I've been asked a few times whether I regret having sent my Paul Hastings email, most recently for this article in the LA Times. I think I would have left quietly if the firm had simply laid me off - or if even one of the partners had the decency to be straight with me, even on a confidential basis. The economy is bad and I am certainly not exceptional for having been let go. What I found offensive was that a company -- an established employment law firm -- would abuse its power as the employer to manipulate my performance review to protect its own reputation at my expense.
Just a week before my review, I had a one-on-one conversation with the head of my department. I had been worried about my low hours. I had talked to him repeatedly throughout the year, asking for more work and asking what I should be doing differently. Always, his response had been, "It is my job to find you work, and I am working on that." During my one-on-one, I raised my concern again that my hours were low. He assured me that my work was "great" and that everyone loved working with me. I thanked him for his assurances and said, "Thanks so much for telling me. We all have our moments of insecurity, you know..." He then responded, "I know, Shinyung, and that is why I want to get it through your head. You are a great attorney. It's not because of your work." When I asked what he thought was the problem, he explained that the economy was bad, the firm was raising its billable rates to a level where it was pricing itself out of its current market, and the firm was attempting to get a foothold in the elite upper tier.
A week after that conversation, I had my review with the same partner and another partner TC. When I walked into my review, they did not make eye contact with me. When I read my review, I was shocked by the downgrading in all but one of the categories. When I asked what had happened between my prior review and the current, TC blathered that he could not explain it, that he had nothing to do with the prior year's review (although he had headed the case for which I received great ratings), and it was possible that my prior review had been "over-inflated." The head partner, who had told me how great my work was a week earlier, said, "You need to think about your future here."
The situation was surreal. When your boss tells you one thing one week and says the complete opposite a week later, you wonder if you know nothing about human nature. Law firms are often afraid to admit that they are suffering economically -- because they are trying to attract other rain-making partners with big books of business. And no partner with a big book of business would join a firm that appears to be hemorrhaging. To protect its own reputation and to avoid any possible appearance of a decline in business, the firm tarnished my performance review to create a public excuse for my termination.
So, yes, when I wrote my email, I was emotional. But I also thought what they did was wrong. I'm no longer emotional, but I still think what they did was wrong.
When a bully is about to stomp you with its giant foot, the least you can do is try to take a bite out of its pinky toe.