On Bondage and Slavery

From time to time, I review the internet search results on my WordPress stats to determine how people are finding this blog. This week, poor litigation paralegal souls were somewhere out there pounding into the computer:

  • hate being a paralegal need a new job
  • jobs after being a paralegal
  • i hate being a paralegal
  • i don’t want to be a paralegal anymore
  • why i hate being a paralegal
  • hate being paralegal
  • psychopath lawyers
  • i hate my attorney

You hate it because to be employed under a lawyer is essentially to be a slave, or to live in bondage.

Slavery: severe toil; drudgery.

Bondage: captivity; restraint; prison.

No, you are most likely not physically whipped daily and raped by your master (probably, but I have heard some stories…). But, if you are typing those above-listed search terms into Google, you are most definitely being psychologically abused and you are a slave to your job if you have any financial commitments whatsoever. The boss knows this, and their behavior worsens because they know how difficult it is to find other work.

I hate to break it to you, but the second you have to ask another grown-up if you have their permission to go to a funeral, take care of your sick child, or go home for the holidays, you have just entered into slavery. What sort of place allows you to go out in the yard one time a day for an hour? Don’t they call that prison? Don’t you have to do something really reprehensible to wind up in prison?!

I don’t know when it became acceptable to live this way, but it makes me absolutely sick. Knowledge workers should not be voluntarily subjecting themselves to slavery. I am extremely suspicious of lawyers who require their paralegals to be sitting in a desk directly outside their office at all times. This is not a boss who wants a productive worker who is achieving measurable results. This is a boss who wants someone to yell at, play fetch with, and degrade in front of clients and co-workers. I know, having been that dog for the longest six months of my entire life.

How did this happen to the American people? How did so many of us become working slaves? It baffles me. Thoughts?

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Categories: Paralegal | Tags: , | 9 Comments

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9 thoughts on “On Bondage and Slavery

  1. Bob

    RP wrote: “I hate to break it to you, but the second you have to ask another grown-up if you have their permission to go to a funeral, take care of your sick child, or go home for the holidays, you have just entered into slavery.”

    My religion’s most important holiday generally fell on a weekday. Usually I had no problem getting it off, but one year I was so swamped with work I had to work on the morning. I explained why I was working to my attorney-boss. He was not fazed.

    I sincerely did not understand why; one of his best friends also observed my religion. Another reason why I did not understand is I always felt the individual was a learned person. Guess not. Never mind that I worked on Xmas and New Year’s.

    “When Israel was in Egypt Land (or the typical law firm)……LET MY PEOPLE GO!”

  2. RP wrote: “I hate to break it to you, but the second you have to ask another grown-up if you have their permission to go to a funeral, take care of your sick child, or go home for the holidays, you have just entered into slavery.”

    My religion’s most important holiday generally fell on a weekday. Usually I had no problem getting it off, but one year I was so swamped with work I had to work on the morning. I explained why I was working to my attorney-boss. He was not fazed.

    I sincerely did not understand why; one of his best friends also observed my religion. Another reason why I did not understand is I always felt the individual was a learned person. Guess not. Never mind that I worked on Xmas and New Year’s.

    “When Israel was in Egypt Land (or the typical law firm)……LET MY PEOPLE GO!”

  3. One more point. Lincoln freed the slaves by way of the Emancipation Proclamation, but the Proclamation did not foresee paralegal. So many law firms enslave paralegals because they do not pay them overtime. Not paying paralegals overtime is in clear violation of the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act. See 29 C.F.R. Section 541.301(e)(7) (paralegals are not considered as “learned professionals” and do not qualify as exempt employees). (http://www.legalsupportpersonnel.com/Business-Law/Labor-Fair-Standards-Act/). But try pulling out the FLSA and demand your firm pay overtime it owes you. Good luck with that! At that point you likely will be freed!

    • I forgot all about that little issue! I used to get so mad about that very thing! Yes, they will spring last minute projects on you until you are effectively working an extra 10-15 hours a week for free. But they say: “Well, you are on salary, professionals work more.” That may be true, I don’t know. It seems as though any real business has a career track and you can work and build something. That is not how it works in the law office. You just get awarded with more work. You aren’t building anything, you’re just engaging in bullshit and billing a client.

