. H.J.G.*

        Thanks this is really informative! I feel terrible for her and her family, it must be such an awful thing.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          It’s the worst. I wouldn’t even wish it on my worst enemy. It’s a progressive terminal illness that lasts years, dragging you through the trenches the entire way. I lost that boss very recently and as I was hugging his wife at the funeral I couldn’t help but say “10 years of torment is finally over.” because all she could say was “I can grieve now.” because she had to hang in there like a solider for the entire time. It aged her considerably needless to say.

          1. animaniactoo*

            My grandfather at the point when he would visit my grandmother at the nursing home and if he left the room for 5 minutes would have to start all over and re-introduce himself and explain who he was:

            “I’ve never wished that someone I loved was dead before.”

            The most heartbreaking moment I witnessed: She was essentially a career host to my grandfather’s army career and kept those habits as she progressed further and further into lost memory. So when we arrived on our last visit before she went into the nursing home she walked up to my father, her son, laid her hand on his shoulder and gaily said “And who are you? I don’t know you.”

            1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

              My boss had a form that ate his communication centers but not his long term memory in terms of erasing his loved ones. He stopped talking a couple years prior to his death. His wife told me his always expressive eyes lit up when his kids walked in the room.

              I used his eyes to let me know early on if it was a lucid day or not for years. He would avoid me on bad days as well. On a good day he used the office door. Bad day, enter through the back storage area.

              He was morbid and would tell me every once in awhile that ‘you’ll have to make sure I’m not using a credit card or signing checks once I get worse :D” Srsly, he said it with a grin and wasn’t actually joking. It started by him knowing he couldn’t recall words and had to point to a phone and say “What do we call it????”

  7. Jana*

    Definitely write a Glassdoor review. Your experience sounds *very* much like a job I had years ago (I lasted about 6 months) and there were no reviews of the organization and CEO when I accepted the job. Now–even though it’s an extremely small organization–there are several 1-star reviews that provide details about the work environment. This organization has now had only the CEO on staff for a couple of years. Obviously I can’t be sure, but I think that those reviews made a difference and stopped candidates from accepting the job.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      Agreed – it’s even more important for small companies since there isn’t much public information on them. I worked with a small client company (about 12 people) that was pretty difficult to work with. (not legal work) We worked with them for about 8 months, and they had three people turnover in one position. I checked out their Glassdoor reviews one day and saw so many 1-star reviews from ex-employees. It was a relief because I felt like I was the loser who couldn’t keep them happy, but it wasn’t me. Definitely them.

    2. Happy Lurker*

      A little off subject, but I have started using Glassdoor reviews when choosing vendors. Happy employees make happy customers and vice versa.
      Just be sure OP to write the review after you have secured your reference for the Bar.

    3. blink14*

      This is a really good thought. My former boss and parent company were horrible, and I was pretty sure they shorted me vacation time for about 2 years before I left. I did file a complaint through my state, and the state office gave me the go ahead for small claims, but the amount wasn’t really enough to deal with the court proceedings.

      Our location was very small and the only location in our state for the parent company. I stayed far longer than most had in my position, but felt there was no way for me to pass along information anywhere about how awful it was. I think I’ll write a review on Glassdoor!

  8. Sleepytime Tea*

    I WISH there was some sort of governing body for abusive bosses, but unfortunately that’s not the case. Unless she assaults you or something like that were you can report it to the police, it’s totally out of control.

    My sympathies that you lived through that. But Alison’s advise is spot on. Just do the world a favor by being honest about your experiences and trying to steer people aware from her. Also, feel free to steer away potential clients as well. I personally don’t like giving my money to douchebags, so if anyone ever asks you your opinion on the legal services she provides, you can answer that question but also add that you wouldn’t support her business because of how she treats her employees. If it were me, I would take my business elsewhere. (Obviously don’t go trying to actively pushing clients away from her or anything, but just be honest about it if someone ever asked you.)

    1. Michaela Westen*

      When I was working for my bad old boss, she threatened to hit me. When I mentioned this to friends they said, “if she does, call the police immediately and file a complaint”. They thought I could sue if this happened, but I don’t know if they were correct.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        If she did hit you, I would say call the police, as well. You probably could have sued (in civil court) if she had hit you, although the extent of your injuries would have impacted the lawsuit’s likelihood of success.

        But I think Sleepytime is referring to filing a bar complaint (OP asks if they should report the boss to the bar). Those complaints generally don’t include situations of abusiveness.

        1. Michaela Westen*

          Maybe they should? Maybe the bar should set and enforce standards of behavior and respect for colleagues?
          Maybe that would solve some of the problems about the way the profession affects people?

  9. Properlike*

    Can you go back to that clerk and the judge and ask them to serve as a reference?

    Not a lawyer, so not sure how it all works. However, I have to think that one bad reference from a small-time lawyer will carry far less weight — and likely be quickly discarded — than all the other references you’ll get.

    I worked for someone like this for far too long because it was an insular industry and I feared she’d badmouth me and I’d never work again. Even the accolades I got from future colleagues who had respect for me putting up with the woman for a year and half (gosh, you lasted longer than most!) wasn’t enough in light of the PTSD that still pervades my working life two decades later.

    1. Another Lawyer*

      Speaking only for my state, the “recommendation” needed for the bar is pretty pro forma, but it does have to come from the employer. A two sentence letter that the person worked for you and that they’re fit to be admitted is enough. There are also cases where a previous employer can’t be found, and submitting some other sort of letter is good enough. So, in my state, it’d likely only be an issue if the employer affirmatively said something bad about OP.

      With that said, I completely sympathize about not wanting to endanger your admission, and in your shoes also might choose not to say anything.

    2. Arctic*

      No, you typically need one from every legal employer you have (and non-legal employers from within a certain amount of years.) It has to be the employer. But it isn’t like a job recommendation. It’s basically filling out a form.

        1. Arctic*

          That’s fine. You just write a letter explaining the efforts you went through to reach her.
          It happens all the time. It happened to me, in fact. Although my former boss wasn’t a total jerk just an absentminded professor type who had moved to a different school.

        2. LawBee*

          Not much – I’m a member of multiple state bars, and they all have methods to account for one-off experiences like this.

        3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          It’s usually fine. The bar doesn’t penalize you for your employers failing to respond unless it receives so few responses that it can’t provide a character review.

  10. WhiskeyTango*

    Does your law school have a career center? If so, you might want to let them know. I’ve known a lot of new lawyers get jobs at firms like that and feel stuck for years because they think this is how all lawyers operate (and thus perpetuates the cycle…)

    1. CTT*

      I was going to say the same thing; if you’re going to school in the same region as her, definitely pass it along to your career center

  11. Legal Rugby*

    I would also consider sitting down with your Career Development office and make sure that they are forewarned, for future students. They may already be aware of the issue, so I would phase it in terms that scare them – that her treatment could affect future employment opportunities, and their 9 month hiring numbers. If you have a good/sympathetic person, I would also talk to whoever oversees your internships – the ABA has special rules for legal interns in small firms, and there is supposed to be a certain level of oversight.

