How to Handle an Abusive Supervisor

Q: I joined my current firm 16 months ago. While I had been practicing for 2 years prior to joining the firm, I changed my area of practice from litigation to real estate upon entering the firm.

I love the firm I work at, and I love the area of law I practice in. However, approximately 5 months ago, the firm brought in an "of counsel" from New York... a guy who has been practicing for approximately 25 years. Since the day he arrived, I have attempted to work very hard and to be as helpful as possible to him.

The man is a screamer. He yells, he ridicules, and he thinks I am absolutely incompetent because I don't do things the New York way. He constantly gets upset with me for not being experienced (I am the only real estate associate in the firm... which doesn't help things) I am still in the process of learning my specialty... I can't help it...

As part of our annual review process, I was torpedoed by this guy. Not only has he made my life hell, but I am beginning to believe that my chances at success at this firm will be impaired because of him.

I love the firm. I love the people I work with except for him. I don't want to have to change firms, but there doesn't seem much else for me to reasonably do. The man brings in tons of business for the firm, and as such, I am too low on the food chain to accomplish much by complaining.

I guess what I was hoping you could help me out with is this: Am I making a mistake to leave a firm I love for the uncertainty of another firm all because of this guy? Is there anything I can do to better deal with him?

A: No one should put up with abuse at his or her place of employment. Your letter indicates two important facts:

  • You love the area of law you're practicing in; and
  • You love the other people and firm you're at.

With this in mind it seems you need to have a talk with the person supervising you who is treating you in an abusive manner. You need to let him know how hard you are working, that even though you are new to this area of real estate law, you feel you are performing well and wish to be treated in a more professional manner.

If things do not improve, and you feel that your success at this firm would be impaired, then looking for a new position elsewhere may make sense.

As far as leaving a firm you love (minus one most difficult supervisor, which cannot be taken lightly) for the feared uncertainty of another firm, I would say it's worth looking into. Talk to those in your network, start asking about other possible firms that they can recommend. Get out and network -- talk with people at other firms, develop a broader network of contacts. The information you gain from inside sources may well help to lessen your uncertainty and fear about searching for a new position. In fact, it could be the very thing that turns your career around.

For further information on the networking process consult:

  • Networking for the New Attorney
  • Networking for Everyone by Michelle Tullier (Jist, 1998)
  • Network Your Way to Job and Career Success by Ronald Krannich (Impact, 1995)