      • In any vocation, if one is exempt and on salary, salary is based or should be based on a standard 40-hour workweek. I’ve heard about law that even if one is exempt one is entitled to overtime pay for work over forty hours.

        In fairness, everyone has to stay late and/or come in early from time to time. Those extra hours are figured in when determining salary. But when a few hours here, a few hours there start adding up to ten to fifteen more hour a week, IMO one is being exploited and should be rewarded.

        I was working tons of unpaid extra hours in my first office. I had to in order to keep up with the workload. I hoped to avoid the extra hours in my second office, but after my first day it was clear I would have to work them. I’ll admit to being somewhat slow and deliberate at times, but as my first-grade teacher preached to me, speed does not mean accuracy. Then again, speed is relative.

        I did volunteer for more work and the attorney liked my work product. But I, too, was awarded with more work. Work was on contigency in that office, so no billing worries, but, still, bullshit aplenty.

  4. Bob

    In any vocation, if one is exempt and on salary, salary is based or should be based on a standard 40-hour workweek. I’ve heard about law that even if one is exempt one is entitled to overtime pay for work over forty hours.

    In fairness, everyone has to stay late and/or come in early from time to time. Those extra hours are figured in when determining salary. But when a few hours here, a few hours there start adding up to ten to fifteen more hour a week, IMO one is being exploited and should be rewarded.

    I was working tons of unpaid extra hours in my first office. I had to in order to keep up with the workload. I hoped to avoid the extra hours in my second office, but after my first day it was clear I would have to work them. I’ll admit to being somewhat slow and deliberate at times, but as my first-grade teacher preached to me, speed does not mean accuracy. Then again, speed is relative.

    I did volunteer for more work and the attorney liked my work product. But I, too, was awarded with more work. Work was on contigency in that office, so no billing worries, but, still, bullshit aplenty.

  5. Antoinette

    I first will say I love your blog and enjoy your posts very much. Reading your posts have gotten me through some burnt out days.

    With that being said I will probably get some backlash at what I have to comment on. I am a very rules driven person. I was actually previously in the military and did very well but didn’t want to pursue a military career. You ask quote…”How did this happen to the American people? How did so many of us become working slaves? It baffles me. Thoughts?” But my question is…How did we become entitled employees who think our bosses need to cave to our every whim?

    America is the land of opportunity. If we don’t wish to follow someone else’s rules then we have the freedom to start our own companies. Of course we’re not guaranteed success but we do get to set our own hours albeit 18-23 working hours a day.

    I on the other hand, do not have the desire to be ME, Corp. I have no problem putting in a hard day’s work for someone else who pays me to do so. I have seen a company give incentives to employees for being at work on time and staying the entire day. I missed in the employee hand book where it says because I have Tuesday doctor’s appointments I will be in at 11:00am and leave at 2:00pm every day to pick up my child. I too now have children and seem to still be able to meet the 9 to 5 I was hired to do. I understand sometimes my 9 to 5 blends over to overtime or weekends but not often since I am able to WORK when I am at work. For instance, I am on my lunch break typing this not during the time I should be working.

    Bottom line…if you’re going to work for an owner then if you want to call it slave fine. I prefer to call it employee. Either way you do have to play by their rules. Whatever happened to that mentality?

    • Thank you for reading and commenting. You are not going to get any backlash from me! I know what you mean about entitled employees, and they used to make me see red too. I’ve been the girl who stayed late to help out every week for years because the girl with the issues who can’t ever manage a 40-hour workweek always has something going on so stuff gets dumped on her co-workers all the time. After a period of years of consistently getting excellent comments from clients, co-workers, and bosses alike, it would make me crazy when the subpar performers would all get the same bonus and token raise as the high performers. The reason given? “We don’t want to cause any conflicts in the office, it’s easier to just keep everyone the same.” SERIOUSLY?! Talk about a way to zap motivation! In my opinion, that’s where the problem of entitlement comes in – when sorry people are rewarded the same way as the superior performers.

