May 28, 2010

Female legal secretaries critique female lawyers.

Lawprof Felice Batlan surveyed 164 legal secretaries:
Legal secretaries said they preferred to work for male associates and partners. In written responses, the secretaries said females were emotional and demanding, with "more to prove" and a penchant to "put on airs," the story says.

"Working for a woman exposes some very complex class dynamics," Batlan told Missouri Lawyers Media. "A woman working for a man is naturalized," she said. "It's what's expected. It seems ordinary."

48 comments:

Mark O said...

Ms. Smith? Could you come in here and bark like a dog?

Fred4Pres said...

Isn't some of this that chicks just don't like one another?

I mean, look at Althouse when she is on talking blogging heads. Some of those gals just don't like her.

Guys often don't like other guys, but it is different.

Scott said...

As a man, I feel much more comfortable working with a male supervisor. Females have a bad tendency to "get personal", and to be arbitrary and unpleasant.

Jason said...

My experience working for women has not been good, either - for the same reasons Scott mentioned.

I've also noticed, in a couple of different workplaces, that for whatever reasons, women are more likely to get promoted well beyond their competency than men are.

The Drill SGT said...

A legal secretary a half-century ago was known as a “second wife” for the work she did helping a male lawyer plan parties, book vacations and shop for his first wife’s jewelry, Batlan told Missouri Lawyers Media. Some legal secretaries in Batlan’s 2009 survey said the model remains strong, while others have rejected that role.

One wonders how the employed/unemployed status correlates with the traditional/"21st century" duties model.

Ann Althouse said...

When I was working in a law firm, I continually felt that the secretaries favored the men and willingly snapped to it to give them what they wanted. It was hard to figure out what to do to get comparable support. I'm not surprised to hear that women lawyers tend to do thing that get perceived by the secretaries as acting like they have "more to prove."

My experience was a quarter century ago, it should be noted. At a big NYC law firm.

c3 said...

I've noted and heard similar sentiments from nurses regarding female physicians. The attitudes say as much about the nurses as it does the female physicians.

Palladian said...

The reason is that most women hate each other. Men simply compete with each other, but it generally isn't personal. Women want to destroy each other in the nastiest way possible.

edutcher said...

It's similar in medicine. If you want to know who the good doctors are, ask the nurses. When they start speaking their minds, you hear more men praised than women. The phrase, "She's a bitch", is particularly popular, so Fred is on to something.

As my mom used to say, men like other men better than women like other women.

Jason's point about the Peter Principle (keep your minds out of the gutter) also applies. PC insulates women from justified criticism. Some women mangers I've seen knew their stuff or at least knew when to get out of the way and listen to the technical people. Others made everybody wonder how they got where they were.

Lynne said...

I have to say that although I've never worked in a law office, this still describes my experience in a different office setting dominated by women.
In a nutshell: the "sisterhood" is a crock.
I was far, far better treated when I worked as the only female on a loading dock in a chemical factory. I was never personally insulted and I never felt threatened.
The nearly-all-female organization I worked in was a textbook example of "girl bullying" most of the time.
Which is why, after 15 years of decent benefits and glowing employee evaluations, I finally just walked out. No amount of compensation made it worth the struggle to remain a sane and decent person.

Dark Eden said...

Maybe I've just had good luck but I've had several female bosses and they've all been tough but fair and relatively easy for me to work with. The other women in the office always did seem to have a much worse attitude towards them though.

Hagar said...

OTOH, a lot - a lot - of small firms are actually run by their receptionist/secretaries, and they do it quite well.

But I have to agree, a few female "bosses" I have seen have been good, but most have been some variety of "bitchy."

The difference between being motherly and trying to act male?

PatCA said...

I have to agree with Lynne. Women at work are different than men. Sometimes not in a good way.

To say this is some after effect of patriarchy is just wrong, another one of those "women and minorities hardest hit" pieces. A couple of women I've worked for were great. The rest...oy.

wild chicken said...

When I was in private practice I had a problem with other women lawyers. It was their pride and my insecurity, I guess, but the men were always much more friendly and forgiving of my mistakes (and I was no spring chicken, either).

With the women it was always "my practice is better than yours," nasty demand letters and all around douchebaggery. Always something to prove. Every firm had its "Attila the Hen" and the whole scene got old fast.

When I took my in-house job I made it a point to not come off like that in demand letters and dealings with opposing counsel or my company's unhappy customers.

Hagar said...

BTW, my post above refers to my experience generally, and particularly with construction and engineering firms, not law firms, which I thankfully have not had that much experience with.

Blue@9 said...

