Departure Email Hall of Fame: Shinyung Oh

Most of you lawyers out there have probably read this one already, which must be the only Last Day at the Office Email in the world to use the phrase "had her uterus scraped" literally.  When I read it two years ago, I was still a lawyer myself and I remember thinking, "Wah-wah, shut up."  I just re-read the email now, a year after I've written my own Last Day email, and I feel really bad for this woman and have no idea why I was so heartless before, except that workplaces can have a hardening effect.  If I had a motto when I was a first year associate, it was probably, "Work hard play hard!"  Ridiculous.  Anyway, although the email below was initially circulated in its redacted form the writer eventually went public and even gave an interview.  You can read about it here on the legal blog, Above the Law.

From: [Redacted]

Sent: Monday, May 05, 2008 10:14 AM

To: [redacted]

Subject: My departure

The circumstances surrounding my departure from Paul Hastings have been deeply disappointing.  It is one thing to ignore an email sent as a colleague is waiting to have her uterus scraped after a miscarriage, but it is wholly another level of heartlessness to lay her off six days after that.  [Partner X] is the only one who expressed any sympathy after my miscarriage, and I am grateful to him for that.

A business is a business, but it takes very little to convey some level of humanity to carry out even the most difficult business decisions.  We are human beings first before we are partners or associates.  Had you simply explained that the department is unable to sustain the number of associates in the office, I would have completely understood. Had you explained that the office had been directed to reduce the number of associates and I was chosen because of my high billable rate and low billable hours, I would have appreciated such directness, even though the consequences of blindly raising billable rates to an unsustainable degree is plainly predictable.  What I do not understand is the attempt to blame the associate for not bringing in the business that should have been brought in by each of you and to hide your personal failures by attempting to tarnish my excellent performance record and looking to undermine my sense of self esteem.

The last few months have been surreal, at best.  Just last year, I had celebrated my engagement and marriage with many of you.  In fact, during the engagement party, the head of the department took my then-fiancĂ©e aside to express to him what a great attorney I am and what a great future I faced.  Indeed, less than a week before this year’s bizarre performance review, I was again told by the same partner that my work is great and that the slow business in no way reflected on my performance.  A week later, I was given a mediocre performance review and told that I should worry about whether I have a future at Paul Hastings.  When I asked for specific examples of my alleged deficiencies, I received no response.  When I asked for an explanation as to why I had been downgraded in so many performance categories when I received absolutely no criticism throughout the year and my prior year’s review was stellar, I was told that my prior year’s performance assessment may have been “over-inflated.”  What a startling response.

After my miscarriage, I had discussed my concern with several associates that Paul Hastings may use that opportunity to lay me off quickly before I have a chance to get pregnant again.  Those associates thought it unfathomable that a firm would be so callous and assured me that Paul Hastings isn’t that kind of a place.  What a lesson this has been for them – and for me.  I would not have anticipated that a partner would tell me one thing and completely renege on his words a week later. I would not have anticipated that a female partner (whom I had looked to as a role model) with children of her own would sit stone faced as I broke into tears just days after my miscarriage. Even a few words of sympathy or concern would have made a world of difference.  What kind of people squander human relationships so easily?

If this response seems particularly emotional, perhaps an associate’s emotional vulnerability after a recent miscarriage is a factor you should consider the next time you fire or lay someone off.  It shows startlingly poor judgment and management skills — and cowardice — on your parts.  If you should ever have the misfortune of suddenly losing something or someone precious to you, I hope you don’t find similar heartlessness as I have.

As for your request for a release, non-disclosure, and non-disparagement agreement in return for three months’ pay, I reject it.  Unlike you, I am not just a paid mouthpiece with no independent judgment.  I will decide how and to whom to communicate how you have treated me.  I find it ironic that you would try to buy the right not to be disparaged after behaving as you have.  Your actions speak volumes, and you don’t need much help from me in damaging your reputation.

I attach the proposed release for any associate who may be interested in reviewing its details.


No comments: