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If You Have a Sadistic Boss, Should You Leave?

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on July 11, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

As if working in law wasn't tough enough already, now you're at the office facing the prospect of another day of subtle (or not so subtle) verbal abuse from your superiors. You figured that this was part of the tacit hazing-slash-training that came with the new-associate territory. But now you're beginning to wonder: "Is it worth it?"

The Privilege of Power

There's something nice about being in the position of power: it allows you to be unreasonable. Those below you have little play to contravene you. In the case of the overbearing, never-pleased boss, associates will (for a while) willingly accept both subtle and conspicuous office abuse because they want that job. One could almost say that associates asked for it. How's that for sadism?

The Abuse Begets Abuse

For some reason, verbal and professional abuse abounds in the legal profession, and that's certainly not just a coincidence. Lawyers are combative sorts and the most prominent firms can be full of ambitious, type-A sociopaths. So what can the lowly associate do?

Be Indispensable

Nothing helps negotiations like having a bargaining chip. If you're in a mid-level or large firm, there's a good chance that you'll simply have to learn to keep your resentment hidden at the office and learn to work off your frustrations elsewhere. Associates often find themselves at the mercy of the sellers' market. Law firms still largely hold the chips. And unreasonable bosses know that there are plenty of fish in the associate sea.

Interestingly enough, the market for good paralegals seems to be small but hot. There's a demand for paralegals that have had a number of years managing caseloads and have been at the job for a long time. When the boss starts to get abusive, threats by the paralegal to leave usually bring the boss right into line because his entire practice could crumble. Never underestimate the value of an experienced paralegal.

Dispense Yourself: Leave

An abusive boss is not going to change -- short of a lobotomy. You ought to consider your time at the firm a pit-stop along the way until you find another firm in a similar practice area whose culture is more to your liking.

So there we are: people don't often change, associates are dispensable, and good paralegals are not.

The thing with abusive bosses is that they need a constant supply of people to abuse or else they have no targets. If you do a cost-benefit analysis and find that the costs are too much, you owe it to yourself to leave. Your law career, as trite as this sounds, is not worth your health.

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