    1. pancakes*

      In hindsight I sort of wish I let my law school know that my employer between my 1st & 2nd years was like this, particularly since my boss was my legal writing professor. He hired half a dozen students or so, we accepted understanding these were paying jobs, and then—only after we’d all started—one of his partners explained that actually, only some of us would be paid and the rest would be interns. And that maybe there’d be some money for the interns towards the last month of the summer. We were all disgusted, of course, but the slim possibility of finding another job at that point in the summer—and the prospect of hurting our resumes by having not-law-related work on there while in law school—kept us all there. Worse yet, one of the two among us who was arbitrarily getting paid was a kid whose parents were paying for law school in entirety, as well as giving him lots & lots of spending money he enjoyed gambling with. It was infuriating. I wish I’d raised hell about it at the time. I doubt very much the career counseling office would’ve done anything helpful, though. By the time I graduated the economy was a mess, and that same career counseling office was hiring recent grads for part-time envelope-stuffing work in an effort to improve the stats as to how many of us were working.

      1. Legal Rugby*

        I was very lucky to have a robust CDO, and be in a state with only two law schools. All the employers knew about the firm that had been embargoed by BOTH schools because they refused to pay their 1/2Ls one summer when they felt they hadn’t billed enough hours. It was a 15-20 attorney firm, and really had no other source of interns. More importantly, we had a really good advocate for students who oversaw the internship/credit for work programs.

        1. pancakes*

          There are 10 law schools just in my city, so this firm has a pretty steady supply of fresh victims.

          1. Michaela Westen*

            When I was job-hunting in 2011 I was reading stuff about the glut of attorneys on the job market and how there literally weren’t enough jobs for all of them, but law schools continued to make promises and accept more students. I’m not an attorney, but I was looking at legal support work.
            It sounds like pancakes’ city and law schools are perpetuating this.

            1. pancakes*

              They’ve been perpetuating it for years. I should maybe add, the situation I described took place around 2002. My city (NYC) shed approx. 7,000 lawyer jobs during / as a result of the financial crash in 2008 and they haven’t come back. The ABA has been under pressure to stop accrediting so many law schools for years and they do seem to crack down on them more than they used to –


  12. Anon for this one*

    I’m not a lawyer, but I’m a physician, and I’ve witnessed this sort of behavior from attending physicians when I was a premed and in medical school. It’s scary and traumatizing, especially when you have no other context for what constitutes a reasonable work environment.

    I don’t know what the bar is like, but this sort of behavior from a physician could absolutely be reported to the state medical board for professional misconduct. An attorney showing blatant disregard for client privacy (the PHI-on-doorstep incident) would be a non-starter if a physician did it, and I would be surprised if a legal board would be OK with that sort of thing either. People often don’t get reported because of fear of retaliation, but I just wanted to say this is the kind of thing a professional organization ought to take very very seriously.

    1. WellRed*

      The PHI information seems reportable, but also, what about billing for paralegal services when not performed by a paralegal? Either way, she probably wouldn’t even get a slap on the wrist, but no harm in trying.

      1. Paralegal*

        I don’t think paralegal has a legal (dammit) definition – though that may vary by location. Billing for “paralegal” usually means “cheaper, not qualified” and it’s a good thing for a client in many cases. Paralegal rate may be typically 1/3 of attorney rate (and often cheaper than a trainee attorney even though more experienced/capable).

        Source: am effectively a paralegal and that’s how I describe my job to outsiders, but it’s not industry-standard or a defined term in my field, nor is it my actual job title at present.

        1. kittymommy*

          Like Lyssa, paralegal is very specific certification, typically paid more than legal assistant (which I don’t believe has any certification). If the LW is in that type of state and if the boss is billing for a paralegal and not actually providing that service I wonder if it could be reported to the bar as fraud???

          1. Arctic*

            Paralegals don’t require any certification in most states. You are certainly up for better paying jobs if you get a certificate. But you don’t need one to be a paralegal.
            The person she is defrauding is the LW, who was likely working as a paralegal but not being paid as that.

        2. loslothluin*

          It doesn’t, but the rule of thumb (in my experience) is that if the only other person that can do the work is an attorney, then it’s billed out as a paralegal. If anyone off the street can do it, it secretarial/clerical and not billable.

          1. Paralegal*

            That sounds like a good rule of thumb.

            In my field there’s some work that any competent administrator/secretary could do pretty much on their first day in the building but they would need guidance or sign-off from a qualified person; whereas a paralegal would be generally signing off their own work without immediate oversight. Obviously there’s some grey area between the two and that might be the kind of work LW is talking about.

            Often the difference between “clerical” and “paralegal” has to do with whether the client is billed a fixed item charge or hours respectively.

            1. Paralegal Part Deux*

              Paralegals can’t sign off on their own work at all. It all has to go through the attorney. Otherwise, it’s UPL and a huge problem for the attorney.

            2. teclatrans*

              In California, you can’t use the title of paralegal unless you are certified. You get certified either by completing courses at a university OR by getting a lawyer to attest that you have worked fi r them for a year and have acquired the necessary paralegal skills.

      2. Lyssa*

        At least in my state, “paralegal” is not a role that requires a certification (they have them, but they’re not required). You can call anyone doing paralegal work a paralegal.

        I’d say that leaving the personal information could have been reportable at the time, but the bar’s probably not interested 3+ years later if nothing came of it (and the boss would presumably deny it).

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Unfortunately, being a total asshole does not rise to the level of a bar complaint unless you’re a judge (they have separate, stricter ethical obligations). Leaving PHI is certainly a breach of the duty of confidentiality. The billing issue doesn’t sound like it’s defrauding clients, but rather, underpaying OP (again, not illegal so long as OP is in a state that does not mandate paralegal certificates and OP is otherwise compensated consistent with state and federal law).

      But I don’t think any of the other things described, by themselves, are grievable or report-able to the bar as professional misconduct.

    3. wittyrepartee*

      I’m in public health. I work in a double locked office to protect phi. That part made me shudder too.

  13. DCGirl*

    My husband is a paralegal. He once had a job where he found out he was the attorney’s ninth paralegal in about 2.5 years. He lasted nine months, which was a record for her for paralegals, but it was miserable. Plus, it was a bankruptcy firm representing creditors (banks and mortgage lenders). An unhappy mortgage holder who couldn’t negotiate a deal with her as the lender’s attorney vandalized cars in the law firm’s parking lot and threw a brick through the rear window of my husband’s car (not sure why the guy would think an attorney would drive a 15-year old Nissan, but there you go). Some lawyers are glass bowls, and nothing will change them.

  14. MK*

    I am a lawyer, but not in the U.S., so I am not sure how bar associations work there, but here, the bar is a professional association and its purpose is to safeguard the profession itself, not individuals. Filing a complaint with the bar will start off the disciplinary process (possibly, if it’s a criminal matter, they will have to notify the authorities). The disciplinary commitee will decide a) does this behavior constitute a disciplinary offense for a member of the bar and b) did she actually do it. If yes, they will impose a disciplinary penalty, which tanges from fines, suspensions, obligatory training to expulsion (getting disbarred, the fate worse than death). Frankly, I doubt what you described constitutes a disciplinary offense, with the possible exeption of the client’s health information being compromised. But I assume this was several years ago? And the infromation didn’t actually got compromised, it was just a threat? But even if she is found guilty of an offense, this is not a case that would merit getting her disbarred. Any other penalty would be unlikely to acheive anything other than tanking her reputation in the profession, but it sounds as if she is well beyond there already. Even then, it wouldn’t do anything about protecting other young people from getting hired by her; I am guessing that those who would benefit (people with contacts in legal circles or those who manage to gather infromation before accepting the job) are ones who would know about her anyway.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Our system is pretty similar, with the caveat that safeguarding the profession is interpreted to mean safeguarding the public from exploitation or harm. If someone violates their legal duties to their client, they can certainly be subject to discipline. But unless OP’s boss was splitting fees with OP (it doesn’t sound like that happened), I don’t think anything that OP has described would warrant disciplinary review.

