Offensive Clients: How to Deal

Offensive Clients:  How to Deal When Your Client Suggests Your Bag Is Too Expensive | CorporetteHow do you deal with men at work making derisive comments about the expense of your bags, shoes, and clothes?  I’ve been thinking about this one ever since she sent it in. Reader O wonders…

After a recent exchange, I’ve been thinking about my preferred strategy for handling inappropriate/sexist comments from male colleagues/clients: making a joke that disarms the offender while sending a message about boundaries and respect. What are your thoughts on this strategy? Here’s my recent example:
Greeting the team pre-meeting, client looks at my shoulder and says “remind me when we’re done – I have a great Louis Vuitton story for you!! Don’t let me forget!!” Post-meeting (where per the usual I am the only woman in the room), client remembers & proceeds to tell this great “story” to me. And the team. “I’d never been in the store before and went to find a purse for my wife. I’m looking at this bag and can’t find the price anywhere, I finally find it – $2500! For a purse! I guess we know where those legal fees are going.” Another male team member seems particularly amused.
Me, looking at their wrists: “So, I see that you’re both wearing Rolexes. This is my Rolex.”

Like I said, I’ve been thinking about this since Reader O sent it in, and I can’t quite pin down my thoughts.  We’ve talked about sexist clients and sexist coworkers, but I’m not sure the advice there totally applies here.  Here’s what I know: I’m pissed on Reader O’s behalf.  But I’m also not sure she handled it well, considering this was a client.  More specifically:

- I squirmed a bit at the Rolex response from reader O.  After thought I haven’t come up with anything better, and looking back I think it was fine and even pretty clever for an off-the-cuff response.  Still, my gut reaction was, “that tone was far too defensive to use with a client.”  Reader O didn’t say how senior she is and whether this is HER client (or her boss’s client) — if it’s her relationship she can talk however she likes.  If this is NOT her client, though…  I’m not sure it was appropriate, particularly given that this guy could just be a bumbling idiot who didn’t intend any harm, and given that it’s always possible that O is misreading the culture at her office (and, for example, those were not $10K+ watches, but rather cheap imitations thereof).

- That said: I get angrier and angrier the more I think about this.  What was this guy (or your charming, bemused male coworker) implying — that you’re just Playing Lawyer until you can join the cast of the Real Housewives of ____? That you’re high maintenance? “Expensive”?

I’m kicking this one to the readers — what do you think, ladies?  What should Reader O have done in this particular circumstance? In general, do you have to take a “laugh it off” mentality with clients?  If this had been a male coworker (instead of a client), would your response be different?  Would anyone, based on this experience, ask to avoid working with this client (or drop him as a client)?

Pictured: Vintage Louis Vuitton Multi Monogram Speedy Bag, available at ShopBop for $2,950.

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Comments

  1. Anonymous :

    I understand that clients are generally treated differently (better) than other people you come in contact with at work. However, I think her reaction is warranted. For matters of work, I understand the “kid gloves” but at the same time, why should we hold adult clients to a lesser standard of etiquette and social norm than others? Perhaps it is because of our default “well – he’s the client” attitude that creates an environment where clients feel they can say whatever they wanted without consequences.

    I am proud of her comment. I think it was necessary. I don’t think it’s appropriate for clients to comment that legal fees (which are duly earned) are being “wasted” on personal effects when it is her money to spend as she wishes.

    • Senior Attorney :

      I agree. I think it was a perfectly fine response.

      Another response to “I guess we know where those legal fees are going,” might be to laugh and say “I guess we do!” and move on.

      • I was thinking that the laughing it off response might be more appropriate, too. The “I guess we do,” or maybe (said obviously jokingly) “And if you guys don’t shape up, I’ll be getting some shoes to match!” or something like that.

    • LeChouette :

      I think the comment really depends on tone…if you imagine this said in a light, obviously joking way it sounds a lot different than if it was said in a defensive tone of voice. Probably would have been better to have left the client out of it though…(i.e. a joke more like some guys like sportscars, I prefer handbags).

      although…also to be honest…I think obviously branded handbags are not the best choice for work.

