This story from the Daily Beast of over the top, bombastic, abusive, bullying lawyers may shock a lot of people, but not me, because I used to work in this place and I had my own profanity-laced exit with the office manager, who was hated by one and all. I’ll get into the details of that later. First, here’s the big story. Lewis Brisbois, et al., (Lewis d’Amato when I worked there) is a huge Los Angeles firm with satellite offices in various cities.

The New York Post has exposed a raft of emails between a pair of powerhouse attorneys who led an exodus from Los Angeles-based mega-firm Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith last month, in which the pair referred to women as “cunts,” Black people as “savages,” a colleague as a “f*g”—and even a judge as “sugar tits.” […]

The messages the Post published include numerous other slurs, ranging from “fudgepacker” to the n-word, and included numerous crude jabs at fellow employees of their old firm.

“Kill her by anal penetration,” Barber wrote to Ranen regarding another attorney’s request for overtime.

In the aftermath of the 2020 murder of George Floyd in Minnesota, the duo—who formed their own eponymous firm in May with more that 140 fellow Lewis Brisbois defectors—shared racist reminiscences of the 1992 riots following the LAPD beating of Rodney King.

“I can’t even imagine what it was like living in Larchmont in 1992 when the savages decimated Koreatown,” wrote Ranen.

I can tell him what it was like working in Koreatown, two miles away from Larchmont, in 1992 when the riots started. Lot of panic and bumper to bumper traffic as people poured out of office buildings and jammed into a conga line of cars proceeding down Wilshire, Pico, anything heading west, followed by lots of smoke. I lived four miles from the beach at that time and when the wind shifted and dragged the smoke through the windows, it was oppressive. I didn’t have A/C, the ocean breezes were usually enough, but so much for the ocean breezes that night. I put on the fans and began spritzing myself with a spray bottle to stay cool. Either that, or open the windows and choke. Pick your poison.

While I’m spritzing myself like a piece of ironing, my friend Deborah phoned to vent about how a 911 operator had just snarled at her. “I called and reported that I smelled smoke, because 911 says that’s what you’re supposed to do, and she yelled at me, ‘The city is on fire,’ and hung up.'” “Damn,” I said. “That’s cold.”

Back to this funky law firm. I worked there as a temporary legal secretary in the ’90’s. I was working my way through night law school at the time. It was a toxic hell hole and one of the worst places I ever worked in my entire life. People hated working there, and I’m talking everybody. The lawyers and the support staff.

Why work in such a place, you ask? Golden handcuffs. The lawyers got a lot of money to hook into a toxic corporate paradigm. It’s not just that firm. A lot of large law firms have a certain sick, corporate culture, a shark tank kind of a situation, that if you can navigate in it and survive in it, and eat the other fish before they eat you, you can thrive economically and move up the career ladder. So people did.

As for the staff people, same thing. Good money and benefits. Law office staffs are largely female and a lot of them are single parents. They need to get every nickel and benefit they can and if they have to eat shit to do it, they will. Believe me when I tell you that if you are thick skinned, to the point of being bullet proof, ideally, you can do okay pandering to egotistical, infantile, frequently psychotic lawyers.

And I’m not joking about the psychotic part. I well remember a story that happened in the 80’s at a large entertainment law firm on the west side, where a lawyer who was strung out on cocaine grabbed his secretary by the throat and began choking her. She was offered a year’s salary not to prosecute and she accepted it. I would not have. I would have asked for ten year’s salary or destroyed the guy. Point being, this was the level of bullshit going on for real in law firms in Los Angeles, and the level of abuse to which women in particular were subjected. So these emails from Lewis Brisbois do not cause me, personally, to bat an eyelash.

Now as to my profanity-laced exit. As stated, I was temping at the time while going to night law school. One day I had to come in late, for reasons which I don’t remember now. But I called in and said I’ll be there in two hours, bla bla. So I got there and I was called into the office manager’s office. She said to me, “You’ve been wandering the halls for hours.” I said, “Excuse me?” “You have not been at your desk.” I said, “I just got here. I called in and said that I would be late. Did you not get the message?”

So then a song and dance ensued wherein Martha, the office manager, called reception and asked if I had in fact called in. The gal said she didn’t get the call but maybe one of the other receptionists did. She was told to “investigate and report back,” and that tore it for me. I said, “Look, if you can’t take my word for something simple like this, maybe we need to make other arrangements.” She said, “That’s right. You’re fired.” I said, “Fuck you, Martha, I just quit.”

She flipped. She screamed at me, “I’m calling the agency!” I said, “Oh, what’s this? I’m never going to work in this town, again? Fuck you double.”

The last salvo was articulated with the door open and me making every effort to project my voice theatrically. I got down to the car and got on the cell phone and called my best crony in the office and told her, “Guess what? I just told Martha to go fuck herself. Twice.” This went like wildfire from cubicle to cubicle. A few of the secretaries called me later to ask me to have drinks with them but it had to be in the Valley, and not near the office. I said, “Look, I’ll wear a wig and glasses and a fake nose if you want me to. I understand not wanting to be seen with me.”

So I did get together with a few of the gals from Lewis d’Amato and I was a working class hero for a week. Martha was hated. She was not a smart person and she got the job because she was Hispanic and attractive — so I was told. She had zero clerical skills and that was why she was hated. If she had ever been a legal secretary herself, and a good one, and/or smart and educated, she would have been respected. That was not the case.

The woman was a legend and a joke. A recruiter at one of the agencies said about her, “I’m surprised she can find her way home at night.” That was the level at which her intelligence was assessed.

In my personal experience at that firm, which was probably a month, maybe two at the outside, it was a toxic hell hole of a place. I got into a few snippy moments with some of the lawyers as well, as I floated from desk to desk, because at that point in my life I was in my 40’s and passing my classes in law school acceptably and I wasn’t going to play doormat.

And some of the lawyers were decent enough people. I had nothing against the majority of them that I came in contact with. They were doing their best to earn a living and keep their heads down when there was incoming fire. That is the reality of a lot of corporate America. You go along to get along.

I’m glad Lewis Brisbois got busted. I share with you my personal experience there and my personal opinion. For what’s it’s worth.

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  1. Corporate America and it’s pursuit of the dollar above all else has injured and sickened itself, and now is injuring the country- and everyone in it.

    Society consists of much more than merely chasing personal enrichment.

    • Life is about more than the pursuit of profit. That’s a verity. And the sexism in this firm was incredible. The Martha person that I clashed swords with was an idiot and she worshipped the lawyers. They were Gods to her. That’s why she had that job. They loved being worshipped. And needless to say, those of us with intelligence used to watch this and roll our eyes and try not to throw up.

  2. Hilarious! Just hilarious, Ursula! If I’d a worked there, I would STILL be in jail for whatever I woulda ended up doing to those people. OR a hero. One of the two.

  3. I am a librarian. I worked for Brooklyn Public. The branch I was assigned to wss run NY a woman we called the Nazi Smurf of Gor. Imagine Papa Smurf if you painted and glued cotton balls to his head in a pageboy. They could only get people to go to.her branch if they were brand new hires or in training for branch management.
    We joked about taking out an ad in Scr*w Magazine for “Mistress Johanna,Specialist in Nazi Interrogation Scenes.”
    She kept her job because of circulation figures. They couldn’t fire her, so they sent her to a branch housed in the same building as the Business library. Brooklyn Public is world famous for its business and reference section. Companies pay for contracts. The same woman had run it for years and was not gonna put up.with the Nazi’s bs. They were trying to force her to retire. She was your Martha, except basically competent but so cruel to staff that she was becoming a liability.


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