  15. Tysons in NE*

    I was at a place not too unlike that.
    No throwing of furniture, but the boss was a drama queen. How the day went really depended on how hung over the boss was.
    The only warning I got was “When the boss and her mother are fighting: stay out of it!”

  16. esqueer*

    Ugh this is tough — there’s a lot of careers that kind of just let people get away with abusive bullshit, but I feel like the law can be especially bad about it, because a tendency toward confrontation and general abrasiveness are seen as like, part of the job or something. This is nonsense, obviously — I’m saying this also because I want you to know you may run into other attorneys or offices with this mindset, and you shouldn’t accept it there either — and there are ARE decent, supportive, mostly health work environments to be found in the legal field.

    In terms of what you can do: aside from what’s suggested by Alison, there’s the possibility of filing a complaint with the state bar/licensing agency. How seriously they take it will vary, but at least the medical documents episode probably rises to the level of a reportable issue (and y’know, you’re going to probably have to take an ethics class if you haven’t yet, so it might be a fun project to go through the Rules of Professional Conduct in your state and do some issue spotting to see what else might come up), and frankly I do think this undermines the dignity of the profession to treat your admins like shit and take advantage of the fact they don’t know your reputation.

    Good luck, OP!

    1. Contracts Killer*

      I agree! In addition to doing your own review of the Rules of Professional Conduct, talk to your ethics professor. That person likely knows the rules and comments really well and may be able to provide some guidance. Here’s a cool article that may help you:

      Good luck and welcome to the profession! I swear there are tons of nice attorneys out there. So many in my office!

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        The problem with the examples you’ve provided, however, is that they’re about conduct with opposing counsel. I would be surprised to see an ethics/PR panel take up abusive conduct toward one’s staff (only because we’d then have to remove 50%+ of attorneys from the profession).

        The PHI thing is reportable, but if the filing wasn’t actually left at the hospital, it may not have risen to the level of a sanctionable act of misconduct.

        1. Contracts Killer*

          You’re right about the article. I was slammed at work and only skimmed it instead of reading it.

  17. Anonymeuse*

    OP, I’m not sure if it’s different where you are (I’m in Canada, but I’m a lawyer too!), but I’d consider contacting the bar about the worst of that behaviour. Leaving privileged, confidential client information in a publicly accessible place, insisting on serving something at what’s clearly the wrong office — the stuff that goes to her ability to competently represent her clients — is something that might be worth the bar looking into from a professional responsibility standpoint.

    1. Another Anon*

      Literally the first federal rule of professional responsibility is competence (1.1), and its an 8.4 violation if you don’t report bad behavior to the state ethics committee. Definitely read through your state rules of professional responsibility if you wanna see if anything she’s done rises to the level of reporting!

  18. NMLawyer*

    Attorney here and you should absolutely report that behavior to the bar. She’s jeopardizing client confidentiality, engaging in potentially shady billing practices, and generally behaving in a manner that could bring the profession into disrepute: all the purview of the bar.

    Also, a record with the bar that you’ve reported her may provide much needed context when if they contact her during your character and fitness check.

    1. MuseumChick*

      I agree! IANAL but I have a lot of friends in the legal field and all of them would absolutely report this kind of behavior to the bar.

      OP, like Alison said, write a Glassdoor review. I would also write a review on Indeed since so many people just starting out find jobs there.

    2. Amy*

      Report! I’m a lawyer and I’m pretty appalled by this. (Unfortunately, not surprised, but horrified. )

      Between the confidentiality failure and failure to safeguard client info, the sexual comments, and falsifying invoices (you are not a paralegal), the bar will be interested.

    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I honestly cannot imagine this ever coming before our ethics panel—I’d be shocked if the Office of Chief Trial Counsel for the Ethics Board would move forward with this complaint. The client confidentiality piece is of course unethical, but the billing practices and abusive conduct with staff doesn’t sound, to me, like the sort of thing our bar would take up. It may be that the norms around what to report and what’s enforced vary by state.

      1. WellRed*

        It’s all in the past for tbe LW, but what if the sexual comments were being made today to staffers?

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Even the sexual comments may not necessarily justify an ethics complaint, depending on the state. California very recently made it unethical to harass your employees on the basis of a protected category (as delineated in state law), but prior to that, there was no rule or standard.

          If the comments were repeated, then they may have risen to the level of sexual harassment. But that’s an employment law problem, not necessarily a bar complaint.

      2. CatCat*

        I can’t see it either. Maybe I’m just cynical. Not that it would be unworthy of reporting necessarily, but with real world goggles on: even *if* anything were to happen, don’t expect anything to happen for years and only if there are client complaints, she’s convicted of a crime, or a she’s referred to the bar by a court (rare, but it happens) when she finally and truly goes TOO FAR.

        Since OP’s main issue is warning and protecting future employees, Glassdoor would probably be the more effective route here.

  19. Ms. Minn*

    My first office job was as an office assistant at a law firm, and I still feel like I carry some of those bad experiences with me! There was one who yelled at me on the phone when he called asking for his secretary. When I said she was on her other line, he reamed me out because I didn’t recognize his voice (this was before caller ID and he didn’t identify himself at the beginning).

  20. SaskLegalBeagle*

    The boss lawyer’s conduct could be considered “conduct unbecoming” and therefore reportable to the state bar association. I worked for a professional association that licensed and disciplined lawyers in Canada, similar to state bar associations – office conduct was something that weighed heavily in many discipline hearings, especially for sole practitioners. If the lawyer cannot act appropriately with staff, then consumers are at risk. The incident re: service of confidential papers to the doorway of the hospital is a real red flag. Report the lawyer to the appropriate bar association and leave it in their hands. There should be reporting information on the bar association’s website.

  21. 3Lol*

    Have you taken the MPRE or your ethics course yet? I suspect someone who is treating her employees so badly might also be playing fast and loose with her responsibilities to clients. Talk to someone in your law school’s administration! They can help demystify the bar application process for you and talk about whether your former employer did anything that violated the rules of professional conduct that might be worth reporting to the bar in her state.

