my dysfunctional office only hires young people because we’re “blank slates”

A reader writes:

I work for a law firm that, due to Covid, has in recent months been downsized an incredible amount. The paralegal team which I am a part of went from ~10 people to basically 2.5. (Another paralegal and I handle all legal work, and there is a person who works in a different department who helps out but isn’t well trained when it comes to paralegal work.) It’s been overwhelming and the workload has gotten out of control, something that our HR rep, who is also our boss, is aware of.

Another thing to note, we are all in our early 20s. This firm is notorious for hiring kids straight out of college because the CEO prefers “blank slates.” Therefore, for all of us, this is our first professional job.

Here’s the issue we’ve been running into. There is a lot of secrecy at the firm when it comes to the changes being made. For example, when someone is let go, we are supposed to act like we don’t notice. No one is told officially that they are gone and we’re just supposed to handle the internal confusion this causes (lots of instances of cases being slowed down because emails were going to someone who doesn’t work there anymore, etc).

This unofficial policy has carried over into the way the firm has made changes to the paralegals’ jobs. There has been no communication, which has made it so that the staff all have to talk to each other about rumors we hear from the attorneys in order to know what’s going on. Whenever concerns are brought up to our HR person, who is also our manager, their response is to very aggressively ask, “Who did you hear that from?” rather than actually responding to the issue being brought up. It makes us feel like we’ve done something wrong and are being scolded for spreading rumors. It leaves us feeling like we’re being treated like children and like we’re not allowed to communicate with each other. I wouldn’t qualify what we’re doing as actually “spreading gossip” but rather just trying to keep each other informed on important things like job stability, changes to social distancing rules (recently some have been dropped, which is highly concerning), lack of work-from-home options, whether someone who got sent home was sent home because they have Covid (this happened and no one who came in contact with them was notified), etc.

Maybe I’m wrong though? What are your thoughts? Is this normal? And if it isn’t, is there any way for the staff to take back some of our power and demand more communication?

They don’t prefer to hire young people fresh out of college because they’re “blank slates.” They prefer to hire young people fresh out of college because you won’t fully recognize their dysfunction, will put up with things more experienced people wouldn’t, and won’t be as quick to call them on it or leave over it.

And that may not be a conscious thing. Usually managers who hire like this aren’t cackling evilly and thinking, “Ah, I’ll hire young people because they won’t know workplace norms yet and I can mistreat them.” Instead, they think things like, “We’ve always just worked better with younger people,” or “That time we hired someone more experienced, they didn’t fit in with how we do things.” Your boss’s “blank slate” thing is a form of that; it means, “It just somehow goes better when people come to us more open to how we do things here.” And of course it does — when you hire people who aren’t familiar with work norms, they’re more likely to go along with severe dysfunction because they don’t yet realize what is and isn’t normal, or what is and isn’t okay. But your boss probably isn’t thinking about it at that level. In part that’s because the managerial incompetence that leads to the kind of culture you described will also prevent them from understanding how this is playing out.

So, to answer your questions: No, this isn’t normal.

There’s certainly a lot of downsizing happening right now, even at highly functional companies, but expecting 2.5 paralegals to handle all the legal work that used to be done by a team of 10 with no changes in workload or priorities (if that’s what’s happening) isn’t normal. It happens, because there’s lots of bad management out there, but it’s untenable. (On the other hand, if your boss is adjusting deadlines and priorities and you’re not having to work awful hours to meet their expectations of you, even though your to-do list is miles-long, that’s different. That’s the reality in a lot of jobs. The expectations and demands on you are the part I’d care about.)

Being expected to act like you don’t notice when someone is let go: not normal. It happens at some dysfunctional companies, but it’s not normal and it makes things far less efficient (as you noted).

The lack of communication and the defensiveness and scolding when you ask about what’s going on: not normal. Again, it happens at some dysfunctional companies, but it’s not something you should expect from your employer and it’s a bad sign. It’s true that even decent companies aren’t always as fully transparent as employees would like, but you should expect to be informed about fundamental changes that affect your job, especially after you point out that not knowing is impeding your work. At a decent job, you still might occasionally encounter a situation where necessary transparency is lacking (often because plans are still being worked out and decisions haven’t been finalized yet — and when it happens, it’s often around layoffs or restructuring) but it should be the exception, not the rule, and definitely not the default approach to communication.

As for whether there’s a way to demand more communication … you can try. There can be power in numbers, and speaking as a group can often work when speaking on your own doesn’t.

But you’re describing a toxic enough environment that any progress you achieve in that regard is likely to be a band-aid when you need something bigger. These are deep cultural issues that need to be fixed by change at the top, if they can be fixed at all.

{ 154 comments… read them below }

    1. Gazebo Slayer*

      YUP. One of my very early employers hired people who were recent grads, formerly homeless, or going through major life transitions, and often didn’t even pay minimum wage. It took weeks of nagging the owner to get a paycheck at all sometimes. His young office manager worked 60 hours a week and I calculated her pay rate at $6 an hour (in the early 2000s; minimum wage was $6.75 in my state at the time). And that’s just one of the many ways that place was a mess.

      Another early employer of mine which mostly hired recent grads instituted a policy of neither confirming nor denying that people had worked there when they were asked for references. Not just “we only give dates of employment” but “we won’t say whether you ever worked there at all.” Which makes their former employees look like liars.

      You are seeing a whole parade of red flags. I wish I could say there were better options out there for you right now, but employers are responding to the recession as they usually do – by behaving as badly as they please because they figure we’re all disposable.

      1. Wendy*

        This is some Watership Down-level weirdness. OP, I hope you find somewhere that better appreciates you!

        1. Legal Beagle the OG*

          Even a job at a normal pig lab sounds fascinating to me (what is a pig lab??); I’d love to hear the story of the pig lab from hell!

          1. Quill*

            Some day I will write it up, but it’s 2 years of being hit in the face by red flags and pretending they’re green ones, so… not as narrative as the time my mom’s boss kidnapped the janitor for a fish fry

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          Oh yeah. One of the weird things about the place with awful pay was… the office manager was so proud and excited and seemed to genuinely think she was getting a great deal. The owner talked constantly about how he was giving us all great opportunities and about how much more progressive and ethical and genuine his business was than all the other sellout corporate drones, and apparently she swallowed it all whole.

    2. staceyizme*

      Exactly! And because they’re not veterans of the sort of gaslighting endemic to some instantiations of employment (and seem somewhat more common in law, medicine and education, but that’s strictly anecdotal, not a conclusion supported by facts and statistics).

