my boss told me I’m “not a good human” when I asked to be paid for my time

A reader writes:

I work for a professional firm that has a long history of devaluing non-partner contributions. Let’s just say we have problems:

• The pay structure for employees is all risk and no reward. Salaries are artificially low, below market, supposedly because of our bonus structure.

• If clients don’t pay, that comes out of our pay (bonus), and we get a lecture about how it’s a business and we are only worth what we bring in.

• If clients pay, we are given a lecture about how we are not partners so we don’t deserve to share in the reward. It’s a lose-lose.

• Predictably, there has been 120% turnover in my three years at the firm. Twice in the last five years, the entire staff has quit en masse.

• I have not received even a $1 cost of living increase since I’ve been here. As a matter of principle, the firm does not give base pay raises, ever, supposedly because you can “earn” more each year by working harder and bringing in more profit for the firm.

• When the pandemic happened, the firm cut 20% of professional employees, and also cut remaining employee pay. A few months later, the fear wore off and we realized that our hours/collectibles were actually up and started questioning why we were earning less for working more and bringing in more. We were told that things are “complicated” and there are things we just “don’t understand.” (Notably, all partners are men and all employees are women.)

• We also noticed that our firm received massive PPP “loans,” and that same week every partner announced a long vacation. Again, we were told we just “don’t understand.”

Fast forward to January, when the firm excitedly announced that they would be “helping” me and another completely overworked employee by hiring a new employee for us to train. The time spent training the new employee would come out of our bonuses, but we were told that this would benefit us in the long run because we would not be overworked next year. (We do not share in profits from this new employee.) What a treat!

I decided to raise this with the managing partner, and asked that they take our non-billable time into account this year for bonuses. It did not go well. Understatement.

His immediate response was that I’m “not a good human” and “selfish” because so many people have helped me learn my job, and so how dare I not be willing to help everyone else. (I never said I wouldn’t help — I just asked that I be compensated for my time.). He told me I’m being “short sighted” for complaining about reduced pay this year and not thinking about the supposed long-term benefits for me (not being overworked next year). He told me at least three times that he’s “disappointed” in me, which, okay whatever.

I mean, I’m not the crazy one here, right?

You are not.

This place is openly mistreating and exploiting you, and insulting you when you question it.

There are some people who aren’t good humans in this letter, but it’s not you.

Get out get out get out.

Read updates to this letter here and here.

{ 430 comments… read them below }

      1. Tink*

        While you’re at it, LinkedIn their asses too. Doesn’t sound like you can count on a good recommendation from the Managing Partners. And if you are hourly call the state labor board.

        1. chewingle*

          YEP. Burn those bridges and revel in the flames. This is one situation where being professional isn’t going to get you anywhere, anyway.

    1. allathian*

      Get out as soon as you can, this is not reasonable. You deserve to be paid for your work.

    1. HerdingCatsWouldBeEasier*

      Run like my cat when caught napping on the forbidden dining room table.

  1. Persephone Mongoose*

    Good lord almighty, this place is a horrible Frankenstein monster of the terrible workplaces we read about on here.

    Run, do not walk, from this nightmare company.

    1. OP*

      Wow everyone. Thank you. For whatever reason, I did not expect this strong of a response from everyone. I guess I have just gotten used to this. This has been the validation/confirmation that I needed. Thank you.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        You deserve to be treated like a human being and paid appropriately for your contributions. You are not asking for anything unreasonable. This is not you, this is them. Get out before they permanently warp your sense of a “normal” workplace!

        I suspect every commenter on AAM would help you do your resume and cover letter, too, and your boss may have just nominated themselves for Worst Boss of 2021.

        1. ThisMightBeMyCircus*

          I agree with the Worst Boss of 2021 comment! Maybe Alison would be open to creating a new “Entire Executive Team” category for the award? If so, this group would be a strong contender and out in front with an early lead.

          1. My Boss is Dumber than Yours*

            We really do need a “worst company/C-suite” and “worst boss” distinction, with separate polls and losers (winners?). 2020 going to the company that tried to steal the employees’ stimulus checks was understandable, but also different from single assholes like Leap Year b-day boss or chemotherapy boss. We need to reward/punish both.

            (Also, as long as it protects OPs, Allison should absolutely dox the worst company.)

          2. Old Woman in Purple*

            Add my vote also, in favor of having ANNUAL WORST COMPETITION entries divided into “individual” and “company/C-sweet” categories.

              1. Really Just a Cat*

                I do think we need room for individuals that aren’t bosses!
                So maybe
                Worst Boss
                Worst company/exec team/c-suite
                Worst co-worker (because these people who keep deadnamming/using wrong pronouns also deserve their additional time in the sun)

      2. Persephone Mongoose*

        This is SO common — we spend so long at toxic workplaces that our normal meters get uncalibrated and we absorb what’s happening and it becomes our new normal.

        But we can only absorb so much! Eventually there comes a tipping point and it sounds like you’re there. I’m so glad you wrote in!

        Something else to keep in mind that Alison has espoused in several letters of a similar ilk: there’s a lot that you will take with you to your next job and not all of it is going to be useful. You might benefit from a few therapy sessions to unpack all the crap foisted on you from this company so you can recalibrate your sense of what a normal, healthy workplace should look like.

        I’m wishing you all the best as you try to move on!!

        1. _ID_*

          This is great advice. A few therapy sessions will really help. (Side note – I wish there was a specialty called “recovery from toxic workplace therapist”.

          It took me a long time to realize the level of abuse I took at my old job. It hit me one day out of the blue and I almost started crying in public. Get out now and take care of yourself! Good luck!

      3. Slinky*

        I had a strong, visceral reaction to this letter. I am extremely angry on your behalf. I really hope you can move on soon. In the meantime, please remember that you are not to the crazy one here, and are not “a bad human”(!?).

        1. MassMatt*

          Yeah, there are 2 things to get angry about–that the workplace/boss/owners are this terrible, and that the cumulative effect has the poor employee wondering if their awful behavior is actually awful.

          Yes, it IS awful, get out as soon as you can! And try to get some therapy or maybe talk with a career coach–as someone said above, when you have terrible bosses it becomes normal and you can carry all the trauma and unreasonable expectations, etc to the new job.

      4. Momma Bear*

        You’ve been a frog in a boiling pot – over time you get used to it, but you still end up cooked.

        I agree to get out. Twice everyone quit? Wow. And you might consider reporting them for PPP fraud. But really, get out.

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          Oh yeah. There’s no way this place isn’t cooking the books. And it sounds like it might be a law firm, which is especially egregious. (Not because lawyers are inherently honest, but because they should know better.)

          1. Quill*

            You know, it’s possible that there is a correlation where laywers THINK they know how to get away with it.

      5. The Prettiest Curse*

        They are awful. I hope you land somewhere that compensates you properly for your time, treats their employees well and doesn’t use government loans to fund expensive holidays for the management.

        1. Aquawoman*

          The combination of them saying no one was threatened followed up by “but every single employee signed the agreement” has bright red mark on my face from the forehead slap.

        2. Emma*

          I think it’s very socially responsible of this business to give its workers such a strong incentive to unionise!

      6. jm*

        your place sounds like a pyramid scheme. i wish you the absolute best of luck finding something else!

      7. Officious Intermeddler*

        Hey OP, I think…maybe I used to work there? Or at a clone law firm?
        Things that helped me decide to leave:
        – Actively looking for jobs well before I was totally fed up on the advice of friends who said to always be looking.
        – Listening to friends who left and really believing them when they told us how crappy our current environment was compared to the one we were in.
        – Figuring out that high turnover and no real path to partnership *is the business model* for some firms. It just is. They rely on your labor and want you to leave. Count the names on the letterhead for confirmation: if the partnership is greater than or equal to the associate ranks, they need your labor but will lose money if they share profits with you.
        – Talking to more experienced attorneys who were in different workplaces and different segments of the market and learning how stressful (or not) their lives were.
        – Learning that good bosses actually compliment your work and bonus you for doing well.
        – Learning that bosses who don’t compliment good work or bonus you for doing well are doing that to keep you scared and complacent.

        If you are indeed at a law firm, don’t burn the bridge if you can. You might be in a small market like I was. You will still need these people to speak well of you when you leave, and you may still need to refer them and hope they’ll refer to you as appropriate in the future. Everyone else in the market knows how they operate and that they’re leeches, just get out and let them continue operating like that. And resolve never to treat an associate like that if you ever get to be the boss.

        1. pope suburban*

          This is really good advice. My first job out of college was at a firm that, while nowhere near this bad, was notorious for toxicity. Being 23 and greener than grass, I had no real way of knowing and I thought that a lot of things they did were just normal. Then they tried to mess with my unemployment (I was laid off December 2009, for the same reasons as everyone else; they’d been dropping other support staff too because there just wasn’t the work for us), which was my first big shock. As I was looking for other jobs in the field, attorneys would see the name of that firm on my resume and do a double-take. None of them ever judged me for it, but they did often ask some probing questions about how the experience was, or share stories about the dysfunction. I don’t regret not burning that bridge, because I think it helped me find subsequent positions, and because I think people were impressed that I survived there and had a relatively painless exit.

          1. Officious Intermeddler*

            Right on. I often encounter “alumni” who came before or after me at the place I worked. Some of us call ourselves refugees. :)

      8. hbc*

        Please consider that even if you were completely wrong* about the training being too much of a burden, the normal pay structure being unfair, the PPP loans used questionably, there being no good reason for cutting salaries, etc, etc–a good employer still wouldn’t treat you like that. I’ve had an employee come to me and complain that he hadn’t had a raise in 6 months, and I’ve had a house painter ask for a bonus because painting our own office was outside his job description. I explained the situation to both of them in a way that didn’t call into question their intelligence or morality.

        *You’re not.

      9. beanie gee*

        There are SO many problematic things about your company.

        There are a lot of companies that have terrible metrics for non-billable time, poor handling of layoffs and cuts, and bad management, but what you describe is way way worse. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were doing illegal things.

      10. Artemesia*

        when fat cat partners who vacation on federal job support funds, tell you ‘you are selfish’ for wanting to be paid for your work, you know you work for terrible humans.

      11. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

        Definitely get yourself another job. These people you work for are not normal. If you can, throw the term “disappointed” and whatever other terms they’ve used at you back in their face (as long as it doesn’t burn a bridge for reference checks, etc.) Leave them a horrible anonymous review on Glassdoor, etc. as well!

      12. laowai-gaijin*

        Your company is full of bees. Blow some smoke and make a hasty exit. They don’t deserve loyal employees.

      13. JSPA*

        It’s not the vague exploitation. It’s not even the more directed exploitation. Nor, even, in and of itself, the potential malfeasance, if they’re misusing bailout money (which might register as more of an, “eh, they’re wrong, but in terms of outcome, it’s more likely to bite them than you” if they were not otherwise a toxic dumpster fire.)

        But combine all of that, then add toxicity sauce–that mix of mansplaining, patronizing, shaming and gaslighting (and this does in fact rise to gaslighting, IMO, as they’re intentionally messing with your sense of reality and of norms)–and…yeah. It’s a “get out” from where I’m sitting, too.

      14. Archaeopteryx*

        Any single one of the things you said in this letter would be a reason to absolutely run screaming for the hills the second you found out about it. There’s a reason for the high turnover and you need to become a part of it! If you’re categorizing any of this as “bring up with your manager” level problem rather than “ha ha OK this place is full of bees and borderline criminal” then it seems like they’ve managed to frog-in-boiling-water you quite a bit. Godspeed and best of luck getting out! Anything, even a step down on paper, is better than this.

      15. tamarack and fireweed*

        They’re gaslighting you. In a blatantly sexist way.

        Getting out should be highest priority.

        Good luck.

      16. Anon for Today*

        OP, you might want to consider dropping the dime on them about that PPP loan after you get out. Even if the feds don’t find anything, they’ll still get to experience having to answer questions to people who won’t take “you just don’t understand” for an answer.

      17. DonnaMartinGraduates!*

        I’m truly hoping that bailing outa this dumpster fire is an option for you, OP. Like — yesterday — because yes, this exploitative situation is truly that bad. As every aghast commenter has validated for you. So, yay – say “bye, Felicia as soon as feasible.”

        What kills me are the stories when the person is in a terribly abusive workplace but they’re in such a bind that they can’t simply walk (remote area /few job opportunity / dependents etc.) Those are the ones that kill me.

        All the best with landing a new. non-toxic career, OP!

      18. Jaid*

        Please leave this company, then name and shame them. They don’t deserve to be in business.

      19. ThePear8*

        Don’t work for less than you’re worth. Just gonna really echo Allison’s advice here: Get out get out get out

    1. Pippa K*

      Definitely get out, but if you can do more, nuke the entire site from space. It’s the only way to be sure.