  22. Anonymouse*

    Hi there OP,
    The bar reference process is a lot less “job reference-y” than you’d expect. In NY, you just have to demonstrate that you did the due diligence of sending it out to your reference providers and provide mailing receipts in case they are the ones who hold negative feelings toward you are refuses to answer. Also, I’m sure you can explain away during your admission interview their comment should they even bother to respond in the first place.
    I am currently working for someone very similar to your boss at a legal aid organization (e.g. once upon a temper tantrum, he chucked a phone across the office that I unfortunately shared with him at the time, nearly missing my head). From one abused employee to another, I have to say hang in there, and think of any possible ethical violations that this person may have committed. It is always good to consult the local ethical rules. If they have committed an ethical violation in the past, you can always try reporting them so that they can no longer practice law. In fact, some jurisdictions have mandatory reporting requirements for lawyers when they witness unethical behavior. At the very least, let your school’s Office of Career Planning know about this individual so that they can steer other students away from this hellmouth of a legal office. There are so many toxic managers in the legal profession and it’s really easy to get complacent and just put up with it or let it go but things are changing because of people who are not afraid to speak up. Good luck on your 3L year and bar exams!

    1. Legal Rugby*

      It really depends on the state! In PA, they didn’t check a single one of my “References.” NJ called them all, and then asked me to explain again, with documentation, something that I had already written a 1000 word explanation for, and asked me to provide witnesses.

  23. BRR*

    If your glassdoor review will be identifiable, I would wait until after she makes her reference to the bar exam. But definitely leave one.

  24. Arctic*

    I really wouldn’t sweat the bar thing. NY does this. I had worked for a professor one summer who then left for a school across country. He didn’t respond to my requests for recommendation. It was no big deal at all. And a negative recommendation isn’t’ going to tank your admission. You might get asked about it in the interview. But you can be honest.
    They are really looking for red flags. It’s not like a recommendation for a job.

  25. Yikes*

    I’ve sat for the bar in three states, and for all of them the background check basically only included determining that I had indeed been employed when and where I said. And if in fact she were to say something to torpedo you, you will likely be given an opportunity to respond. Honestly, the bar examination boards pretty much only care if you have been convicted of a serious crime, or have lied on your application.

    1. Daniel*

      OP, given this, it would be useful to hold on to your pay stubs, in case your boss tries to claim that you never worked for her.

      1. Michaela Westen*

        I worked for an unethical woman (not an attorney) and I saved documentation in case she tried to blame me for her bad behavior. It’s been several years and I recently cleaned out that file, but there are certain things I’m saving until 10 years after she’s dead, and I mean that literally.
        It doesn’t cost anything to save documents, just in case!

  26. Manchmal*

    How long do you have to work somewhere to have been officially employed and thus subject to bar scrutiny? For example, if the OP only worked there for a week, realized quickly what a nutter she was and hightailed it out of there, would that brief of an employment have to be reported to the bar? I’m wondering about the 4 people who started and quit before the OP even left.

    1. Holly*

      It would have to be reported to the bar from what I remember – it’s a really big deal to leave anything out – but I am not sure where OP got the idea that it would look bad if they left. OP has the opportunity to explain why they left on the bar application. I feel bad OP got some really bad advice about this.

  27. drpuma*

    You say “She was able to get away with all this because she almost exclusively hired people like me: fresh out of college, no legal experience, applying to law school.”

    Separate from taking action toward your former boss, I wonder if paying forward what you learned would help you feel better? Can you volunteer through your undergrad or law school alumni network to serve as a formal or informal mentor to new grads like your former self? You could help them understand what to expect, what is outlandish, and how best to navigate the working world.

  28. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

    OP you’re the lawyer here so you know better than I do whether any of the stuff you describe are actually criminal wherever those events took place. I wonder if throwing stuff at you could be some kind of attempted assault and the circumcision questions sexual harassment.

  29. Sarah M*

    You worked for her, too??? I congratulate you on lasting an entire year. I think about half of my hair turned white from the stress of that job, and it was a single summer. Seriously though, my Nightmare CrazyBoss From Hell had to write a Bar reference for me and it was fine. Please don’t stress about that. I don’t blame you for wanting to expose her, but my advice would be to tread very, very carefully – especially if you’re considering posting something online (Crazy + Litigator = Avoid Like the Plague). Please just move on and forget her. Good luck with the Bar Exam!

  30. Asking for a friend*

    “But there are professional ways to communicate that it was a bad experience.”

    Oddly, I haven’t heard anyone say this before. Usually, I’ve heard if you’ve had a bad experience, you just sort of keep that to yourself and your closest friends if ever asked, and just gloss over it with a “it was fine, but not for me.”

    How do you professionally communicate a work experience was a BAD experience?

    1. it's always socky in dysfunctional non-profits*

      I think it depends on who you’re talking to. If I’m talking to someone I know fairly well who’s applying for a role similar to what mine was, I’ll be straightforward about how miserable and abusive the experience was. If I’m talking to a relative stranger, I’ll use softer terms like “poor management decisions” and “very high turnover” and let them connect the dots. I think if you’ve gotten through a workplace environment that’s actively traumatizing, you have a moral obligation to warn others going into the same situation.

      1. Michaela Westen*

        I agree. As a staff person, I think if I said “poor management decisions” it would come off as judgmental.
        For a staff person maybe saying something like “decisions I wouldn’t have made” would be better?

  31. RNL*

    I’m also a Canadian lawyer, and I 100% recommend complaining to the lawyer’s licensing body. I do some professional discipline work – remember that multiple complaints can “pile up” and show a history of ungovernable behaviour. And disbarment is not the only option – there are remedial steps the bar can take to correct bad lawyer behaviour.

    (I’m also feeling like I’m in a very cushy, kumbaya jurisdiction – I’m a partner in a mid-size firm in a major market, and we do not behave that way. Sure, there are big personalities and I have cried in my share of elevators but that kind of abuse would not be tolerated.)

    1. Emmie*

      I am licensed in the US, and came here to say this. I cannot speak to the state’s rules that this lawyer practices, but information about a person’s potential malpractice (PHI at the doorstep), billing irregularities (clients and finances), and generally abusive behavior towards staff (an inference that others may not come forward with allegations) would be helpful to the bar. If you are concerned about your reference, you are welcome to report it anonymously or after OPs character and fitness is complete. I’m sorry OP is dealing with this.

  32. Anon, A Moose!*

    I worked for a terrible boss a few years ago. The thing about terrible bosses is that you aren’t the only one they’ve mistreated. What we did, was once my fellow colleagues who were employed when I was were all safely (or almost) out, we all posted Glassdoor reviews detailing our experiences. I believe other employees who came before and after us joined in as well (there was a very high turnover). Because it was a small company, our reviews make up the majority of reviews (aside from a few that were obviously written by bad boss/their friends after we posted ours). I’m not sure how effective it will be at keeping people from having to go through what we went through, but it sure was satisfying, and I think having lots of reviews all basically giving the same story has to count for something.