    3. pope suburban*

      Mmhm. My old HellJob only hired people who were fresh out of school, or who couldn’t get hired at reputable construction firms because they weren’t actually qualified. Coming to that pit after a couple of white-collar internships and a handful of temp-agency placements in professional offices was wild. I was the only one there who knew that things weren’t normal, because for everyone else that office set their baseline expectations. I did my best to help everyone advocate for themselves more effectively, but the boss liked the environment of chaos, mistrust, and constant stress, so very little changed. All that for $5/hour below market rate for the position! Some employers are the worst; if you need to exploit people in order to run your business, you shouldn’t be running a business.

    4. Student*

      Also, age discrimination in hiring is illegal in the US. So, there’s a useful data point about your… legal firm.

      1. Magenta Sky*

        It never ceases to amaze me at how many law offices break so many employment laws. Discrimination, sexual harassment, retaliation, you name it, there’s a law office somewhere that’s been in the news for it.

        But as they say, “Only some lawyers are like that, and they make the other 1% of us look bad.”

      2. Arvolin*

        In the US, IIRC, you can’t discriminate against anyone on age if they’re between 40 and 65, so there’s no legal problem if the job is such that people over 40 would generally not want it.

      3. Thornus*

        Federal law prohibits age discrimination if the business has 20 or more employees and only against people who are 40 or older. Some states might have lower employee number thresholds or lower age limits.

    5. JanetM*

      I remember my mother (office manager at a medium-to-large law firm) saying once that she preferred to hire single mothers because they couldn’t afford to quit. I was an adult before I realized that was a pretty awful policy.

      1. Banker Chick*

        In the early 90’s I graduated with a Paralegal degree and was looking for a position to utilize my new degree. The attorney had let go his previous paralegal, who had been making $15 an hour, and was looking to hire someone at minimum wage. $4.75 an hour. I was willing to take it as it was a recession and I wanted a position “in my field”. He ended up hiring a young single mom who didn’t that seem nearly as qualified (Which he can right out and told me) but he said she would be able to turn the low pay into something “liveable” with the EITC and other government programs. The whole thing seemed way too weird and while I couldn’t be sure it was illegal (either the getting rid of the “mature” employee or the knowing the family/financial situations of the other candidate and myself) I couldn’t help but feel I dodged a bullet.

      2. JustaTech*

        I was just reading and article (Business Insider I think?) about Ruth of Ruth’s Chris Steak House and how she, as a single mom, preferred to hire single mothers because they were hard workers, and at one time it was the only restaurant in New Orleans that had an all-women waitstaff.

        I guess there’s a weird line between “I respect the hard work you do as someone in a challenging position” and “I know you can’t afford to quit so I’ll work you to the bone”.

  1. Ominous Adversary*

    And that may not be a conscious thing.

    This is a law firm. It is unfortunately among crappy law firms like this to consciously and deliberately hire young people in order to underpay and overwork them – particularly since the legal job market is not great and young law grads often have crushing student debt. It’s not accidental that the boss is also HR.

    The workload being out of control isn’t just a time management issue; paralegals and attorneys both have ethical obligations and can commit malpractice. And when you’re overworked in an environment like this, you WILL start dropping balls. Guess who’s going to get blamed for them?

    The good news for the LW is that every legal community is a small town and other, better law firms almost certainly know what a shirtshow this place is, and will understand why she is looking elsewhere.

      1. Legal Research Guru-ess*

        In my (not at all dysfunctional) law firm, our legal support staff report to HR. Not sure why, but apparently it is relatively common.

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      The good news for LW is that while she might get the blame internally, it’s the attorney’s legal responsibility (and the attorney’s liability insurance and affiliation on the line).

    2. Lavender Menace*

      I was going to say…yeah, it’s possible that this is not conscious, but my money is on them knowing exactly what they are doing,

      1. Ominous Adversary*

        I understand the thing about assuming ignorance before malice, and I know Alison doesn’t like to think ill of people, but there is a certain breed of law firm for which this is the exact and intentional business model.

        1. Nesprin*

          I think the important thing about assuming incompetence before malice is that you have to treat repeated incompetence as malicious. It doesn’t matter why people are not being told when employees leave, but it is interfering with work.

        2. M*

          I used to work in one of those firms. The managing partner, when people would inquire about raises and indicate they would leave if they weren’t paid better, would respond with, “we encourage people to move on”. High turnover rate, lots of young paralegals/assistants who were often given loads of incomplete work from their predecessors.

          1. tex*

            Yes, I worked at one of those too! Raises, whether for merit or COLA, just *did not happen*, because they could just hire another college student or new grad to take over.

        3. Queen Anon*

          And more common than anyone cares to admit. Law is frequently a “we eat our young” field.

    3. Sue*

      Yes, this whole thing is concerning for many reasons but the fact that it’s a law firm really exacerbates the situation. When you see a firm with this much turmoil, attorneys will be looking to leave as well. I can’t tell how big the firm is from this but if several or a group of them leave, your job is very much in jeopardy. I would be worried about the potential for attorney discipline and also the firm breaking up as both will affect the paralegals and other employees. I agree with the advice to start looking elsewhere.

      1. Undercover Lady Lawyer*

        Being an associate or staff in a law firm breaking up is akin to being the child of acrimoniously divorcing parents, except you do have to worry about the adult stuff.

        1. Magenta Sky*

          According to a friend of mine, being a junior partner in a firm breaking up because the senior partner wants to retire, and his expectations of junior partners are insane is . . . worse. (Pretty much the entire firm quit within a few days. It wasn’t a small firm.)

    4. Richard Hershberger*

      Small town: I worked for Notorious Bad Boss for three years. Twelve years later I still have lawyers in my area recoil in horror when I tell them his name. But it is fascinated horror, as he was subsequently disbarred: a topic of great interest to all lawyers. And yes, I was not shy about this when I was job hunting after leaving him.

  2. SillyLittlePittyPat!*

    See also, lower salaries.
    My old company did this with emails, only one announcement was ever made about a termination to declare, “This person is not our rep.” All the time, all emails forwarded to the Prez. and he never returned them. So, jobs were dropped in a hole on the regular. So dysfunctional!

  3. Jellyfish*

    Been there! At first, I thought I was lucky to find a boss who was willing to hire me right out of school, and Boss definitely encouraged that notion. They expected me to be so grateful to them for allowing me to work there.

    Not only was it a terrible experience, it really warped my professional behavior going forward. I can promise there’s lots of dysfunction that you’re not even noticing. Anyone that eager to avoid people with the experience and knowledge to point out areas where the business or culture could be improved is a red flag.

    Good luck OP!

    1. Please remove your monkeys from my circus*

      I read that as the person the paralegals report to also happens to handle HR. However, and with the caveat that most of what I know about the functioning of law firms I learned on TV, a firm with 10 paralegals seems large not to have dedicated HR staff. But again, what do I know?

