Back in his office, Roy drafted a brief memo to report the Firm’s most productive associate quit while he thought they were celebrating her sixth year with the firm

He sent it to Bradford (the managing partner), to Beverly (the partner in charge of the associate program), and to HR.

(The Firm had a 10-person human resources department that was often represented at meetings. The lawyers always called that representative H” and never by name. This convention was followed in settings formal and informal, in communications direct and indirect, and in both spoken and written word).

Before day’s end, Bradford scheduled a mandatory meeting with Roy, Beverly and HR in his office for the following morning at 10. Also included was Bing, a partner born in Hong Kong and educated in England, because his background was similar to (but distinctly different from) other lawyers in the firm.

Not to be mistaken for a gossip monger, Bing was what sociology describes as a marginal man. It had been quick action by Bradford that recruited Bing to the Firm, which made the men loyal to each other.

Bing was part of — yet didn’t fit perfectly with — the Firm’s legal culture, which made it possible and made him willing to collect and report intelligence about the firm’s internal dynamics to Bradford.

Bradford believed administrative meetings had a drive to devour billable hours, so he vigorously protected his time and the time of his partners. He controlled the start and finish of a meeting by scheduling it in the conference room adjacent to his office and dedicated to his use.

Partners and staff knew he would start a meeting on time, and he would leave the room when he was done with the group. Though often abrupt to the point of perceived rudeness, the partners appreciated efficiency.

The summoned parties were seated when Bradford entered his conference room exactly at 10. He brought with him one of the Firm’s project file folders. It was red, thin and held a single sheet of letter-sized paper on which he had printed his agenda, which he did not distribute to his colleagues.

Without preamble, he turned to Roy and asked, “What happened? Why did it happen? Is there anything we can do about it?”

He glanced at the three other people at his table and said, “None of you needs to be reminded a five-party meeting is expensive; your contributions should be concise, relevant and sincere. Roy, please. What did you do to her?”

“I took her for a sixth anniversary lunch and told her there would be only two partnerships offered to the associates hired the year before she was hired. She wanted to know if I was going to offer her a partnership — right then, at lunch — and I said no.

“She asked about next year. She knew I couldn’t give any kind of assurances, but I thought it would be a good time to sing the praises of contract lawyers, especially in a highly-specialized practice that no one can understand or evaluate.”

Bradford asked, “All in one breath?”

“No. We went back and forth.”

“What happened next?”

“Something made her laugh — you know — a belly laugh. She looked in her purse for something. I thought a Kleenex, but she took so long that I started to worry that she had a gun and there would be a murder-suicide at Tadich’s because she didn’t get her partnership. That seriously entered my mind, but I was calm.”

“But it wasn’t a gun?”

“No. It was her letter of resignation. She had it all ready to go.”

“Then what?”

“She walked out before I finished reading it.”

“After that?”

“Well, I had another drink.”

“Were you two doing a lot of drinking?”

“When we walked in, the maître d’ knew her ‘regular,’ which included every syrup and piece of fruit they had behind the bar. It was a little kid’s drink — no alcohol. I had a martini before the letter, another while I read it, and a third afterward.”

Bradford continued, “What happened next?”

“I went back to the office and sent you the memo. I checked her office. All personal stuff was gone and there was a master status summary of all her cases on her desk.

“I talked to Tommy, her PA, and he showed me how she had provided detailed summaries and action plans for every file she had.”

Bradford asked, “What about billing?”

Roy replied, “Tommy said that she completed billing sheets for every case she had, up to the last minute. She also left drafts of suggested letters from the Firm to her clients.”

Bradford said, “So, she’s not walking out with our clients?”

Roy said, “No, she even left names of four, maybe five, other lawyers who could do the work.”

Bradford said, “Not in our firm.”

Roy said, “Oh no. Four are partners in other firms, one in LA and another in New York. There’s one associate in another firm, and she suggests we might be able to get him by offering an immediate lateral partnership.”

Bradford asked, “Is she being ironic when she suggests that we give a stranger, who couldn’t be more qualified than she, what we haven’t offered to her?”

Roy said, “She’s saying we are stupid in an ironic way.”

Bradford continued, “Something’s missing in your account, Roy. What is it?”

Roy said, “When I told her I had not come to lunch to offer her a partnership, she said she had been disappointed last year when it wasn’t offered, and she was even more disappointed this year.

“She said she had done everything the Firm had asked her to do, and she had done it well. Then she mentioned that she produced more revenue for the Firm than any other associate.”

Bradford said, “I think that’s all true.”

Roy said, “It is true, and I told her I was aware of all of it. Then, I told her I was no longer able to evaluate her work because it had become so difficult — technical.

She knows this, and she knows that no one else in the Firm really understands what she does. That’s fact, and I used it to point out one of the benefits of being a contract lawyer.”

Bradford said, “You told her that, in spite of the extraordinary amount of money she earns for the Firm and even though she has very satisfied clients, we didn’t give her a partnership offer this year or last year and might not do it next year, because we were too dumb to evaluate her work?”

Roy, “Yeah, it came out in questions and answers. Her questions; my answers. When she made her point, she wasn’t subtle.

“She said that when she was hired as an associate with the possibility of becoming a partner, the Firm made an implicit promise and became obligated to evaluate her work.

“If her work wasn’t fairly evaluated, it was because we were all too lazy, or too greedy, to spend the time doing it. I told her she was verging on insubordination.”

Bradford said, “Insubordination? You called her insubordinate? Did she reply with an obscene hand gesture?”

Roy was slightly offended on her behalf. “She’d never do that. I doubt she knows how to make an obscene hand gesture.”

Beverly interjected, “Men! That’s completely and utterly ridiculous. That woman has you all bamboozled. I assure you that she can, and surely has, given you all the finger with both hands and probably with her toes.”

Roy wondered, “Can it be done with toes?”

Bradford ignored Roy and Beverly, “So, what did she do?”

Roy said, “That’s when she started laughing almost uncontrollably.”

Bradford said, “And that’s when she fished in her purse, and you thought she might be going for a gun. Instead, she pulled out her resignation letter, gave it to you and left. I’ve got it.”

Bradford turned to HR, “Do you have anything to add?”

HR said, “She’s got plenty of unused sick leave and vacation time. Obviously, she gave no notice.”

Bradford said, “Our associates don’t quit, they get fired. That’s why there’s no notice requirement in their employment contract.”

HR said, “Technically speaking.”

Bradford said, “No, legally speaking.” He had no further need of HR but wanted her in the room to keep the table balanced. “Beverly, it’s your program. Why did we lose this lawyer?”

Beverly said, “Good riddance. I was the only one who didn’t want to hire her. Her work is good, her billable hours are enormous, and her clients claim to be happy. I’ll admit all that. But I don’t care for her and never have.”

Bradford asked, “Why?”

Bev said, “It’s because she’s so damn precious. I don’t trust her. She’s a crypto-misogynist.”

Bing, hearing the Latin and Greek etymology and the only person in the building competent in both languages, asked scornfully, “A what?”

In the next column: the defense of an alleged crypto-misogynist

— Brian Burke is a certified family law specialist practicing family law and mediation in Santa Barbara. A researcher and educator in the field of divorce and family conflicts, he also is the creator of the Legal Road Map™. Click here for more information, call 805.965.2888 or e-mail brian@burkefamilylaw.com. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.