  33. it's always socky in dysfunctional non-profits*

    I honestly wonder if you worked at the same place I did, as a lot of this sounds very familiar. I was at a place like this for years, a tech non-profit with a boss who screamed, threw things, and emotionally abused the whole staff. I was just reminiscing yesterday about how she gaslit us into thinking we were “selfish and hurting the clients” for going to doctor’s appointments, for leaving town over the weekend, or for asking to leave work when sick to the point of vomiting. I took two sick days over several years working there, and the first time I had to spend the whole day on the phone while I was berated for not responding timely to that day’s emails and for using a term, once, not totally in line with our branding; the second sick day I took in five years, I was accused of betraying the organization by using it to job hunt. Once I went to a movie on Labor Day holiday and left the theater to a chain of angry emails about how I hadn’t responded to an (unimportant) message within the hour. I was accused of stealing food out of our client’s mouths by asking for travel reimbursements. I was yelled at for an hour and a half after hours while my partner waited in the lobby for our date night, and left thanking them profusely for taking such attention in my work as to tell me all the ways I was coming up short. When I lost weight and got in shape, I was often asked to come into my boss’ office and turn around so she could admire my “perfect” body and comment on my “muscular” thighs to my coworkers. At lunch she’d ask me invasive questions like if I’d ever given oral sex. Once on a business trip I was six hours from the office and working remotely, and was asked to come into the office “so I can see you working”. When I and a co-worker quit (and in the next six weeks 75% of the staff jumped ship) my boss yelled at us for never telling her that her behavior was inappropriate and thus depriving her a chance to improve, and then called us misogynists who couldn’t handle an assertive woman. We were regularly called things like “disgusting”, “pathetic” and “ungrateful” and if we pushed back, were told “well I used I-feel statements so you can’t take it so personally”. After I left, I wasn’t even surprised that another coworker accused that boss of sexual assault.

    Bear in mind, this wasn’t exactly the ACLU, and I was making $35k a year. And as you can see, I still have a lot of feelings. The organization is hiring and churning through people, and I truly believe that the only reason it’s sustained itself is because it snaps up college grads with no life experience and convinces them that all this is normal, like it did me, or by snatching up people in vulnerable situations who have no choice but to stay. I was told point-blank that I would never find a job that didn’t penalize me for taking a morning off per month to go to a routine doctor’s appointment or for leaving town on weekends and that my expectations of not having to cancel vacations to come in and work were “unrealistic”.

    If someone I know is applying to work with them, I let them know immediately that it’s not worth it. I have a much better job now in the same field where there’s no screaming and I can leave work at the office unless there’s a real reason not to. But it is really tempting sometimes to go on their social media and just air out all my grievances and let everyone know that the management of the organization abuses their staff and that people should not work for or donate to a place that breaks down employees and squanders donor funds with unnecessarily high turnover.

    Good luck on the bar exam, LW, and in any healing you need to do wrt your old job. You’ll be amazed at how freeing having a good workplace environment can be.

  34. A former paralegal*

    I think you should contact the sympathetic judge who made that comment to you in your first week and ask about reporting to the state bar.

  35. Lurker*

    Hi OP,

    I’m a lawyer in NY State and I really don’t think that you should worry about her ruining your chance of admission to the bar. In my jurisdiction, candidates for admission to the Bar choose two NY State attorneys that have known them for at least two years to act as references for admission to the Bar. They don’t contact all of your former bosses – probably because they are pretty low tech and just don’t have the bandwidth for it. I would encourage you to try and work in law school and make sure that you are developing relationships that you can use as references for admission and you’ll be fine!

    1. Holly*

      I’m a lawyer in NYS and they do require employer affidavits from all of your past employers – the moral character affidavits are something separate. I think she’s concerned about the employer affidavits – but OP still shouldn’t be concerned, OP is likely not the first person with this situation.

  36. Robert*

    I’m an attorney, and as much as I wish being a shitty boss was against the Rules of Professional Conduct, what you’ve described (to my knowledge) isn’t covered, except for maybe being reckless with a client’s confidential information. Not really my area of expertise, though, and these things vary somewhat from state to state.

    I had some pretty awful jobs after law school and stayed in touch with the Career Development office as I kept searching for a good fit. I wholeheartedly agree with the recommendation to leave a review on Glassdoor, and I have done so several times.

    Good luck with the bar exam! Beware future employers who don’t just treat paralegals/assistants like crap, but also do so to the new associates–they’re out there too.

    1. Legal Rugby*

      It really depends on the state! In PA, they didn’t check a single one of my “References.” NJ called them all, and then asked me to explain again, with documentation, something that I had already written a 1000 word explanation for, and then asked me to provide witnesses.

  37. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

    In addition to the university career center or Glassdoor, if your alumni association encourages alumni to communicate with students either via a forum or in-person events, you could try to use that venue to spread the word about her in particular and maybe ways to avoid abusive law offices in general.

  38. I AM a lawyer*

    I’ve been an attorney for 14 years, and I’ve never dealt with someone like this, nor have I heard stories like this from my friends who are lawyers or legal secretaries or paralegals. My data is anecdotal, to be sure, but this is not the pervasive problem being described in the comments. Yes, the job is high stress and lawyers have disproportionately high rates of addiction and suicide. To me, the biggest problem is the billable hour model. That is the cause of most of my stress, and why many associates leave big law due to burnout. There are other things, including the high level of responsibility and regularly dealing with confrontation with opposing counsel (for this reason, I am not a litigator). It also sucks that people think your profession is full of monsters. :(

    1. I AM a lawyer*

      My point being – this woman was, indeed, a monster, but you can find a firm with a good environment.

    2. sock*

      I’m a lawyer and sadly I think it’s regional; in addition to my own horrible experience, it’s a running concern within my graduating class’ social media circles to avoid or recover from “screamers” as bosses.

      Which is not to say it’s true of all law firms, but definitely of enough that the reputation exists with a reason.

    3. Arctic*

      Also an attorney. It’s definitely not true of everyone or even the majority. But there are definitely many, many lawyers who are like this as bosses. I’ve experienced both as an associate and, prior to law school, a paralegal. Most attorneys I know have experienced it.

    4. Yikes*

      With all due respect, you might not have any idea how other attorneys, even within your practice, treat support staff. I write this as an attorney who, prior to law school, worked as a legal assistant.

    5. Anon attorney*

      I’ve practiced for ten years as a litigator and while I’ve never experienced bad behavior (and I would just throw the file/stapler right back, before walking out) but I know people who have. I’m glad you haven’t experienced it but i think there is undeniably a culture of abusive behavior in some sectors if the profession. I think the partnership model, where certain individuals ie rainmakers are largely responsible for bringing in revenue in a market that is becoming increasingly price sensitive, makes the profession highly susceptible to the problem Bob Sutton identified in his book The No Asshole Rule – of allowing appalling behavior because the perpetrator brings in too much revenue to fire. Professor Sutton argues that these guys actually cost the business more than they bring in, but I’m not sure that’s a message that larger law firms are ready to hear.

      OP, the book is well worth a read if you don’t know it.

    6. Oh Contrare*

      I was a paralegal for 20 years, and this is a real thing, by which I mean: the law firm practice of hiring inexperienced recent grads and treating them like garbage. I personally experienced this myself, and know other people who experienced this. It was a quite well known thing, and I am sad to hear it still goes on.

      Here there be monsters.

      1. Oh Contrare*

        I should add: After that first awful job, I had subsequent jobs at law firms that hired experienced paralegals, and those were perfectly fine jobs, and I was treated like a professional.

    7. Michaela Westen*

      It was suggested that I should be a paralegal and I looked into it. I would have enjoyed the work. The main reason I didn’t pursue it was the billable-hour model. It would have been too much stress and pressure.

  39. Avid reader infrequent commenter*

    I could have sworn someone commented on a previous letter than Glassdoor will remove reviews that are about a specific person rather than the company as a whole?

