The Thinking 

Law and Disorder: The End of Male Mentoring at Law Firms

March 30, 2012


JIM writes:

I recently quit my job after a 10-year career at large and mid-size law firms in a big city. I do not believe in whining, sour grapes, or blaming women for the world’s problems. I have never told anyone what I am about to write, which is in response to the following comment you made on January 31, 2010:

“Like all other occupations which women have moved into, a large stratum of men choose to quit or not join rather than put up with the PC nonsense of aggressive feminism.”

Sometimes this decision is unconscious. But there is an iron law regarding the entry of women into formerly all-male vocations. These jobs instantly become less desirable to men. Therefore, to allow women to become police, firefighters or soldiers is to jeopardize our safety.

At both law firms where I worked, the male partners of the baby boom generation would select a female as a favorite associate. Every male partner had his own younger female sidekick that would have the opportunity to tag along with him and work on important cases. These women excelled at the tasks expected of a junior associate; they had meticulous attention to detail and strong organization. The partners got not only excellent support but also the satisfying feeling of having a young, attractive woman look at them with reverent, adoring eyes. As far as I know, these relationships were not sexual, but they were personal. The younger female associates would know the details of “their man’s” personal life–his relationship with his children, his hobbies, where he went on vacation, what he did there. It is impossible for most men to forge this kind of a personal bond with a senior man in the workplace. Most men compartmentalize work from their personal life, and find it awkward to discuss personal things at work. They just want to talk about work there. Women, on the other hand, strive for work/life balance. They eagerly await the holiday calendar so they can make travel plans. Work is something they do to support leisure and family time. They intuitively do not separate work life from personal life and naturally are curious and concerned about their older male partners whole life, not just his work role. Once a man has a younger female associate’s affections, especially those of an attractive female, the male protective instinct kicks in, and Daddy is going to take care of his Little Girl. In the law firm, world that care takes the form of mentoring, the best work opportunities, rave performance evaluations, increased compensation, and promotion.

I believe these relationships are toxic to young male lawyers and do not serve the best interest of the legal profession.

First, attractive women do not stay in law firms for very long. Most women want to have families, and most women marry up. An attractive young woman making six figures a year will marry a man that will provide her with a life far superior to the one she would have as a partner at a large law firm. Or she will find a 9-to-5 job as an in-house counsel that will provide the work/life balance that most large firms lack. About half of my law school class were women, and most of them dropped out of the workforce within three years. All the training, mentoring, and work opportunities provided by law professors and senior male law partners produced no long term gain for the profession.

Second, in my experience, woman lawyers are better than men at the skills required of junior associates, but worse at the skills required of senior associates and partners. My field is litigation, which is a win/lose endeavor analogous to combat, chess or tennis. In my experience, women litigators usually lack the hyper-competitive drive to win that results in consistent victories, time and time again. They do not do so well at handling cases independently, thinking strategically, knowing when to hold and when to fold, and making firm, sometimes spontaneous, black line judgment calls that turn out to be right. It is like they are helpless without their Daddy. The kind of man that excels at this work will be a threat to all but the most confident male partners. He will always have to strive not to be a threat. In past days, as threatening as his talent might be, he would be given a chance based on his performance on the merits. In my experience, the male partners of the baby boom generation have chosen not to mentor and promote these men, instead investing their time and wisdom in young women who will not even use it. To the extent these women stay in the profession, they hit a plateau of competence, but continue to ride the wave, often gone half the year on maternity leave, while their male colleagues struggle forward, day in and day out. These women are Protected, not only by discrimination laws, but also by their Daddies, who will always make sure their Little Girls are taken care of. Any lack of competence is ignored, trumped by the special relationship between older man and younger woman, which no male associate can ever enjoy.

