Thursday, June 26, 2008


I collect them as I would rare books. Often, they are at the usual places, a few offices down the hall at work that you initially avoided because it's too close to the odious corner office partner, at a friend's dinner party that you contemplated skipping because who has the energy anyway, at the alumni event that could have been deathly boring had you not run into that girl from your humanities class.

You have to catch them at the right moments. Not when they are reviewing that 9th Circuit brief and scrutinizing for typos, not when they are caught in the 20 second span of an elevator ride when all they could muster is muzak conversation, not when you see them at the gym trying to squeeze in a 45 minute jog into 30 minutes before running off to catch the bus.

You have to find them at the right moments when the circumstances are just so, when feelings of threat, lethargy, and anxiety are far from the scene, and they can step out as their true selves, safe from the world that places too many demands on their appearances, know how, professionalism, womanhood.

When she steps out from behind the Hillary mask, you find a kindred spirit, a woman who speaks to you, who shares your vulnerability and anxiety as well as the determination to figure it out, who is willing to engage in a dialogue about the way to go about it, what she has tried or has not. And you latch onto this person wherever you find her because you are building a community of women who get it, women who see eye to eye and will help you see this through.


  1. See...there you go proving again that you're a kick-ass writer.

  2. What is sad is that these woman are a rare collectible indeed. The very few women in my law firm that hvae made it to the "top", however precarious their position is, do not look down upon us little junior associates with motherly instinct or with a desire to help us follow in their foot steps. They are still competitive. They have made it where we have not. They have made it by themselves and so should we. But it's one thing if they just left us climb that jagged and rocky mountain ourselves, it's an entirely different thing that they actually hinder us because they don't want us to succeed where they could not, or to succeed faster than they could. Most of the women partners actually favor the junior male associates over the women. The other ones care little about either. We will always divide ourselves thus making us easy to conquer.

    I will not be surprised if it is a woman partner who decides to pull the trigger when the ax falls on my career.

  3. I have the prickling suspicion that the female partners are like female hyenas: they're so aggressive and dominant that they have an external vagina that protrude from their nether regions that very closely resembles a penis which they tape down or tuck so not to show when wearing their black or navy power pants suit. The protruding vagina resembles a penis so closely that scientists, for years, were baffled at how all the hyenas were male (until, of course, they shot one and pulled apart its genitalia--I know this because I watched it on the National Geographic channel when my TiVo f*ckered up and I got home from work so late, nothing else was on.

    I don't think there is one woman attorney who genuinely takes an interest in my career, unless it is to somehow screw me over.

  4. You are such a gifted writer. Have you thought of going into law school teaching, where writing is a huge component? If you're interested, I'll be happy to share with you tips about the process.

  5. I am fellow UCer who graduated more than a few years after you and who is also an attorney. When I initially read your story in the blogosphere, my heart sank for they way you were treated by the internet lemings and your firm. You have tremendous courage. Please do not forget that. This blog is evidence that you have fantastic abilities. Here is some unsolicited advice that you are free to ignore: should you decide to return to the law, I think you should consider working for the federal government. I speak from experience--we need people like you.

  6. I read all your posts, your email and everything. I'm an "older law student" (33), thus don't spend an inordinate amount of time at Above the Law or anywhere else I would have heard your story.

    Anyway, I tripped up on it at the ABA magazine and read it all. The email; the agreement... Your email reminds me of many of my own: thoughtful, well-written, heart-felt, and with an underlying melancholy about the whole ugly thing, as if you know the recipient (1) isn't worthy; and (2) won't succumb to the emotional content, the humanity of what's been painstakingly placed before him or her.

    In terms of this post, it is difficult to find women who will mentor, and you are right - they are afraid. I don't understand their fear; but I've seen it and felt it and been repulsed. Because really, mentorship doesn't take much; it can be private. Just a word of encouragement; or a hint at just the right time. A nudge, or one of those conversations you have when the one person is leaning in the other person's doorway and they make an offhand remark that's not so offhand - and you pick it up.