  2. The Original K.*

    I said out loud, “Um, you gotta go” while reading this. Run like you’re being chased by a horror movie villain.

    1. OP*

      I’ll be honest, I have started saying the same thing as I read through these comments. “Umm, I gotta go.”
      I mean, I knew this wasn’t a great place to work, but I sorta thought people would see it as more of a mixed bag. Like, sure, they are not *generous*, but at the same time, who is these days, and I’m not an owner and so that’s how it works I guess.
      I was not expecting Allison to be like RUN.
      And then for every commenter to be like NO, REALLY, RUN.
      All I can say is, thank you all for the reality check. It’s nice to have confirmation that my coworkers and I are not just gossipy ungrateful hens. I have really struggled with this situation, just thinking maybe I could make it work, maybe it was my attitude, maybe it was not seeing it objectively b/c it is too personal to me and maybe it wasn’t really that unfair.
      But as I’m reading this today, I’m just like – OH.
      And then I’m also remembering all this other stuff that I’d forgotten about, or just brushed off, or didn’t mention in my email. So, I’m now thinking that I probably understated this situation.
      So, just thank you all.

      1. Thursdaysgeek*

        These days good companies are recognizing that times are hard, and are helping and supporting their employees. I’ve been very pleased with the way my company has reacted to ‘these days’: We need you to work at home, and we don’t have laptops for everyone, so just take home all your equipment that you need: computers, monitors, don’t forget power strips, whatever you need! It’s been hard working from home, so we’re sending everyone a gift in the mail as a thank you. We can’t have a Christmas party so we’re sending you all some gift cards for groceries.

        Let us know where you end up, and make sure your good co-workers know to run too. In fact, even the bad ones – no-one deserves that.

      2. old curmudgeon*

        Alison is detailed and comprehensive in her replies on this blog. A typical response from Alison runs to at least several hundred words, weighing nuances, assessing different scenarios and commenting on each one.

        Her response to your letter comprises a whopping 39 words.

        Six of those words are “Get out get out get out.”

        Not just her words and those of the commentariat, but also her brevity and succinctness tell you a whole lot. You work for an appalling employer whose actions are beyond indefensible. I can’t say it any better than Alison did:

        Get out get out get out.

        And please come back to share your success story once you escape.

      3. MassMatt*

        I am glad it is sinking in, OP, and wish you the best of luck! Alison has a TON of great advice here on resumes, cover letters, and interviewing that should help give you a leg up. Start networking with non-horrible people there you can use for references and get going.

        Don’t be discouraged by the pandemic, yes there are lots of people un- and under-employed, but people with skills are still in demand, many industries are hiring!

        And I agree with what other commenter below said, GOOD companies responded WELL to the crisis, BAD companies responded poorly, and employees are going to remember which was which for a long time!

        I hope you will give us an update, and I hope it will run on a “good news Friday”!

      4. Sheet Protector*

        OP I wish better enjoyment for you in the near future. You may also wish to report them to the SBA for fraudulent PPP loan use.

        1. Hannah Lee*

          Yes, there are limitations to how the PPP loans can be used to benefit owners, partners, people who make over $100k (either in 2019, or at a rate of more than $100K/52 for any week the PPP funds are paying for) etc, particularly if the company is asking for the loan to be forgiven.

          It’s not supposed to be “cool! free money! time for us top dogs and fat cats to take some vacation and let the plebes keep the lights on! Whoo Hoo!” It’s supposed to be “our earnings are down but we need funds to make payroll and pay benefits and rent and critical business expenses so we don’t have to let people go or shut our doors permanently”

          Even if they are just playing a shell game with the funds, dropping a dime to the SBA or the bank who administered the loan, or your local state rep, or your state/district’s closest approximation of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, if you suspect the funds were misused can shed some light on their malfeasance and prevent them from getting away clean with taxpayer $$$.

          1. Monica Lane*

            This! Get out first, but I would for sure report them for not using the PPP loan appropriately to everyone I could find contact info for.

      5. Happy Pineapple*

        Just to pile onto the “OMG RUN NOW” train: none of this is normal and you deserve to be treated like a human being. Almost as importantly, once you’re securely into a new job make sure you post on an employer review site like GlassDoor to warn others.

      6. Boof*

        It’s sounds like there’s a hefty helping of good ol’ misogyny on here too if they’re making you feel like “gossipy hens” for wanting clear financial salary discussions / bonus structures and payment for work done.

      7. Sleeping Late Every Day*

        See, I worked in a similar place when I was in my twenties. The difference was, I had no degree, nor did my co-workers, and we were desperate people working for minimum wage. We all KNEW it was a crappy job. Having that degree and wearing a suit is about the only thing that makes your experience different. You deserve so much more.

        1. Anon for this*

          Desperate people with no qualifications working for minimum wage don’t deserve this, either. Nobody does! End of story.

          Some jobs are inherently unpleasant, but employers that treat you like human beings can make it bearable, and we ALL deserve that.

          1. Simonthegreywarden*

            I didn’t feel like they were saying min wage workers deserved it either, merely that SLED felt they did not have options in a crappy job situation, while the OP may have other options (degree). Also, that what was crappy about SLED’s min wage job — which we kind of expect to be crappy if we have ever worked those jobs — is still crappy no matter who is doing the punching down. Likewise, that SLED is reassuring the OP that they deserve more since OP doesn’t seem to feel like they do — SLED is saying at least they realized their job was crap, and OP doesn’t seem to have internalized how bad this really is.

      8. Dezzi*

        Please read up on gaslighting–because that’s what your employer has been doing to you, and it REALLY messes with your head. Get out of there as soon as you can, and take the time to identify and work through all the BS this place has thrown at you & made you think was normal.

        When you do get into a new job, be aware that it may feel SUPER strange, and you’re going to spend a while always looking for the catch. Don’t be afraid to get some counseling if you have a hard time adjusting!! It’s normal for a job like yours to cause major anxiety, and give you some dysfunctional habits/patterns you’ll need to unlearn in order to succeed in a functional workplace.

      9. RVA Cat*

        Think of this employer as being like an abusive partner. He gets you used to the jealousy, the control, the gaslighting, but you think you can “change him” because he hasn’t put you in the hospital – yet.

        Run away like that place is on fire!

      10. Sun Tzu*

        This letter looked more like a rant than a genuine question. (Not criticizing — just the way I felt it.)
        But sometimes workplace-related rants are necessary and healthy.
        As always, Alison’s advice is correct. Run away from this place as soon as you can. You do not deserve to be treated like this. Nobody deserves it.
        Run, don’t walk. And best of luck! We are rooting for you!

          1. ValkyriePuppy*

            Please tell me they’re not employment lawyers? Urgh sounds terrible, I’m sorry.

          2. Public Sector Manager*

            I spent the first five years of my legal career working for sole practitioners and small firms and this was exactly my experience. No other advice than to keep looking for a new job, but I feel your pain!

          3. LCH*

            wow. i mean, i worked for a couple small firms. neither tried to pull this crap. this isn’t normal, even for law. not normal. i assure you that you can find a similar job somewhere else without this BS.

            1. Artemesia*

              My husband was in a small partnership law firm with a few associates and they did not treat associates like this — nor staff for that matter.

              1. Paralegal Part Deux*

                I was just coming here to say this. I don’t know what firm OP works for, but they are some kind of jacked up and Not Normal. I’ve never heard of this in 14 years.

          4. calonkat*

            OP, I’m really late in replying, but law skills are generally valuable. There are temp agencies that specialize in placing people in highly skilled work like this, so don’t overlook those. And any number of government agencies can use people with law skills (I’m not a lawyer and have no training, but I cite law ALL THE TIME in my job).

          5. Non non*

            I just hired someone who had worked for a small law firm which paid its admin staff on “commission” (i.e. they would only get paid when the clients paid). She hadn’t been paid for two months and then was told she would have to return $1,000 of the $3,000 “advance” they had given her three months earlier. WTF!

          6. Jaydee*

            Seriously, this is horrific. There are various associate and staff compensation arrangements out there. Some are worse than others. But this is not one of them. This is a pyramid scheme disguised as a law firm. Run.

      1. Corporate Lawyer*

        My thought too. See also “all partners are men and all employees are women.”

        1. OP*

          So that it is clear, “employees” included associate attorneys as well as support staff and paraprofessional. So, we have female attorneys, but they are W-2 employees.

          1. Corporate Lawyer*

            That’s what I figured. Extra crap bonus points if the female attorneys are “staff” attorneys who aren’t on the partnership track, rather than “true” associates who could someday make partner (at least in theory).

          2. Boof*

            Exactly. They aren’t promoting women to partner, where all the bonuses go; I guess just milking them for as much cheap labor as possible. Are there any male non-partner attorneys? Are they climbing the ladder faster than their female colleagues?

      2. Let's Just Say*

        Agreed. And law can be brutal, particularly to newer associates, but no firm I’ve ever heard of operates this way. I can’t imagine the other ethical violations that are going on…LW, there’s a reason the staff keeps quitting, and I hope you’re the next one to get out! Also, if you are an attorney, it’s worth a call to your state bar ethics hotline to see if you have an obligation to report suspected PPP fraud.

        1. OP*

          On the PPP – I have been questioning if it is fraud. I assume what they did is this “technically” use the PPP money to pay the employees, and then allocate profits for associate hours billed/collected to partner pay. So, in a normal year, associates would earn 10 dollars and be paid 3 dollars out of those 10 (with the rest overhead and partner profit). This year, associates earned 10 dollars (actually more), but then were paid (on paper) with the PPP money, then all 10 dollars went to partner profit.
          Is that against PPP? How would they ever enforce that? I mean, they are schmucks, but I go back and forth about whether that was fraud or just gaming the system.
          (Admittedly, I do not know enough about PPP to know the answer)

          1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

            The PPP forgiveness rules are complex (and a bit of a moving target), but the general rules are that the loan amount maxes out at $46,154 per employee who is not an owner (assuming the employee salary plus benefits works out to $100k or more annually) and at $20,833 forgiveness for each owner/employee. The loan can also cover rent and utilities for the 24 week covered period.

            That may be able to give you a rough idea of whether the forgiveness amount is reasonably in line with the size of the staff/rent on the office.

          2. HB*

            PPP is based on your W2 wages, and you can still qualify for full forgiveness even if you reduce a bunch of people’s salaries by up to 24% (however if you reduce your Full Time Equivalent positions and don’t hire people back by the end of the year, you have to reduce the amount of forgiveness based on a ratio of FTEs).

            The partners are going to receive profit from the business after salaries and other expenses are accounted for, but that’s their K-1 income, not salary, and has nothing to do with PPP. So I don’t think there’s any PPP fraud going on here unless they reduced employees and either didn’t hire back for those positions by the end of the year, or didn’t make a good faith effort to hire back those positions.

            The other thing is as owners, they can’t receive more than $20,833 in compensation from PPP. But based on the way PPP was calculated, getting full forgiveness isn’t difficult. It’s also super free money. Not only did the government give you the money to pay people’s salaries with, and you don’t have to pay it back, but you get a tax deduction for the salaries you paid.

            So let’s say Evil Firm received $100,000 in PPP funds. They then turn around and pay that $100,000 in Payroll and other compensation and their loan is forgiven. Let’s further pretend that their fee income for the year was $100,000 and for some reason they had no other expenses.

            They received $200,000 in cash for the year, and paid $100,000 in expenses. But on their tax return they’ll only report $100,000 in income, and $100,000 in expenses which nets to 0 taxable income.
            But the extra $100,000 in cash still gets distributed out to the partners on which they will be pay ZERO taxes. Assuming the partners are in the highest tax bracket, they got a 37,000 tax break they didn’t actually pay for.

            So… yeah.

            1. HB*

              (Ticky tacky note: the $20,833 can also be used on partnership distributions as typically partners don’t receive W2s – they get guaranteed payments or just Box 1 income, so in that way K-1 income is related to PPP but not in a way that necessarily matters from a fraud perspective)

            2. Here we go again*

              I worked for a company that declared bankruptcy on March 5th last year. They Applied for the the ppp, then fired everyone. They were supposed to use that money to cover our healthcare. This fall they cut every full time employee a check for $400 to cover healthcare. Because if they didn’t pay us the money, they’d have to pay it back to the government, plus interest and fines. Private equity firms are scum.

              1. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

                Seem to recall a few of your posts, hopefully things are going a little better.

                And yes, they’re freaking vultures.

                1. Here we go again*

                  Things are going much better. I have my third new job in less than a year. Two companies declared bankruptcy the third was just an awful fit. But, my new job is with a family owned company with great benefits. And I work with a ton of my former co workers. Thanks for the well wishes.