      You absolutely are obligated to do a day’s work for a day’s pay. But, over the years I have seen that skew more and more in favor of the employer. In litigation, there really was never a 9-5 schedule. It was more like, 8:30 – whenever they decide you can go. That’s slavery. When you can’t schedule any personal events between 6:00 – 10:00 p.m. during a “normal” workweek because your boss keeps deciding to start working at 5:00 p.m. instead of during what are supposed to be normal business hours, that’s slavery. James Altucher has a lot to say about slavery: http://www.jamesaltucher.com/2013/09/how-to-be-a-slave/

      Yes, you can leave. You can walk out. I hope you have a year’s worth of expenses (and ideally more) when you burn rubber to start your new business. I did, but it took me FIVE $*%!ing YEARS to save up that much money! Believe me, in the interim, I was steadily applying for jobs outside the legal field. I can’t tell you how many. I quit keeping records after the first three years because it was pissing me off too much. I would guess closer to 500 than 100. I would only get calls on my office line from headhunters who either wanted to recruit me to a worse job (read paid $10k-$20k more with even bigger firms, so I knew I was just going to be getting in deeper) or a lateral job in legal. I could not leave legal. That’s slavery – when you want more than life itself to get out but you are trapped. They only pay you enough basically to live on, so it is very hard to save $500 – $1,000 every month to build up that blow money fund. When your boss berates you in front of other people about something no one ever told you to do, and it makes me you feel like shit and you go to the bathroom and cry to your mother, but you are too afraid to leave because you have a mortgage, etc., you are enslaved.

      I think the difference in how we view employment is likely a Type “A” versus a Type “B” personality. Neither is better than the other, although I do believe that Type “A’s” like myself will not do well in the long run as paralegals because we don’t like the dumbass rules and policies that you have to subject yourself to in order to keep a job. It used to drive me crazy at the very last hell hole I crawled out of. The boss would basically want me to tell him when I had to go to the bathroom. Only the paralegals who had been working there for 10 or more years were allowed to ask for the day before Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve off. You had to fill out a form, copy it and keep a copy of the form in your files, and then submit the original to the accounting department before they would issue replacement basic office supplies. You had to keep a handwritten carbon copy of every phone call you made (whether it was long distance or not), AND the bastards wouldn’t even let you wear jeans on Friday. It’s just bullshit. Drove me nuts.

      So, for me it wasn’t a sense of entitlement. It was a sense of losing every aspect of personal control I once had over my life and I just wanted it back. I just wanted to be able to leave the office at 5:00 p.m. on a Friday and go out of town for a weekend without getting slammed by my boss with a last minute “emergency” he invented that involved me canceling plans and staying until 10:30 on Friday to make notebooks, which he would leave with and then lose at the bar while he was getting shit-faced. Then, I could go through the whole process of assembling new notebooks on Monday. It was just this endless cycle of nonsense.

    • First and foremost, thank you for your military service.

      As a former military person, you knew you would have to forego many of your rights for you to serve. Meaning you had to agree to report wherever Uncle Sam stationed you, to fulfill your assignments and duties, wherever and whenever. You also agreed to abide by all the rules and regs applicable to you, including taking orders, lest you pay the consequences under pain of military discipline. In the meantime, civilians do not have to forego those rights, including but not limited to being compensated for all time worked pursuant to the law.

      While you have a strong sense of duty, and a strong appreciation of rules and regs, thanks, I’m sure to your military service, you of all people should appreciate that employers, too, must follow rules and regulations. I wrote about some of them, above. While it’s true that one must adhere to employers’ rules, given your appreciation of rules and regs I should think you would be outraged by employers who break the rules that most affect you and your welfare. Not to mention outrage that little can be done about these employers and their actions short of leaving.

      It’s not a matter of entitlement, though, speaking for myself, I feel I am entitled to respect, fair treatment, show of good faith, and, last but not least, an honest day’s pay for an honest day of work in fulfillment of employer’s moral, ethical and legal obligation to me.

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