      1. Ominous Adversary*

        It is odd. Even in a small firm they should be reporting to a supervisor. If it’s a solo or very small firm they would be reporting to the firm owner. But the boss is HR here likely because he’s an incompetent control freak.

        1. Magenta Sky*

          A law firm, of all people, *especially* if they specialize in employment law, should know better than to not have professional HR people, with the appropriate education, training and experience. If they’re too small to employ someone, they should be contracting it out to an outside firm (and there are many).

          It’s a pity we live in the real world, and not utopia.

          (I miss the days where our sexual harassment training was done live by a litigator who specialized in employment law. his war stories really drove home the point he was making, and were generally pretty funny.)

          1. JustaTech*

            I just realized I haven’t had sexual harassment training in a really long time. Like maybe 5 years? I guess I should bring that up to HR at some point. That’s going to be an awkward conversation.

          2. Not HR Anymore*

            I left a job with a religious denomination (of which I am a member) for one in the HR dept. an organization involved in journalism and business information. The HR VP was out on sick leave when I started so I did not meet him right away. We were introduced in passing in the hallway but, later that day, he bounded into my office, sat down without invitation, and the first thing out of his mouth was something clearly highly offensive about the my former employer and the religion itself. He apparently thought it was a joke but I did not. A few days later, I got my EEOC/harassment/discrimination training and learned that the person to report this sort of thing reported directly to the HR VP, who was named as the one to whom to direct an elevated complaint. Really

      2. Richard Hershberger*

        The factoid of there being ten paralegals tells you surprisingly little about the firm. The ratio of paralegals to attorneys varies wildly, both by area of practice and business model within that area. The extreme case are personal injury settlement shops. “Settlement shop” means that the firm never litigates. The better ones will farm those cases out to other firms. The worse ones will settle the case for a fraction of its value. But either way, since no one ever needs to put on a suit and appear in front of a judge, they don’t need many actual lawyers, who will expect to be paid more, so they end up with far more paralegals than lawyers. At the other end of the personal injury law spectrum are insurance company staff counsel firms, who might have just one paralegal supporting ten lawyers. This is insane. So far as I can tell, the reasoning is that the lawyers are in court constantly, and so the insurance company regards any staff that doesn’t go into court to be dead weight. I can’t really speak to other practice areas.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          This is very true. When I was a paralegal supervisor, we had one practice with a 3:1 attorney:paralegal ratio and one with a 15:1 ratio and everything in between. That place was not stingy with hiring, either, there was just more need for paralegal support based on the type of work the practices did.

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      This is not uncommon. I worked in law firm administration for years, including managing the paralegal team, and having them report to attorneys in all but the smallest environments is bad on a number of levels. Attorneys are there to bill and many are not well-suited to people management. Any time I’ve had paralegals reporting to attorneys, there were so many problems with consistency of treatment across attorneys, labor law compliance (primarily related to OT), etc.

      Reporting to HR or a paralegal manager within HR or another admin department is not that unusual.

      1. Delta Delta*

        We lawyer people are great at being lawyers. We are horror shows at being managers. Seems like a WAY better idea to have paralegals report to HR.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          And, really, why would we want you spending pricy attorney time time on administrative overhead task when you could be billing and generating business?

      2. Ominous Adversary*

        “Many attorneys are not well-suited to people management” is both incredibly diplomatic and a massive understatement.

    3. scanon*

      Administrative staff in law firms typically report to an office manager. The office manager oversees all non-law aspects of the firm including HR. It is a terrible idea for admin staff to report directly to the lawyers they assist, for the reasons listed by NotAnotherManager! and more.
      Law firms generally have a high level of disfunction. There are two different worlds co-existing: the world of the lawyers and the world of the assistants. There is a formal reporting structure but also a pecking order in both worlds that is not clear from the outside. The clients and the money keep everything rolling smoothly, but when there is a disruption to that, especially one leading to a partnership dispute, the system can fall apart very quickly.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        Office managers are common in small and some mid-sized firms, but this is not the case for any firm for which I’ve worked, mid-sized or large. I’ve been a paralegal, senior paralegal/supervisor, and a paralegal manager, and there’s never been an office manager involved. 75% of the reporting structures involved HR.

        Law firms are definitely more complex, politically, keeping the lawyers versus non-attorneys division from creating cultural issues is also a big problem. Some firms also do not do a good job implementing the no-asshole rule, if the asshole’s book of business is big enough. Reading OP’s post is like a flashback – I could swear that the OP works at a firm run by the horror show of an HR director I worked for the first few years of my career and then again when I was hired back into a management position years later. When I walked their successor through everything OldHR put me threw, NewHR was horrified. I think the first two years NewHR was with us were dedicated to mop and bucket detail on the pile of dysfunction that was left behind.

  4. AnonEMoose*

    To paraphrase Captain Awkward…your office is full of evil bees. If at all possible, and I know it’s super easy to say, please at least seriously consider looking for another job. You do not deserve to be treated like this, it’s not normal, and as a poster above pointed out, this can really warp your sense of professional norms in ways that can take a very long time to sort out.

    Please update us, OP, and I wish you the very best!

    1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

      That was seriously my first thought too. Evil bees!!!!

      Also, OP, throw this up on GlassDoor when you make your exit. Tell people what to google to get to this episode of AAM so they can get the full picture of the bees. People need jobs, so new grads still take jobs at Evil Bees LLP, but you can at least help them go in with open eyes. (Open eyes like Nic Cage in Wicker Man. Bees! Bees!)

    2. Lily Rowan*

      I always vote for looking for a new job! Why not? Don’t quit without one, sure, but just looking commits you to nothing and opens you up to possibilities!

      1. tex*

        I worked for a (different) dysfunctional law firm where the office manager would post fake jobs online
        (no firm name in the ad, which was pretty common for that area) and then if an current employee responded, that employee would get fired.
        She kept it up until I told my supervising attorney about it, and he got that shut down immediately. Talk about setting yourself up for a retaliation lawsuit.

        1. Banker Chick*

          I worked in a small law office years ago. What I didn’t realize when I was hired was that a perfectly good employee (who was good friends with office manager) was fired in order to hire me. I had zero experience and already had a target on my back with the office manager simply because I took her buddy’s place. It wasn’t working out and I was checking the want ads and found MY job listed. I was so embarrassed that I quit over the phone and didn’t go back. The managing partner told me it wasn’t “professional” (Hey- at least I had the courtesy to call) but I wasn’t waiting for him to fire me like he did the previous person.

  5. MsChanandlerBong*

    Preach. I have had two jobs that I thought I was “lucky” to get since I was so young and experienced. I actually did benefit a bit from the first one in what I was able to learn by performing advanced tasks that someone way senior should have been performing, but I only got paid $25K (in New York City, no less; just enough to rent a room in NJ that had NO kitchen facilities and buy one full meal–lunch–each day). The second was just a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad stressful experience. I got hired on as an HR assistant for $11.25/hour, which I thought was great. Little did I know the HR manager had quit, so I would be assisting…myself. I was doing all kinds of higher-level stuff and screwing it up royally. I was fired, which sucked at the time, but it was really a blessing. Had I had any sense of professional norms, I would have said something, but I just thought I should keep trying my best.

  6. Fancy Owl*

    This is another area where work is like dating it seems. People may not be willing to admit why they want to only date 18-19 year olds (or god forbid teenagers) when they’re 10+ years older than them but it’s about control and your partner not having enough experience to recognize red flags yet. And also being early in their career so they don’t have the resources to leave you easily. Ugh. People and businesses need to stop being predatory.

    1. Gazebo Slayer*

      Remembering the 18-year-old I knew whose 40-something boyfriend literally told her God commanded women to obey men. She was a self-described feminist, but apparently so unsure of herself that she stayed with this guy.

      Me: “Having no boyfriend is better than having a bad boyfriend.”
      Her, as if it were a startling idea that had never occurred to her and which she found dubious: “Really?”

      It was heartbreaking.

    2. HarvestKaleSlaw*

      I like this comparison. I used to work with young girls, and we spent a lot of time emphasizing that if he is dating you instead of someone his own age, it’s not because he sees you’re so special – it’s because no woman his age will with him.

      Nobody this firm’s own age will get with them.

    3. Warm Weighty Wrists*

      Oh yes. I worked for a law firm right out of college, and also dated someone 33 when I was 19, and learned very similar lessons from both experiences. (Sadly, experiencing the one did not prevent me from experiencing the other.)
      One of my guidelines for online dating was: no guys who list the age range they’re looking to date as not including their own age. Nooope.

  7. Junior Assistant Peon*

    This is exactly why grad school and academia are so dysfunctional – very few people there have any baseline of what a professional work environment with a competent HR department should look like.

      1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        On some level, isn’t this basically true of almost every field where new entrants are seldom career changers* and the entry-level qualification is usually a graduate degree? Or is that too much a generalization?

        *Except for people leaving academia

        1. PersephoneUnderground*

          Hmm, that would imply fields with lots of career changers should be more functional. Not sure that holds up with Tech, but maybe the ratio of career changers has only been increasing recently? Now I need to go look this up. There are a lot of young people in tech, but lots of career switchers too (myself included) as it becomes more accessible with pretty good tech boot camps and adult education courses.

          1. JustaTech*

            I think it might also be that, within academia, *everyone* is an academic or academic support. You don’t have the same contact with Accounting and Legal and even IT and HR, and you don’t have all those other, external-facing departments like sales and customer service and just other people doing very different jobs but in the same place.

            I feel like one of the advantages of industry over academia (in the sciences) is that you get the chance to interact professionally with people who are not from your specialty and so there’s a chance to exchange professional norms. Like, I might not work directly with the supply chain folks, but (in the before times) I see them in the lunchroom and chat at the elevator and you get a chance to see that, say, 80 hour weeks are not the norm in your company, so why is your boss asking you to do that?

            Also, I feel like industry generally has more senior folks who understand some basic employment stuff and have a real HR.

            1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

              I don’t want to pile on you here, but many, many people working in academia are pretty removed from it, and their functional areas aren’t too dissimilar from what you’d experience in industry. Have you have you never heard of people in higher ed who work in areas like facilities management, advancement, institutional research, or government relations? Much less everyone in higher ed accounting, legal, HR, and IT? These roles don’t function the same way as “stereotypical” academic support roles like student affairs.

              Lots of people who work in non-academic fields in higher ed certainly have a lot of contact with things like Accounting or IT. To that end, people who work in those functional areas often don’t see themselves as being in a true academic support role. I’ve worked in industry and academia in one of the functional areas I mentioned, and it’s not drastically different between sectors.

              Sorry, but it’s just aggravating to keep seeing these massive misconceptions about non-academic staff roles floating around. It’s a different universe than what people on the academic side of the house deal with, entirely so.

  8. designbot*

    I’d encourage you to think about gossip in two categories: productive gossip and unproductive gossip. Unproductive gossip is about things that won’t change anything, for example a known quantity personality that you’re just always going to be frustrated with, but there’s nothing to be done about it is unproductive. People’s personal lives are unproductive gossip. But changes in staffing, schedules, and projects? That’s productive gossip! That’s you getting the info you need to operate effectively, just through an unofficial channel.

  9. WomensRea*

    Wow I could have written this myself 8 years ago! Before I went to law school I worked at not one, but two (!) law firms as a paralegal that had very similar practices. One of my old bosses said verbatim that he hired people right out of undergrad because they were “blank slates.” He was a terrible boss, and ran a terrible firm (something that I see even clearer now as a lawyer myself).

    So, I really sympathize with what it feels like to work in an environment where terrible business practices happen all of the time. I agree with Alison that in work places like these (especially if they are small law firms) it is very hard for the “blank slates” to actually change the work environment. What got me through both of these experiences was finding mentors who could confirm that what was happening at work wasn’t normal or good, and remind me of how I deserve to be treated as a worker. I ended up relying on those mentors to get better jobs and give advice on applying to law school. I still am in contact with some of those mentors today! You didn’t ask for advice about if you should leave, and now is not an ideal time to be job-searching (depending on where you live perhaps), but in your place I would be taking baby steps towards getting out the door. That’s the advice I wish someone would have told my 22 year old self – you deserve better.

    1. Quill*

      It makes me happy to see people who rebounded after shitty early jobs, because I worry a lot that the two and change years I spent at Pig Lab from Hell have been net negatives for my career prospects.

      1. Undercover Lady Lawyer*

        I spent 11 years in insurance defense hell. I was having silly thoughts about career change, think landscape architect or wilderness guide 180s. Then I hung out my own shingle. I make more money than any of those asshole partners who made life so miserable. I work a ton less hours. I get to employ the most wicked awesome assistant and enjoy how good it feels to be a good boss and to know I’m keeping her awesome self out of some evil firm’s clutches. It happens. Six years into being super happy at work – hand to God, I haven’t dreaded a Monday since January 2014 – I still thank my lucky stars every single day. But, I’m proof it’s possible to shake the dregs.