          3. Artemesia*

            What I questioned was the cutting salaries and collecting the PPP based on the previous salaries but maybe I misunderstand.

            1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

              I believe – been a bit since I looked – that the calculation is done by comparing the covered period, which starts when the loan is disbursed – vs a reference period. There is a choice of which period to compare against – 2019 or Q1 2020, I think?

              The forgiveness is reduced if salaries are cut by more than 25% or if the headcount goes down, and there is a calculation for this.

              People who are more expert than I am – are there any restrictions on what companies can do after the covered period is over?

              1. HB*

                As far as I know there’s no restriction once the covered period is over. The forgiveness application is strictly about the covered period.

            2. HB*

              You applied for PPP using 2019 W2s. So let’s say you had 10 employees who each received $100,000 in wages. If approved, you would receive 2 1/2 months of wages for each employee – or $20,833 (times 10 would be $208,333).

              Let’s say you then reduce everyone’s salary to $76,000. So instead of paying them $20,833 in 2 and a half months (which is about 12 weeks), you would pay them $15,833. But your covered period can be as long as 24 weeks. So over 24 weeks you’d pay everyone over $30,000. You’ve just spent all your PPP loan on approved payroll costs, and you didn’t fire anyone or reduce their salary by more than 25%. So you’re fine.

              That’s why it’s INSANELY unlikely that the Evil Firm committed fraud unless they lied about their FTEs (the 20% they laid off). But all they’d have to do is hire them back before the end of the covered period, or assert that they tried to hire everyone back but couldn’t by the end of the year.

          4. Rachel in NYC*

            It’s definitely on the cusp of fraud. But it probably depends on what they filed in their application initially.

      3. Phony Genius*

        Although it sounds like law, I’ll open the door to the small possibility that it’s some sort of financial services firm.

        1. Phony Genius*

          [Sees OP’s comments above and below. Slowly closes door.] Yup! It’s law! Just like everybody said.

      4. EPLawyer*

        It’s not law.

        Training a third person so they don’t have to work as hard. That’s not what associates do. Associates don’t train the new associates. And support staff would not be responsible for bringing in business.

        This sounds like services of some kind. If clients don’t pay their invoices, the techs don’t get paid. You bring in another tech to do more services.

        1. OP*

          Nope, its law. Yes, odd for associates to be tasked with training, but that is how my firm does it.
          Support staff does not bring in business, but the majority bill for time (even purely secretarial tasks), so the rules about billable apply to support staff as well. (And, support staff trains the support staff – and gets dinged on pay that year too.)

          Okay, so the more I talk about this, the better I feel about the fact that I think this is not a good place.

            1. Quinalla*

              Right! Law is notorious for working newbies to the bone for low pay, but this is – well I figure you could get someone to make a TV series out of this nonsense it is that ridiculous!

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            This is not normal. I worked in BigLaw (on the support side) for nearly two decades, and the billing personnel were not dinged for non-recoverable hours – most of those are written off at the partner’s discretion and there is nothing (other than work efficiently and write a good time narrative) that anyone but the billing partner could do about recovery. Associates were paid a $190-250K salary and eligible for 4-5 figure bonuses based primarily on hours and quality of reviews (same for paralegals and support staff, but smaller scale). The paralegals were part of my department and realization was not a factor in their evaluations.

          2. Temperance*

            I work at a law firm. Our paralegals bill their time. Our Copy Center and other support staff also bill time if it’s a special project that requires them to work overtime, so the costs can be passed on.

            It sounds a whole lot like the partners are a couple of bros who know each other from law school and set up a system where they can basically collect checks while making others do all the work.

          3. saassy*

            Ugh that’s way out of line. My partners a lawyer and has worked at some pretty horrific places (one early on where they were paying the bar and insurance fees, rent, ‘overhead’ etc and getting paid only on ‘fee splitting’ because ‘it’s a 5% higher split than most firms’ at a small place where the owner dictated what came in… Most other law firms in our community pay base, insurance etc. and *then* the split.)

            Boss couldn’t figure out why he was only getting new grads who didn’t know better, stayed on to get experience for a short time, then bounced. There were months my partner was paying to work.

            And this sounds worse, tbh. ‘Eat what you kill’ firms are so, so open to this style of abuse.

            1. Eye roll*

              This isn’t even “eat what you kill.” There’s only a penalty for no business. There’s no reward for bringing in business and it goes to the partners. This is just exploiting people and possibly committing PPP fraud. I’d be shocked if they don’t have a stable of unreported ethical violations.

          4. Sue*

            It sounds like a fee splitting arrangement, if I’m understanding correctly. That is allowed between attorneys and with limited license practitioners in my State, but not with paras and other office staff. Are you sure this is a legitimate payment scheme? If not, your Bar Association would be interested in what they’re doing.
            Also, since it seems unlikely you’re going to get a decent reference from them, some online reviews might be in order to warn potential hires and clients of their shady practices.

          5. CoveredInBees*

            You are in The Bad Place. The very bad place. No one should be treated this way. This is totally abnormal, even in law. I don’t blame you for being so immersed in a toxic workplace that you stop seeing just how bad it is. Happens to the best of us.

            But seriously…run! If you can afford to quit without anything else lined up, this is bad enough to leave about. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were other horrible practices that they engaging beyond pay.

    1. LadyByTheLake*

      Although the OP confirms that this is a law firm, as an attorney for 30 years, I can say that this is not how reputable firms operate. PGET OUT GET OUT GET OUT.

    2. yala*

      dunno, but I’m reminded of how my friend who’s a technical illustrator was once asked by her boss if she thought it would be a good idea for them to lower her wage so she’d be motivated to pick up more projects to make up the difference.

  3. Beth*

    OP, seriously, get out. You’re not being paid adequately for your work, your pay is being cut further at every possible opportunity, and on top of it all, the people exploiting you are insulting you! It’s a bad enough environment that even though you clearly see what’s going on, you still felt the need to write in for confirmation of your interpretation; that’s a clear sign that this is skewing your sense of what’s normal at a job. I hope you’re job hunting, but if you can afford to do so, this sounds like a case where it might be worth getting out before finding a new job.

    1. PrgrmMngr*

      Avoiding the appearance of job hopping on your resume? Limited job prospects in the field and area?

      It also sounds like there are some pretty problematic personalities in management and that can distort what employees see as reasonable. There was some talk of Stockholm Syndrome at a former employer; the organization grew significantly under the leadership of a narcissist, so it dominated local job opportunities in the field, but we had to accept some pretty crappy practices, and if you stayed there long enough, you may believe that they’re normal.

      1. Message in a Bottle*


        It’s not always so easy to run. And you can’t always run right away, trust me. Strategies on how to survive toxic places temporarily while you figure out what to do are also helpful.

    2. Firecat*

      It’s really easy to post (unhelpful) quips like this when you are in a better situation.

      I think a lot of folks who thought “I’ll never let myself go like that!” are now seeing how poor comping mechanisms, a loss of your normal mobility, and extra stress can easily result in you gaining a lot of weight for example!

      It’s highly likely this place hires young professionals or gives folks their “first break” into the industry. Then they lay out the brainwashing and penopticon style culture and it practically runs itself.

      1. Nia*

        I totally understand getting into this situation and being stuck in this situation once there. My question was more about the fact the LW didn’t mention even attempting to get out.

        1. OP*

          I actually am trying to get out.
          My dilemma is that I probably won’t be able to move to a comparable position. There are a limited number of firms who do what I do at the level that I do it in the area that I am located (sorry so convoluted – if i could just say what I do it would make sense, but I’m worried about that). So I really only have a handful of options without completely switching career directions. And, I like the work I do – I just do not like the people that I do it for. So, that’s the tricky part.
          But, sometimes life happens and you have to move in a different direction. I have been dusting off my resume, monitoring job postings, networking, and putting out feelers. But then in the back of my mind, questioning…maybe this isn’t that bad?
          But, I think this has pretty clearly answered that question for me.

          1. old curmudgeon*

            Yes, it really is that bad.

            One thing to remember is that many jobs can be done remotely now that would never have been considered for remote work a year or two ago. So don’t limit your search to just the city where you live; you may be able to cast a wider net and land something in a different region.

            Also, there are jobs for attorneys in both state and federal government, including in some pretty esoteric specialties that you might never imagine would be relevant there. So widen your search to those options as well.

          2. MassMatt*

            Good for you!

            The flip side of it being a niche industry where there are limited positions is it sounds as though there is a limited pool of people to fill these positions. Congratulations, you have specialized skills, which should be appreciated and compensated fairly!

            I agree with another comment that in many fields, geography is not really the hurdle it used to be anymore. I am starting to get clients in states I’ve never even BEEN to.

            Also, and this may sound crazy impossible–but what about working for yourself? If there are very few players in the business (and at least one of them is toxic) maybe there’s room for another? Many women especially have bypassed the sexist glass ceiling by starting their own businesses.

            Again, good luck!

          3. Boof*

            As someone who made basically a career change rather than continue to work in a bad environment; if it has to be a question of one or the other, pick the good environment over staying in your specialty.
            YOLO! Seriously, new skills can be learned and turn out to be really cool, but staying in a toxic place is not going to do you any favors.

          4. Coffee Bean*

            At least once a week, I have a fantasy that I win the lottery; I then quit my job, and do volunteer work full-time. This week, I wish for you to win the lottery. Seriously. This company is off the charts terrible.

      2. Mike*

        I know this was supposed to be a nonjudgmental comment, but also, some people are just fat or gain weight and it doesn’t mean they were “coping poorly” by overeating or not moving around enough.

    3. OP*

      Well, that’s a good question. There was a pregnancy in there. Even though we do not really get paid maternity leave (they call it “paid” but then its really just an advance, b/c it too is deducted from your pay at year end.) But it was not ideal to search for jobs when 7 months pregnant, or with an infant, especially because the firms in my practice tend to be smaller and I would feel bad about leaving someone in a bad spot if they hired me and then I went on maternity leave shortly thereafter. (Even though i know its my right under the law).

      It’s also a niche practice, and this is one of the three top firms. All the partners at those firms are pretty good friends, so I think I would have trouble getting a comparable position. I wanted to think that I could “work my way up,” I guess. Naïve. I’m sorta getting the picture that this is a dead end job. The supportive comments really help with that understanding. Thank you.

      1. Dasein9*

        If you’re not in a position to leave right now, can you stay for the time being but just. . . do less? Sometimes slacking on the current job while job searching works out. (Frequently enough in cases like this, “slacking” equates to “doing the normal amount of work expected for this kind of money even though the bosses are pushing for unreasonable amounts.”)

        There are risks to this approach, but it doesn’t sound like you can count on this place for a good recommendation later on anyway.

      2. Marzipan Shepherdess*

        This is NOT a place in which you want to “work your way up”! Look at how the partners behave – would you want to act like them? Would you be happy to treat your subordinates the way they treat you? And make no mistake; you’d be expected to do exactly that. In fact, this firm is so twisted that the only people who WOULD get promoted would be those whose behavior and attitudes dovetailed with those of the current partners! Companies like that offer would-be corporate-ladder-climbers two choices: become clones of the partners or be left by the wayside because you’re not a good “cultural fit.”

        OP, as a decent person, you are NOT a good cultural fit for this dumpster-fire of a firm – and you can be very glad that you’re not! Here’s hoping you soon get a job with a firm that’s really worthy of you. This place isn’t!

      3. AVP*

        Just want to commiserate about the pregnancy timing! I’m also in a job where I should hypothetically be job-searching but the problems only really started when I was around 6 months along, and the thought of having to explain that in the search process and possibly not be offered FMLA, not to mention the daunting task of what it would be like if I somehow lucked into a new job at that stage, was just too much.

      4. Mina*

        you might reach out to people who’ve left already – they might be able to tell you where they went and what the getting it process was like… they might have tips on roles that work as a next place to go.

      5. Jane*

        OP, it’s hard to see right now because you’re right in the middle of it, but you know what law’s like – I guarantee you that your local market knows all about the shady practices at your firm and that it’s notorious for treating people badly. I have a feeling that when you start interviewing you won’t even need to explain why you want to leave your current job half the time because interviewers will know your firm’s reputation and understand.

        Start by reaching out to the people who left, see where they landed, and I bet they’ll be over the moon to connect you to people or openings and help you escape too. And keep an open mind about where you want to go next. I used to work for a small, dysfunctional, niche practice too (though it wasn’t nearly as bad as yours), and was very wedded to the thought of prestige and responsibility. But I ended up discovering that a better life balance, more pay, and a collegial supportive environment is way more important to me than rankings.