In my own experience, I've had several secretaries who disliked working with female attorneys. I could understand why: many female attorneys are not good to their secretaries and go out of their way to establish that they're the boss. It's almost like they're competing for status as opposed to acting like a boss.

Conversely, most male attorneys I know treat their secretaries in a very straightforward manner: I'm the boss, but I acknowledge that you're a skilled professional and my life would collapse without your assistance.

This wasn't universally true--there were certainly some male partners and associates who treated their secretaries badly, but it was rarer than cases of female attorneys doing so.

It always puzzled me because treating your secretary poorly is like jumping into the express lane of calamity: this person can truly f**k your life and career if you piss her off.

Damon said...

Men do not want to get personal. The whole "men relate side by side and women relate face to face" is key. That makes men much easier to work for. Personal quickly gets emotional and that is not healthy for workplace.

Damon said...

And I have to add the Lawprof is showing some real bias.

Blatantly told the females were "emotional and demanding." How then does she conclude: it is societal norms.

Men and women have relational differences. Her ignoring them for current day talking points is intellectually dishonest (and boring). Maybe that wasn’t the point of her study, but she marginalizes herself with that conclusion.

EDH said...

"I told you that bitch was crazy."

Chris Rock:

You've gotta throw in, "I told you that bitch was crazy". You know why? because every woman has another woman at her job that she can't stand.

And women always exxagerrate stuff, they try to turn it in to some Dynasty shit..."She's trying to destroy me!"

What are you talking about, you're a beer tub girl at a club.


wv - "comic"

Larry J said...

c3 said...
I've noted and heard similar sentiments from nurses regarding female physicians. The attitudes say as much about the nurses as it does the female physicians.


My wife is a long-time nurse. I don't recall ever hearing her comment on female doctors but she has stated many times that she prefers to work with men than with women. She says other women are too busy backstabbing and playing emotional games trying to undermine each other.

I've worked with women many times and had a few female bosses. I have no complaints.

It always puzzled me because treating your secretary poorly is like jumping into the express lane of calamity: this person can truly f**k your life and career if you piss her off.

This reminds me of when I was a crew commander in the Air Force. I was told to listen to my enlisted crew members and to treat them with respect. They wanted me to succeed. However, if you treated them badly, they'd cheerfully let you go down in flames and even break out some marshmallows to celebrate. There are some people that is just doesn't pay to piss off and many of them are subordinates.

Trooper York said...

"The reason is that most women hate each other. Men simply compete with each other, but it generally isn't personal. Women want to destroy each other in the nastiest way possible."

That is 100% true.

I know in my store I always tell the girls that they are really dressing for other women. Because if they are worrying about a bulge on their back or about their arms they are only worrying about what other women think. Because guys are not looking at that. They are too busy checking something else out. Trust me.

Well at least the straight guys.

Hagar said...

If women doctors treat their nurses worse than the males do, that would be something to behold.

I had one lengthy stay in an American hospital, and I was thoroughly shocked listening to the male doctors yelling at the nurses in the hallways.

These guys definitely were acting as if they had no relatives.

The Crack Emcee said...

Damn.

It's like you don't read my blog at all.

Quayle said...

It was hard to figure out what to do to get comparable support.

Being nice works well. (Not to say you weren't.)

The Crack Emcee said...

Fred4Prez,

"Isn't some of this that chicks just don't like one another?

Guys often don't like other guys, but it is different."


In the book, Self-Made Man, the author (Nora something, she went undercover as a guy) made the comment that two women greeting - even between friends - are like trying to touch two opposing magnets, where guys are all about the warm handshake and the big bear hug. She also noticed we applaud each other's success where women are all about jealousy. (There's a great scene at a bowling alley, where one guy is about ready to bowl a perfect game and the entire facility falls silent in anticipation, and respect for the achievement - except for her dumb ass. It's really a cool book. Lots of clever insights to the male/female situation and differences.

Scott said...

"In the book, Self-Made Man..."

Oh wow, man. What a premise for a book. Almost like Black Like Me.

How did she pee at a urinal?

Scott said...

Nobody reads my blog either, but then I DON'T PIMP IT WITH EVERY POST I THROW UP ON ALTHOUSE, EITHER.

wv: peckess ... see "Atilla the Hen" (above)

Scott said...

Either.

So there.

wv: fultiz. Half-tiz availed us nothing. We stood at the turning point.

Freeman Hunt said...

Not all women are so horrid as some of you seem to suppose. My friends are nothing like the jealous, malevolent hags you describe.

Some women are real jerks. Some men are real jerks too. Don't work for them.

Trooper York said...