    I find that law school is like this: No one is really willing to reach out to help. I am looked at as if I am insane when I give away my nutshells with the sole instruction being to pass it on to some other poor, suffering 1L. No, no money back - $5 isn't going to cut into the crushing $112,000 debt. Just... "pay it forward." Because no one got here alone.

  7. I've been reading your story, first on ATL and then here. What happened to you is wrong, and I am very sorry for your loss of the baby and also for your loss of your work.

    I can understand a little bit of your sadness based on my own experiences in Biglaw. No point in sharing the details, but I believe pregnancy discrimination is business as usual.

    Maximum damages available under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act are $300,000. Biglaw will destroy your professional reputation if you sue. Thus, effectively, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act does not apply to Biglaw, and they know it. You're not alone. Read the Supreme Court decision in Hishon v. King & Spalding some time. The issue is sex discrimination, not pregnancy, but it shows that this has been going on forever.

    We all think that we're so smart and so hardworking, that we have such strong professional relationships within the firm that for us, things will be different. They tell us that in our reviews, and we keep billing hours, but they lie. We're all fungible.

    By telling them to take their severance and shove it, you did the very best thing possible. You deserve better, and it will come, but be patient. Good luck.

  8. Dear Ms. Oh,
    I am in the throngs of the very horror that you wrote about months ago. I am a 15+ year trial lawyer in the WNY area who has been summarily shown the door for a host of "discretions" that are as tepid and non-descript as those which affected you. I'm glad to read that you appear to be in better space. I hope the same for me.

  9. you're words really touched me and i have forwarded them to my collection so that they know how much i care about them. i think some of these comments as well-meant as they are really get off the subject of your posting, which is to treasure one another bc those special women that help us get through these hard times can be found anywhere. i really believe everything happens for a reason and that you are such a talented special woman that you will transcend this. please keep posting and best of luck!

  10. Shinyung,

    Your story is important and I honor your courage in telling it.

    Correct me if I am wrong, but in reading "Collection," it appears that you are yearning for a deeper, more satisfying and meaningful connection with other women, not merely their mentorship. If I am correct, you may want to consider taking a look at the following site:
    This organization has provided wonderful opportunities for my wife to connect with other women in a deeply powerful way and a safe environment, women with whom she has built a lifelong network of support. While I'll admit that it sounds a bit granola (for lack of a better way to put it), hippie, campy, or whatever you wanna call it, Woman Within runs an extraordinary weekend program for women of all walks of life. I hope you'll consider it for yourself.

    I am very active in the male equivalent of women within. I am a union side labor and employment attorney in Chicago and, as a lawyer, I never really found the kind of satisfying and meaningful workplace connections you talk about in "Collection" until I started looking more closely at myself.

    Anyway, regardless of whether you consider Woman Within, I wanted to let you know that even as a man, I really identified with what you had to say in "Collection." So, I thank you for that.

    Again, your story is very important and its important that you are telling it.

    Thank you and good luck.

  11. I feel your frustration. As a an attorney recently laid off, i only wish i had the guts and the courage to speak my mind about my law firms lay off practices. Your an inspiration to all of us.

  12. You are a good writer! You just don't write like a lawyer in lawyer language. Thank goodness! Your writing allows me to really feel the emotions you are feeling. What a wonderful skill!

    I admire your courage to tell it like it is. Your Biglaw firm and the lawyers in it learned what they can get away with from their corporate clients. Big business (Biglaw is big business.) lacks integrity and civility. It reflects the world we live in today.

    What is so sad is these women who have "made it" failing to help those following. I've met them too. I hope you can find a more supportive and encouraging environment in your next position. I am a Practice Advisor and Career Coach for attorneys in solo and small firms. My women clients are not the type you describe. Good luck! I have put your blog in my favorites so I can continue to read it.
    Alvah Parker

  13. Shinyung, an ABA e-mail story led me to your blog, the many Above the Law entries on you, etc.

    Sounds like your law firm gave you a raw deal and most of your colleagues and former managers were cowards who didn't know how reaching out to you with some common human decency would have accomplished a lot more, even from a narrow business perspective, than just trying to cram a severance and nondisclosure agreement down your throat while you were in a vulnerable position.