      6. HotRodGal*

        Being in one of the top three firms in your niche isn’t worth your long term happiness though. There are plenty of firms (even in a niche area of law and definitely in other areas of law where those skills would apply) that may not be “top three” but where you could grow and be paid fairly and move up within the firm. Hell, it sounds like even doc review would be better than the way you have been treated! I’ve been in the legal field 25+ years and worked on some extremely high profile cases, but am now in legal tech for a small firm and have never been happier with my work or compensated better for the work I do. Don’t put all your stock in that top three name at the expense of your happiness, there are actual good humans out there (even in the legal field) that will see your value!

      7. Busytrap*

        Man, OP … as you’ve been writing this, I’m wondering if you’re in my area of law, but I’m afraid to ask because I don’t want to out you (but if you are, I want to help you!). Let’s say … even if those firms are the “top three” firms, I work for a small firm in a niche practice. We don’t look like one of the sexy top-three firms in my space, but we make a good living and take care of our people and our client work is really fun. Reach out to folks you maybe ran into at conferences and the like (if you’re my industry, that will hopefully make sense?) — I bet someone would LOVE to have you and would be ok with you having more kids (hello!) if that’s what you want and the cut to your pay probably isn’t as big as you think it would be (esp given that they’re paying you below market because “bonuses”). I clearly have a lot of opinions on this, but in any event, GOOD LUCK!

      8. Elenna*

        OP, what happened to the staff who quit en masse (TWICE! in FIVE YEARS!!!), are you able to reach out to them and ask how their job searches went? Might give you an idea if maybe the job search will be easier than you think.

        1. OP*

          For the most part, they went completely other directions. They were very young and first jobs. I think this place sort of broke them and they thought it was the field and not the firm. I had a prior life, so I know I like this field, even if i don’t like the firm.

      9. Spero*

        OP, just want to affirm that staying before/after a pregnancy to avoid unemployment during that time is FINE. It’s not a great situation but it’s something I’ve done too. When you have things like pregnancy, divorce, family death etc sometimes staying in a bad situation is just more predictable and stable than trying to leave.

      10. learnedthehardway*

        They certainly don’t feel badly about exploiting you and your coworkers. So don’t feel badly about leaving them in the lurch – they’ve got it coming. And it might – just might – cause them to start seeing that there are consequences to treating people like crap.

      11. armchairexpert*

        Hey OP, I used to work in niche law in a smallish city, so I’d say there were 2 top defendant firms (one of which I worked for) and probably 4-5 top plaintiff firms. Everyone knew each other and were friends, same as you. It wasn’t Evil Bees but it was the standard white-men-with-private-school-educations lecturing us about ‘concentrating on our jobs and not crying about our boyfriends’.


        The only thing I wanted to say was, that didn’t impede people from moving around, at all. There was no gentleman’s understanding to keep their hands off each other’s staff (in either the employment, or, sometimes, the literal sense). They all had the same pool of talent to choose from, so if any of them wanted a two-year grad or a senior associate, they were necessarily hiring away from each other.

        It sounds like you’re worried that nobody will hire you because they’d be poaching you from their friends. But where have the other 120% of people gone? Or the en masse quit of 5 years ago? I would suggest looking them up. You probably have a lot more mobility than you realise.

    4. Oxford Comma*

      Frog boiling in the pot? That’s how it happened for me. Also a possibility, the gaslighting which sounds like it’s epic at the OP’s place of work. It does a number on you.

    5. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      Getting experience for high paying jobs? It was the case back at the dumpster fire of my first job in my field.

    6. PT*

      I worked somewhere that was awful, where we all tried to leave. It turns out all of the options on the market were worse, and a lot of people ended up coming back because it was tolerably awful. I called it Hotel California.

    7. JSPA*

      Depending on the state (in law you’re limited by the states where you’re qualified to work) and the number of metro areas and law firms, it may not be all that easy to cut and run. But OP has the example of those who cut and ran before; find their names, find out where they are now, contact them, see if they are sympathetic (almost certainly yes!) find out if they know who’s hiring.

    1. Lobsterp0t*

      I really enjoy the specific combination of advice blog “shared language” that makes this comment make total sense.

      Do you also read Captain Awkward?

      Or is there another “the house is full of evil bees” advice blog shorthand for “run away” that I have been missing out on!

        1. knitcrazybooknut*

          I live about ten miles away from the last contained nest of murder hornets. I’d rather go closer than work at OP’s firm.

  4. Spearmint*

    “ If clients don’t pay, that comes out of our pay (bonus), and we get a lecture about how it’s a business and we are only worth what we bring in.”

    I know US labor laws generally stuck but isn’t this illegal as retroactive docking of pay? Yes it’s a “bonus” but this doesn’t sound like a traditional bonus structure.

    1. Antilles*

      Quite the opposite. It’s structured as a “bonus” specifically BECAUSE that lets the company legally do this. This isn’t the company retroactively docking your pay, it’s simply them deciding not to pay you more (via bonus) going forwards.
      That said, the idea that your company is performing work for clients and not getting paid for it is ridiculous – does your company not sign contracts with clients prior to performing work?

      1. OP*

        In law, there will always been some uncollected time. We are a niche practice and we only represent individuals. Not businesses. So, there are always some folks who end up not paying or not being able to pay.

        1. EPLawyer*

          I only represent individuals. Some people not paying is kinda the cost of doing business. You still gotta pay your employees.

          You don’t have to stay in this niche practice of law. You have CHOICES.

          1. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

            Yes, the partners are treating their employee pay as variable, instead of their own. So either they are taking home more than they should (which I think is the case, since they took a PPP loan, cut staff AND staff pay, and seemingly take losses out of their employee pay, with increased business) or they are hiring more help than they can afford. Employee pay is fixed or increasing, unless you can cut employees or hours.

            I know there are jobs where it’s essentially understood that they will “use up” employees (for instance, lots of call centers) and high turnover is built in to the model, and I guess that’s valid, but then when you turn around and try to shame the employees for not liking your burnout machine and enquiring if you could not burn them out, please, that’s when it goes from “not a good place to work long-term” to “abusive and exploitative.”

      2. Spearmint*

        Interesting. I guess I always thought of bonuses as a little extra you get for good performance, like a couple thousand extra at the end of the year if you exceeded expectations, rather than the majority of your income. I guess I’m not shocked bonuses could be legally abused in this way, though.

    2. OP*

      The commenter above is correct. They do this because it is legal.
      There are firms that have a strict “eat what you kill” pay structure, and you get a set amount of billed/collected or of originating business. I would be fine with that, actually, because there is the possibly of upside.
      What is wrong with my firm is that they don’t put anything in writing. And then, at the end of the year, they seem to change the rules and we just always end up losing somehow.

      1. LadyByTheLake*

        Eat what you kill firms are very clear about that AND that rule generally only applies to partners. I reiterate that this is not generally how reputable firms operate. It does vaguely sound like an immigration firm that a friend of mine worked at briefly (including the high turnover) but even there the support staff and associates got paid relatively well outside of the (mysteriously never available) bonuses.

      2. Another JD*

        I’m just baffled that you don’t have a written bonus policy. What is the structure? Do they say your pay is base + bonus, then lower the bonus based on billables?

        1. Sacred Ground*

          A freaking LAW FIRM without a written policy for its employees’ compensation? There’s only one reason for that. They intend to cheat you.

    3. Snark No More!*

      And what happens when the client does pay? I was support in law almost 30 years and they NEVER stopped trying to collect.

      1. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

        Yeah, there really shouldn’t be a MOMENT when someone “hasn’t paid” at a firm like this, especially when you have as many partners and employees as it sounds like this one has, and increasing business. Yes, you might write a client off, but money should be coming in from somewhere all the time, and if it’s not you ramp up on pursuing it from somewhere. If business is decreasing, then you need to let people go, or take a paycut yourself to retain them over the lean times. If you can’t afford to pay your employees, you should lose them, not just pay them less.

  5. Smithy*

    I think that this letter is a great one for the education based LW to read.

    Whatever education anyone has in this place, it’s just clearly not a place that values staff. Unfortunately, AAM is full of bad management/manager letters and it’s worth taking the time to focus where we thrive and where we struggle vs diagnosing why a particular place/manager is a bad fit.

  6. Bob*

    If they didn’t use the PPP loans correctly report them to the government.
    Also find a new job ASAP.

    1. Bob*

      I also wonder if its worth speaking to an employment lawyer, i don’t know if there is any specific law they are breaking but a quick once over of all the shenanigans may be worth a consult?
      And Glassdoor them after you are gone.

      1. Nea*

        If the partners (who aren’t being treated this way( are all men, and the employees (who are being cheated of pay right, left and center are all women) then there seems to be a pretty open-and-shut gender discrimination lawsuit.

        1. KHB*

          That’s my thinking to, but I (not a lawyer) wonder if there’s some way they can weasel out of it by arguing that “partner” and “employee” are different roles that involve (slightly) different skills and bring different value to the company, and you can’t compare apples and oranges.

        2. OP*

          There is clearly a gender issue at the firm. When I first started, I was told by an partner that associates do not get to use secretaries, and then he said “aren’t you a good typist?” [He is my same age].
          So, yeah. But the problem is that this is a niche industry. My bosses are very well know. If I did that, I would have to change fields. So, I hate to say it, but I just do not have the guts for that.

          1. Threeve*

            Don’t feel bad about just doing what you can to get out without harming your career. This seems to me like a “put your own oxygen mask on first” situation for sure.

          2. Velawciraptor*

            It can be terrifying to take on gendered discrimination at work. And it can be a challenge to find an employment attorney willing to take on a law firm. But it can be worth it to at least talk to someone about the issues you’re experiencing here.

            I worked for a firm not as bad as yours when I first graduated from law school. I wound up changing fields after only the women in the office got targeted when the firm went through layoffs. It’s a daunting prospect, but far from impossible. Please consider it. You deserve better than what you’re dealing with.

          3. Another Lawyer*

            OP, I’m a little late to the comments but wanted to say that whether to pursue the gender discrimination issues is 100% your decision and there is nothing wrong in determining that it doesn’t make sense for you to do it. Please don’t beat yourself up over this — the legal system is unfriendly to plaintiffs in gender discrimination lawsuits, gender discrimination is entrenched at all levels of the legal industry, and your employer has already deprived you of the resources you would need — not only financial resources but also the mental/emotional capacity to take this on (apologies if I’m assuming too much!) — to overcome the tremendous challenges that you would face in pursuing the case. And all of that would be true even if your employer were to be a reasonable defendant, but I would bet money that they would actually be a vindictive, irrational opponent. “Guts” might be relevant if this were a fair fight, but it is not. I say this as a plaintiffs’ lawyer and also as someone with personal (i.e., non-professional) experience taking on a corrupt and well funded institution over a blatant injustice (that we actually won).

    2. JKateM*

      I think they might have to repay those PPP loans if they laid off 20% of the employees considering that was what they were supposed to avoid. I know there were a lot of “details” in the qualifications for the loans and for forgiveness. Let’s hope they have to pay them back.
      Also this person should definitely receive a nomination for worst boss!

    3. SnowySnowbird*

      They can do whatever business thing they want with them, but if they’re not largely to pay workers, you have to pay it back. I’m guessing they managed to pay workers–namely themselves–instead of the workers it was meant for. I hope what they did was done illegally, and that they get busted for it!

  7. Not trying to be rude, just good at it*

    I’m wondering how much the employee’s are receiving. Is it minimum levels or six figures? There has to be a rational reason why the OP remained for three years.

    1. Spearmint*

      I suspect they hire a bunch of people who are new to the professional work world (or their industry) and then make them think this is normal. The OP is only looking for a reality check now, probably because it only slowly dawned on them how abnormal this is.

    2. OP*

      Associate base is not poverty level. I’m sorry if I implied that. Some are slightly below 6 figures and some slightly above 6 figures. We are in a very high cost of living area, so the base is still below market. The bonus is supposed to make it market.

      Support staff are paid very minimal levels. They tend not to hire support staff who are older than early 30s. I believe most are in their 20s. I assume it is too keep costs down b/c cheaper. I know for a fact that our former receptionist was not earning a living wage, but I do not have specifics of everyone else’s pay.

      Partners make at least $500,000. Some make in millions. Partner spouses are also on the payroll but do not work at firm. (There was a document left on the printer a few years ago).

      1. Picard*

        [i]Partner spouses are also on the payroll but do not work at firm. (There was a document left on the printer a few years ago)./[i]

        what the WHAT?!

        1. Currently Eating Almond Joy*

          Next thing you know, OP’s going to tell us partner spouses make more than the actual employees doing actual work.

          And why not? Nothing seems to be stopping their horrible business practices anyway.

