Joan Williams

I’m not sure you want someone with my hourly rate making coffee.

– A California lawyer’s sassy comeback to a colleague at her firm who asked her to brew a pot of coffee.

This is just one of the tidbits that Professor Joan Williams of UC Hastings Law shares in her new book, What Works for Women at Work (affiliate link). Williams notes that professional women are expected to perform office “housework” — like “bring cupcakes for a colleague’s birthday, order sandwiches for office lunches and answer phones in the conference room” — much more often than their male colleagues.

This week, the legal world has been buzzing over the New Republic’s exposé on the troubles of Biglaw, told through the tale of the long-suffering Mayer Brown. Our managing editor David Lat wondered if being a partner was the worst job in Biglaw, prompting some raised eyebrows. “Yeah, being a partner is so much worse than being an associate,” said a sarcastic commenter.

Sure, being a Biglaw partner right now isn’t “all peaches and cream,” but for most Biglaw associates — female associates especially — it never was. In fact, in our last discussion of the New Republic piece, very little attention was paid to the plight of one Mayer Brown associate in particular: the woman who was laid off during her maternity leave after surviving two prior rounds of layoffs.

The fragile state of the Biglaw world is such that women who dare to do crazy things like get pregnant must worry about whether they’ve put their jobs on the line. But just how bad is it to be pregnant at an Am Law 200 firm? It couldn’t be worse than being a partner, could it?

It could, and it is…

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