      2. WomensRea*

        Totally! A bad job doesn’t define your career. I’ve had more than one bad job, and looking back they’ve been learning experiences to help me figure out what my dealbreakers are.

  10. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    Nothing about your company is anything close to normal. You can try speaking up, but I doubt it will cause change. When fundamental changes are happening and the higher ups are keeping it a giant secret, that’s not okay. It causes people to talk to each other and try and figure out what’s going on, and that’s how incorrect information is passed around. I’d start looking for a new job now and get the heck out of there as soon as you can.

  11. Momma Bear*

    Not telling anyone what happened to a coworker, even to say “As of x date Sarah Smith no longer works for this firm” is frankly crazymaking and poor business. I’d definitely be looking for a more stable environment. I recall a job where our office shrank from something like 35 people to 5. One of my coworkers asked, “Should I be looking for a job?” I told her she should have already been looking for a job! Take this as the writing on the wall and start making your exit plan. This is dysfunction at its finest.

  12. Precious Wentletrap*

    I realize how hard the market is right now, but I think Paul Simon has the best advice here:
    You just slip out the back, Jack
    Make a new plan, Stan
    You don’t need to be coy, Roy
    Just get yourself free
    Hop on the bus, Gus
    You don’t need to discuss much
    Just drop off the key, Lee
    And get yourself free

  13. Maj. Pothead, reporting for doobie*

    OP, I hate to be so cynical, but my honest reaction to this is: Don’t Bother. They aren’t interested. They don’t want to hear it.
    Even if it takes quite a bit of time, focus your energy on finding your next position. Workplaces like this are like alcoholics. Nobody but themselves can decide to actually make a change.
    Eventually, when you do give your resignation, they will likely try to corner you and demand to know “why” you are leaving. Don’t fall for this trap. Anything you say will be used against you in the future when you need a reference. Just lie and say everything was basically fine but you just want to pursue this new opportunity due to X, Y, and Z. Remember, just because someone wants your opinion or viewpoint, that doesn’t mean they are entitled to hear the truth when it is fairly safe to presume that your honest opinion will be used against you in the future. It’s not your job to fix them and you don’t owe them anything.

    1. Toxic Workplace Survivor*

      Wish someone had given me this advice at my last job! My coworkers and I are *so* hard to change the culture and point out opportunities for improvement as a business. It all fell on deaf ears and ultimately hurt us more than helped anyone. Get the experience and get out as soon as you can OP.

      1. Maj. Pothead, reporting for doobie*

        Yes, I wish I could travel back in time and give myself this same advice 15-20 years ago.

      2. Maj. Pothead, reporting for doobie*

        And so many employers wonder why their people aren’t “engaged” or “bringing their whole self to work”.

      3. PeteAndRepeat*

        Same. And then on my last day, I was given a 10-page exit interview form. I returned it blank and never looked back.

    2. Nameless Shark*

      Thanks for this. It isn’t cynical- just realistic. The onus is on employers to know if they have a toxic work culture. Departing employees shouldn’t have to spell it out for them. If they don’t know it’s a dereliction of duty.

      I am sure there are employers who are keen to listen to feedback and improve. But the onus is on them to show employees that it’s safe to give critical feedback.

  14. No Longer Gig-less Data Analyst*

    I worked for a financial services company that was like this. They were obsessed with hiring undergrad interns and young people who had previously only worked in retail or restaurants/bars. It also came with this really weird vibe of the CEO wanting the company to feel “hip” and “cool” that was kind of bizarre for such a conservative industry. Most experienced employees like me rarely lasted more than a year – the company went through 12-14 employees a year even though the total company size was only around 25 at any given time.

    Over this summer I saw a video of them (from their corporate account) taking all the interns on a trip to a lake, pulling them behind a boat on a tire – just a real party with all of these 18 – 24 year olds in their bathing suits, and oh yeah, in the middle of a freaking pandemic!

    It was only one sign of the deep dysfunction rooted in the very core of the business, and I gave them 6 months of my life before I rode my nopeasaurus out of there.

    1. Monty and Millie's Mom*

      Just have to say…..”I rode my nopeasaurus out of there” is a truly fabulous phrase, and one I hope to incorporate into my life somehow! So thank you for that!

  15. animaniactoo*

    “I’m very concerned that you seem to be more invested in finding out where I got this information from than making sure that I have accurate information”.

    You can’t change the culture overall, but you can work as a group on how to individually push back when you ask about things and name the problematic issue so that they all get the same sort of response from you even if you are not specifically speaking to them as a group.

    Other things you can do while you are there and need to remain relatively sane:

    “I’ve e-mailed Jack a couple of times in the past few days about the Johnson case, but haven’t gotten a response. Is he out of the office or is there someone else I should be sending these to?” Kick it up for an answer as soon as it’s slightly after you would expect to hear a response. Be persistent, make it a problem for them to be consistently not communicating when change is happening. If they tell you that it’s too soon to be asking, that’s the point at which you can push back and say “I’m sorry but we’re never told when someone is let go so if I wait any longer I’m concerned about delaying progress on the case. If we could regularly be told when duties are re-assigned that would be great!” If they keep having to confirm that someone is still working there but ahem have too much on their plate to get to your issue, that can also be useful in terms of highlighting a workload issue.

    You will have to balance it with trying to make sure you are not so much of a pain in the ass that you are the problem child, but all of you doing it across the board should help with that somewhat. Take the temperature regularly and if you need to stop for awhile so that you can wait for a case to be delayed so that you can point to the most recent time that it happened, do that. But only until you can get out. Because you shouldn’t need to play those kinds of games to make sure that you have the right information to do your job.

    1. Jenni*

      ITA, play dumb- if they choose not to tell you something, how are you expected to know it? Spread the pain around, it shouldn’t all be yours and the other paralegals’.

  16. Beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk-ox*

    Ugh. This reminds me of a boss I once had who had 100% turnover in her department within 6 months of becoming a supervisor. She chalked it up to previous management being poor and people expecting to just laze about and be irresponsible. And then she hired all outside people with little-to-no industry experience.

    It dawned on me months later when she finally turned on me that she focused on outside hires because there’s no way anyone at the company who knew her would have worked for her. Anyone who knew the industry would have also recognized the severe dysfunction with which she ran her department and also would have been able to challenge her technical knowledge, which was severely lacking considering her position. She didn’t prefer blank slates, either; she preferred people who didn’t know more than her.

    Seriously, OP: get out as soon as you have a chance. I don’t know that there’s any way to change a company like this from the inside because the dysfunction starts at the hiring process. The things you mentioned aren’t normal and are frustrating, demoralizing, and untenable. I hope you’re able to find something else very, very soon.