    • Thinking in the cold hard light of day (night), its easy to think that she shouldn’t have replied as it was a client, but sometimes you need to assert yourself in order to gain some respect. I think it entirely depends on the personality of the client and whether they give more respect to women who stand up for themselves (some do, some don’t). You made a split-second judgement call (one I’d probably have done also) and I think you need to try and stop second-guessing whether it was correct (easier said than done, I know). His behaviour over the next couple of weeks will tell you how he’s reacted to your comment.

      I don’t have many external clients, its almost exclusively internal ones, but a couple of years ago I started dealing with a particular (internal) director who was notorious for his sexist/outrageous comments. I put up with it for several months, getting less and less respect from him each time we met until he came out with something that was too outrageous to let pass without retort. It wasn’t that I bit back, I took his head off (Godzilla would have been proud). I’d been learning what I could about him and what made him tick and I came to the realisation that if you showed any weakness he didn’t respect you. I took a calculated risk that it would help me get some respect.

      Once I started calling him out on his behaviour, not only did it get better, but he started treating me better too. He still came out with some outrageous things, but nothing as bad as he used to do. He did comment on my Mulberry bag, but I just replied it had been a gift (it had – but the person who gave it to me had just come back from a holiday in a certain country where these sort of things were ‘rather cheap’ and had purchased a few to give out as Christmas gifts) and that it cost a damn site less than the new car he was proudly boasting about. I also got fairly regular comments about being overpaid, but that comes with the job (finance). People assume you get paid more than you do (in my company most of the ‘technical’ folk get a d*mn site more than me but they still assume the finance team get huge salaries). I guess its the same (or more so) with Law.

  2. SO PROUD OF READER O FOR RAWRING BACK. IF CLIENTS CROSS THE LINE, KICK ‘EM BACK ACROSS.

  3. I agree with the poster above that Reader O responded appropriately. It was a gentle nudge, not a bludgeon, nor did she just get cowed and belittled, which was what the “glassbowl” client was trying to do. Letting your client roll over you doesn’t get the client to treat you with respect. Some glassbowl clients will purposely try this nonsense to “test your backbone.”

    And….yet another reason why it was sexist was singling out something most women own or buy (purses.) The client was clearly implying that the things women shop for (purses) are somehow ridiculous Marie Antoinette frivolities to be made fun of, and dismissed, but that the expensive trinkets (Rolexes) that men shop for are somehow serious and never even questioned.

    • hellskitchen :

      All this. Susedna said it much better than I did in my post below

    • Senior Attorney :

      See, I don’t think that implication was necessarily there, and even if it was, Reader O didn’t have to buy into it. My feeling is, if you’re gonna carry a Louis, then own it, be proud of it, don’t let anybody shame you for it, don’t buy into any “frivolous” nonsense.

    • TO Lawyer :

      I agree with this – I definitely think the implication is that women buy frivolous items and men buy serious things.

      So related question: how would you respond if you were receiving similar but consistent comments from a boss? I don’t want to point out my boss’ luxuries (he’s been practicing for 30 years and is entitled to it all!) but I’m also sick of him asking how much I spend on shoes or bags or him telling me he clearly pays me too much since my clothes are too nice.

      The men who wear nice suits or have fancy watches don’t get the same inquiries.

      • Oh man, that is HORRIBLE! Wow. I don’t have any immediate ideas for you but I’d have a hard time not popping him across the jaw.

      • +1 to Susedna.

        For TO Lawyer, I’d probably do the Caroline Hax-ish eyebrow raise followed by “Wow,” or an appears-to-be-genuine-confusion-y “Why would you ask that?” Because it’s none of your boss’s business. Also, saying he pays you too much because you wear nice clothes? GOD. WHY ARE PEOPLE LIKE THIS. RAGE.

      • Slightly annoyed :

        Sorry TO, I accidentally reported you instead of replying.

        I get this type of thing too a lot, but in perhaps a more obviously gendered way. I think the sassy retort said in a light and joking tone of voice is the way to go. It pushes back and refuses to let the commentary stand without being overtly aggressive. Also, it forces the person to realize at least a bit that it was an out-of-line comment, even if it was not intended as such.

        My boss is the king of back handed sexist/ageist compliments. (“Wow, I am surprised your staff likes you so much despite the fact that you’re still a little girl in the business”) In a crowded room, I will make a quip back but when alone I try to address at least one of these a meeting in a serious way. Any advice on how better to handle?