But it is really other women who are complaining. Secretaries talking about women lawyers. Not us men.

We just recoginize the ring of truth.

Freeman Hunt said...

I think that female bosses are stereotyped as these secretaries describe them, and so we are all likely to notice a female boss who fits this mold. But we don't take similar score when we have a normal female boss or an emotional and arbitrary male boss because those don't conform to our expectations.

Might be good to look at every boss one has ever had to see if the women really are so comparatively horrible. In my experience, they aren't.

GV said...

My sister spent 20+ years as a legal secretary in NYC, both with a big firm and a boutique firm.

Should hated almost every woman she ever worked for.

My first assignment out of grad school was working for a female boss. We also had a female clerk. I got along with both of them, but they wouldn't speak to each other. When the clerk transferred out, I had to secretly ask her for help since she was the only person who knew how to do some things and no one else dared ask.

Dynamics between females of the professional rank and their female support staff can sometimes get a little strange. The source of the discord came come from both or either direction.

Bruce Hayden said...

I worked for a female attorney at one point, and it went pretty well, until two women in the office made a charge of sexual harassment against me, and she automatically took their side. She told me that women know when we are looking at their chests, etc.

Well, turns out that the problem was that I was not making eye contact with on secretary because she would engage in conversations with attorneys to get off from doing her own work, and that meant that my secretary was having to work even harder as a result. The other was just a wananbe (at 30?) and did what the other did. Just like middle school. I hadn't said a dozen words to her in the previous six months and I rarely saw her because she worked at the other end of the office. Both were overweight and married.

It was interesting though because the female attorney I worked most closely with was heavily networked into all the female networks, attorneys and clerical, yet she was a joy for me to work with.

Overall, I would say that my working with experience with female attorneys is ambivalent. My worst experiences have been with men, as well as my best experiences.

But I stray, because the question wasn't women working with men, but rather working for other women.

Kirstin said...

I'm not surprised at all by this survey. In the first place, most legal secretaries think that their job is more difficult and stressful than being an attorney. The title "legal secretary" is being replaced by "assistant" or something similar ... as if it's demeaning to be called a secretary.

dick said...

One of my good friends was a legal secretary for years. After some bad experiences with female bosses, she positively refused to work for another female lawyer. She even left a good law firm because they were trying to force her to work for one back in the day when women were being promoted just because they were women.

I have had female bosses, had women work for me and worked with women. I have had good experiences in all cases. However, when it came to female bosses, there was only one good one. The rest were despicable to work for. Either you had to treat them as if they were members of the family or you had to kowtow to them. I left a couple of jobs for that reason, particularly the one where the CEO of the firm (female) made all the consultants who worked for her meet every two weeks for a weekend with the rest of the staff so we would all work together. Bad enough to work with them all week long but then to have to spend the weekend with them was just too much.

jamboree said...
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jamboree said...
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jamboree said...

I hated working for anyone, but I know what they mean. I now have my own business, but I haven't always been able to be my own boss.

You aren't as *publicly humiliated* working for a man. You can hide behind the social traditions - even if you are just as pissed off about it really. I adjust my attitude to be professional, think positively, etc. but in reality, in truth, I hated it at the deepest levels and it gnawed at me.

#Fred4press Not really. Women have traditionally been "equal" in the sense that they were mostly mothers and wives and any differences in class were due largely to an accident of birth or genetics - who they were able to marry in other words. This was recognized in interactions with each other.

Its only been recently that women have had to deal with inequality on a class level that is due to something more than an accident.

I enjoy the all female dynamic - for instance in the dental chair. I have a male and female dentist. I love them both, but it is different. The male commands his assistants. There is a distance. With the women there is more of an equality feeling in the chatter, less of an imperative tone, and almost a psychic level of communication between doctor, patient, and assistant. It's weird.

Freeman Hunt said...

Thinking back on my male bosses, I can think of more than one who, had he been female, one would have felt inclined to say, "Oh how typical of a female boss!" But there was nothing feminine about these men. They were just people, and so they sometimes acted pettily or irrationally, but being men, no one would have thought to attribute these actions to feminine nature.

Eric said...

I've probably had about a dozen bosses over the years, and the one I liked the most by far was the only woman. Then again, her staff consisted almost entirely of men, which probably made it easier.

Kensington said...

As a male legal secretary, I had to let go of any gender role issues (as they relate to the workplace, anyway) a loooooong time ago, and it made life much easier. I've had really good experiences working for women lawyers.

Maybe I benefit from them enjoying having a man working for them. Who knows?

The Crack Emcee said...