          1. OP*

            Spouse pay appeared to correlate with the cap on pre-tax 401(k) employee contributions. You can make what you want of that.

      2. Librarian of SHIELD*

        Does your state’s bar association have a process for submitting an ethics complaint? Because everything you just described is complete garbage.

      3. Lizzo*

        Holy mother forking shirtballs…is there some sort of professional association that your firm is associated with that they could be reported to/audited by?

        Please make sure you, personally, are safe and taken care of, but if you have the stamina and wherewithall to report these folks so that they can stop behaving like trash, DO IT.

      4. The Original K.*

        Partner spouses are also on the payroll but do not work at the firm.
        I beg your whole, entire pardon?

        1. Hawkes*

          A pardon for tax fraud, you mean?

          Partner earns a salary of 500k, has to pay 25% taxes on the first 100k and 50% taxes on the remained. Pays 25k+200k=225k taxes.

          Partner earns a de facto salary of 500k, 250k of which is in name of their spouse. Each pays 25% taxes on the first 100k and 50% on the remainder, paying 25k+75k+25k+75k=200k taxes.

          (Numbers are made up, works for every progressive tax.)

          Where I live this would be tax fraud.

          1. OP*

            I think it is related to 401(k) pre-tax deductions. Including spouse means you can double – but, i don’t think that’s illegal. I am not aware of a rule that you cannot pay someone for doing nothing. Is it in the spirit of the rule? No. But, is it illegal? No, right?

            1. Lizy*

              Yes, there’s absolutely a rule that says you have to “do something” to receive pay – it’s called “being employed”. You work, and you get a paycheck. You don’t work, you don’t get a paycheck.

              I work, I get paid a salary. My husband does not work. His “income” is not called pay – it’s called VA disability. No where ever in any place ever anywhere is it called salary. Because it’s not.

              1. A Genuine Scientician*

                I suspect the OP means rule in the sense of legal requirement. And though I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV, I think the answer is no, there is not a law about that. Firms can employ someone and choose not to take any action against them for not doing anything. It’s one of the common complains about family run businesses, where some ne’er-do-well is given a position that’s a sinecure because the owners — often the parents or grandparents — view one of the major reasons for the business existing as providing income for family members.

              2. Frankie Derwent*

                Sure that’s the common sense answer, but is it illegal? I don’t live in the US and we have different employment laws but it wouldn’t be illegal here.

            2. Anon for Today*

              Well, some well connected guys from NYC are probably doing a dime at Rikers for something similar. What your partners are doing may or may not be skirting the borders of money laundering.

              1. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

                Yes, the question is not whether you can pay someone to do nothing (for instance, I am getting paid to be on AAM right now), but whether you have the intention of skirting tax laws by doing so, and whether or not you have found an effective loophole.

            3. Anon in IL*

              The IRS carefully scrutinizes deductions for compensation paid to family members. Also, they just blew up the 401(k).

            4. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

              That’s something the IRS would be happy to determine. Also, remember that the IRS sometimes rewards whistleblowers, especially if the person or company that was evading taxes owes lots of money.

      5. Pragmatic Ostrich*

        The “hiring young people” also lets them get away with these horrible work practices. No one who ever worked in a well functioning office would last long there, but newer people will assume it is normal until they have the same realization you had.

  8. glitter writer*

    What an absolutely appalling workplace in every way. LW, I wish you the best of luck in finding someplace new IMMEDIATELY.

  9. Heidi*

    The whole business with the vacations makes me think this might be an episode of American Greed waiting to happen. OP, you cannot fix this place and they do not intend to change, so it seems like your only option is to decide how long you’re willing to continue working under these conditions. Good luck to you.

  10. EPLawyer*

    The entire company quit en masse TWICE in 5 years.

    Your bosses are not suddenly going to become good people if you just ask nicely or suck it up for a little while to show what a great team player you are.

    GET OUT NOW. the call is coming from INSIDE THE COMPANY.

    (and now that I have brought up THAT particular scary story I won’t sleep tonight)

    1. Librarian of SHIELD*

      That’s exactly what I was thinking. It takes some SERIOUS commitment to ripping off your employees to keep doing this even after your entire staff quits all at once in protest.

      OP, your bosses are completely unethical and they are fully committed to remaining that way. You cannot fix this.

    2. Mental Lentil*

      En masse resignations are always a bad sign. That it happened twice. Just ugh.

      1. OP*

        Admittedly, that was a red flag.
        The first time happened before I was hired, and its not like it was in the job posting.
        The second time happened within the first year that I was hired and was everyone but me and one other professional employee. It was presented as “well, thank goodness, now we can build a better firm without that dead weight.”
        In retrospect, I now see…

        1. armchairexpert*

          Hey OP can I just say, your sense of humour shines right through these comments. I hope you don’t feel piled upon. Sometimes, our well meaning WTF WHY ARE YOU STILL THERE comes across like we’re yelling at you for doing something wrong. You sound great. That’s all.

    3. Elenna*

      This! OP, in case this awful workplace has convinced you otherwise, let me just remind you that staff quitting en masse even once is NOT NORMAL in the least. Let alone twice in five years!

  11. Jessica*

    Run like the wind! But bring this letter along so you can revise it into a nice denunciatory screed on glassdoor after your escape.

  12. R. D.*

    This is not a rehab-able work environment. No one can HR-power their way through this top-to-bottom dunghill. Flee like a gazelle!

  13. Allie*

    None of that is normal. The only question is why you’re even asking the question? How have these bosses gaslight you that you would even question whether you’re in the wrong here.

    Get out!

      1. AS*

        I really don’t see this as a mean comment – Allie is pointing out how deeply the OP has been gaslit to even wonder if this is normal. and is recommending they leave ASAP as are the rest of the comments.

      2. Allie*

        It wasn’t intended to be mean, I was pointing out that OP seems to be the victim of manipulation. These bad bosses have wrecked her self esteem.

        If you want to explain why you found my comment mean, I am happy for you to explain more. But I was trying to emphasize how bad these bosses are.

        1. Allie*

          Ask yourself this OP. 25 years from now if this was your kid going through this, what would you want them to do? Do you think it would be okay for someone to tell your kid they were a bad human for this?

          You’re someone’s baby too.

      3. OP*

        I did not take it as mean (although I appreciate treehouses having my back here.)
        I am starting to question why I was even asking the question myself. Sometimes you have to say something out loud for objective feedback, before you can see what’s going on.

  14. Kathleen N.*

    Yes get out, but I would be notifying someone about the PPP thing. My knowledge is that 75% is to go to payroll. This might be a way to get some cash on your way out and if not at least it was looked at.

    1. Old Cynic*

      Wouldn’t bonuses technically be a part of payroll? My bonuses were always cut from our APD account.

  15. KHB*

    I hate to be the person who’s all “is this illegal?” – but, is this illegal? I’m specifically looking at the “all the partners are men, all the employees are women” part. If “partners” and “employees” are doing substantially the same work, that seems problematic to me.

  16. Medico*

    Run and take as many people with you as you can. Can you report them to anyone? All this sounds incredibly suspicious and more than a little illegal.

  17. Justme, The OG*

    I would literally quit right now without a job lined up if I could afford it, if I were you.

    1. OP*

      My spouse would support that decision and has even suggested it. I guess i just thought I could make this work, still, somehow? I’m realizing that’s probably not the case.

      1. ThatGirl*

        Let’s put it this way: you’re not the one who’s not making it work. And there doesn’t seem to be anything you can do to change the things standing in the way of making it work; those things are far beyond your control.

        1. sacados*

          OP, you are doing everything you can to “make it work.” The only reason it’s still not “working,” even after all that, is because of THEM, not you.

      2. Pidgeot*

        I think it’s normal to think that we can make the best out of a bad situation, don’t beat yourself up for being hopeful and working hard. Start job searching and leave when you can. Good companies exist who do not operate like this. You deserve better; the commentariat here is all rooting for you and we’d all love to see an update where you leave this place and find a lovely new job that treats you like a good human being.

      3. Allie*

        Why, though, what makes you want to make this work? You were verbally abused for a very reasonable request.

        1. pancakes*

          And what would making this work look & feel like? The partners this arrangement works for are, apparently, crudely exploitative sexists.

      4. Lils*

        OP I feel for you. I’ve been in a situation like this and it’s awful. Something to think about: at some point it becomes worth it to choose almost any setback over staying in a toxic job. Setbacks like lowering your income, having to start over in another field, leaving your work friends, moving, etc. start to pale when you consider the cumulative effects of a long-term toxic workplace on your mental and physical health. They have gaslit you into believing that if you just put up with this BS long enough, someday you’ll get rewarded by moving up and/or their mysterious black box compensation system. This is a lie and it won’t happen. You–all of us–deserve to be treated fairly. Please don’t discount the way this job is affecting your happiness and health.

      5. Paris Geller*

        My initial response was to LEAVE TODAY (because this sort of place does not deserve two weeks notice), but I realize that’s probably not realistic since you’ve mentioned in other companies this is a law practice in a niche area, and you don’t want to damage your reputation to other potential employers, which I get. But if your spouse supports that decision and you can afford it, turn that resignation letter in tomorrow!!!

      6. Generic Name*

        I get it. There’s a bit of, I don’t know, pride that you can feel for making an unworkable situation work. If I can be successful here, I can be successful anywhere. I was like this in terms of my ability to get along with difficult people until one day I realized that the reason I got along with people who are hard to get along with is because I was a doormat who let people treat me like crap. I eventually decided that getting along with jerks wasn’t something I wanted to be known for if it meant allowing myself to be treated poorly.

        1. OP*

          I appreciate this comment. I actually have a bit of a spin – I can be outspoken. So, when it doesn’t work, I have a tendency to think that its *me* because I know myself and maybe i was just difficult. Like in this – I was questioning – “well, maybe I was wrong to raise this the partner? Maybe I should have put my head down and keep my mouth shut?” Because I know that’s not my strong point.

          1. Boof*

            Not sure I see any problem with being outspoken if it’s about reasonable things to advocate for oneself. Discretion is for clients; not for employers/employees…

      7. Batty Twerp*

        It’s not often Alison writes so little in her responses because it takes a momentous amount of unsalvagable workplace crazy for her to go straight to “get out get out get out”. Especially with no “if you can afford it” caveat.
        This is a momentous amount of unsalvagable workplace crazy. And you have the support of your spouse.
        Run fast and run far and get out get out get out.

      8. Lawyer Girl*

        OP, there are options available for doing contract legal work–not just doc review. Smaller firms will hire attorneys to do a specific project that they don’t have the capacity to handle–e.g., draft this motion to dismiss, or that summary judgment motion. I have two friends who’ve used this option, either as a stopgap while searching for other employment or as a flexible option while raising small children. This could help keep the ship afloat while you search for a better position.

      9. Amaranth*

        If you have the means, it might be time to resign, recharge, and look for another job while detoxing from that horrible workplace. Right now there are a lot of people leaving jobs without much more explanation than ‘2020 happened’ – though I’m curious for suggestions on how to phrase the response to ‘why did you leave’ in an interview. I guess ‘that place is a dumpster fire’ isn’t the best response.

  18. TimeTravlR*

    Can someone please help me get my eyebrows out of my hairline!!?? This is outrageous!

    1. Virginia Plain*

      My jaw had already dropped into the flat below, then the giant sexism klaxon went off and I think my lower mandible has now discovered some Iron Age relics.

  19. Alex*

    Dear Crappy Boss,

    I’m doing you the favor of quitting without notice today. This is clearly for your benefit, because otherwise I’d just have to shove a pinecone up your butt.


    1. wraphaci*

      I would love to explain exactly why I’m quitting, but it’s complicated and you wouldn’t understand.


      “…because otherwise I’d just have to shove a pinecone up your butt.”
      I’m laughing so hard I cannot catch my breath!!!
      Yes, OP, that is what these jackasses deserve- a pinecone up the butt! Just hop on the bus, Gus!

  20. Sami*

    OP- if you’re around, I’m curious why you still work there? A genuine question. I know getting a new job in the midst of a pandemic isn’t easy, but it is possible. (See the Friday Good News)
    Or maybe it’s the location, health insurance, or…? I’m seriously curious why people stay when you’re treated so horribly. I can see why there is such turnover. In any case, best wishes to you.

    1. HR Exec Popping In*

      I had this same question. I do not understand why employees stay working at places that treat them horribly, working for jerks all while being under paid.

      1. The Original K.*

        I can think of lots of reasons. Maybe someone lives in a small town where there aren’t many other options, and moving isn’t an option for them. Maybe someone lives in a niche industry (OP said this is a law firm in a niche practice area), so there aren’t many other options to do the kind of work they do. Maybe the work is bad but the benefits are good, and somebody has a chronic health condition that requires the best health care available to them. I can name a few people I know personally who work at universities in roles they don’t like and where they’re not treated well, but they have kids looking at college in a few years and tuition for the kids is free if they keep working there. Maybe they were unemployed and needed work and this was what they could get, and they’re biding their time to not look like a job-hopper.