        • Slightly annoyed :

          Also, thank you for this thread and the note Kat!

        • Holy chit. I am sitting at a client site right now with a boss like this. She will take a swipe at anyone for not just things like this but everything – where you went to school, who your parents are, what you drive…the list is endless and the barbs are sharp.

      • TO Lawyer :

        Ya he claims he’s joking so I always try to deflect without seeming too confrontational because being on his good side is crucial. But it makes me ragey

        • Here’s a real-life example: I’ll fess up that I own a car by a fairly famous sports-car brand. But I drive 20 miles each way to and from work and I figure that if I’m going to spend so much time in my car, I’m going to like it. One time I had to drive one of my BigLaw firm’s managing partners to a meeting and he made a joking remark about how they must pay associates too much if I’m driving that car.

          I (in a lighthearted, joking way) told him that the car was the first one I had ever bought because I drove the car that I got when I was 16 until I was an associate. My nice car was paid off at the time and I told the partner that I intended to drive it until it died, which I hoped would be at least 10 years, and so I figured it was a good investment if I enjoyed driving it (I did and I do). The partner responded and said that was an excellent answer and we chatted about other topics after that. I later heard from someone else that the partner was impressed with how pragmatic I was.

          Moral of the story? Own it. But push back and inform your boss and maybe the teasing will stop.

        • For the ‘I pay you too much’ comments, I’d respond with ‘you pay me what I’m worth.’ Delivered with a smile, and in a light-hearted tone. It’s not aggressive, but it shuts down the whole line of inquiry.

          For asking how much stuff cost, can you just say you don’t remember? Obviously you probably do remember how much your big-ticket purchases cost, but it’s a white lie that’s hard to contradict.

          • I *really* like this answer — “You pay me what I’m worth.” Or you could up it with “You pay me nearly what I’m worth.”

            I have no problem at all lying to anyone rude enough to ask what something cost. Another possible answer: “Oh, it’s a hand-me-down [gift] [heirloom inherited from a dearly missed beloved relative], so I have no idea.”

          • One of my bossess has said this “we pay you too much” …. half-jokingly and not in relation to any stuff I own but in relation to me taking time off after some months with a lot of workload….

            My answer (of course in a joking tone): It’s because of people like you that capitalism gets a bad rap sometimes

      • I can relate to this as well. My (male, also practicing for 30 years and living a very “fancy” life) has commented before that I always dress very professionally and put together (which I have taken as a non-sexist compliment because his remarks were genuine and in an overall “you present well to the client” type of speech). But recently, DH and I bought a condo, and DH asked me what it cost! (Nevermind that I live in a city where this information is easily accessible in online public records, so he could look it up if he really wanted to). When I declined to answer, he proceeded to throw out numbers and guess. I obviously could not say I did not remember, but I did say I am not comfortable answering. Which I am sure he took to mean “higher than you are guessing.” It was a super uncomfortable conversation. Ugh.

  4. spring work travel :

    If this were my relationship to terminate, i’d have said just “nice rolex” and left it at that. Doubling down on the rude though, which is not what we need more of.

    I’d try lying: “no, that’s from my ex-husband.”. Not that I have one, but it turns the tables. Or, “maybe it’s from canal street.”. Just something, besides a weak smile, to move things along.

    • I agree with you that doubling down on the rude is not the answer.

      My first Louis holds a special place in my heart, I saved for it for 10 years out of every paycheck I had earned to that point. (From my first job at 16 to my first year end bonus as an attorney.) Of all the bags I carry, I get the most comments from men when carrying my LV monogram bag. It is instantly recognizable and well known as expensive. I always tell the story, but I don’t think it would be appropriate to lie about it.

      I think the man was trying to make conversation and his attempts failed miserably.

      • Medic Maggie :

        I’m not super sure about O’s response…I think I would have replied more along the lines of, “And what a lovely Rolex you’re wearing!” if I wanted to respond with snark, or “Yes, I love my bag. It is worth every penny, and I am sure your wife would appreciate one too.” for a more demure answer.

        Frankly, it’s no one’s business how much she makes, or where she gets it, or how she spends it. Maybe she’s working 8 other jobs so that she can buy these things for herself. Or maybe it was a gift.