Scott,

Where have you been? I haven't posted my blog here in over a month or more. And, I have to ask, what's your problem if I did? Don't click the fucking link, asshole. It ain't fucking robbery.

I've had two female bosses. One sexually harrassed me, resulting in me losing my job because she had seniority, and the other warned me not to get too close, after she gave me a ride home and I hugged her goodnight - like I wanted anything from her ugly ass. (I still get pissed about that: how even ugly women talk themselves into imagining I desire them and have the gall to act on what's going on in their heads, rather than what I say and do. They strike me as crazy.)

I've been accused of sexual harassment twice - both times they were lies asserted because the women didn't like that I didn't share in their love for astrology or some other NewAge bullshit. I didn't announce my feelings (I never do at work) but just walked away when it was a topic of conversation.

In the first case, it was two women who charged me with SH - backing each other up in a lie because I walked away whenever they discussed astrology or their sex lives. (One of them had 6 kids with no father around.) The other just made the shit up, out of whole cloth, because she didn't like that I corrected her in the procedure she used. That anyone would decide to destroy your life over such bullshit informs my feelings about women - BIG TIME. Like I've said, I'll probably never protect another woman in my life. As a matter of fact, when it comes to "equality" between the sexes, I'm with Bowie in Young Americans:

"Is there a woman I can sock in the jaw?"

Without that capability, all references to equality are a lie.

Moira Breen said...

Freeman Hunt: Might be good to look at every boss one has ever had to see if the women really are so comparatively horrible. In my experience, they aren't.

I've had great and horrible bosses of both sexes. Interestingly, the horrible bosses were horrible in perfectly sex-stereotyped ways: the men, complete dickheads, the women, irrational, emotional, jealous. I think the difference was that the bad female bosses had no insight into their own (transparent to everybody else) motivations, and seemed incapable of seeing what cartoon bitches they were. The dickheads were fully conscious of their behavior. And damned proud of it!

On the other hand, contrary to stereotype, the bad male bosses could be shockingly petty people.

I'd have to agree with Althouse and some of the commenters above, though: female subordinates often have little insight into how they themselves are contributing to the "bad female boss" dynamic. Women often can't see other women as actors in an impersonal hierarchy, and are (unconsciously) offended when a female superior acts like...a superior. If the female subordinate is incapable of the professionalism necessary to get over that impulse, the female boss can't win, no matter how she acts.

sydney said...

I'd have to agree with Althouse and some of the commenters above, though: female subordinates often have little insight into how they themselves are contributing to the "bad female boss" dynamic. Women often can't see other women as actors in an impersonal hierarchy, and are (unconsciously) offended when a female superior acts like...a superior. If the female subordinate is incapable of the professionalism necessary to get over that impulse, the female boss can't win, no matter how she acts. "

I'll second that. I've worked with male colleagues who have referred to nurses as "girls" without getting any grief, yet when I matter-of-factly tell the same nurses an exam room needs to be stocked, I was considered demanding and disrespectful.

A surprising number of women have trouble taking orders from other women. No matter how those orders are couched.

Synova said...

When I was in high school I understood very well that I felt competitive with other girls, but not with the guys. Not in the same way at any rate.

Synova said...

"This reminds me of when I was a crew commander in the Air Force. I was told to listen to my enlisted crew members and to treat them with respect. They wanted me to succeed. However, if you treated them badly, they'd cheerfully let you go down in flames and even break out some marshmallows to celebrate. There are some people that is just doesn't pay to piss off and many of them are subordinates."

This is sort of an Air Force thing and probably talked up more than it actually exists. And surly it's "sitting on the tarmac without clearance to take off" rather than going down in flames. ;-)

I eventually enlisted (for the air conditioned computer job) but I did AFROTC for a couple of years in college and the few guys who were all fighter jock attitude were told in no uncertain terms that their ground crews could keep them from flying if they didn't walk careful and not a single thing they could do about it.

Pogo said...

Matriarchies aren't any easier on women than patriarchies, I guess.

Marie said...

I am a female former attorney, and I can tell you that the female paralegal response that I received (4 working for me at once) was absolutely what is described here. Almost a petri dish for a sociological experiment. I believe that a lot of it comes down to the coping mechanisms that are promoted in the legal profession vs. those that are common in females. The female attorneys experience much conflict between the profession and real life 'female-dom', and the combination of this and less-than-professional staff is beyond words.
The sad part is that there is so much potential between females, due to their like tendencies, but so far, I don't see that taking place (the choice). I sincerely hope we can work toward this in the future, and plan to speak to a paralegal association on the issue, soon (delicately). Wish me luck; any helpful comments welcome.