Education / Schools

Bullying and Biglaw: Perfect Together?

Bully Larry Clark Movie Above the Law blog.jpgThe New York Times is on a bit of a “bully” kick lately — using their “bully pulpit,” if you will. They recently ran this 1100-word article, by Pulitzer Prize winner Dan Barry, about an Arkansas teen who has been subjected to bullying at school for years — sometimes to the point of physical violence. (Gawker glibly summarizes it as a piece about “a random kid, Billy Wolfe, who gets knocked around a lot.”)
Sure enough, it has a legal angle to it:

The Wolfes are not satisfied [with the school’s response to their complaints about their son being bullied]. This month they sued one of the bullies “and other John Does,” and are considering another lawsuit against the Fayetteville School District. Their lawyer, D. Westbrook Doss Jr., said there was neither glee nor much monetary reward in suing teenagers, but a point had to be made: schoolchildren deserve to feel safe.

One ATL reader who drew this article to our attention is definitely on the side of the parents: “I’d like to see a post about the tort and criminal aspects of the case. Seems like the school’s gonna get creamed.”
This reader is probably not alone in feeling sympathy for Billy Wolfe. We’d guess that victims of schoolyard bullies are disproportionately represented among the ranks of lawyers, especially lawyers at top law firms. What do revenge-seeking nerds do after high school? They grow up to become lawyers, so they can acquire wealth and power, and lord it over their used-car-selling ex-tormentors at twentieth high school reunions.
But the Times didn’t stop there with its fixation on bullying. A second Times article, in today’s paper, discusses bullying in the workplace. How long before Nick Kristof writes an impassioned column on the subject, after traveling to Arkansas and hanging out with poor Billy for a week?
More discussion, after the jump.

Blogger and columnist Tara Parker-Pope writes, in her piece about workplace bullies:

Bullying in the workplace is surprisingly common. In a survey released last fall, 37 percent of American workers said they had experienced bullying on the job, according to the research firm Zogby International.

Unlike the playground bully, who often resorts to physical threats, the work bully sets out on a course of constant but subtle harassment. It may start with a belittling comment at a staff meeting. Later it becomes gossip to co-workers and forgetting to invite someone to an important work event. If the bully is a supervisor, victims may be stripped of critical duties, then accused of not doing their job, says Gary Namie, founder of the Workplace Bullying Institute, an advocacy group based in Bellingham, Wash.

Sadly, this pattern of behavior should be familiar to many denizens of large law firms. At some places, it’s a recipe for how to make partner.
What to do about the problem? What red-blooded Americans do when faced with any problem: draft a law!

The New York State Legislature is considering an antibullying bill, and in several other states, including New Jersey and Connecticut, lawmakers have introduced such measures — without success so far. A measure was withdrawn in Connecticut last week after business groups opposed it, although the bill is expected to be resubmitted.

Business groups often argue that existing laws are adequate to protect workers. But bullying generally does not involve race, age or sex, which have protected status in the courts. Instead, most workplace hostility occurs just because someone doesn’t like someone else.

Indeed — which is why it might not be terribly amenable to legislation. As the Times notes, with some understatement, “it can be hard to distinguish between normal personality disputes and the incessant torture of workplace bullying.”
P.S. Despite our skepticism towards anti-bullying legislation, we are not unsympathetic to bullying victims, having been in their shoes once ourselves. We can still remember how Dominic B. prevented us from accessing our locker in high school, pushing us repeatedly against the opposite bank of lockers each time we tried to approach. He finally let us open our locker when Guy V. — a friend of ours with higher social standing, as a varsity athlete and overall “cool guy” — interceded on our behalf (“C’mon, Dom, leave him alone….”).
When the Bully Sits in the Next Cubicle [New York Times]
A Boy the Bullies Love to Beat Up, Repeatedly [New York Times]
Bullying Article Encourages Bullying Of The ‘Times’ [Gawker]

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