        But you’re right–maybe the client was just terribly socially inept.

        • Sorry, I wasn’t paying attention and accidentally hit the Report button instead of reply. Doh!

          I think that a lot of times women do read too much into these types of conversations (I am also guilty). Many men just really struggle with what to say to women in a business setting, especially when their wives stay at home. So they go back to the things they know about your or can glean from your appearance, and think the woman cares about. Often times that is our outfit or our vehicle or our children. I’m sure he didn’t mean to offend and had no clue it was inappropriate in any way.

          That said, even if it’s unintentionally offensive, it’s still offensive! I think that she responded perfectly by making a point but not biting their heads off.

          • LawyerJane :

            I kind of agree with you, but at the same time, in this day and age, men shouldn’t be struggling with what to say to women in a business setting. There’s no good excuse for that anymore.

          • Women aren’t some foreign species. We’re people, just like men, and should be interacted with in the same way. If a man doesn’t know how to interact with a woman in a business setting (it’s the 21st century, this is truly no excuse but) he should look to how he interacts with men. If it’s inappropriate for a woman it’s inappropriate for a man too and vice versa.

    • I wouldn’t lie — I agree with other posters who say that you should Own It if you’re going to carry an obviously expensive or name brand bag. Plus I almost feel as though saying it was a gift or from Canal Street makes you…I don’t know, ashamed of it? Which you’re obviously not if you’re carrying an LV.

      I’m mostly just appalled at what passes for acceptable behavior in the workplace these days. I’m no Emily Post, but good grief WTF is wrong with people to be making comments like this?

      • Anonymous :

        Agree; lying and trying to diminish the value of your bag is not a good approach. It’s no different than if a client finds out you went to Yale Law–you wouldn’t say “must’ve been a slow admissions year!”–ok, yes, it is different, but I find that when you fall into the habit of discounting praise (“Thanks [for the compliment on my clearly-DVF dress]! I got it on sale!”), it’s a hard habit to break and you’ll discount your achievements as well.

        And, this varies quite a bit by person, but some people in the role of the complimenter would find that kind of discounting response offensive, like you think they just can’t handle that you could afford to spend $2000 on a bag, so you need to bring yourself down to their level by saying it’s a fake. I’m not at all saying this is what people intend when they give that kind of response, but just that there are some people who will take it that way (I’ve seen it a lot with kids who went to Harvard for college and instead of owning it, say they went to school “in the Boston area”–it’s silly but some listeners hear that as “you just can’t handle THA H BOMB”).

        • Funny. My DH went to West Point and frequently downplays that to “an engineering school on the Hudson.” It’s never been in the context of “you just can’t handle the WP bomb” but more that he doesn’t want to answer the half dozen silly questions that usually come next. More than anything, he’s trying to keep the conversational spot light off of himself.

          Which is totally ok in the “where you went to school” conversation type, but–to drag this analogy out way farther–an obviously expensive bag is like wearing a Harvard T-Shirt.

          • Elisabeth :

            Too funny. I know someone who went to both the Naval Academy and Harvard, and he uses BOTH of those lines (swapping “Severn” for “Hudson”).

            I second OHCFO’s assessment: he just wants to dodge the followup questions and assumptions.

      • Medic Maggie :

        I agree that “downplaying” by saying it is a gift is touchy territory, but if she beamed, and was so excited about it, it shouldn’t matter.

        “Oh, this!?? It was a gift, and I have loved every minute of it. If your wife is anything like me, she will appreciate it too.”

        The most expensive pair of shoes that I own was a gift from my hubs. When people ask me about them, I use it as an opportunity to gush on him.

    • Eek, I wouldn’t say it was from your husband/ex-husband etc. – that just seems to carry weird implications of being a wealthy kept woman.

      • I also wouldn’t claim that it was fake. That raises a whole host of other ethical issues.

        I think the OP’s response was fine. I probably would have just said, “So did you buy the purse?!”

        • It isn’t a claim that it is fake…………… it is a nice way of letting someone know this is not an acceptable comment.

          You ladies need to lighten up and be less sensitive. Enjoy some banter, it is a sign of acceptance.

          Since when is it ok to talk about money?!!! For negotiating a salary or purchasing something, but in casual conversation?

