Wednesday, February 25, 2009


When I received an email from the Today Show producer on Monday, my first inclination was to say no. They wanted me to fly out to New York that same day and be ready to appear first thing on Tuesday morning. I have been handling some litigation work in addition to my magazine articles and class assignments, and on Monday, I was booked for back to back meetings all day until 9pm. I have also been exhausted from my pregnancy, and all I want to do is curl up and sleep all day long. The thought of a six hour flight was not appealing.

And each time I am contacted to talk about my Paul Hastings email, I worry about being over-exposed. It's not something that I necessarily want to be known for. I sent the email because I thought it was important to speak up for myself and those who may face similar treatment. But I don't need to be known as "that Paul Hastings email girl." So when Lesley Stahl's producer from 60 Minutes contacted me last summer, I told him no. When the Today Show producer emailed, I initially said, "Sorry, I can't fly out to NY today."

But then, there was also a side of me that thought, "Oh, what the hell. The story is already out there, and maybe it'll force some employers to pause before dragging an employee through the mud. And who knows, maybe it'll help me with my writing career in some way." So I decided to do it, and they set me up in a studio on Battery Street in San Francisco. On Monday afternoon, they sent a camera guy over to take some footage of me sitting at my computer. That evening, I picked out a couple of jackets I could wear, grateful that I only needed to worry about the top half of my attire. On Tuesday, I woke up at 3:30am to shower. I asked Jeff if he wanted to join me, but the smart man decided sleep was more important. They sent a car at 4am, and once I got there, a make-up lady fussed over me for a while. Once we were ready, I just sat in a dark room, stared at the camera, and talked when I heard Meredith Vieira ask me questions through an ear piece. I felt strange talking into a camera, so I asked the make-up lady to stand behind the camera. And it was over in a few minutes.

I think the Today Show appearance was neither here nor there. In some ways, it was disappointing because it focused on whether employees are conducting themselves properly when the topic should really have been on the unethical strategies employers use in laying off employees. And of course there were tons of things I thought to say in advance, but once you are in the middle of it, everything escapes your brain and you wonder what the hell you are doing there. The biggest thing I regret not saying is mentioning Paul Hastings by name, pointing out that they are an established employment law firm, and explaining how they were mocking up performance reviews to suit their purposes. But it's too late now.

Yesterday morning, I received a call from Inside Edition. I told them no. I think one dorky TV appearance on this topic, particularly when I've gained so much weight from my three pregnancies in the past year, is more than enough. And it's hard to know when you'll be set up as a punching bag for some TV show's rating.

I have to say, though, that my concerns about the downsides of sending the email have turned out not to be warranted. I think most people worry that you appear unprofessional or that companies will not want to touch you after this kind of an experience. One of the first emails I received yesterday after the show was from one of my current clients, the founder and managing partner of a consulting company, and he wrote, "Great job and well said!" What a decent man. Even my parents, probably the most conservative and risk-adverse people I know, said, "Of course you should speak up when your boss lies like that." And during the past ten months, random people have contacted me and invited me to interview with their company. I've also received emails from in-house attorneys who offered to help in some way.

So many of these incidents stand out. A few weeks after I was laid off, I was flailing and trying to figure out what to do. Out of the blue, I emailed journalist Henry Lee of the San Francisco Chronicle. I had never met him before, but I wanted to learn more about journalism and knew that he covered trials in the Bay Area. In the email, I explained what had happened and that I was considering a career change. In the warmest response, he invited me to have lunch with him. I met him for tapas just a block away from the Chronicle office in Oakland, where he pulled out his notebook to talk to the attorney for the Muslim Bakery, who happened to be passing by. Then he let me hover over him the rest of the afternoon as he typed furiously, clicked on different windows every few seconds, interviewed police officers who had a lead, listened in on police radio feeds as they chased some suspects around the city, scanned press releases and court dockets, exchanged emails with his editor, and shared a story about the time he rode a Blue Angel just weeks before the pilot crashed during a show. I walked out feeling like I could never do Henry's job, but what a great way to find out.

So what could been a terribly sour termination experience has in many ways turned into an affirmation of the decency of people in my life and strangers I've never met. Maybe the world isn't so bad after all. Isn't it a good thing that I'm no longer hanging out in that particular building on 2d Street in San Francisco that seems to be filled with an unusually high concentration of jerks?