      1. Avid reader infrequent commenter*

        Ahhhh, got it. I completely missed that (that she is the only one at the firm).

    1. Eliza*

      Looking at their website, Glassdoor’s policy appears to be that you can’t give identifying information about specific people unless they’re at C-suite level or similar. A solo practitioner who runs the business by herself seems like it’d fall under “or similar”.

    2. Yvette*

      But this is a solo practitioner, which Glassdoor may not realize, but anyone looking at reviews thinking about working there would know. So phrases like “upper management is x or y ” and “employees are poorly treated” etc. may not seem like they would be specific to an individual, but people considering working there would know that it was a one person show and that the comments all applied to that person.

  40. EPLawyer*

    Former paralegal (20 years) before I went to law school. Throwing binders — been there done that, although it was a stapler thrown at me. Unreasonable demands? All the damn time. The worst boss I lasted a month — he was the thrower and also expected me to read his mind. I got screamed at for not doing things he didn’t tell me about and I got screamed at for doing things he told me to do. Another boss, I worked 100 hour work weeks regularly. Nobody else in the office did. The attorney that I worked with settled a multimillion dollar case, with my help. Bonus came out — I got the same as everyone else. The file clerk who was not allowed to touch the file because he was incomptent got a bonus even.

    Not a darn bit of this is reportable to the bar. It’s just bad behavior. Move on. Let the person go through staff at a high rate. It’s costing them time and money to do that. Which are horrible punishments to an attorney.

    Now, that judge’s secretary. GOLD. The best advice I can give you as an attorney, be friends with the court staff. They can make your life so much easier. They see this stuff every day. They know what works and what doesn’t, regardless of the Rules. They can move your file to the top of the stack … or the bottom. Ask them questions, they will LOVE to help you. Don’t argue. My favorite line when I was starting out was “First time doing this, please tell me the process that will make this easiest for YOU.” I think they purposefully put new clerks in my trials. Because I flat out tell them “If I forget to enter an exhibit, GRAB ME. No really GRAB ME and tell me I forgot.” Because I know if I screw up the exhibit list it makes their life harder. All of the people involved, court staff, attorneys and judge are in this together to make the system work. Take that approach and you will do a better job of serving your clients.

    1. CA Lawyer*

      Assault/battery (throwing a stapler at you) absolutely can be reportable to the bar. See, e.g., Washington Rule of Professional Conduct 8.4(i): “It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to . . . commit any act involving moral turpitude, or corruption, or any unjustified act of assault or other act which reflects disregard for the rule of law, whether the same be committed in the course of his or her conduct as a lawyer, or otherwise, and whether the same constitutes a felony or misdemeanor or not; and if the act constitutes a felony or misdemeanor, conviction thereof in a criminal proceeding shall not be a condition precedent to disciplinary action, nor shall acquittal or dismissal thereof preclude the commencement of a disciplinary proceeding”

      1. EPLawyer*

        My word against his. And the Bar is run by lawyers. better to just get out and get a new job. Which I did very shortly thereafter.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Have you ever seen a non-judge sanctioned for throwing things at staff? Because I have not, but I have seen plenty of non-lethal objects thrown at staff.

        1. CA Lawyer*

          And how many of those incidents were reported?

          Regardless, I was taking issue with the use of the word “reportable,” which I think someone might reasonably interpret as meaning that none of the conduct EPLawyer described violates a rule of professional conduct/could be sanctioned by a state bar. That is not true. What action, if any, the bar would take is a different matter, and whether the likely benefits of reporting would outweigh the professional risks will depend on the individual circumstances. But I think it’s important to recognize the distinction.

      3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        You’ll need witnesses or reportable injury if you even want to stand a shot.

        If they break your face with their stapler throwing, then that may stick. It’s sick and sad.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Yeah—I’m very surprised by all the lawyer-commenters suggesting this is reportable and that the ethics panel would care, investigate, or prosecute a complaint based on what OP has described. That, of course, doesn’t make it ok, but sometimes seeking legal redress is not going to be satisfying or the most appropriate relief for someone.

  41. EMW*

    I think this is another story the supports the notion to ask around in your network before you accept a job (which may not have been possible for OP, but I hope you’ve at least grown your network since then). Based on the clerk and judge’s reaction, it’s not a highly guarded secret that she is a nightmare to work for. If future candidates do some light asking around, I’m confident they would turn up this information. A heads up to your career center or whoever referred you for the job is definitely worth it. I’m not a lawyer so I won’t speak about notifying the bar.

  42. Kristine*

    OP, did you ever “have that talk” with the court clerk? This might be the time and the person to whom you go with this question. You might refer new employees to her rather than outright warn them about your boss.

  43. Bunny Girl*

    I honestly wish there was a Rate My Boss website. Because I’ve had two jobs where people have told me that they wished they could have warned people before they came on.

  44. Anon for legal suggestion*

    Throwing objects at people can count as a criminal assault. Just because she is a lawyer doesn’t mean that her actions are legal. I would try to find an impartial advisor as to what you should do so far as reporting this in your particular legal culture, in your particular jurisdiction.

  45. Argh!*

    Being a jerk boss: they’re out there and probably in every field.

    Violating the law and ordering your underlings to do things that are contrary to the client’s best interest? That seems reportable. It sounds like you missed your moment with the hospital run, but it might be worth asking about with someone who has more experience and possibly connections. If I had been that client I’d be livid about that incident!

    1. This Daydreamer*

      Naw. There was already the boss who talked to a woman post-mastectomy that the shape of her breasts was making people uncomfortable.

    2. This Daydreamer*

      *sigh* And there’s the boss who flipped out and told everyone they that they though an employee was suicidal when they didn’t answer the phone on a day off.

      Buckle up. 2019 is gonna be a doozy.

  46. Catladylawyer*

    I worked for a lawyer like this, straight out of law school, during the 2010 recession. I gave notice because it wasn’t a good fit. After a twenty minute tirade on how unfit I was to work and how would I ever find another job in such a bad economy, I informed her I actually had another position. She then locked me out of all the computers the next day, instructed me to finish up my files without them, locked me out of the building the second day, but couldn’t figure out how to remove me from her payroll two weeks early.

    She then hired someone else fresh out of law school. When that woman quit, she went on a tirade about bad boss on Facebook and bad boss called my former mentor, a prosecutor, to try and press charges. Former mentor gleefully recounted to me that he advised bad boss “It’s called free speech. And it isn’t slander if its true.”

    It took me awhile to move past and feel good about my work environments, but I mostly do now. I wonder if this feels more pressing because you’re worried about the Bar recommendation? I have found that sitting back and letting karma take care of her allowed me to move on. It’s got to be expensive to have to constantly replace employees like that. In my case, she eventually decided not to take on an associate attorney after all. She was a really unhappy person and now that she has no effect on my life, I can just feel pity for her.

    1. Bunny Girl*

      I worked for a law firm that used to exclusively hire people directly out of law school. They couldn’t keep secretaries to save their lives. I lasted about a month and just left one day after a conversation with HR where they told me that my boss just had an “attitude problem” and then HR told my team I had complained and they all gave me the silent treatment for a week. Literally no one there gave notice, they just fled. The whole place was so toxic and ridiculous. There were multiple people that actually just rage quit. One of my friends quit shortly after I did and she said it was glorious. The woman just stormed out of the building yelling “F you!” to everyone she walked by except the receptionist. I know that sounds really unprofessional but the whole place was such a shit heap that I actually feel like everything everyone did was warranted.