The History Channel may as well be renamed the Man’s Channel. Men of all classes and colors love these rugged shows of men working together in all-male environments, and fathers teaching their sons the hard-learned tricks of the trade. The undiscerning observer may attribute this phenomenon to the virile subject matter of these shows, but the writer knows it is the characters and their relationships with each other that provide the drama. And there is nothing homoerotic about it. Men crave to be appreciated by other men, to be taught mentored, promoted, and eventually handed the reigns. Older men have a duty to train, mentor and promote younger men–not to poach the younger man’s potential mate. Blaming the young women with Daddy relationships at work is like blaming the squirrel that stumbles across a nest full of robin’s eggs. As far as these women know, the benefits they have received are based on their merits- unrelated to their gender or attractiveness. Why should they believe otherwise?

I still believe that there are virtuous blue-collar baby-boomer men out there, but I have lost all respect for the white collar baby-boomer man. He has forsaken his feudal duty to support the younger man in exchange for flattering his ego with the presence of an admiring younger woman. And I’m not going to work at his law firms anymore.

                                                              — Comments —

Buck writes:

Jim’s story prompted me to read more. I googled “young women being mentored at law firms”. The first of several million results is this. Wow. Women Battle Law firm Bias unsurprisingly tells a different story from Jim’s. Here, men sound like they are an alien enemy who ruthlessly repress the feminist women. Jim’s comment: “Second, in my experience, woman lawyers are better than men at the skills required of junior associates, but worse at the skills required of senior associates and partners.” does seem to make sense if you read between the lines.

James P. writes:

I started work in an entirely different industry than Jim, but I saw exactly the same dynamic at play. The older men would mentor the younger women, revel in their attention, and take care of Daddy’s Little Girl. The young women were given excellent raises, promotions, and evaluations, and forgiven any errors. The young men were mostly expected to sink or swim without mentoring. Today, none of the young women are in the same industry, and thus all the mentoring of these women was wasted.

Jane writes:

This type of role-playing starts at university, by the way. Professors revel in the adoring admiration of their female students, and treat the male students dismissively or with open contempt. No wonder the young men expect it by the time they enter the work force. They’ve had it all the way through school.

Paul writes:

I have been mentoring a pretty, sweet, married young lady (now 38?). She is brighter than me. But I still give her sage advice. Because of cutbacks/reorganization, I expect I will be called back to litigation and therefore to working more closely with her in the future. I wonder whether she will remember how much I helped her.

I don’t know how she manages her work and her family life: two small children and a husband that is apparently good with computers but is in the private sector where layoffs occur regularly. I admit I am protective of her. And, like the above writer, I am not sure she is up to the harsh life of a litigator, not that she isn’t capable.

It is simply a natural instinct to mentor a man or a woman. I have guided interns, whom I thoroughly enjoy because of their eagerness and all the marvels I can show them. They are embarrassed by the assertiveness one must use in the working world. I recently dragged one without warning to an employment opportunity. Because of the age difference, they don’t appreciate what you are doing. You are the daddy; they are the child. No thanks. Still, you know you have done well.

Kilroy M. writes:

A friend sent me an extract from Jim’s entry above, and this reminded me of my own experiences in the law, this time in Australia (this seems to be a broadly Western phenomena).

I did my practical legal training (“articles”) at the New South Wales’ Crown Solicitor’s Office in circa 2005. I applied for the Criminal Law “team” and was accepted. This was based on my advanced criminal law and criminology electives in my undergraduate studies. On the day I started, I was told that I had been transferred to the Community Law team to “redress a gender imbalance”. I was baffled, but grateful that I was getting some experience so as to be admitted to the Supreme Court. Needless to say, my academic focus was completely irrelevant to the Community Law team, which was basically a miscellaneous group of legal practitioners that dealt mostly with Department of Community Services matters. I’m not sure what your US equivalent would be. The team could roughly be described as a group of social workers with law degrees. Anyway, this was all completely alien to me, but I thought that as a recent graduate I should just get on with what was offered and try to make the best of it.