        “Leave” is often sound advice and it definitely is here, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. We are still in a global pandemic and recession, after all.

    2. OP*

      OP here. Well, a few reasons –
      1. This is a niche practice area, and this is one of the top three firms in the areas. All three firms are relatively close knit, so if i left, I would (will) probably have to change practice areas. I like the practice area, but I just do not like this particular employer. I guess i saw this as a means to an end? That if i just toughed it out, then I would advance to a higher level where conditions would be better. (Okay, i’m now really getting that advancement at this firm is probably not possible, but it took me a while.)
      2. I was pregnant for part of those three years, so it just wasn’t a good time to move – and also, I have just been distracted/exhausted, so status quo has been earlier.
      3. I do like and enjoy my non-partner coworkers.

      1. Small Business Owner*

        I am SO SO not a lawyer, nor do I know anything about how private practice in law works… so 500 grains of salt here: Is there any thought of starting your own private practice in this niche area? (Or even one of your fed-up colleagues?) One that is run better and treats its employees ethically? I don’t know what kind of capital it takes to start this kind of practice, but…

        If these yahoos are “top three,” that tells me there is room for competition in this marketplace. I’d be shocked if this mismanagement doesn’t somehow trickle to client experience… or, to be more specific, I’d be shocked that a better-run practice couldn’t create much better client experience. Even if a new firm wasn’t “top three,” it could be a much needed alternative. Take all that you know from your role here and make the firm that should be.

        Again, not in law, but I worked for a poorly run consulting firm, and shrugged thinking it was the only way to do my chosen niche field. It took a long time, but at some point I realized, “I could effing run this business better than these yahoos. I’m the one delivering the value to the clients who pay us money. Screw it.” So I left and started my own firm doing things the way I thought was right and ethical – to the benefit of me, staff, and clients. I’m not running the biggest firm in my niche, but I’ve been growing.

        Just want to suggest it because it was a huge mental hill for me to climb and a lot of voices saying, “You can’t.” But I could. And I’m so glad I did.

        1. OP*

          That is my goal. It is part of why I have stuck around, but I am probably a few years off from being able to make that work, given my vintage. So i am stuck in this weird no (wo)man’s land where I would probably need to jump to another established practice first.
          But, yes, I have one or two current colleagues who are very talented, and who hopefully have the same idea in terms of their future career trajectory.
          I’m so glad that worked out for you! Inspirational.

          1. Cafe au Lait*

            A friend of mine left a toxic workplace to start her own practice. She felt that she didn’t have enough experience under her belt. Nine months later she sent in a bid and was subsequently rewarded with the project that made up a substantial amount of her old firm’s work.

            Another thought: in the non-lawyer world there’s a common belief that lawyers are out to get your money. That they’re just going to nickle and dime you for doing the least amount of work. I’ve read countless posts where commentators share tips on how to lower bills. Firms like your Toxic Firm contribute heavily to that belief. If you set up a firm with clear and equitable pay structures, that ethos will easily be passed onto the consumer.

      2. Lizzo*

        Is it possible for you to strike out on your own with some of the non-partner co-workers? Or quit now, do some freelance work, and eventually set up your own firm? I know that would be a hard thing to do, but it sure as heck would be more worthwhile than what you’re doing now…not to mention, *you* would see the rewards of your own hard work.

      3. Forrest*

        I was reading this trying to work out what advantages this place has over some kind of freelancing and consultancy work. I mean, I am a firm believer that if you want to be employed, you want to be employed, and being self-employed is is not a good substitute. But literally nothing about this job seems to be better than being self-employed! You don’t get to control your work output, your clients, your billable hours, you don’t get a decent base salary, your bonus doesn’t seem to reflect your billable hours, you’ve no security, you’re making money for someone else whilst carrying ALL the risk— what the heck’s the point?

      4. Allie*

        You’re going to find your fay to day is far more determined by the quality of your workplace than your niche area. And if the other organizations would hold it against you (after the staff mass quit before, twice!) Then they exhibit a sense of loyalty and tolerance of poor behavior that is deeply messed up.

      5. Emma*

        Maybe you have concrete reasons to think otherwise, OP, but I wouldn’t assume that just because the bosses in the three firms are buddies, you can’t move between those firms and will have to leave the practise area.

        Maybe the other firms are run just as terribly as your current firm, idk! But if not – if they are normal, relatively functional workplaces – they won’t have particular qualms about people moving between them. Obviously, you would want to avoid giving your reason for leaving as “firm A is hell and the bosses are terrible people”. But if you put it more like, “I’ve reached the limits of what advancement is possible at firm A currently and I’m eager for more challenges”, or “I really want to process to associate level and that’s unfortunately not an option at firm A”, then they’re not going to view you as disloyal or selfish or whatever else. Maybe your current – batshit – bosses will, but that’s specifically because they’re batshit, and normal employers don’t think that way.

        Of course, you still might have to change areas because finding a job in a niche area during a pandemic is hard. But normal employers won’t discount your applications just because you’re currently working for a firm they know.

    3. Ellyfant*

      This is similar to asking why domestic abuse victims stay with their abuse partners when the real question should be what abusers are doing to manipulate their victims into feeling like they cannot escape. There are lots of reasons why ill treated employees struggle to leave.

  21. AnonEMoose*

    There are plenty of absolutely abysmal excuses for human beings in this letter, OP, but NONE of them are you.

    Run like the cartoon Road Runner.

    And definitely consider reporting them for misuse of the PPP loans once you’re gone.

  22. Elbe*

    Quit this place as soon as humanly possible. These people are awful and they seem quite content to be awful.

    And Glassdoor this if you can, so that future employees will know what’s up.

  23. introverted af*

    I don’t know that I’ve ever seen AAM publish so short an answer to a letter writer that they gave a whole article/post to, which is sooooo telling about how bad the workplace is.

    1. OP*

      Yeah, that was a real eye opener for me, actually. I was like “wow, okay, i guess this is NOT a close call.” Really made the point. Thank you, AAM.

  24. Semi Woke Small Business Owner*

    Re PPP loans: I would bet they did use it for payroll…for the partners.

    1. OP*

      I actually think they used it for our payroll, but then they just allocated the funds that we bring in (and continued to bring in, without interruption) to increased partner profits.

  25. IT_Librarian*


    Run like your butt is on fire and you love the feel of the wind in your hair. Take to the sea if you must.

  26. Exhausted Trope*

    I wonder if there’s a way to report the firm for misuse of PPP funds? But perhaps after you leave.

  27. Database Developer Dude*

    Name and shame, OP. Let us all know so we don’t go there. What do you do? I will gladly refer you into my company if we have any openings in your city.

  28. Ray Gillette*

    This is the second-shortest response I’ve seen from Alison to a letter writer (the shortest was to the cheap ass rolls writer, and they were included in a “5 short answers” post). Even without taking into account her actual words, this tells you how clear the situation is.

  29. Observer*

    OP, is this your first job? I ask because it sounds like you are not sure what is normal in a reasonable workplace.

    Don’t just believe a bunch of internet commenters. Alison is telling you to get out for a reason. If you think that she is over-reacting think about the fact that TWICE the staff have resigned en masse. That is SO unusual that it pretty much tells you everything you need to know about the situation.

    Your workplace is a dumpster fire, and it’s not going to get better. Start looking NOW.

    1. OP*

      It is not, but there as a shift in my career, which I think it what is throwing me off.
      I guess I wanted to believe that I could make this work if i put in the time and work.

      1. AS*

        OP, they do not deserve you. Leave as soon as possible and please come back to let us know how satisfying your departure turns out if you can.

      2. Kelly*

        I worked at a terrible, abusive job after a career transition for way longer than I should have because I was so determined to “make it” in my new career. I thought if I didn’t stay for more than 2 years no one else would hire me, and I otherwise internalized a lot of the bananas stuff as maybe just how my new industry worked.

        Which is to say, I get staying for all the reasons you’ve listed, but even though mine was a different field than law, I was amazed at the roles available to me once I decided to leave and I hope you are too. Take that drive and optimism somewhere that such traits will be appropriately valued!

      3. Escapee from Corporate Management*

        OP, you shifted your career and wanted to make it work. That means you’ve put a lot of emotional investment into this job. But it’s not worth it. I know this is hard, but consider that emotional investment a sunk cost and do what’s rationally best. Move on, even if it’s in a different sector.

      4. pope suburban*

        The thing is that the people running the show do not want it to get better. They are actively invested in making sure it never gets better. They probably hire for certain roles based on whether or not they think these people will maintain the status quo for them (I’m thinking specifically of people they want to groom for leadership; please don’t think I mean to imply the whole staff is awful, as I’m sure most of you are lovely people just trying to pay the bills). This isn’t a company that has, say, a little organizational dysfunction, or one that’s a little hamstrung by execs who are change-averse. Those are situations where you can work your way up and make changes. This is a malevolent organization that will not only not support you, but which will actively work to thwart you. I know this because you’ve told us this, and because I once lost three years to a place that was very similar. I did accomplish a lot there, and take on a lot of new tasks, but the gargantuan sexist who ran the place carried on treating me like I was a dimwitted little girl, because that’s what he wanted to do. You’re dealing with a handful of clones of his, sounds like, and they’ll suck the life from you while making sure to keep you crushed under their shoes. Please leave. Find a place where you’re valued and encouraged. You can’t save this place because it very much does not want to be saved.

        1. Boof*

          This is pretty classic emotional abuse patterns, even
          — make people feel trapped; make them feel devalued and that they aren’t worth more, that they can’t find better
          — lie lie lie and then tell them they just don’t understand /forgot /must be confused (ideally imply it is because they are so unfit and worthless and they’re lucky abusive place is even bothering with them)
          — profit a hell of a lot out of the person working so hard to serve [abusive person/group] and [abuser] interests and always make the person feel like crap and try to keep them from advocating for themselves
          Abusers do this because it profits them usually. As long as they don’t actually care about the other person and don’t see them as anything but a servant to themselves, it works great for the user/abuser!

          1. pope suburban*

            Absolutely. My former employer absolutely did this to all the women in his life. The way he treated his wife was appalling, and he was uniformly terrible to our inside staff, who were all female. The guys in the shop, he might not have had high opinions of, but he treated them well and with some of them it was absolutely a boys’ club. His favorite was a supervisor who really seemed to have some sort of clinical problem. That supervisor took pleasure in upsetting people, and would frequently make our contracts person cry. The abuse was the point with those two, and it made for a nightmare workplace where things took much longer than they should have.

  30. Philosophus Bellator*

    Seldom there are times one must quit before securing a new job. If your finances permit, this is one of those times.

  31. AdAgencyChick*

    For whatever reason, I misread the last line as “There are some people who aren’t good bananas…”

    Your workplace is bananas. That must be why I made that mistake.

  32. QED*

    OP, you mentioned in a previous comment that this is a law firm. I know the industry has been saying it was hit kind of hard, but hiring is still happening, and the large firms have pretty much all restored pay to pre-pandemic levels and are still giving real bonuses. So depending on where you’re located and what kind of law you practice, there are jobs out there! You also likely have skills that you can transfer to the rest of the legal sector outside of your niche industry, which if you have to do to get another job, do it. Even within the terrible world of law firms, yours is not normal!

  33. PolarVortex*

    The more I read this, the more my mind kept chanting ‘Run.’ both faster and louder.

    You are a frog in a pot and the water is long past warm and is now boiling at the heat level of the sun.

    Bail. Run. Vamoose. Quit. Resign. Abandon Ship. Nope straight on out of there.

    Fly Free, Fly Far, Fly Fast.

  34. Chance of thunderstorm*

    Can you suddenly become ill? Need to use all your PTO for a family emergency? And then just…not return?And if you are worried about references I’m sure one of the many people who have already quit will vouch for you. Best of luck!

  35. Fiona the Baby Hippo*

    this struck a chord with me because I have some former coworkers who recently left our VERY toxic company and its amazing to me how they can articulate all the horrible things their managers/the CEO did to them and still question their decision to leave. Being at a toxic work environment, as Alison so often writes about, really warps your sense of what is normal. No job is perfect but what is happening to you is exceptionally f*cked and I hope you can get out of there ASAP!

  36. West*

    Allison’s response is straightforward and to the point – YOU are NOT the one who is crazy, the company is. In fact, I can’t believe you even stayed this long.

    Leave now and don’t think twice.

