How I Lost Every Shred of Confidence I had in Myself and My Abilities at Work in Just 12 Short Weeks! (A Guest Post)

I’ve worked in the legal field for the past eight years and have spent the last two years as a paralegal.  For the first year and a half, I really enjoyed my paralegal position and the attorney I worked with and I was great at my job.  I was always thinking three steps ahead, never missed a deadline, I could be relied upon to keep my attorney on-track and up-to-date on everything, and I received shout-outs at every single staff meeting.  All that changed the day ****** went on maternity leave.  ****** was assigned to one of the younger partners, *****, and a few weeks before she went on leave, I was told I would be taking over her responsibilities, in addition to my own, while she was away (I later found out that I was assigned to ***** while ****** was away because all the other paralegals had REFUSED to work with him ever again).  

Allow me to provide a little background info to aid in your understanding of my fantastic journey to mediocrity:  I work for a mass tort firm, specializing in personal injury and product liability claims involving representative trials called bellwether trials which are used to determine the what the future of a tort will look like – very few plaintiffs receive a bellwether trial and it is fairly rare for a mass tort firm to have any cases in pre or active litigation – litigation was not a part of my job, nor was it something I had any experience with whatsoever.  Well, lucky me, ***** just happened to be in the middle of prepping a case for an upcoming bellwether trial  – a very important trial pick involving a severely injured plaintiff.  

A few months before ****** went on leave, I had my annual review, during which ***** said he would be more than happy to take an afternoon to walk me through the stages of a bellwether trial pick, from the start of the claim through the bellwether trial and any subsequent appeals.  I had inquired as to when we could get together for the promised tutorial a few times without a response but when I learned I would soon be helping ***** while ****** was out on maternity leave, I was that much more intent on getting a time set up to go over this info. I spent the better part of two weeks asking for the promised lecture and for the better part of two weeks I was continually told that he was far too busy to be bothered and ultimately, I was told that he didn’t have time to “hold my hand” and wouldn’t waste his time walking me through the basics of the work I would be doing for the 12 weeks ****** would be on leave.  I guess he had just offered to put on a show for HR and the other attorneys in my performance review as a way of trying to prove that he was trying to be less of a horrible and toxic boss.  In the end, I was made to feel stupid and unqualified when I asked for something that he had offered to me out of the blue and completely unprovoked by me.  In retrospect, this should have been my first big warning of the type of person I would be working for or, rather, the person who would be abusing me for the next three months.

Getting back to the beginning of my very long 12 week period of castigation and debasement, I quickly learned that some of the many perks of working for ***** included: (1) being paid for 8 hours days, yet expected to be on-call 24-7; (2) being expected to return every email from ***** within one hour and not a second longer (literally – I would receive a scathing email from ***** within minutes of the hour mark passing, which makes me wonder whether or not he was just sitting there, watching the clock and waiting for the opportunity to bitch me out – more likely, he would just set a “time to bitch her out” alarm for 60 minutes after sending every email), whether or not the email was sent during working hours; (3) ever-changing expectations (example: one week, I was reamed for not communicating every step of the process of scheduling exert depositions, which process had been made that much more difficult due to COVID, and then the next week when sending an update, I received an email back that said, “Jesus, I don’t need a f*****g play by play”); (4) being expected to know procedures that had never been shared with me, resulting in a barrage of angry emails beginning with, “This is the way we’ve always done it, so I don’t understand why it’s suddenly a problem…”, to which I would reply, “I apologize, I was unaware of the standard procedure but will make sure to follow it moving forward” when what I should have said was, “I have no f*****g clue what the ‘standard procedure’ is for anything I’m doing because you refused to share that information with me, despite having promised it in front of numerous witnesses…”; and (5) 84 days of ridicule, verbal abuse and the constant reinforcement of the idea that I had no idea what I was doing, that my work product was shit and that I was a terrible paralegal.  With one week to go until ****** returned to work and I would be set free from this cycle of abuse, I was pushed over my limit.  After COVID, my office switched to a hybrid work schedule – two days from home and three in the office.  We were in the process of moving to a new office and were asked to come in that Monday to set up our desks and phones, and were told to head home to work for the rest of the day if it was one of your work from home days, which was the case for me.  I went in and set up my phone and computer, but was told they were still working on setting up the wi-fi, so I opted to return home to work at that point.  A minute after I got home, I received a frantic call from the HR Manager, who needed to know “where I was” and “what was going on!”  As it turns out, ***** had emailed me several times while I was in the office setting up my desk and I had not responded within the one hour mark which prompted ***** to seek out and scream at the HR Manager, demanding to know where I was and why I “wasn’t working”.  He was in the office and saw me setting up my desk and then announcing I would be heading out to work from home for the rest of the day, yet did not mention his “urgent” email to me at that time.  To *****, everything he wanted done was to be considered both urgent and time-sensitive. HR ended up apologizing to me for overreacting and I decided I was better off just letting the incident go since I was so close to the end of my time working under this monster.  This was the plan, until I got the absolute nastiest email I have ever received in my entire life, both personally and professionally, from *****.  The email tore me to shreds and questioned both my work and my intelligence – basically, he wanted to know why I wasn’t competent enough to get a certain deposition scheduled – the deposition in question is one that he, himself, had told me 100 times to “slow play” and not to schedule until after the next status hearing when we had a better idea of whether or not the trial date would be pushed yet again.  This was the final straw.  I went back and pulled every single email with his explicit instructions NOT to schedule the deposition yet, typed out a long email reiterating every verbal and emailed conversation that had occurred regarding the scheduling of this deposition and attached all the corresponding emails for good measure.  Shockingly, he did not respond to my email, nor did he ever apologize for his accusatory email.     

Cut to the present day – I’m no longer working with *****, but the experience has had devastating results.  I now feel that I really do suck at my job and my lack of confidence in my abilities is so great that it has been noticed and was pointed out in my annual review a month ago.  HR and the attorneys involved in my review actually acknowledged that they knew working for ***** was the cause of my sudden drop in confidence and the drastic change in the quality of my work.  This has made it all the more difficult to understand why he has been, and continues to be, allowed to abuse all those working under him.  While I was working for *****, I was told by numerous different co-workers to “hang in there” and was even told that he had been talked to about his behavior and was “working on it” without any evidence to the contrary.  I now have severe email anxiety and have a mini panic attack every time I hear the sound of the notification for a new email.  I really feel like I have forgotten how to do my job altogether and I have no idea what to do to get past this.  I feel so ashamed that someone could have this type of impact on me and my work ethic, which was always great before this experience.  At this point, I am really at a loss.

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