  1. Don't feel remorse over not being able to, "mention Paul Hastings by name, pointing out that they are an established employment law firm, and explaining how they were mocking up performance reviews to suit their purposes." They probably would have edited it out anyway--too much liability risk for them even if truth is a complete defense.

    I say don't worry so much about anything but yourself, your baby and family. And serious congratulations if you are too fatigued to do anything but want to sleep all day...a good, strong pregnancy, God Bless.

    Life is too short to try to calculate every minute detail of what has happened to you. From my observation marketing is everything and ANY publicity whether good or bad is still publicity.

    Not that it appears you are trying to capitalize off of what happened, quite the contrary. It appears that you have been trying to do the right thing with good intentions all around without exploiting the situation for personal gain.

    However, capitalizing on what has happened for what you want isn't bad either. For the next print article or interview why not agree to do it for the publication if YOU write the article with full credit instead of having their writer handle the print. And same for any TV publicity, use it for your purposes. Make sure that you get the opportunity to plug your own personal writing career and anything associated with that.

    The opportunities we are presented with in life are only opportunities if capitalized upon. If not capitalized upon they are merely offers allowed to expire. You are a smart gal, I am sure you can maneuver the system adeptly without becoming a statistic for your 15 minutes. Go for it and don't apologize for it.

  2. Over-exposed is what the mom to the octupulets is. =) NOT YOU. =) you did a brave thing and should be commended for it.. but yeah, the focus of the show should have been what you said. =)

  3. Dear Shinyung:

    I've been checking in on your progress since your email first showed up on ATL last year. I'm more junior than you were when you left PH, but, like probably most of the attorneys you know, I came to the conclusion that this career is not for me pretty much my first month on the job. I've made up my mind, but the hardest part is the execution.

    In any case, I think that, if anything, you're under-exposed. I think that your best writing is of the vulnerable, probative variety--the kind of thoughts that conventional thought about professional career paths would treat as dangerous. It's patently clear that I don't like the practice of law, and can't stand the majority of lawyers. In fact, the thing I fear most of all is not failure, but the "success" of the top rainmakers around me.

    I don't exactly need validation, or career tips; reading your posts is more like being in a virtual support group. It's really heartening seeing you "make it" in a ways that most lifer attorneys couldn't contemplate. You're an inspiration, and, if anything, I hope to see you dial it up rather than down.


  4. You did well on The Today Show. Don't even look back.

    I tend to think that it is best to move beyond the PH experience, and "the e-mail". Your e-mail was articulate and to the point and the thousands and thousands of people who have read it, understand your position, and your (rightful) anger at the way the matter was handled. I would imagine that anyone looking for a job there would now think twice . . . What more is there to say?

    You have new things to focus upon. Your pregnancy, your writing, your husband, and other interests. I think you will benefit from moving beyond the law firm experience.

    All the best to you on your pregnancy! Take a deep breath, and then go on to enjoy the upcoming trimesters!

  5. I wish you had done Inside Edition. It would have been cool to put a face with the name [ well, I have your face from the FB shot posted on ATL, but you know what I mean. :-) ]

    A big fan.

  6. I had not heard of your plight before the Today Show. Even though you didn't mention the specifics about Paul Hastings and the things that were going on, I clearly understood that you were exposing bad behavior for the benefit of your peers at the firm. Even though the Today Show focused of e-mail etiquette, it was clear the primary issue was not being addressed. You were very well spoken and just 'doing the right thing." The Today Show slant seemed like a book promotion deal missing the point all together.