How is this relevant to this thread? Well, I was one in four males that worked there. Another was a paralegal, and there were two other male solicitors. The rest were women. Often feminists claim that men who don’t like working under women because they are “afraid of women in power.” No. I wasn’t “afraid” of “women in power.” I just couldn’t deal with the extremely unpredictable nature of my colleagues (which included my principal). Navigating the emotional round-about of these female solicitors was incredibly resource consuming. You just never knew what to expect, or where you stood. It’s easy to read a male and develop a kind of barometer about his ways and mannerisms, something that allows one to work around his eccentricities and habits, predict his needs and generally “get” him. Not so with these women.

The second level of difficulty was discovering that the very things these women would complain about actually applied to themselves: the place was riddled with a sisters’ club mentality. I was working there for eighteen months and a position opened for an advocacy role. By then I completed my Masters degree and felt confident enough to apply for it, so I did. I then found out that a girl was employed strait out of University. Zero experience. Zero familiarity with the firm’s business culture etc. Zero history appearing in Court. I was amazed. Perhaps I was just not “playing the game” I thought. So I attended one of the Friday night after-work drinkies at the local bar. The place pretty much reflected the gender makeup of the working environment. It was then that I learned that a large proportion of the lady lawyers were actually lesbian – I must have been introduced to various “partners” and “girlfriends” about a dozen times.

What a hellish nightmare that place was. It was then that I decided to quit. They could “redress the gender imbalance” without me.

This was all about five years ago. Last year I met a guy who worked there too (some time after I left), and he complained about how it was run by a “lesbian mafia”. His words, not mine. Admittedly, I felt a bit of a relief that somebody else saw what I was seeing, that it wasn’t all just in my head.

Renee writes:

Wow, I have so many things to say right now I hardly know where to begin. First, working in a field dominated by feminists, will convince you more than anything that they have no idea what they are talking about when it comes to the reason women do not dominate highly competitive fields. In library school everyone believes that in order for libraries to survive they must adabt to the information age and make use of information technology. Students are encouraged to take classes in computer science and all are required to take classes to gain basic computer skills. This is a field dominated by woman who need to get experience with technology and most of the can’t handle it. It is ridiculous. Many like to talk about how tech savvy they are, but that usually means having used dreamweaver in a class. They shy away from the more rigorous tech classes and complain about how difficult the dumbed –down-just-for-them course are, and how they really don’t need this stuff.  Oh, and after that they will complain like crazy about how they are not treated like well-educated professionals.  Here is a group of woman who could easily show the world that women can keep up with the boys, but instead they just hire male IT staff to do all the hard stuff.

The usual feminist explanations don’t work , because these are all woman who are, generally left of left of center, feminists raised by feminists and there is a large percentage of lesbians—so acting like the problem is that woman think they cant be like a man and they are worried about what men think does not work.These are women who consciously reject male approval and all things feminine for the most part.  Also, it’s practically an all female and almost entirely and all-liberal environment.

Instead of demonstrating actual tech skills these women typically would rather have endless conversations about free-speech, porn in libraries, and whether it’s okay for a librarian to talk to patrons about books in terms of good books and bad books—even when the patron is asking for those very assessments. They are too busy turning libraries into info-tainment centers, and then complaining that people don’t value their work.

I, myself am in a more geeked-out field. When I am asked why there aren’t more woman doing what I do, I say it is for the same reason there are fewer women with aspergers. It takes a certain kind of person, who is usually less social, and more obsessed with their work than the majority of people. Men dominate these fields because they get obsessed and don’t quit until they get where they want to be. That may mean night after night of doing absolutely boring work or failing repeatedly.  It may mean being like James Watt and inventing the steam engine because you stayed up one night staring at a tea kettle.   Women like to think great inventors, along with other great men, lived a life of adventure after adventure, and they want to live like that.  In reality it takes, in part, a fascination with the seemingly unimportant, and a willingness to engage in what seems, to the rest of the world, to be boring experiments that last, what can seem like, forever.

Other people in this thread have speculated about why women in these fields like to describe themselves as if they are in an epic battle of good and evil. It is because that it what they think it is like for men. They are like Wendy who is fascinated by Peter Pan and want to join his world.