    2. Michaela Westen*

      I think I was in my late 20’s when I realized people who behave badly are miserable people and will bring punishment on themselves. I don’t have to do anything to punish them.
      Except if an opportunity is handed to me on a platter, I take it. :D

  47. T*

    Wow this reminds me of my old boss, minus the binder throwing. It sucks these kind of people remain part of our work history, I hate the awkward request to please not contact her with potential employers. I did get some retribution by posting a negative but truthful review on Glassdoor warning people about what a horrible company it was. I’m sure this woman’s reputation will precede her.

  48. LawBee*

    OP, she was certainly a terrible person, but I do want to let you know that there are many MANY law firms where she would have been fired for that crap. I hope she doesn’t put you off, or make you think that’s normal. Much like any profession where there is a possibility of money/power, the law does tend to attract a certain type of personality (rhymes with smoschiobath) but not exclusively – and my experience has been weighted heavily on the Good People side. And honestly it will have zero impact on your bar application, especially if she’s known for being this way.

    I suspect there are many reasons why she has a solo practice. She, and those of her ilk, contribute to the “lawyers suck” mindset, when the lawyers I know went into the field to help people. Hard to help people when you’re a screaming banshee. I hate her on your behalf, and on my own.

    1. LawBee*

      and yes yes yes report her to the state bar. It may not do anything for you immediately (ok, it won’t) but I used to serve on the ethics/PR committee on my state bar, and those complaints? They do pile up, and they do make an impact.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        It would be super inappropriate to report her to the bar in my state for what OP is describing. PR exists to protect the public and the profession. Being an abusive boss—so long as you don’t violate the rules of PR—often doesn’t merit a bar complaint.

        1. Approval is optional*

          True with regard to the abuse, but billing clients for a paralegal when the work is done by an administrative assistant sounds unethical to non-lawyer me, as does directing employees to leave confidential documents on a doorstep.

    2. Michaela Westen*

      In my work life I’ve heard more than once that people who can’t hold a job start their own businesses. That was true of my abusive former boss.
      I expect a lawyer who can’t hold a job would try to start her own firm, too.

  49. Delta Delta*

    Your boss is awful.

    Now the lawyer thing. I am a lawyer. I took the bar sometime between the Clinton Administration and the invention of the iPhone, so things might’ve changed. The bar exam and licensure are two different things. I am hoping OP isn’t confusing the actual exam with the steps for licensure. Second, if OP is talking about the character and fitness hurdle for licensing, this is usually after you find out if you’ve passed the bar and you’ve applied to be admitted. Depending on your state, you likely have to list all your jobs and lots of other things (criminal convictions, speeding tickets, tax deficiencies, child support arrearages, and all sorts of other fun things). In the state where I’m licensed the bigger issue is not necessarily whether an employer says an applicant-employee was a jerk, the bigger issue is whether the applicant is honest. If they contact the former employer and if the former employer is a jackpot in her assessment, it seems the OP might have to respond to the state’s character and fitness committee/board, but that’s probably about it. And also, if it’s a big state like New York, they’ve got so many applicants they can’t possibly seek out reference letters from every single former employer for every single applicant.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      This varies by State! In California, your moral character application goes in before you take the bar. New York is the converse.

  50. Michaela Westen*

    Wow, I thought my old boss was bad. This one’s worse!
    Alison, could you sometime post some examples of how to make bad experiences clear in professional ways? I’ve never fully understood that and I’m surely not the only one.
    Thanks for all you do! :)

  51. Free Meerkats*

    I can guarantee if my boss throws a binder at me, I’m picking that sucker up and heaving it right back. She can’t claim assault without implicating herself.

    1. Bagpuss*

      She can if she is willing to lie, and if there are no witnesses.
      My toxic boss threw a desk diary (A4 size, hard covers) at his secretary because she asked him if he wanted her to avoid putting appointments in for him on Friday afternoons, having noticed he had cancelled or rearranged all the ones at that time. He then started telling everyone that she had “marched into his office, shouted at him and thrown the diary at him”

    2. Holly*

      This is… very poor advice. Especially for a future lawyer like OP. If she did that, she would be at risk of not getting admitted at all.

  52. Singin in the Rain*

    OP, I feel your pain. The worst boss I ever worked for was a lawyer. And I think the outgoing person did try to warn me, but gently. I can’t recall exactly what she said, but she made a comment that made me stop and think, ‘Oh, this guy is probably an asshole.’ But the job was a 5 minute drive from home, gave me a good title and resume notch, and paid enough that I could save a decent amount each month. I figured it was only temporary and I could survive. Which I did. But only just.

    There were four guys: the main lawyer, his little brother, a spineless lawyer and a spineless finance guy. The main lawyer at the firm was a HUGE asshole. He would throw things, yell, insult me on email chains with clients. And he tried to pull a fast one on me when they decided to merge with another law firm and move offices. He assured me they would be keeping me on, but I knew the other office already had an admin assistant/receptionist who had been there forever.So the moment I heard about the merge/move, I started actively looking for a job out there. Several months later, after I had helped them clear out the office and move and was coming up on my two year anniversary with them, he had his finance guy call me into the office one morning, a week before Christmas, to let me go on the spot without notice or any severance pay.

    Fortunately, I received a job offer in my dream city the day before, and kindly let them know I knew what they’d been planning the whole time and walked out. The best part was I wrote all of this out on my facebook page when I got home. I was friends with the other lawyer and he told asshole lawyer what I had said. So asshole lawyer then sent me an aggressive text about how I needed to take my post down or he’d come after me legally, and I told him no. He immediately changed his tone to be more “nice” and tried to pull the “if you ever need a reference” line and I was like, “I have the job offer, which I got with 5 references, none of them you, and the paperwork’s been signed. Go fuck yourself.” It wasn’t my most professional moment, but it felt really good. I never heard from him again.

    I moved two weeks later, have lived here for 5 years now, and make more than 3x the salary I made there. I work for a great company with a great boss and team. His merge with the other law office failed within a year, and although I don’t know the particulars, I know all of his other partners have moved on to work for other companies. I don’t know where he is or what he’s doing. He always struck me as a deeply unhappy person. I never worked in the legal field again.

  53. Jennifer*

    I’m guessing the OP got the referral to this job from her school. DEFINITELY let the school know. If it was through a website like Indeed, send them a message about her too. Encourage your former coworker to do the same.

  54. MommyMD*

    Oh her ability to cause you harm is not over. She can sue you for libel/slander and the onus is on YOU to prove it. No one is going to want to get involved with that. She can badmouth you to other practices, professors, schools. Just be happy she’s in your past and move on. If anyone asks for a recommendation about her say you are unable to give any recommendation and leave it at that. Good luck. She’s in your rear view window.

    1. Hoya lawya*

      I basically agree with MommyMD, but I think it’s OK to discuss this experience with the school’s career services office. Most law school career services offices do offer students the opportunity to submit confidential evaluations of summer employers, and they’re serious about keeping them confidential. I would not go beyond that publicly.