    1. MassMatt*

      How do upper managers not notice or care about this? That manager had 200% annual turnover! That’s high even for a fast-food restaurant. How could any work possibly be getting done?

      1. Beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk-ox*

        She was very buddy-buddy with her own manager, who I think is mostly oblivious because he has so many direct reports, and her mistreatment of employees was so sneaky and passive-aggressive that it was hard to come up with a solid reason to complain (plus, she started talking poorly about people to everyone around her as soon as she decided she had an issue with them, so she did a lot of preemptive legwork to ensure people believed her about whatever the situation was). She retired after about a year in that department and, in the meeting where she announced she’d be leaving, I felt like Bill Hader playing Keith Morrison in those Dateline sketches on SNL grinning while going, “That’s HORRIBLE.” After she retired, I remember talking casually with an HR person at lunch and being a bit open about how terrible the environment had been with her as a manager and the HR person was genuinely confused. See, my manager was always very calm and logical-sounding when she presented her side of things, so HR genuinely thought any complaints were just a result of different management styles and my manager cleaning house. Maybe if her employees had actually quit rather than jumping ship for other departments it would have raised more eyebrows, but as it stood, my manager had a reason for EVERYTHING and nothing was EVER her fault.

        Anyway…my manager now is awesome and I’m very glad to have him. Previous manager caused a lot of damage before she left to me specifically — telling my teammates things that caused all but one of them to straight-up stop talking to me for months, etc. — but things have calmed down a lot and are way better under my new manager.

  17. Sandman*

    I worked at a place exactly as described here years ago, from hiring only young women to no explanations when people disappeared to not being allowed to talk to co-workers. I was just a little older than the others – maybe 24 or 25 – with a few years of experience, so when they said something absurd I unconsciously translated it into what it would mean in a functional workplace. Like, a dress code that said “must wear skirts 4 days a week” – oh, CLEARLY that means “dress professionally.” (It didn’t.) Anyway, I got fired. If you’re able to roll with it, great, but I’d never trust a place like this over the long haul and it’ll dangerously mess up your idea of what’s normal to boot.

    1. The Vulture*

      I feel certain somehow that “4 days a week” is the work of a dangerously controlling creep; It’s just so MUCH and yet so SPECIFIC and yet clearly it’s not an everyday blanket policy, it allows just enough flexibility that you know it can’t be that way for any particular REASON (like wear a skirt if you have an outside-facing meeting or some other thing that trusts you to dress according to your schedule, even if a skirt would be a weird requirement in the best case). Thanks, I hate it.

      1. LGC*

        Specifying four days a week isn’t that weird (although it’s an odd phrasing), though – they’re basically saying that there’s one dress-down day a week, and four days a week are formal. (Assuming there’s a five-day work week.)

        The bigger problem, of course, is that they’re mandating skirts. But I think everyone’s in agreement on that.

        1. JustaTech*

          Something tells me that my mid-calf plaid jumper would not be OK, nor would my ankle-length Edwardian walking skirt, or my fabulously 1950’s quilted circle skirt.

          “But it’s a skirt!”

  18. MissDisplaced*

    There is a lot of dysfunction going on at a lot of workplaces because of COVID, but this is still at a level of dysfunction that is definitely NOT NORMAL. Because this is not the way any of this ought to be handled.

    I do not work in legal, but my very large company has also recently experienced significant downsizing due to the pandemic. They also do not ever announce “who” was let go, although they do announce the reductions and which departments and reporting structure it affects. Usually, the people being laid off do get 2 weeks notice of their end date. We are all told though, that we absolutely cannot discuss or say anything publicly about the reductions to customers, media or on social media. ESPECIALLY customers. So I wonder if that is why your firm is trying to keep this so obscure and no one is being told officially. I’m sorry, but it’s really a crap move to not even allow a smooth transition of work. None of these things are good signs of things to come. If I were you, I’d be looking for a new job.

  19. RussianInTexas*

    My company is notorious about, with some rare exceptions, not telling anyone if someone have left. Mind you, we only have about 20 people in the office. Suddenly the e-mails sent will get returned by another person, without an explanation, or someone will ask “whatever happened to Sandra?”
    I understand of they just didn’t want to disclose WHY a person left, because it might be private, but I sort of think I need to know of my contact in the Operations, for example, is no longer there.

    1. Sharon*

      This is a nuance that could be in play, particularly since it’s a law firm that could be very sensitive to privacy issues. However, I would still expect people to get the info they needed to do their job. For example, if Jenny left, people that worked with Jenny should know the process for dealing with those things in the future. They don’t need to know that Jenny got fired for embezzling funds or quit to have a baby. Similarly, if someone that was in the office (employee, client, delivery guy) tests positive for COVID, the employer doesn’t necessarily need to tell WHO tested positive, but they should inform others that they may have been exposed so they can quarantine and get tested.

      1. RussianInTexas*

        They also never say a person left on their own accord, no, they say “not here anymore” in a tone that presumes they were let go.
        When a long-time employee from my department was leaving, she made sure to tell everyone she was leaving voluntarily because she didn’t want people to think she was fired.

  20. RussianInTexas*

    On the other hand, boyfriend’s company scouts and hires young people (mostly masters candidates, although they are switching to the bachelors for various reasons) specifically to find talent. He is in a tech department of a non-tech company that is trying to really improve their tech sector. They are looking for good compsci majors.
    They have a rigorous interview process and they pay them full market rate with very nice benefits.
    Slightly OT: he told me that one of the candidates in the current batch replied “when I moved to the US last year I had to learn to cook and do laundry” to the “please describe a stressful situation outside of your control and how you deal with it”, and then copied 3 full paragraphs from an article for an assignment they give out (without citation). That was discovered with simple Google search. Boyfriend kicked it back to the company recruiter, hopefully the recruiter will be kind and explain to the candidate why he was taken off the list.

    1. PersephoneUnderground*

      I don’t know- if he was in the kind of culture where men simply don’t do those things (or servants are normal, or whatever other legit reason besides laziness for not doing it himself, there are actually a decent number), learning cooking and laundry skills on his own from scratch while adjusting to a foreign country is actually a big achievement! The plagiarism is still a disqualifier, obviously, but given a wider lens than US culture that first one isn’t a terrible answer. A redirect to a work example might have helped if this being a non-work answer was the problem.

      1. PersephoneUnderground*

        Realized I assumed gender, but it’s so much more likely for the example to apply to a man I made the assumption. There are legit reasons a woman might not know those things either (or do them differently in her country and not mention the detail that she meant doing it a new way).

  21. CommanderBanana*

    This is very similar to older men only dating women in their 20s. It’s not because the men are particularly youthful spirits.

