(Click here for Part Two, and here for Part One)
After leaving B the memo explaining that the case he wanted did not exist, but that I had found another case that might be helpful, I went back to my office and ate a small bag of M&M's with the sort of desperate sad attitude that one might envision a wrongly-convicted death row prisoner might have while eating his prison-quality filet mignon before going to the gas chamber, hoping against all reason for that last minute reprieve from the Supreme Court. I knew in my heart this was not going to go well.
And sure enough, about half an hour later, B came down to my office and yelled at me again:
“I didn’t TELL you to research other issues! And I DIDN'T TELL you to write a G-D- MEMO!! This other case is NO GOOD TO ME and all you did was WASTE YOUR TIME and the client’s MONEY!! I can’t BELIEVE you couldn’t just do what I asked and find a case that says ‘X’!!”
I resisted the urge to point out that I didn’t waste the client’s money, since he already had told me he planned to write off my time. Instead, I jumped right to the (sarcastic) point (because sarcasm is my forte) as follows:
“Well, B, I’m sorry. I brought you what I found. I guess I’m just not capable of doing what you asked. I can't bring you a Ninth Circuit Case that says “The Rule is X,” because it doesn’t already exist and I'm not allowed to just write one myself. It isn't there, B; I can't bring it to you.”
I knew I was risking my job with that little speech, but by then, I really didn’t care.
He said, “Are you REFUSING to finish this project?!? You’ll hear about this on your evaluation, LegalMist.” And he turned and walked away.
* * *
But some good came of that unfortunate event.
As B left, I noticed that his knee popped when he walked: Pop, step ... pop, step ... pop, step.... and I remember thinking, "this could be useful!"
From that day forth, instead of “Poppin’ Fresh,” every time I saw him I thought “Poppin’ Knee.”
And I learned to listen for Poppin’ Knee and to pick up the telephone when I heard him approaching, and to pretend to be engrossed in a client telephone call when he popped his head into my office. He’d look at me quizzically (the universal senior attorney way to ask “How much longer will you be on the phone?”), and I would cradle the phone against my shoulder and hold my hands very far apart (the universal junior attorney way to say, “This is going to take a loooong time.”) and I would make sure to turn away as I did this before he had the chance to make “the hand signal” (the universal senior attorney signal for “Meet me in my office as soon as you are done.”). That way, he was forced to continue on down the hall and find a different victim for his cursed projects.
* * *
About two days after I had delivered my memo, I heard ol’ Poppin’ Knee in the hall outside my office talking with a senior partner, explaining that although he had been unable to find a case that said “X” is the rule because the Ninth Circuit seemed to follow rule “Y,” he had found this great new theory, “Z,” that he thought he could use to win the case ...
No mention of my research.
And he raked me over the coals on my evaluation, four months later, saying I was uncooperative and unimaginative.
Typical B. Give no credit where credit is due; but be sure to give lots of unjustified criticism.
* * *
I recently ran into a friend who works with B at another firm. She said he is now divorced -- for the third time. He now has two kids.
I was not surprised to learn that he is thrice divorced, but I am surprised that I actually feel a little sad for him. B had his charming moments. He had a good sense of humor, good taste in music, and a winning smile when he wasn't berating you. He obviously wants companionship, love, family ... he keeps trying, right? .... but people who cannot listen to others, or speak to them without blaming, or admit they were wrong, or apologize later for their bad behavior, or get over their anger, or compliment people for a job well done, or give credit to those who deserve it .... those people do not make very good spouses. Or parents.
And people who are unhappy often have trouble doing those important things. And people who have trouble doing those important things often end up even unhappier, as they lose their friends, their spouses, and even their kids .... it's a vicious circle, really. And I think at a fundamental level, B was simply not happy - with himself, with his life, with his job...? Who knows. Perhaps he still isn't happy. And that is just sad, really.
And I hope against all reason that he does not treat his kids the way he treated the young associates when I worked with him at "the firm."
My friend says he's "OK to work for; you just have to figure out how to handle him."
Maybe he's mellowed a bit, or maybe she's just better at putting up with bullshit than I was.
I hope it's the former, and I hope he can learn to be happy, for his - and his kids' - sake.