Back when I was practicing law, now and then I would get a call from a client who needed a litigator. But not just any type of litigator. A male litigator. (Interestingly enough, every such call was from a man. I never did have a woman request a litigator of a particular gender.)
He would usually preface his request by telling me that he was not biased against women. In fact, he might mention that some of his best friends were women. But having gotten that out of the way, he would then explain that that in this particular case the other side was extremely difficult, and the situation required a degree of nasty that only a man could deliver.
In response, I had the following options:
- I could say nothing and refer him to one of our male litigators;
- I might explain to him that some of our female litigators could be even more of a pain in the neck than some of our male litigators;
- I could tell him that looking for an aggressive litigator was just stupid, and that what he really wanted was a smart, strategic, litigator who walked softly and carried a big stick;
- I might tell him that we did not assign our litigators on the basis of gender and he would just have to accept that I was going to refer him to the best person for the job, regardless of gender; or
- I might tell him that he was a chauvinist pig and should take his business elsewhere.
Of course the first response was the path of least resistance and would fulfil my need to avoid rocking the originating credit boat.
All of the other approaches would likely create some waves. Waves could cost the firm money. Even worse, waves might cost me personal money, which in a law firm is really the only type of money that matters.
Of course, one of the other responses might contribute to a better firm culture and help create a more pleasant place to work, but those types of rewards come more slowly and are more difficult to track.
I, of course, did the honourable thing, because money is not as important to me as my principles and because I am writing this post and why would I not portray myself in the best possible light, especially when my readers can produce no evidence to the contrary?
But what about the rest of you? Have you been in this situation or is the world now such a better place that this does not even happen anymore? And if you have been asked to assign a lawyer based on gender, did you take the money and run, or stand on principle?