  22. Nameless Shark*

    Oh my goodness, this was exactly what my former dysfunctional employer did as well. Employer claimed to hire graduates only because they “won’t bring any bad habits with them” and are “easier to train.” This same employer made lots of ridiculous, petty rules (“no draping your coat on the back of your seat”) and enforced them zealously. Workers were shamed for minor offences such as being one minute late to an internal meeting, no matter how diligent and productive they were otherwise.

    I knew it was weird but at the time – in my early 20s – I didn’t know enough to recognise the severity of the dysfunction or how to respond appropriately. As a graduate, I also had fewer employment options and felt stuck staying there. If I started working at a place like that now I would run immediately.

    I don’t think employing mainly graduates is necessarily a bad thing on its own. In my department we have mostly entry level work; so it makes little sense to hire people with 10+ years’ experience. I’ve enjoyed working with younger people to build up their experience and mentor them until they were ready to move on. But when this hiring preference is coupled with dysfunctional office norms, it is a huge red flag.

  23. Faberge Otter*

    Wow. Apart from the age thing, and the law firm thing, I would swear you wrote this about my company /facepalm

    The company I work for is ghastly about initializing employees, especially those in the department I’m in. I think there were about 30 people in that department when I started some six years ago, and it’s now down to 24 or 26… I don’t even know /eyeroll. There is an absolute shroud of secrecy when people go, to the extent I don’t know if people are quitting or being let go or being fired. We’re not supposed to notice, not supposed to talk about it, because it’s “gossipy.”

    I think it’s because people in my department tend to have less higher education than other departments in the company, since I’m one of the younger ones and I’m in my mid-30s. We complain all the time about a lack of openness, but our immediate supervisors feel their hands are tied and the administration is indifferent. It really does suck, OP. I’m sorry.

  24. on--covid*

    > whether someone who got sent home was sent home because they have Covid (this happened and no one who came in contact with them was notified), etc.

    Isn’t there legal requirement to notify contacts and quarantine people who came into contact with someone with covid? Here where I live, people with covid have to report that and then there is contact tracing.

  25. Quill*

    Or “we hire young people because they don’t know that our business practices are, at best, slipshod.”

  26. Delta Delta*

    Hahaha! No, they hire young people because they’re cheap.

    I worked at a similarly dysfunctional law firm. The boss wanted to hire young people fresh out of school because they were “desperate for jobs and would take low pay.” Actual words he said to me. Actual. Words. And since there’s never a shortage of young people fresh out of school who are desperate for jobs (our area has a super tight job market), he has no problem replacing people once a year so he doesn’t have to pay more.

    That’s why I worked there and why I do not currently work there.

  27. AnonEMoose*

    I keep hearing, in Taylor Swift’s voice: “Got a long list of ex-workers; they’ll tell you I’m insane. But you are a blank slate, baby…and I’ll write my name.”

  28. NotAnotherManager!*

    I also recruit out of college for positions that pay above market with full benefits from Day 1. Most people who apply are considering grad or professional school in the field and only intend to stay for 18-24 months, but we do have some who choose to stay and move into a longer-term role. We don’t treat them like crap because they’re young and likely not to be long-term employees. We actually spend a lot of time and effort providing training and support, and several of them have come back after school into higher-level positions.

    I also ask similar questions to your in interviews – that one and “tell me about a time you were asked to do something you’d never done before, how you approached it, and how it turned out” tell me a lot about whether or not the candidate is a good fit for the role.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      Shoot, that was supposed to be a reply to RussianInTexas’s comment above. Still not used to the name re-entry feature – sorry!

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        A quick note — if you’re having to re-enter your name every time, try clearing your cache and make sure the “save my name and email in this browser” box is checked. You’ll then need to enter it once more after that, but it should remember from that point forward. If it’s not, let me know and I’ll look into it! (I’ve had one other report of this so trying to see if it’s a trend.)

  29. Mr. Cajun2core*

    I am somewhat surprised that there aren’t more comments about age discrimination, which is illegal.

    Alison – you said that you thought it wasn’t intentional. Is it still age discrimination if it is not intentional?

    Not hiring anyone over 40 would most likely be age discrimination.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      If they are rejecting better qualified candidates over 40 in favor of younger ones, yes, it’s age discrimination, whether or not they intend it to be. Someone would need to show that, and someone would need to bring action over it (two things that are hard for outside candidates to do — just knowing it’s happening from the outside is tough — but not impossible). That said, if they’re not getting any older candidates because the pay doesn’t attract them, that’s a different situation too.

      1. Mr. Cajun2Core*

        Thanks for all of the clarification.

        I could be wrong but I would think that if the CEO literally says that he likes hiring younger people because they are “blank slates” (but we cannot be sure if he does that), I would think that would be damaging evidence. However, as you said, that would be difficult for an outside candidate to know

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          It’s not great, and our employment counsel would ask them to knock it off, but saying he likes hiring young people versus he will only hire young people are different things.

          I would also add that, having dealt with a lot of entry-level paralegal positions, they can often be more administrative in nature and many don’t require experience drafting pleadings, doing legal research, etc. They’re not terribly appealing to more experienced folks because it can be a lot of binder making, photocopying exhibits, inserting tables of contents/authorities into pleadings, and reviewing documents for relevance or privilege. It’s not always exciting stuff, and we were really clear with all candidates on the more drudgerous facets of the job. Some practices needed an experienced person; others really just needed a really detail-oriented, highly-organized person.

          1. Student*

            That isn’t true. A hiring policy with a disparate impact on a protected class is still illegal, even if the disparate impact is not obviously blatant, and even if a couple of the targeted group get hired occasionally. There are situations where judging or proving a disparate impact can genuinely be a grey area or difficult; this isn’t even close.

            Let’s go to the OP:
            This firm is notorious for hiring kids straight out of college because the CEO prefers “blank slates.” Therefore, for all of us, this is our first professional job.

            All of the hired people in this position are new to the workforce, which very likely means they are all young. The CEO is said to outright prefer people with no work history in his hiring decisions. This isn’t some grey area; this is the stated AND the achieved goal, per the OP.

            There are legitimate criteria that can have the same effective end result. For example, listing a low pay band will make many positions unattractive to folks with a longer work history, so that they self-select out. The key difference here is that the candidates are self-sorting based on something that doesn’t overtly target the protected class, which is what makes it okay. It’s the candidate’s disinterest, without targeting or repelling them based on their actual age bracket.