    That being said, in looking around your blog a little bit, I get the sense that -- and don't take this the wrong way -- you really weren't meant to be a lawyer. Based on your own autobiographical entries it seems like you turned to law as a career for the wrong reasons. I encounter so many associates who are in a similar boat. I've watched them pare off as I made the climb through my firm's ranks. I'm one of those weird guys who really loves the law, and I've managed to find a job where, just as I've seen Justice Breyer describe it, I get paid to write term papers every day. To me that's a pretty cool profession. But to a lot of people, it would be a living hell or just a way to collect a paycheck.

    Your blog entries show you to be an interesting writer. (And I'm not a fan of the medium. To me, blogs inherently show our vanity, which no one should strive to do.) I understand you not wanting to burden your hardworking parents, but given how long you were a lawyer, if you'd set the goal of becoming a writer, saved a bunch of money to tide you over while you were pursuing your dream, and then left the law when you had enough of a nest egg, you'd probably be happier in your professional life. Only you know whether that would have been possible. Perhaps that was not doable because you were supporting your parents; or perhaps they have expensive illnesses. I do not know.

    Nothing can compensate for the loss of your child, and for that I'm sure anyone with a heart who's read your story feels their core going out to you. I wish you all the best. You're clearly a smart, talented woman with a lot of gifts from God.

    I'm not the best person to tell you this, and maybe you already are a committed Christian. I'm a sinful, sinful man who fails everyday in so many ways, and is no less human than you are. But I can tell you that especially as I get older, and maybe a little wiser, atheism chic really isn't so chic. The Lord would comfort you if you would only ask.

    Use this traumatic experience to think hard about the direction you want your life to take from here. Pray to ask for guidance. I will pray your husband gives you support and love. I pray someday, if it's the Lord's will, you and your husband produce a lovely family. And in your professional life, I hope you will find your true calling -- perhaps its writing, as you've dreamed. All God's blessings be upon you!

    -- A Well-Wisher

  14. "What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open." -Kathy Kollwitz

    Thank you for having the courage to speak the truth. What an impact such an act of courage has had already! As you say, attention to simple civility and decency would go along way in healing the ills of our profession. I suspect structural constraints often work against the individual attorney's efforts to maintain civility and decency, although this is no excuse.

    Why is the profession of law so far behind other professions in terms of diversity, not to mention civility? The structure of the law firms is one contributing factor. The goal is to climb to the top of this huge hierarchy and then do everything it takes to defend your position there, not unlike the kid's game king of the hill, or one of those pyramid financial schemes that were outlawed. Do the smartest, most ethical and competent attorneys rise to the top, or perhaps the most ruthless? Or those with the best contacts as a function of their class, gender, or race? Who does this serve? Clients? The integrity of the law and our system of justice? It doesn't seem so. Perhaps this structure will go the way of the dinosaurs as our society matures and realizes it is not productive, efficient, ethical or healthy (for anyone- I worked with one male attorney who simply dropped dead at 57 from a heart attack).

    Although competition is the ground upon which our society and profession is built, there are ways to compete that are fair, ethical, just, and call upon what is best in all of us. Isn't that what law is supposed to be about, making sure that our political and economic system of competition is also fair and just? If attorneys lose their way and become wedded to untempered competition, what does this say for their ability to safe guard justice for the rest of society?

    So we search out other, better, ways to compete. But, as you say, it is hard to walk away from the money. I recently left my position as a government attorney to enter solo practice. I have deep respect for attorneys in public service, but my particular position had unique challenges. It was difficult to walk away from a secure pension, but my personal ethos and need for growth demanded it.

    Please keep speaking the truth, for all of us. Change will come as more of us engage in similar acts of courage, one step, one attorney, at a time.

    - Barbara

  15. This entry touched me. You expressed (much more eloquently than I could) what I have felt this entire year. I feel the icy touch of the legal world already and I have only completed my first year in law school. Sometimes I really want to hear someone say something warm and heartfelt. I'm glad I found it here. Thank you for sharing your writing with the world.

  16. You are in my collection...or am I in yours??? Love your work. Don't stop.