I recently had a conversation with a friend in sales. She is a woman who works for a nationally known company with offices all over the US and she has consistently been one of the top salespersons. Needless to say she is almost always the only woman who makes it to the top ten (She has been in the top two also) for the whole company. I asked her about women in sales. She said that there are a lot of them and the policy of the company is basically never to fire people so they have a lot of time to improve themselves and there are plenty of incentives and everyone wants to see them do well as time is money. However, she said the difference in performance is so marked that no one can deny it.   The women just aren’t competitive enough. When we see articles in major newspapers about woman in the workforce it is never about people in sales, because not only is the proof in the pudding, the pudding comes with quantitative proof.

James P. writes:

Jane writes:

“This type of role-playing starts at university, by the way. Professors revel in the adoring admiration of their female students, and treat the male students dismissively or with open contempt.”

I distinctly remember that from graduate school — there were certain professors who were infamous for taking female students under their wing, looking out for them, directing their dissertations, writing recommendations, and helping them get published. (Many women who were not being “mentored” noticed that one of these professors openly ogled the young women in his class.) The same professors never did anything of the sort for male students. Happily I found a male professor willing to mentor me.

Paul writes:

We reject a supposedly evil separate-but-equal-regime in favor of another separate-but-equal-regime.

Under Title IX, lady softball teams have 13 scholarships while men’s baseball teams have been limited to 11, which is not far above the amount of pitchers needed. No one goes to the softball games, while baseball in the South sells out its 5-10,000 capacity stadiums regularly. Southern teams do not even have men’s wrestling teams; shameful considering their formidable but lesser Midwestern football adversaries. Midwest teams can’t compete against the Southeastern Conference in baseball I expect because it is too cold.

This is how badly liberalism has brought things down. Eliminate men’s teams so women’s teams are created equal but separate.

Terence G. writes:

I want to extend the discussion in a slightly different direction.In Jim’s original post, he said, “in my experience, woman lawyers are better than men at the skills required of junior associates, but worse at the skills required of senior associates and partners”

This is true in medicine as well, and accounts for much of the so-called “gender gap” at the upper levels of academic medicine. Academia, with its compulsive data-gathering, lends itself to measurement of this kind, but the same phenomenon exists in the world of medical practice not (yet) subject to race/gender scorecards.

Female doctors are high achievers as long as the can stay close to a “school-like” model –you know, study hard, please the teacher, answer all the questions with the same answers that are in the book, don’t misbehave. (These skills, by the way, are excellently suited to following government guidelines and protocols, which are becoming innumerable. Chicken and egg?).

Anyway, medicine is not, really, like school. Over time in one’s career one accumulates many problems demanding action for which the correct answer is either obscure or non-existent. Hippocrates described the dilemma well:

Life is short, but the Art, long/ The occasion fleeting/ Experiment dangerous/ And decision difficult

Working with life and death in the scales, under these conditions, does not appeal to most women. It certainly does not appeal to the 60% of medical school classes now made up of women.

But the ability to master difficult situations (which does not come for 15, 20 or more years after graduation) is the essence of professional success (not economic success, but the achievement of recognized excellence among peers).

Someone should do a census of female physicians who are fifty years old to see what fraction of the graduates of 25 years ago are doing, especially how many have “retired”.

For women as for men, getting the degree is easy. It’s growing into the job that’s hard. The jury is out on the question of whether or not female medical school graduates can match their male peers in that regard.

Laura writes:

The fact that women are better at administrative tasks is not reason to admit them to medical school in numbers equal to men. As Terence mentions, there is a waste of resources when women drop out of the profession. Men are able to do administrative tasks well enough and many men who would be happy to excel in those tasks are denied entry to medical schools.

Generally, most people would say women make better restaurant waiters than men, that they are more naturally skilled in that kind of work. Yet, in Italy, waiting tables is a heavily male occupation. Men were once given priority in paid employment and the field evolved with a masculine ethic.



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