Biglaw, Feminism, Gender, Secretaries / Administrative Assistants, Women's Issues

Why Legal Secretaries Hate Women Lawyers

Being a woman is a tough job, especially when you’re working in a Biglaw atmosphere. Among the long list of things that Biglaw women have to worry about — making partner v. making dinner, picking up documents v. picking up the kids, cleaning up the house v. cleaning up a brief — being cordial to coworkers sometimes tends to fall by the wayside.

So ladies, have you been wondering why your legal secretary avoids eye contact with you at all costs? Or in the alternative, have you been wondering why your legal secretary is giving you a look of death? Here, let me give you a clue: it’s because your legal secretary secretly hates you.

A new study has revealed, however, that maybe it’s not such a secret after all….

Law professor Felice Batlan surveyed 142 legal secretaries at larger law firms, asking whether they preferred to work for male or female partners or associates. Of those surveyed, 95 percent were highly experienced, middle-aged women hailing from firms with more than 100 lawyers.

According to Batlan’s results, available here (purchase required), 50 percent of survey respondents preferred working for men, with male partners receiving more favor than male associates, and 47 percent of those surveyed didn’t have an opinion.

You don’t have to be good at math to figure out that just three percent of respondents said that they preferred working for a woman. Just three percent? That equates to… four people. Only four people out of the 142 surveyed liked working with women lawyers. And out of those four people, zero had any desire to work for a female partner.

Doesn’t that just speak volumes about the way women in Biglaw — especially partners — treat their legal secretaries?

The ABA Journal has provided several of the survey comments left by respondents:

  • “Females are harder on their female assistants, more detail oriented, and they have to try harder to prove themselves, so they put that on you. And they are passive aggressive where a guy will just tell you the task and not get emotionally involved and make it personal.”
  • “I just feel that men are a little more flexible and less emotional than women. This could be because the female partners feel more pressure to perform.”
  • “Female attorneys have a tendency to downgrade a legal secretary.”
  • “I am a female legal secretary, but I avoid working for women because [they are] such a pain in the ass! They are too emotional and demeaning.”
  • “Female attorneys are either mean because they’re trying to be like their male counterparts or too nice/too emotional because they can’t handle the stress. Either way, their attitude/lack of maturity somehow involves you being a punching bag.”
  • Women lawyers have “an air about them.”

And there you have it. The resounding theme in all of these comments seems to be the fact that women have emotions. Being a woman myself, I know that emotions that can make a woman go from zero to bitch in about 60 seconds. But this isn’t anything new. Women have been bitches since, well… forever. And women acting bitchy isn’t that big of a deal, because in reality, you’ve been dealing with bitchy behavior since you were in grade school.

But no one wants to work for an emotional trainwreck. No one wants to live in a world where their superior reminds them of a comic strip character who might ACK! herself at the drop of a hat. That’s why legal secretaries, most of them women themselves, hate working for women lawyers.

Batlan’s study makes it sound like being a legal secretary these days is like taking a pledge of evil and becoming a part of a sorority where you hate all of your sisters, but you just can’t quit. So here’s a suggestion for women lawyers that might make legal secretaries stop regretting their career choice.

How about you stop trying to act like men, drop your Mean Girl mentalities for just one day, and see where it takes you?

“If you become his second wife, you are a fool”: Shifting paradigms of the roles, perceptions, and working conditions of legal secretaries in large law firms [Studies in Law, Politics and Society] (purchase req.)
Not One Legal Secretary Surveyed Preferred Working with Women Partners; Prof Offers Reasons Why [ABA Journal]
Women Lawyers and their Secretaries : An Emotional Sweatshop? [She Negotiates / Forbes]

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