Dealing with Diva -or Divo – Attorney

ABAJournal.com posts a “law office worker” who wrote to a newspaper advice column (I hope this is not becoming a trend) who “worked for three male “diva” lawyers…Each expects the staff to bump the other two lawyers’ work for their projects and throws a snit fit when he needs something done and those of us ‘here to serve’ can’t make ourselves immediately available .” I suspect many of you will recognize the situation. At times this sounds like a description of the typical law office!

Here the situation got out of hand, however, according to the writer, ” one of the lawyers, “John,” became enraged after the worker said “no can do” to his new rush project that needed to be completed by noon. The worker was already swamped with two other rush projects. “Before I could explain, John lunged toward me cursing loudly,” the worker writes. “He had his fists raised and was almost on top of me with one fist an inch from my nose. I panicked, jumped out of my chair and headed for the door. John got between me and the door and pointed at the desk, yelling, ‘Sit down and do it!’ ” John retreated when the office manager walked by with two clients.

The advice columnist, advised that the worker could sue the lawyer for, e.g., assault. I suspect that the “law office worker” already knew that (he or she almost certainly did if he or she was a paralegal), but was asking for advice on whether, as her friends suggested, he or she would be “out of her mind” for doing so. The writer was astute enough to know that being able to sue does not necessarily mean one ought to sue. (A concept client often have difficulty grasping.)

Handling difficult attorneys can indeed be difficult and at times we can all be difficult! Managing the attorney/paralegal relationship is the topic of an entire chapter of The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional. Suing the attorney or the law office is not an option discussed there because the goal is to preserve and nurture the relationship. Here though it appears the situation is beyond managing, especially since the worker received no support from the office manager, and the worker rightly terminated employment at the law office. Certainly the attorney’s conduct is reprehensible and my initial inclination is that somebody should do something about that conduct. Still it is not necessarily in the worker’s best interest to be that somebody.

While the attorneys may all be divas, they will likely band together and “circle the wagons” in the face of a lawsuit. (Note that the worker received no support from the office manager.) Anything and everything bad that can be said about the worker will be said – in a public forum. Even in a large legal community, this sort of dispute makes the rounds real fast. While workers and even office managers in other offices will be quite sympathetic and empathetic, it is also likely that the chances of the worker being hired in another law office will be greatly diminished. Some will wonder who was really at fault, some will recognize that their office is really like the other one and suspect the worker will not be able to handle the attorney there either,  some will not to risk offending the law office the worker left, etc., etc.  Thus while I agree the worker could sue on several grounds (many of which will be covered in The Empowered Paralegal Cause of Action Handbook), I would need to know a lot more about the worker and the situation itself before advising the worker as to whether he or she should sue. What do you think?

On a separate issue can John be a diva? The  traditional definition of “diva” is “a usually glamorous and successful female performer or personality <a fashion diva>; especially : a popular female singer <pop divas>.” Clearly John meets no part of this definition, but the word has taken on a wider connotation in modern usage. However, according to Urban Dictionary, all usages seem to contemplate a female rather than a male.  But there is more. Consider this:

But the distinguishing factor is that her talent permits somewhat uncouth behaviour. A diva is not necessarily difficult to work with, she is just very professional and and has a low tolerance for incompetence. A diva is NOT just some no-talent pop singer who thinks everyone should acquiesce to her every whim, or even worse, some woman who is unecessarily rude, mean, bitchy, and often stupid just because she “knows what she wants” and revels in being high maitenance. These woman do not deserve the title of diva, because they have no redeeming talent or quality. They are simply loud and oboxious bitches. True divas should be treated with respect for their enormous talent and strong will.

Aside from the fact that it appears one need not know how to use a dictionary to get spelling correct in order to make an entry in the Urban Dictionary, the entry makes a good point, at least as I understand the term “diva.” While there is little information provided about John, the assaulting attorney, it seems quite questionable whether he has the redeeming talent or quality to be considered a true diva as opposed to just being “unecessarily rude, mean, bitchy, and often stupid.” Even so, John does not appear to be female. So what, assuming he has some redeeming talent or quality, would be call a male who, if female, would be a diva? Be careful what you chose – it may appear in the pleadings.

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