  37. roll-bringer*

    If you can find anything shady you might use to get this business in trouble – e.g. potentially misusing their PPP loan – I say gather evidence, quit, and see if you can get them in hot water. This is a dumpster fire business run by dumpster fires, and they deserve an absolutely massive crock of shit.

  38. RJ*

    I agree with the posts above, OP. This company sucks and they’re not going to change. Run like the wind!

  39. Solstice*

    Get out get out get. Good luck! You are obviously strong enough to write that letter and you CAN find something better for you. I’ll be looking for your update in December :)

  40. Amesip*

    “Not a good human…”
    It sounds like an alien overlord in the exposition of a human-slave revolt movie.

    I mean…dude. Get out. (or revolt…)

  41. Anythingisbetterthanthis*

    This is a situation where I would quit with nothing else lined up. There are thousands of law firms out there, any one of them would be lucky to have you. Even if you have to walk dogs to make ends meet until you get a new job, that would be better than working at a places that dehumanizes you for being reasonable.

  42. Rachael*

    As I read this, the entire time my jaw was on the floor.

    Holy crap, please, do yourself a favor and get out. Tell your coworkers too.

      1. Lizy*

        Good. I hope you all quit tomorrow and tell them they just don’t understand. And that a new awesome company agrees to hire you all for actual money.

      2. Old Admin*

        *clap clap clap* Good!
        To quote AAM: Act as a group.
        To quote myself: …regardless what that means (talking to HR, or stealing all the champagne in the the partners’ fridge on the way out :-) )

  43. Wintermute*

    If your salary isn’t astounding or the benefits irreplaceable, I’d apply to every fast food joint in town and the nicer ones twice before I’d work at a place like that. It sounds like the bosses think Ebenezer Scrooge is their spirit animal, and have a book of the month club where they read the biographies of robber barons of the industrial era and come up with ideas. They would pay you in company scrip and force you to live in a company house that rents for (conveniently) exactly as much as you make if they could.

  44. GrumpyGnome*

    OP, I understand how being in such a toxic work environment twists your norms, especially if you haven’t had much experience in good work places.

    You are not the crazy one. You cannot fix this. Please don’t continue to stay; not for your coworkers or a sense of loyalty to this kind of company. You need to look out for yourself and get out as quickly as feasible, and I agree with others about reporting them for PPP fraud.

  45. Coffee Owlccountant*


    OP, every reply you’ve given makes my jaw drop further. I’m seriously in risk of actually turning into one of those snakes that unhinge their jaws so they can swallow eggs or whatever. EVERYTHING about this is absolutely batshit insane. RUN FOR THE HILLS. This is a no-good, very-bad place and it is not going to change or ever get better.

    If you’re financially able to, quit on the spot and then give yourself a solid month to let your ears come down from your shoulders before you start looking again.

  46. Temperance*

    OP, if you are an associate or paralegal, your skills WILL transfer to other law firms. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you’re only an insurance lawyer/paralegal, so therefore, this is the only place you could possibly work. You have certain skills that are transferable even if you don’t know the specific law in another area.

  47. JillianNicola*

    My first thought before I read the comments was, this sounds like an MLM scam. And then to read it’s a law firm!! Hell to the no, get out as fast as you can.

  48. Secretary*

    This is horrifying!! And most of it’s probably illegal!!!
    Maybe consult an employment lawyer too? What could you report to whom.

  49. Screen Names Are Hard*

    So, I was once a young female attorney and the first firm I ever worked at was just like this. When I asked why I couldn’t get paid commensurate with the male associates (who IMHO were useless, but that’s neither here nor there) I was told that I didn’t work at a widget factor. We didn’t make widgets at that law firm. And apparently that was why men were paid more. WIDGETS.

    Gonna admit, when I quit, I gave them two days notice, and never looked back. I leave the six months I worked there on my resume as a way to screen for bad employers.

    Them: Why did you leave Dewey, Cheatum, and Howe after only six months?

    Me: Explains how I brought in over $100k in billables in six months but somehow didn’t deserve a bonus under their scammy pay structure.

    If interviewers aren’t aghast by the business practices I know it’s time to politely withdraw my interest. Run away, OP, run away. Also, if you are the female associate, lots of bar associations have Women’s Law Caucuses, I have found that these can be a great source of support. If you are other staff, please just know that lawyers can’t do their jobs without you. (Seriously, I do not know how to file anything without my secretary.) There are places out there that will pay you what you deserve and I hope you find one.

      1. old curmudgeon*

        I think it’s older than Car Talk – wasn’t Dewey, Cheatem & Howe a Three Stooges sketch?

        Great reference in any case, and spot-on accurate for this set of bums.

  50. Sarra N. Dipity*

    Get out get out get out…. and convince everyone else to get out with you. They don’t deserve to have anyone working for them.

    And report them for probably misusing their PPP loans.

  51. Blue Lion*

    I’m thinking you might want to file a whistleblower report on the PPP loan. Something sketchy is going on.
    Run away from this place.

  52. Marthooh*

    I read “Twice in the last five years, the entire staff has quit en masse” and thought “That’s your answer, right there!”

  53. Data Nerd*

    OP, I hear you that your area of practice is very niche and you don’t feel up to making the change (I wouldn’t either, with a new baby!), but is there any semi-related industry that you could get into sort of sideways? Like, obviously I know nothing about your industry, but say you’re an entertainment lawyer. Could you work instead as something like a copyright lawyer? or if you represented solely magicians, could you shift to actors? Area there any moves you can make? Because I am in full agreement that your current firm is packed to the rafters with evil bees and you need to run before you get stung any more than you already are.

  54. LifeBeforeCorona*

    Can you report them for fraud with respect to the PPP loans? Also, leave without notice. Also, file for unpaid wages. Good luck.

  55. Sharrbe*

    Look up Narcissistic Personality Disorder. It’s apparently an epidemic in your firm. You are being gaslighted. Run away.

  56. Interviewer*

    So you’re in the industry, and you want to stay in it, but you see the issues with burning bridges with your current firm. You’ve recognized your bosses are giant jerks but you can’t say that in an interview. Trust me, everyone in your city knows it already.

    Your niche practice serves individuals, is profitable, has a bunch of brutal, greedy partners with spouses on the payroll, and still manages a top 3 reputation – random guess, but is this white collar criminal defense? I would bet in your short tenure you’ve met tons of people – judges, clients, attorneys, business owners, experts – and you’ve got a chance to join firms that are looking to grow, ones that need your network. Your insight and experience will help someone. Find that firm. There are even tons of remote openings now. Seriously, stop working so hard for your current bosses, and prioritize getting out. Make your list of contacts, network like mad, and GO.

  57. Elizabeth West*


    I bet you $5 those PPP loans are paying for the vacations.

    1. Amaranth*

      PPP is sadly easy to manipulate. I’d bet that PPP went to salary and authorized expenses and all the money that *would* have gone to those expenses went in their pockets. You don’t have to prove that you couldn’t pay anyone without PPP, just that the funds were used to keep employees paid.

  58. Andre S.*

    Run and report them. They life the wealthy Live because they mistreat and gaslight you. You deserve to be tretet like humanes. Your bosses deserve live in jail for Fraud.

  59. staceyizme*

    W-o-w! It would be one thing to make a pitch to employees enticing them to “help us out” due to Covid-19, it’s entirely another to gaslight you! Polish up that resume, because whether by intent or unwittingly, your employer has given you insight into who they are when they believe you to have no recourse or limited recourse. You should believe them and craft your next steps accordingly.

  60. Anon For This*

    Don’t just get out; get out as fast as possible and with as little consideration for them as you can safely get away with. Your employers are evil and have forfeited any right to propriety, so if you want to do something like quitting with zero notice, do it. Your only concern should be for how it will affect you.

  61. Youngin*

    I twitched once I read that he called you selfish.

    There is something insanely disgusting about someone using a PPP loan for a vacation while chastising people under him for expecting a fair wage. Ugh.

    Alison, is this not actionable somehow?

  62. Who Plays Backgammon?*

    Jaw drops open. Eyes bug out.

    This guy is not qualified to judge who’s a good human since he fails to qualify as human himself.

  63. Paris Geller*

    This is 100% RUN, do not pass Go, do not collect $200 situation. I know times are rough right now, but honestly, if you can afford it (and not everyone can), this is “quit without another job lined up” territory to me, and I’ve very rarely ever said that.

  64. Susana*

    Get out indeed. And if you think there was anything at all untoward about how they got or administered the PPP loan turn them in. They were supposed to use it for employee salaries.

  65. Lucious*

    Either the LW leaves of their own accord, or their job is forfeit once a government regulatory agency shuts this chop shop of a ‘company’ down. The Feds are not kidding about PPP fraud.

  66. willow for now*

    “His immediate response was that I’m “not a good human.”

    To your employer, on the job, you don’t have to be a good human. You just have to be a good employee.

  67. Gray Lady*

    I tend to be more tolerant and understanding of balancing the needs of the employer with the needs of the employees than the general run of the commentariat here, or at least that’s my perception.

    But this one, just no. Nononononono. There is nothing remotely acceptable about any of this.

  68. Ciela*

    There are some situations where it would make sense not to be paid for your time. Volunteering at a food pantry, helping an elderly relative with household chores, caring for a younger sibling, etc.

    Working at a law firm? Yes, you should be paid. And not be somehow penalized because they are hiring a new person.

    GTFO, like now.

  69. LizO*

    they should be reported for not following the PPP guidelines for how the money is used.

  70. The Prettiest Curse*

    Unfortunately, there is no amount of work on your part that will make them not be crappy. Maybe you could investigate adjacent or broadly similar areas to your niche area (assuming that these exist) to see if those are possibilities. In-house legal work or consulting for firms in your niche area could also be possible.

    1. virago*

      “Unfortunately, there is no amount of work on your part that will make them be not crappy.”


      Until and unless medical science is capable of carrying out full personality transplants on patients, I would not count on any of these people to act recognizably human.

  71. CatCat*


    In my fantasy rage quit scenario, I would put in my notice, effective immediately, via an all-staff e-mail with the facts laid out in this letter, especially that final conversation.

    1. Sacred Ground*

      And first gathering as much documentation of the PPP fraud and any other shady practices to take home with you. I’m guessing an insider with a suspicious eye could uncover a lot. If they treat their own people this way, how honest are they with clients and regulators? Could they stand up to an audit?

  72. Keymaster of Gozer*

    Actual crazy person here. You’re not crazy.

    And even I, in my worst schizophrenic moments, would never EVER treat my employees like the sheer amount of untreated human sewage your place is.

    They’re scum. And they sadly won’t change. Run.

  73. PingPongPenguin*

    I love that every single person here who has ever worked in that industry correctly identified it as law, from the jump.

    Some legal employers have been honorable, ethical, truly wonderful people. A great deal were and are crooked as the day is long, out to make a buck, slimy, and duplicitous.

    OP, I can assure you that the legal community in your area is well aware of the discriminatory and unethical employment shenanigans of this group of clowns. You will have the support of many (probably all) of the honorable and ethical members of your professional community when you choose to move on. Which is, hopefully, today. Good luck to you, and I know that we will all be hoping for an update.

    1. Heffalump*

      We have lawyer jokes for a reason.

      It’s so terribly unjust–the bad lawyers give a black eye to the other 1% of lawyers.

    2. Sacred Ground*

      “You will have the support of many (probably all) of the honorable and ethical members of your professional community when you choose to move on.”

      This is such an important point, with all the departures and staff quitting en masse TWICE, I guarantee everyone who matters will know this firm for the dungheap they are. Employers in your area will know exactly why you’re leaving and will likely marvel that you managed to put up with as long as you did.

      Leaving an unethical firm doesn’t hurt your professional reputation.

  74. Heather Feather*

    This smacks of law firm. I know, I’ve been there and got out. Law firms are typically the worst HR offenders, and they are so often run by old white men. When I was a new associate, my boss told me I was a “hysterical woman” who had “emotional problems and self pity issues,” because I stood up for myself. The second firm I worked for was not much better—the managing partner wanted to “rescue” people and I didn’t need rescuing. If anyone reading this is considering law school, don’t do it. I loved my law education, but am so glad I don’t practice anymore.

  75. Gus the Myna Bird*

    It’s times like these that I wish we could learn the name of the company. I want to ensure I never do business with them at all.

  76. Miss Pantalones En Fuego*

    I know everyone’s already said the same thing, but why in the world are you still working there?

  77. Abogado Avocado*

    First, please consult an employment lawyer. The situation you describe does raise significant questions about gender discrimination and violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act. (Heck, there may even be a qui tam lawsuit with regard to the PPP loans.) With regard to the FLSA issue, it seems highly questionable to assign you work (training) that you only will paid out of bonus you will not receive. That sounds a lot like work for no pay whatsoever. And what if you were to accrue no bonus whatsoever? Do they get to take back part of your salary?