  7. I first caught wind of your story on the Today Show on the morning it aired. I managed to catch a snippet of what the story was all about but wanted to check into it a little later on online and your story truly struck a chord with me.
    I, too, was dismissed from my job for not performing up to par, when I had a hand in helping to propel a mom and pop shop to a $1 million + a year company within a 5 year time frame when I was employed there.
    I had been working tireless in that company by always coming in early and leaving late almost every day and even weekends too. And then came the one fateful day that my father was diagnosed as being terminally ill. I spoke with my boss and informed him about my father’s situation. My boss was gracious at the time to allow me what little precious time I would have left with my father and in turn, I did my best to work when I could to show my loyalty to my company. I would visit and take care of my father while working late at nights to catch up on work. The one thing that I trusted was that my boss said to me that he was going to be there for me when it all was said and done. In turn, I promised to be back on the job and make up for any lost time and work.
    When my father had finally passed away last year, I was met with a “Welcome back! We’ve missed you.” which slowly turned into my performance was not up to par anymore. My father had just passed away! Was I supposed to be happy? Come on!
    I totally understand the work environment. Work doesn’t and can’t end when an employee has personal problems. Work continues with or without you. I get it. I kept my contacts with my clients on the professional level when I had to speak to them. And I worked as hard as I could in the office... once again going in early and being the last one to leave the office.
    I had noticed instantly that things had changed once I had come back. I had no longer held the managerial position that I once had because I was asked to step down. I was also being asked things that only my boss had ever asked of me… to remove certain files and tasks when an employee was going to be dismissed. It was now being turned around and asked of me.
    I knew that day was coming but rather than tell me in the beginning when I came back that it wasn’t going to work out. He drew it out for 6 months to the day of my dismissal. I guess it looks better to dismiss someone for poor work performance than to dismiss someone for tending to a parent who was dying.
    I was bitter when I got dismissed. I poured my heart and soul into that company only to realize that my heart and soul didn’t matter. What did matter to that company was the money. In the end, I’m happy that I am now able to pursue another avenue and one that is suited for my passion, my heart and my soul.
    I’m glad that you had a voice to say what you wanted when I could not. You are an inspiration and definitely not an over-exposure. I hope to hear of many more things to come from you.

  8. couple of years back, i had the unfortunate opportunity to learn ( first hand )how cold and heartless the corporate world can be. . i was fired from my banking job. i did well enough to meet my KPEs, exceeded my targets.. but guess what? it does not mean anything. suffice to say, it does not pay to be loyal. all those networking sessions with your bosses are just mere facades. i was lucky i was in my mid 20s. but well, it still left a bitter after taste. human compassion ? bah. it means nothing.

    dont worry. hang on there. take care .

  9. The last two writers pretty much nailed it. I had a great career in print journalism and radio until I spoke out for what was right - the worst thing you can do in this country.

    Even though my work was of excellent quality, the only thing that counted was slavering obedience to the management/corporate line.

    Now I believe I have been blackballed in both industries. I have been running a small book store which is losing money while caring for an infirm mother.

    I haven't the time nor money to return to school. I can't fall back on being young (I'm 46) or sitting on a pile of cash or having a law degree in my back pocket. Connections? In the media? Every man for himself! I can't count on any of them.

    And the thing that really hurts is that in both cases, time proved that I was exactly correct on both issues on which I took a stand.

    And I'm single so I can't fall back on a spouse's income or health insurance benefits.

    I'm trying to get back into the Federal government where I once worked but even there it seems age is working against me.

    I started typing this at 4 a.m. because I wake up in the middle of the night and worry that it's over at 46 and how will I ever climb out of my business debt when I cannot get steady work? I often wonder about packing it in.

    When raising my older son in the last 10 years (he's a sophomore at Ohio State, tuition paid by extended family, not me, shamefully) I've repeatedly told him to ignore his teachers when they stand up for what is right and just. I tell him to look at me and see what, in the vast majority of cases, will happen. He now looks at a father who almost had a great media career now willing to shovel horse barns for $23K and health insurance.

    I saw you on the today show Shinyung and I came here to read your story. I do admire what you did and wish you the best. However, most of us who have also hit the 'send' button have never been able to recover our careers from such incidents. In an economy where most of us will now spend the rest of our lives on our knees lest we need an medical operation or some such, I would not counsel anyone to offend the great American employment gods. They can and do make sure in many cases that the companies who are thinking of hiring you know exactly what they think of you, whether it is legal or not.

  10. I don't think you're over exposing yourself. I think you may not get as much support as you'd like/as you should because people are so concerned now with just keeping their jobs at any cost.

  11. The Today Show completely missed the point of your e-mail, and focused too much on the negative, I thought. How about telling employers also that they need to behave ethically, because it's easy for employees to expose wrongdoing, and to create a long-lasting PR nightmare similar to the one PH has had to go through?

    The Today Show missed a great opportunity to tell the other side of the story.