I have written a few posts on here mentioning my time as a paralegal. I’ve said things like “It wasn’t a good fit” and “I wasn’t happy there.” Those things aren’t wrong, but there’s more to the story. Now that it has been many months since this all happened, I think it’s time to talk about it.
Last year, I emailed over 100 attorneys my resume to see if anyone had an entry level position open, like a receptionist. A few emailed me back saying they didn’t have any openings, but they’d pass on my resume to attorneys who might. Others said they didn’t have openings, but they’d save my resume in case a position did open. One emailed me back asking for an interview.
I was excited. My hours of researching and emailing were paying off. I didn’t hear back from him for a few weeks until one Sunday morning, I got a call as I woke up asking me to be at the firm in 30 minutes for my interview. I was nervous to go by myself because I knew it would have just been me and him in an office. I can’t tell you why that felt off to me, but it did.
Nonetheless, I went and was hired on the spot. It started out as part time. That’s when the job was okay. He wasn’t in the office very much, so he left me case files and documents with sticky note instructions of what to send to the ADR office, which insurance companies to call, which medical bills to negotiate, etc. It was fun, honestly. I felt like I was doing important work. I was helping people injured in car accidents get money for their medical bills.
When other attorneys would come by, he would brag about how great of a job I was doing. Me, the girl with just a high school education, was being praised by people with Juris Doctorates. Yeah, that felt pretty good.
The strange thing was the other attorneys asking me if he was treating me well. I had heard he went through a few paralegals, including his wife. I had heard he had a history of being difficult to work for. My impression of him was that he was chill and laid back. Any time I made a mistake, it wasn’t a big deal. He always said, “The only thing you can’t fix in law is the Statute of Limitations.”
As a teacher, he was good. The first month, he walked me through how to do a couple of things, and then he had me on my own. When I needed to put together an Unliquidated Demands, he said to look at ones he’s done and see if I could replicate it. So I did. That’s how I learned to fill out most of the legal documents, and he rarely had changes to make. He praised me for that too. Everything felt good.
It wasn’t until I was full time when my job took a weird turn. Or at least, it wasn’t until I was full time that I noticed anything. This was also the time when the work slowed down; people don’t sue around the holidays.
I can’t remember the timeline of when the following things started happening, but I do remember the escalation of them individually.
Red Flag #1
I’ll start with the lunches. The first time he asked me to join him for lunch, I had already eaten, but he insisted I come anyway because he didn’t want to be alone. I thought, why not? I hadn’t done much all day, and it gave me some time out of the office.
We walked across the street to a restaurant, and he started venting about his wife. Is this strange to anyone else? Because I ignored that feeling. He was saying she was a terrible person and some other things I don’t remember anymore. Then we started talking about my life and how my boyfriend and I were saving up to get a place together.
A few days later, he drove me around the town to show me which places were the good neighborhoods and which ones to stay away from. Again, I ignored this being weird. Guess what we did next? We went to lunch, of course. But this time we sat at the bar.
He didn’t invite me to lunch again for another month or two, but at that point, I finally said no. I had to realize he was my boss and not a good ol’ buddy, so I could say no. I wasn’t confident in my answer, so I hid behind what I brought for lunch. As far as he was concerned, tuna and crackers was my favorite food pairing.
Maybe lunch doesn’t seem so bad. I was 18 at the time, and he was my father’s age. Maybe it was supposed to be a work outing or an indication that he enjoys having my help around the firm. But that doesn’t explain the next “event.”
Red Flag #2
On three separate occasions, he offered me alcohol. The first time, he said I could take home some leftover beer from the Christmas party. Strange, but it wasn’t an offer to drink with him.
The second time, he talked about making me a Moscow Mule after work. He had a bar in the office, so it seemed like a serious offer. It was still a hypothetical situation, so I didn’t have to say anything. However, he knew about some medication I was taking at the time, and the next thing out of his mouth made me feel unsafe: “How much can you drink before it affects your medication?” Was he trying to make sure I didn’t drink too much so I could still drive home? Possibly. Was he trying to figure out how much to give me so I wasn’t coherent anymore? Possibly.
He began texting me more often too. He would send me gifs and memes he thought were funny while he waited for mediations to start because he was bored. I was his employee– not his friend or his girlfriend.