            However, when the hiring manager makes the call to throw out older folks’ resumes based on age, or based on criteria that are heavily correlated with age, such as length of work history or graduation date, that’s a problem. It’s also a problem if the hiring manager is using non-critical job duties or baseless assumptions, such as assuming that the older person “wouldn’t fit our culture because they probably wouldn’t like our fun happy hours to 1 AM every Friday, our Wednesday nerf battles, and our quarterly zip-lining retreats”

            1. NotAnotherManager!*

              Your no-gray-area assessment assumes that the OP, a junior-level staffer who has also stated that the organization is weirdly secretive and a gossip-mill, has enough insight into the hiring process to know that the CEO’s statement of preference is indicative of a discriminatory hiring policy versus just a stupid thing to say or an ill-executed attempt to bond with or talk up the junior workforce. (By far not the weirdest thing I’ve heard a higher-up say in a misguided attempt to compliment or bond with their junior staff.) OP’s conclusion is reasonable given the dearth of transparency and what they’re seeing, but it’s also strongly possible that the role itself is unattractive to experienced workers.

              Most mid-sized/BigLaw firm in DC could be called “notorious” for hiring kids straight out of college for junior paralegal roles (case/project/special assistants, usually). They’re typically one- to two-year positions for kids considering law school to get some hands-on/eyes-on experience first. It’s candidate self-selection based on job function, pay (even at above-market rates, it’s entry-level), the required schedule flexibility. and the advancement options. I ran a program for 7 years (in a place with a strong anti-discrimination policy and validation testing), and the applicants for these positions had, at most, a legal-related internship or less than a year of experience at a smaller firm. I’m sure a junior staffer could look around and conclude we *only* hire fresh graduates, but, having seen the resume pool for years, experienced people are simply not applying for their entry-level jobs.

              The state of this bee hive is bad, and I hope OP can find a less chaotic job soon, but there is not really a way to tell if this is a slam-dunk age discrimination case or a job not sought out by experienced folks.

  30. in a fog*

    Get out of there, OP. I worked at the publishing equivalent of this place, and it’s part of the culture there. You most likely can’t change it.

  31. Just Another Zebra*

    My old coworker’s husband was 18 years older than her – they met when she was 16 and he was a 34 year-old in the middle of a divorce. Yuck.

    But the comparison fits – this law firm is the 34-year-old dating teenagers because they haven’t experienced the world. They can overpay and underwork because young adults are being told not to be lazy/ entitled/ etc. It’s gross.

    1. Gazebo Slayer*

      Yup. And employers like this love promoting the “young people are lazy and entitled” crap because it benefits them to have a workforce that is convinced they don’t deserve anything and constantly have to prove how unlike that stereotype they are.

  32. JBeane*

    Oh man, this letter gave me uncomfortable flashbacks to my first job out of college; different industry but same practices. The location I worked for was in NYC so they liked to hire recent grads as well as out of towners so we wouldn’t know how underpaid we were for the area. I was paid $900 every two weeks and my rent (cheapest I could find) was $1100. Might as well not have paid rent considering the long hours spent in the office. No one ever stayed there longer than a year unless they were promoted up into a similarly underpaid team-lead or managerial role.

    1. allathian*

      Oh my goodness, is that even legal? Might as well call it indentured servitude and be done with it…

  33. tex*

    I worked at a law firm like this. It was my first full-time job out of college, and while it was great to go from being a part-time college student to a brand-new graduate with a full-time job, they clearly weren’t keeping us on for our benefit. When I quit because I had found another firm that paid much better, the office manager and managing partner told me during my exit interview that they thought of the firm as “finishing school” (her actual words) for us, and that plenty of people are fine with the low pay because their salaries are supported by “their husbands’ salaries” (again, actual words). So, after that I went and told all the other recent graduates that, and they all quit within a few weeks of me leaving.
    These dysfunctional offices know exactly what they are doing. They intentionally hire people who will accept lower pay and don’t know anything about employment law or what a good supervisor looks like.

  34. tamarack and fireweed*

    But your boss probably isn’t thinking about it at that level. In part that’s because the managerial incompetence that leads to the kind of culture you described will also prevent them from understanding how this is playing out.

    This is *such* an important point, regardless of the details of this particular letter. I work in higher education and so this made me immediately think of the Dunning-Kruger effect: The skills needed to judge your performance at a thing are the same that are required to do the thing well. So someone who is incompetent at something tends to wildly overestimate their own skill, compared with someone who has a fair skill level and is therefore much more inclined to be aware, and critical, of their own weak points.

    The remedy in the case of D-K is: teach the incompetent. But if the incompetence proceeds from the leadership the situation isn’t good.

    1. Thankful for AAM*

      Thank you for that!
      It is so very tempting to think that if you just say something clearly or in a way they can hear the manager will have an epiphany and become better at managing.

      The Dunning-Kruger effect makes me realize what I’m thinking and helps me stop.

  35. employment lawyah*

    The behavior you describe makes me feel like trying to change has a bad cost/benefit ratio: You may get blackballed as a “problem” and you may be better off if you just gave notice and got a decent reference. But you can certainly try; you know these folks better than we do.

  36. A Pinch of Salt*

    I literally just left a similar situation. Hired college grads that wouldn’t immediately realize the VP was a bully and convinced them that micromanaging (e.g. manager approval on any email) was totally normal.

    Run fast. Run far.

  37. Parenthetically*

    “Honestly, the amount I have to do for her, she should be paying me!”

    “She does seem rather young.”

    “Well, of course, what she is, my dear, is wonderfully cheap.”

  38. EngineerMom*

    Ugh. This is the same mentality as people who will only date others who are significantly younger than themselves and/or have a very sparse dating history – it’s not because they “just prefer” the inexperienced, it’s because the inexperienced won’t call them out on their BS.

    Look for another job. This place is a hot mess.

  39. Been There Done That*

    To the Paralegal: Sorry, I am late to the party as I just saw your letter. I am a retired litigation paralegal with 20 years experience. My advice is that if you are young, work in litigation and don’t live in a big city GET THE HELL OUT OF THE PARALEGAL FIELD ASAP.

    Generally litigation firms are pretty toxic and turnover is viewed as a way to keep costs down. Litigation attorneys don’t know how to manage people or businesses and they are as cheap as f**k. Hiring young paralegals is the rule, not the exception, because of cost and because a litigation paralegal can learn the basics in a year or two.

    There is no benefit to hiring a paralegal with 10-20 yrs. experience. That also means if you continue working as a paralegal and gain several years experience your chances of getting another job (if you manage to hang on in the one you have) are slim to none (or you get offered the same wages as a novice). I have been there. Finally, getting work at a well managed non-toxic firm is very difficult because there is little turnover in the good ones.

    If you do wish to continue paralegal work, get out of litigation. Look to real estate, probate law, corporate law, intellectual property or trademark law. All take several years or more to really learn the ropes and the attorneys tend to be more loyal.

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