          • I agree that it’s not cool to talk about money, but implying you purchase counterfeit purses hardly seems like witty banter to me. There are probably better ways to make chit chat, no?

        • GirlArchitect :

          I agree that claiming it is a fake is inappropriate. A fake is copyright infringement and is against the law. Someone knowingly buying a fake is supporting a black-market. A lawyer (or I would argue anyone) buying a fake (nd admitting it tells me that they are willing to ignore the law for their own purposes. Fakes are all to normal in today’s world to ignore this issue but it’s not okay and it does not put you in the best light.

        • SFAttorney :

          I agree not to say it was fake. It just identifies you as someone who buys counterfeit and doesn’t respect intellectual property law.

  5. Senior Attorney :

    And also? In the anecdote as given, I don’t see anything particularly derisive about the comment, or any particular derogatory implication. On its face, it’s a guy being surprised that a designer bag was that expensive — that’s all.

    I might say something like “I know, right? Crazy!” And laugh and move on. The point is the comment is only derogatory if I choose to make it derogatory. My attitude would be “Yeah, I buy expensive purses. And yeah, they’re really expensive, as you’ve discovered. Next topic…”

    • Wildkitten :

      I think “I guess we know where those legal fees are going” is derisive.

    • I agree, this is how I would have handled it as well. A bit of “haha, yeah” and then move on. On a similar note, my husband and I are moving from the city to a nice suburb, and a client recently said to me, “Moving on up, George Jefferson style! I guess I know where my legal fees are going!” I just chuckled and said, “Yeah, we’re excited for the move,” and left it at that.

  6. I’m going to push back and disagree here. I don’t think she should have said anything. Unfortunately his status of being a client gives him a lot of leeway to be a jerk. Likewise anything that takes place in front of client should be with a “happy camper” or a polite face.

    It’s not fair, it’s not right but it’s the just the way it is. It’s business and the uplift of “boy you showed that jerk!” isn’t worth losing business.

    That being said yesterday the senior partner epically fired a client who was a real sexist jerk & made a pass at one of the senior associates & it was just awesome.

    • If clients have leeway to be jerks, then I don’t see how it’s awesome that a sexist client was fired.

      I agree with the above poster that this was most def a sexist dig and that the attorney handled it properly – by making a point without going too far. I do not think the client was only expressing surprise at the price, he was drawing a line between what he thinks is an acceptable way for a woman to spend money and what isn’t.

      • There’s a HUGE difference between making a sexual advance on an attorney and a misguided quip about how much a bag costs.

        Yes, there the bag comment was sexist. But if you jump on every single sexist thing someone says you will lose tons of clients- and probably your sanity as well.

        Granted, as everyone else has noted tone doesn’t come across and if she made it in jest but got her point across- great! Job well done. But she’s wading on dangerous territory.

        • YEAH BUT IT ALL BOILS DOWN TO A LACK OF RESPECT, AS SUSEDNA AND SILVER ALLUDE TO ABOVE.

          MEN ARE TOO COMFORTABLE AT BELITTLING WOMEN, INCLUDING SEXUALLY. THERE ARE WAYS OF CHALLENGING SEXISM BUT IT SHOULD BE CHALLENGED. ALWAYS. FOREVER.

          • Team GODZILLA.

            Especially following up the price of an accessory with a dig about fees. Nothing about that speaks to respect to me at all.

            I wonder if there were wearing bespoke suits and how much they cost?

        • I’m with Godzilla on this one. Sure, it’s objectively “worse” to make a sexual advance than to make a misguided quip about a bag, but they’re both fruit of the same tree, as it were. Also, hasn’t it been shown that a lot of rapists and otherwise certifiably Creepy Dudes tend to groom their victims by starting out with less objectively awful infractions, and then proceeding towards worse ones when those less-awful things go unchallenged? Not trying to say Reader O’s client is a rapist, but again, same tree of lacking respect for women and women’s choices.

          • re: emeralds comment – this seems a little extreme of a response. i think we should be really careful to say a comment like that is similar to what a rapist would say to ‘groom their victim.’

          • I agree that sexism should be challenged. But I’m pointing out the practical realities. I’d love to live in a world where everyone could just jump on every sexist comment with a fabulous shut down but if you choose to go that that route you have to be aware there’s a cost.