  55. BananyMousse*

    What about improperly billing clients? I don’t know how rampant this is in the legal profession, but isn’t this a crime? Would the Bar take it seriously?

  56. Collingswood*

    I had several bosses like that in my early law firm days. One a solo practitioner and others at a large firm. Other people knew about their behavior and it was clear they understood why I was looking for a new job despite my polite responses about reasons other than that I was working for sociopaths. Aside than telling your law school and others you know they may apply, I don’t have any good advice for helping protect other applicants.

    Now that I have years under my belt, and some savings, there is no way I would tolerate that kind of abusive behavior. But I want you to know you are not alone in having tolerated it for the reasons you noted.

  57. Scruffy looking nerf-herder*

    I used to allow people to walk all over me. Until one day when I decided, no more. My boss was screaming at me on the phone about something an I calmly said “I don’t like being screamed at”, and hung op the phone. I would rather be fired that work for an asshole like that.

  58. Newlywed*

    Someone else has probably already written about this and I’m sure it’s crossed your mind working for a legal dept, but make sure that you post online *anonymously* in a way that cannot be traced back to you, and try to verbally communicate specific facts with people so that there’s nothing out there that could potentially incriminate you if former boss got it in her head to sue you for libel (or etc). It might be a long shot, but it’s worth protecting yourself. I had one former toxic boss who wanted me to sign this document saying that I wouldn’t say anything “negative” about her or the company, and at the same time to also make me sign a non-compete, in exchange for $1,000 when she laid me off. and I decided not to sign it and left the money on the table. I’ve always had to be really careful about sticking to straight facts when describing my experience of working for her, but people definitely pick up on the realities pretty quickly. Several people over the years have reached out to me who were considering a job at that company, and I’ve managed to dissuade all, if not most, from working for that company just by presenting factual incidents that occurred during my time there.

  59. Tim C.*

    It is well reasoned such abuse has a negative impact on the business. Employees are more apt to cover up mistakes than find the root causes. They are less likely to inform employers of real or potential urgencies for fear of being yelled at. Turnover.

    In my profession it is required to have a separate license to mentor students and interns. Complaints can and do get placed and listened to. I believe such behavior would warrant sanctions by my state licensing board if enough were received. Maybe your State Bar would have something similar. You are not the only student to suffer under such an employer. After you are licensed, you could either attend a Bar meeting or write a letter stating your experience and how it negatively affected your education. If the Bar has any professional integrity they would want to know such abuse is happening.

  60. JeanLouiseFinch*

    If she is paying you and listing you as an administrative assistant but billing your time out as a paralegal, it might be worth notifying her state’s attorney disciplinary committee. Often a paralegal must have some training specifically as a paralegal in order to justify jacking up the price of an employee’s time. By contrast, administrative assistant time is part of overhead.

  61. Going Anon*

    For the first time ever, I have a funny feeling that I know who this boss is. The only thing making me doubt that is that LW describes her as a solo lawyer and the lawyer who this sounds so much like works with another lawyer.

  62. JustMyOpinion*

    Make sure to mention your experience to your the career services office at your law school. That keeps them from allowing her to post jobs on their website or find hire through the school. It will also help the CSO when they are helping other law students find summers jobs.

  63. Anonandon*

    Oh my…I’d definitely report her to the State Bar if it were me. Maybe they won’t do anything, but they’d probably be very interested to know that she is actually THROWING THINGS at her assistants, and billing them out as paralegals when they are not actually paralegals.

  64. KitKat100000*

    A few questions and comments:
    1. In what state are you taking the bar? I was required to provide information of prior managers, but those managers only confirmed employment and filled out a few short questions – it wasn’t really a reference.
    2. A state bar association would be interested in hearing about this behavior because it is not in line with the legal profession – attorneys are held to a higher standard and the state bar would want to know about her abusive practices towards employees. State bar associations have broad disciplinary powers.
    3. If you go with the bar complaint, one issue to note is her billing you as a paralegal (many states have education and licensure requirements to be a paralegal) when you were actually doing the work of an administrative assistant or a legal assistant (a legal assistant is usually the unlicensed version of a paralegal).
    4. If she were to write some sort of horrible thing about you to the state bar where you’re applying, the bar review board would follow up with additional questions and would maybe bring you in for the interview. I know two different people that were arrested during the summer after their third year of law school and were still licensed to practice after an additional interview with their respective state bars.
    5. In addition to GlassDoor, you could also consider posting on Yelp or Google Reviews about the general demeanor of the attorney.
    6. I’m so sorry that you had to deal with this! I’m five years out of law school and have dealt with some pretty awful attorneys from time to time, both as colleagues and as opposing counsel, but you will make it out alive!
    7. Also, as a general note to the pre-law world, if after a few days or weeks you know that your working situation is untenable, QUIT AND DON’T LIST IT ON YOUR RESUME. Having a blank employment space before starting law school is completely normal and no one will bat an eye.

    Good luck with the bar! Study hard!

  65. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

    The longer I live and observe the corporate working world, the more I think that there may be such a thing as a “predator employer” for white collar jobs. It does seem that some employers are targeting their hiring to persons that would be more likely to accept abuse and/or poor working conditions. And the targets often seem to be young people, new college grads, interns.

    I had an employer who had about 10-15% of its workforce made up of low-paid student interns. That company had a very high employee attrition rate and had trouble attracting experienced qualified applicants for jobs for a variety of reasons, including organizational dysfunction and instability of the business. Those interns were doing specialized jobs (many of them STEM-type) that really needed a couple of years of industry experience. The management thought it was great to have all this dirt cheap labor who were so grateful for their first industry internship (and who had no other work experience as a basis of reference to judge the working environment). Of course the management didn’t have to deal directly with the constantly changing roster of newbies. Some of the internships were as short as 3 months. Many employees were less than thrilled by this staffing strategy, because of the huge effort involved in training and reviewing and fixing intern work. Very inefficient.

  66. Jeleele*

    OP, I’m a lawyer who now works in a law school career services office. Our school also has a separate dean/office that advises 3Ls on bar admissions. Seek out the appropriate office at your law school. You can definitely still be admitted to a bar if a former employer doesn’t reply to the board of bar examiners to confirm your employment (which is all that is required in most states) OR if they do reply with something negative (only applicable in New York and perhaps a couple other states). But go ask your advisor for more details, if only to calm your nerves.

  67. Jenny*

    If you leave a GD review, please make sure to only leave a review that is very careful not to drop details that give your idea away to the employer. I say this because unfortunately, jilted employers are absolutely able to find out who did the review. For some reason a court ruled that the employers have the right to know….

    So yeah. I want to leave one about my bad experience at a place, but they only have like 12 people working there, so it would be obvious. At the same I don’t want to write a bitter review. Wait until you have no emotions about it so you can give just plain facts.

  68. CatLady*

    Everyone seems to be missing this key part, “‘she referred to me as an “administrative assistant” on payroll, but as a “paralegal” when billing clients for my time”

    I don’t believe this is ethical. At all. The Bar Association will want to know about this. You aren’t supposed to bill support staff as a paralegal. At least in our state now there are certificate requirements in order to use the term paralegal. No licensing but certificate. I’m not a lawyer but I have my cert. OP I’d double check on this specific part.

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