    Second, yes, you should leave. But do consult the employment lawyer first so that if there is an actionable case, you have not left in a way that limits legal recourse.

  78. HotSauce*

    This company is not just disgraceful, but they sound like downright crooks. Run as far and as fast as you can, I can’t imagine any place could possibly be worse short of physical assault.

  79. Raven*

    Before you leave, report this firm for PPP fraud. I don’t know if we’re allowed to post links in the comments, but if you Google “report PPP fraud” you’ll get the info you need.

  80. Forest*

    RUN! I am irate on your behalf. These turkey jerkies are awful. This environment may even be hostile, since they are specifically paying men and not women, regardless of how to staff structure makes it look legit. Good gawd. At least in Mad Men they treated people like crap but ultimately “that’s what the money is for.” You don’t even get the money. Ick ack ahk!

  81. Jay*

    Warning: Snark ahead:
    You work for Lizard People.
    It’s well known that the Lizard People prefer their Humans cheerfully subservient and underpaid.
    Everybody knows that Humans that have dignity and self respect produce poor quality adrenochrome.
    So, by that metric, you are indeed, by their Reptilian standards, a Bad Human.
    You just won’t taste very good when paired with salsa at the annual Illuminati Cinco De Mayo bash.
    -End Snark.

    No, seriously, though.
    You work for monsters.
    Get out.

  82. Scott*

    I’m no lexicologist but I’m pretty sure this fits the exact definition of “gaslighting” – some serious, Orwellian “Animal Farm” style gaslighting. Mental and emotional carbon monoxide poisoning level gaslighting. Blinding, nuclear fusion level gaslighting. These sound like some of the worst kind of people there are. These are Smaug-like dragons who will hoard every last cent they can get their claws on and who have no remorse or shame for what it will take to do so. Don’t spend any more time feeding them outside of what you will need to do to get away from them. They’re not worth the single breath of air or moment of your life it takes to say their name.

  83. Four lights*

    Law is definitely a field that a recruiter can help you find a position in. I speak from experience as a paralegal.

  84. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    It’s worth having a conversation with your local Dept of Labor office – ask for the Labor Standards team. They can review the situation and do the investigation about whether you’re being paid fairly.

  85. Traveler*

    @OP – please come back and share an update with us.
    I hope it is a positive one for you. Although the theme is clear about the opinion on your workplace, it sounds like you have a supportive spouse which can give you more flexibility.

  86. Leslie Knope*

    I’m a risk averse person and I sometimes let people walk all over me, but if a superior ever dared to say I was “not a good human” in response to me being asked to paid for my time, I would have quit on the spot. This company sounds like an abusive partner. Gaslighting? check! Emotional manipulation? check! Re-writing history and making you question the baseline for acceptable behavior? check! And as terrible as they are they seem to want to you be grateful for their treatment of you. I’m beyond disgusted and BEG that when you’re on your way out you leave this post as a review on Glassdoor or Yelp or whatever kind of site lets people know what kind of company your employers are. I would never want to accidentally give these monsters a dime.

  87. Maggie*

    I was once told my refusing to go full time at a place I freelanced at was “greedy behavior.” This was because I pointed out that I made more by freelancing than they were offering for full time. Umm, OK… I thought i was working to earn a living, not just to help out Corporate America.

  88. CoveredInBees*

    OP, I know you mentioned feeling reluctant to leave your firm because you’re in a niche area but think about it the other way around. You are extra valuable because you’re in a niche area.

    Also, I would not let the fact that the partners in your firm are buddies with partners in other firms. That happens over time, especially in smaller fields, but it might not run as deep or as genuinely as it appears. I have seen people choose adding an asset to their firm even if it meant annoying someone they chat with at open bar events.

    Perhaps you know someone who works at another related firm who can give you the inside scoop? This is not normal for law firms, as messed up as they may be.

    1. Jay*

      Yeah, these do not strike me as the kind of people who foster deep, meaningful interpersonal relationships with others.
      Unless you live in a very isolated place where a small group of Firms all collude together and run their businesses the same way, and don’t compete with each other, then someone out there does NOT like your bosses and will be more than happy to take their best people away from them.

  89. MissDisplaced*

    Get out. They’re a bunch of sleazy lawyers who do everything in their power to not pay their staff.

    Even Saul Goodman knew to pay his staff well for all the grief they got.

  90. Matt*

    Have a look at the term ‘gaslighting’ and more generally psychological manipulation – sounds to me like that’s what your company and executive are doing to you and the rest of the staff. Not a health place to be.

  91. Sal*

    Female lawyer here, just waiting with bated breath to see if OP ever comes back to drop a hint about this niche industry so I can AVOID AVOID AVOID.

  92. Llama face!*

    I am envisioning this demotivational poster I saw once where the text was “COMMITMENT: All we ask of you is your heart” and the photo was an old Aztec temple*. OP your bosses are sacrificing your money, your time, and your health and wellbeing for their benefit alone. They are horrible human beings, you are not the problem, and you deserve way better.

    Hoping we can get a happy update from you once you get out of that hellhole and into a decent workplace!

    *look up aztec and human sacrifice if this is unclear

  93. Anon right now*

    OP, you mention not wanting to harm your future prospects by taking legal action. I’m going to post a link in a follow-up comment.

    I knew another woman at that institution who suffered the same treatment from that same man at about the same time. I knew this from contemporaneous conversations with her and her relatives while it was happening. She ultimately moved on/was forced out and got a different job.

    The woman in the article took legal action.

  94. Cork*

    Oh. My. God. Am I the only one who wants to know the name of this company to make sure I or anyone I know never works there?!

  95. CoronaLight*

    Geez, get out of there, like yesterday. I didn’t get a chance to read all the comments above, but how’s it okay for a firm to do this mumbo jumbo game with a pay? How can they say “it will be deducted from your paycheck”? Wth?! How’s this even legal?

  96. Emily*

    I’m an office manager at a law firm, and the idea of support staff getting paid based on billable time is absolutely ludicrous. I’m glad you’ve realized how awful this place is and that you’re looking for a way out. (I think anyone who doesn’t understand how difficult it can be to leave a terrible job has never been in one). Best of luck, OP!

  97. His Grace*

    No, OP, you are not crazy.

    If staff quit en masse twice, that not a big red flag. It’s a massive one with sirens.

    Get out. Today. And don’t look back.

  98. Frankie Derwent*

    I usually don’t agree with commenters here or even allison on what rises to the level of leaving your job and just getting out of the company (mostly because I dont live in the US and our job market is crap) but OP, your company is really horrible. I hope you can find a different place to work in your niche.

    You wanted reassurance that you’re not crazy and you got it. You’re not crazy ans you’re not a bad human but your bosses seem like really bad ones.

  99. Petunia*

    Did you receive any paperwork/employee agreement/employment offer etc that outlines the bonus structure? I think it would be worth reviewing the terms of your employment to see if they are paying you correctly. These people are extremely exploitive and I would not be shocked if they were deliberately underpaying your bonuses as what you have said does not make sense. Even if they are meeting some extremely awful employment terms, you should still be looking to get out as fast as you can. If they have not changed after employees have quit en masse, they are not going to negotiate reasonable terms or be better employers. I don’t think pushing back will get you anywhere.

    1. OP*

      “Did you receive any paperwork/employee agreement/employment offer etc that outlines the bonus structure?“
      No. I’ve asked, and I was told that they want to keep flexible bc it is “too hard to define.” Supposedly, informally, it is supposed to bring us to like 30% of our collected time. (But with our comp including employer health insurance costs, etc.)

      1. Boof*

        As fun as it would be to do the math about how much time you put in and how much you make to see how it matches up with their “bonuses”, I doubt they’d care; they’d either deny it or fire you for the trouble to focus on those who they can continue to exploit… crappy long term business plan but they clearly don’t mind chewing through people and accept whatever problems that generates for clients…

      2. armchairexpert*

        Too hard to define! “It’s less of a bonus structure and more of a vibe, if I’m honest”.

    2. Petunia*

      I think it is worth checking your rights to ask for a written copy of your compensation arrangement. I am not from the USA but presumably, there is a government body that handles industrial relations and will advise your rights and investigate wage theft etc. A company that won’t tell you how your compensation is calculated probably isn’t paying you properly and you may have grounds to put in a complaint with said government body for wage theft/not meeting their employer obligations.

      Your main goal should be to get out get out though.

  100. Des*

    OP, the only thing I was asking myself reading here is “why are you still there?”

    I hope you can leave. I think that some “big name” firms abuse their employees for the privilege of working there, but this is beyond the pale.

  101. For goodness sakes, wash your hands!*

    I work in a field that has widespread annual bonuses, generically tied to project realization. This exact circumstance is why I’ve always thought placing a heavy emphasis on bonus structure is absolute BS. I moved to a firm that does not pay annual bonuses, and I have former coworkers that think I’m nuts. But at the end of the day, I left for a 25% raise, and my bonuses not once accounted for more than 5% of my annual comp. I would much prefer that my compensation be spelled out then play partner roulette with my pay.

  102. L*

    I think this might be shortest reply Allison has ever given? Just “You’re right. RUN.”

  103. Jo*

    WTF? OP, are you living in a parallel universe where this sort of thing is…normal?

    If not, and you actually are on Planet Earth, then…Run run run.

  104. bubbleon*

    Is it too early to ask for an update? I hope OP quit yesterday and took the whole office with them.

  105. Engineer*

    Ooof….ok so you know you need to GET OUT. Even before you got to your actual question, I was saying this person been to F-ING QUIT!

    In my opinion I think people have put too much stock in making sure they LOVE what they do for work. It is fine for work to just be work, put your 40 hours in, collect your paycheck, and then pursue your passion with your free time. OP said she likes what she does, but management sounds like it is sucking your soul dry. Even if you got promoted to partner, unlikely since all partners are men, I still don’t think you’d have ability to make widespread change for your firm.

  106. Allura Vysoren*

    My GOD. I started dissociating just reading this.

    If you need permission to find the exit door, please consider everyone’s comments here that permission.

  107. Anon and alone*

    OP one more thing to take note of here. The last time there was this much agreement among commenters to a letter, the letter writer was working for her dad’s girlfriend, who was pressuring her to go to couples counseling with them. Alison’s response to her letter was not as terse and succinct as to yours. In other words, RUN.

  108. J.E.*

    Get out before being an employee at this company becomes a liability to getting a job somewhere else. Word travels and I’m sure this place is well known for being terrible, thus, employers might begin to wonder why someone would work at such a place. They could begin to question of the person is not up to snuff and this was the only place they could find employment. Leave before this place tarnishes your other prospects.

  109. Sue*

    I’d post this on a Glassdoor review. People need to be warned so they don’t leave better jobs for this one.

  110. OEJ*

    Sounds like they’re stealing your salary and trying to conceal it through the bonus structure, all the while trying to make you feel so insignificant and ignorant that you’ll accept it.

  111. EmpathizingLawyer*

    Hope I’m not too late to be seen: Sounded like a law firm even before OP confirmed. I worked at one that did something similar but different to my compensation after many years: lowered my base salary, set it so that I’d get a percentage of billed time as a “bonus” to “true up” to my old salary, and of course it never worked out that way because my full billable time wouldn’t get billed / receivables didn’t come in. Not quite as niche as “only 3 firms with this practice” but specialized, and I found an avenue to leave and am much happier.

    Law is its own beast, similar to how we hear how the rules in academia are unique. The legal profession is really good at instilling the concepts of singular paths, appearances, provenance, and similar re people and careers. It often works very well on people who are risk averse for a profession into concluding that deviating from “the path” will be a career extinction event (i.e., “I’ll never get back on track!”) that it freezes us in place. Great for partners’ profits, not great for the minders and grinders. I say this because I empathize and also as an explanation to everyone who’s wondering why a person would stay. Plus, there is the specialization aspect; sure, some general and soft skills transfer, but a family law practice isn’t going to hire a corporate mergers and acquisitions attorney, and a tech company isn’t going to hire an in-house family law attorney.

    I’m here to say that you can step off “the path” and still have a long and rewarding legal career. There’s so many more avenues than the mainstream, and the “If I do a sideways or backwards step I’m done” is catastrophizing. It’s stressful and scary but it’s possible. Plus, it can act, in a way, as a filtering device. People who are horrified by a step off the trajectory probably aren’t going to be the greatest colleagues, while people who’ve been through it themselves or are mature enough to see the broad human experience are the better fits.

    Best of luck. If you’re into other online forums like Reddit, the private lawyers subreddit there is a super good place; I highly recommend joining us there.

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