            In the case of firing a client for making a sexual advance on an associate, that affected her dignity and rose to the level that it needed to be addressed, and thus, was worth the literal price of said client’s future business.

            In the case of the handbag, (& again disclaimer- I don’t know the tone or the OP’s relationship dynamic with client) it is worth potentially shutting down a sexist comment and embarrassing the client if now going forward he doesn’t want to work with you? If you ignore it or redirect the conversation & now you are put in charge of the case- or whatever level of power you get to rise to in this situation. Is it worth jeopardizing future power? Are you more effective as “boy- she showed him! Good for her!” But doesn’t get to rise higher. Or now because you didn’t embarrass him or shut him down you are top dog on this case or whatever place of power working on this case gets you?

            If someone equal to me or someone I meet on the street says something sexist to me or acts sexist to me- you bet your sweet a$$ I’ll say something. But if a client says something annoying — not to the level that affects my dignity– then yeah I’ll make the sacrifice and I can deal with sexism more effectively when I’m CEO or named partner.

            Both instances are lack of respect but just know the reality & actions come with a price. These are the tradeoffs and choices I’m make. I will fight the good fight and I will do so in a place of power where I can affect more change. A brilliant professor, writer, and role model of mine was assigned to be the secretary by the chair of a board she was sitting on at a very top university- instead of wielding her tongue and pointing out the fact that they assigned her secretary bc she was the only woman in the room- she used her position as secretary to address the topics she wanted in the meetings and she created the agenda.

            [this is long – I almost typed sorry! but then I thought better of it b/c women apologize too much! :)]

          • SCOUT, IF EVERY SINGLE WOMAN CALLED OUT SEXISM, THEN CLIENT WOULD HAVE TO LEARN HOW TO TREAT EVERY WOMAN WITH EQUAL AMOUNTS OF RESPECT, NO? THERE SHOULD BE NO REWARD FOR LETTING THINGS SLIDE. WE ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE CHANGE WE WANT. IT’S WORTH THE PRICE FOR ME.

          • I respect you for being willing to pay that price & for your passionate defense of it.

            But not every woman is going to call out sexism. It’ll never happen.

            And is that necessarily going to change the jerk’s future actions? He is suddenly going to wake up and go- oh! I’m sexist, dang it I’ll change. She put me in my place with her comment?

            No stuff is going to change because there’s going to be a female president, because there’s going to be more female presidents of universities, because there’s more female CEOs. Because being a woman in power will be normalized.

          • I agree. My brother is really bad at respecting mine and my mother’s personal space and private possessions (will just pick up my phone from the table and start playing with it) and I worry that this is symptomatic of how he treats girls in general. Plus he apparently thinks feminism is anti-men sexism….

      • Bewitched :

        I think there is a huge difference between making a pass at a woman and making a comment about a handbag. Even if the comment is derisive. To begin, the first is sexual harrasment and possibly more if he touched her.

    • dailycorporettereader :

      I didn’t even know senior partners ever fired horrible sexist pig clients! This may restore my faith in humanity, lol.

  7. hellskitchen :

    Perfectly fine response. Kat, you can’t possibly tell her tone from that email. She may have very well said it with a smile or humor and it would not be inappropriate. There is no need for her to be deferential on this and it has nothing to do with how high up she is. I have seen male coworkers rib a client/board member about their sports team etc and even if there is a significant age difference, it does not come across as inappropriate. I think Reader O’s response is similar – witty and smart, without being inoffensive and inappropriate.

  8. Wildkitten :

    I think the response is perfect. The client is saying “Crazy women! They spend so much money on doo-dads!” And the attorney is saying “Actually, we have a lot in common. We both like expensive doo-dads.” Relationships are built on common ground like that.

  9. A slightly more subtle version of the jab would have been more appropriate. Something to the effect of what was already suggested, “we sure do!” and then a side swipe at your male coworker’s rolex to show that, duh, lawyers have nice things because they make a lot of money.

    We sure do! You’ve caught me, I love an expensive purse and Bob over here, well you try prying that Rolex off his wrist. Haha. Said with a light joking tone, it would bring attention to the fact that *client* also has the same nice watch, but without directly calling him out on it.