He went to Kroger and texted me a picture of a Moscow Mule mug. I thought we were done with that hypothetical, but apparently not.
That day, I also received a phone call from a processing server he hired to serve the Defendant in one of his cases. He was the second one he hired because the first one tried to get the guy upwards of 40 times with no luck. So this guy calls to tell me the Defendant has been served.
I texted my boss to let him know.
When he came back that day, I heard him coming up the stairs, saying my name. I was flooded with panic. Not because I did anything wrong but because I wasn’t sure what to expect next. He came in excited and went to the room with the bar. When he came back, he had a glass of Smirnoff Ice that he placed on my desk. He asked if I wanted it. I said no.
That was the last day I worked there, but there’s still more I need to tell you.
Red Flag #3
Because I worked for an attorney who was also a mediator, other attorneys and their clients shuffled through the office a few times a month. Sometimes, the clients would bring family with them, but they weren’t allowed in the conference room. So they sat in the lobby with me. My boss would tell me that if the people sitting there made me feel uncomfortable, I could go work in his office instead. It was a nice gesture, considering these people could be sitting there upwards of two hours.
We also had our own clients coming through the office. Most of them were women. I should have known from the way he talked about them that this wasn’t a safe environment for me. He had a crush on one of them with her “baby blue eyes.” She was a single mom, so he told me, “You know what that means– she’s looking for a husband.” That’s not what that means, and he was married.
We had another client come through whose injuries were on her chest, or as he called them, “bruised boobies.” She had pictures that she was going to send to me, and he kept texting me to ask if she sent them yet.
But throughout this whole time, he kept saying, “If I make you feel uncomfortable, just tell me,” and, “I don’t want to be another #MeToo story.” In my naive mind, obviously he was a good guy.
It wasn’t until my aunt texted me to see how the job was going did I realize the situation I was in. I told her what was happening, and she told me to find a new job. She was outraged that he was acting the way he was. My other aunt agreed. As did my sister-in-law, who told me to tell my parents.
When I went over to my parents’ house, my mom was the only one home at the time. I told her. She said to tell my dad when he came home. I told him, and he was mad. I’d seen my dad mad before but not like this. He said, “What happens when he’s had a bad day, comes to the office, and locks the door?”
That brought me to reality quickly. Whether or not that was my boss’ intentions doesn’t matter. His actions made it look like it was, and he wasn’t doing anything to say otherwise.
As a boss, what you don’t do is compliment a young woman working for you everyday by saying, “Wow, you look nice today.” You don’t stop in your tracks to take a second look and give a compliment. You don’t make your employee feel scared to do her hair or wear makeup because she doesn’t want you to think she’s trying to impress you.
As a boss, your job is to make the employees feel safe. You don’t have to coddle them or walk around them, but you do have a job to make sure their work environment is a safe one.
I quit over the phone the next day from my dad’s shop, using his script. I thanked him for the opportunity to work there and used his words against him: “You said you don’t want a #MeToo story, and this is how that will be prevented.”
Later that day, I got a text from his wife that said, “I heard you quit. I’m so sorry but I COMPLETELY understand ):”
Which part of this story is worse? What he did or the fact that his wife was on my side– that she understood? I don’t know, but I’m happy it’s all over.
As I write this, I want to make jokes about the whole thing because it sounds ridiculous. It doesn’t sound like something that actually happened. Not to me. This stuff just doesn’t happen. Until it does. My story is one of the lucky ones. I was able to get out of the situation before it was too late, but not every girl can.
Despite how uncomfortable and emotionally taxing the situation was, a lot of good has come from it. It taught me the red flags to look for in clients and potential employers. It taught me that it is okay to say no and that I have a voice. I wish that I didn’t need to have that experience to learn what I know now, but that’s how it happened for me. And I’m okay.
Part of me debated if I should publish this or not. I kept thinking Sarah, this was in the past, you don’t need to write about it now. You don’t need to expose what happened. But you know what? I did need to write about it publically. In the off chance that someone who reads this is in a similar situation but doesn’t realize it. Not everyone is good, but not everyone is bad. Should have I spoken up to him before it got to the point I had to quit? I don’t know. I don’t know how he would have reacted, but the situation is over, and that’s what matters.