“You’re out!” Gordon Gilbert bellows as I sit down.
I’m out? What is this asshole talking about? Could he be referring to that play at the firm’s picnic where he pretended that he hadn’t dropped the ball while trying to tag me. One of the other partners had to mediate the call, and I was declared safe at third, having legged out a nifty triple.
But he couldn’t, he wouldn’t, be referring to that play.
Annual reviews at the law firm of Gilbert & Associates, PLLP happen during the late summer/early autumn, always unannounced, despite the countless management team firm-wide emails and its blog. G&A, as we referred to the firm (note the absence of “affectionately” in that phrase), was a law firm of some 350 attorneys, distributed about in the five offices G&A maintained across the US. Most of us were at its headquarters here in New York City, where I am employed, when I was summoned to Gordon Gilbert’s office on the Wednesday after Labor Day.
G&A started about twelve years ago as a 30-attorney real estate boutique, founded by Gordon Gilbert, Joan Zakorski and two other attorneys who are no longer with the firm. These four lawyers left the real estate department of a prestigious Wall Street firm to create a law practice where they alone would decide how it is run, whom it would service and, perhaps most importantly, how the firm’s collections would be divided.
The acknowledged leader of the four is Gilbert, a brilliant attorney with no equal in analytical skills and a great understanding of all aspects of real estate law and practice. Gilbert is a shrewd, cutthroat negotiator who can be outgoing and affable when he wants to be but, deep down, is egotistical, bombastic, and power-hungry. He is someone who has no patience for disagreement and who takes no prisoners.
All these attributes contributed to Gilbert’s ability to build a national firm of exceptional prominence, by raiding other firms of their rainmakers and merging with top firms in strategically located markets across the US. The acknowledged leader of this much larger, diverse firm remained Gilbert. Among the heavy hitters, Gilbert was a home run hitter. Among the rainmakers, he created torrents, while the others made it drizzle.
And Gilbert’s power was not limited to G&A. He was held in high esteem in the larger legal community and wielded vast influence with local and national bar associations. His legal prowess attracted significant clients with on-going projects that kept G&A partners and associates humming virtually around the clock, and which put Gilbert in a position of influence with the major players. All of which made him a power broker not only within the private sector but in the public sector as well. Politicians and wanna-be politicians sought his support. He had a say in who would be nominated for elected positions and who would get governmental agency appointments, including the selection of judges.
At G&A’s headquarters, annual reviews became known as associates were quietly marshaled, one at a time, into Gilbert’s office where each one was grilled and chastised by Gilbert and several other partners. Each associate walked out ashen faced and with drooping shoulders, having been knocked around, mostly by Gilbert. Luckily, compensation for the following calendar year was not at issue at these sessions. Luckier still, compensation decisions were determined by the Human Resources Committee, from which Gilbert was intentionally excluded. To quell a partner revolt against his dictatorial powers a few years back, it was decided that three partners, none named Gordon Gilbert, would oversee HR matters. However, to appease Gilbert, he was given the last say on hiring and the first say on firing. Nevertheless, as partners allied with (and beholden to) Gilbert relinquished what little power they had, Gilbert’s power base was in fact strengthened.
As I sit there that fateful Wednesday, Gilbert is in the process of exercising the first-say power vested in him.
“You’re out!” he repeats and then adds, “You must be out of here by two weeks from this Friday. That means that all work presently pending must be satisfactorily completed, all the firm’s files in your possession properly organized, an appropriate exit memo drafted and signed off on by your supervising partner, and all of your personal crap packed up and removed from the premises.”
“I’m fired?” I inquire.
“Yes. You are fired, let go, terminated, however you want to put it. Banished!” Gilbert shouts.
“Can you give me a clue why? I wasn’t aware that my work was unsatisfactory.”
“You want to know why? I will tell you why,” Gilbert says. “Because you are a candy-ass pansy and I do not like you and your liberal ways. ‘Fair this,’ ‘equity that,’ ‘inequality’ here, there and everywhere. You put all this nonsense into the heads of the other associates. You are a terrible influence on them and I can’t stand to have you here any longer. You can’t seem to get into that thick wop skull of yours that fair is what I say is fair and is in our clients’ best interests.”
The other partners blanch a bit on the mention of “wop,” but I let it slide.
“I’m only aware of clients being satisfied with my work,” I say.
“That’s because the only clients we give you face time with are those do-gooders, the non-profits or the for-profit fools, involved in the development of affordable housing. Luckily, there’s a few bucks to be made in those deals. I’ve decided I no longer want you to take up any of my space. Besides, you’re not G&A partner material.”
After about seven years of practice, attorneys at firms are either elevated to partner or let go. I had worked several years for a small firm before making a lateral move to G&A.
“I’m sorry you feel that way.”
“Fuck you, sorry. Just get your shit together and make sure you are out of here in two weeks and two days. And if you fail to fully comply with the terms I outlined, you’ll be docked whatever remaining pay you’re otherwise owed.”
“How about severance?” I state more than ask, as I know that is firm policy.
“Severance? You’re not getting shit!”
“Excuse me, Gordon, but severance is a decision within the domain of the HR Committee and Al will need to take it up with them,” wimp of a partner, Joe Baker, meekly states.
“Whatever. I’m just glad that I need to be out of town the next 10 days or so and won’t have to see this asshole’s face more than a few more times.”
“Fuck you,” I blurt out uncontrollably under my breath.
“What did you just say?”
“Nothing,” I respond.
“Well, if you really didn’t say anything, I know you thought ‘Fuck you.’ Well, all I have left to say is: Ciao, baby! —and a very good riddance.”