  10. I’m very sensitive to gender issues, particularly given then ridiculous environment I just left, but I really don’t see his comment as offensive. He didn’t say “little lady and her trivial pursuits.” He just expressed shock at the cost of a purse. I can imagine many many non-gender associated items I’ve been shocked at the cost. It’s simply something he had never bought but recently realized cost a lot. But it is rude to mention money and cost of luxuries. That’s the rub for me. And I probably would have laughed it off.

    • MissMerryMac :

      I wonder if she would have felt less offended if the guy had simply made a quick comment about the price of LV purses initially an then moved on. As she describes it, he noticed her purse, they had a meeting, and then he remembers this “story” that he just has to tell her. This was something important to him so I can see getting annoyed. I do wonder if it was a misguided attempt at connecting with her. I have met men who really thought that the best way to socialize with women was to talk about “women folk” topics like purses, shoes, makeup, chocolate, diets, and menstruation. He said this to me after we’d been part of an intense discussion of a TV show we both love. Aside from the last two, I’m fine talking to anyone about those topics but they’re really not necessary.

      I’m not sure how I would have responded because I would have been shushing the voice in my head that was saying, “You need to get out more if you think that’s a story, let alone a great story that I have to remind you to tell. That’s not a great story. It’s not even a story!*” That little voice is why I don’t drink in front of colleagues or clients.

      *The voice would basically sound like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vjf6NQtSYko

    • Could it possibly even be a complement? If he knows it is expensive and she has one it could be a weird atta boy?

  11. To me, the client seems to be a bit of a clueless guy trying to make a connection. I’m actually a bit impressed that he recognized the bag, and that he could put together the story! It’s likely I would have responded by saying something similar to “They are expensive, but it’s really lovely. Did your wife like the bag you bought for her?” He is either going to say yes, and then everything is equal, or no (and assuming the Rolex is real) be the guy who didn’t buy his wife the nice bag!

  12. advancing the joke :

    I’m not sure I could have come up with this on the spot, but I like the idea of saying, “This bag? I paid for this after [that huge takeover deal/I spent 10 weeks on trial in California]. I don’t charge you guys nearly enough to afford this!” While wearing a smile that shows you’re joking/teasing.

    The client’s comment is frustrating on two levels: (1) it seems to question how Reader O spends her money, but (2) it seems to devalue how the client is spending his money on her fees (“I guess we know where those [high] legal fees are going.”). The joke above makes light of the cost of the bag, while boosting the client’s ego, e.g., “You should see what I charge my other clients! For you, a special deal.”

    Assuming he’s awkward, which many people are, it dissipates any tension, allows him to be in on the joke, and doesn’t make any apologies. I think this response counts as “gracious.” You get to wear the adult hat, and retain the power, but everyone feels good at the end.

    One of the principles of group improv is that you must always advance the joke.

  13. Anne Shirley :

    To me, this is just a classic lawyer joke- ha ha you guys make so much money. It’s not a funny one, but I think a polite “well, save on some things splurge on others” with a smile would be more appropriate than a quip.

    • Yes, I agree completely. I probably would have come back with something about splurging and saving to the effect of “They are expensive. But my shoes and shirt are from Target/Old Navy.” But this mostly sounds like a failed attempt at a lawyer joke.

  14. Honestly, I find that these kinds of comments come more often from women, with the insinuation that you live a frivolous and extravagant lifestyle because you don’t have a family to feed. I am so fed up with women-on-women crime in the workplace!

  15. I had a similar conversation at work, but this was with a partner and it concerned my shoes. Entering my third year at the firm, I changed offices and was looking to work under a certain partner. I had let him know this multiple times, but due to his travel schedule and preference for certain other associates who had been in the office longer than me, I didn’t get much work from him. After a CLE that he lead where he spoke about some interesting cases that he was working on, I stopped into his office to again ask him for work under the guise of discussing the CLE. In the middle of our conversation, he stopped me, asked me if I was wearing Louboutins, joked about how his wife had/wanted a pair, then made a snide remark about paying the associates too much. I was speechless. Unlike Reader O, I didn’t respond. I didn’t know how to. Needless to say, I still haven’t gotten much work from this partner.
    (my reviews at work have always been very positive, so I don’t think that had anything to do with him not giving me work).
    The problem with this type of behavior is that it is based on the presumption that as women we’d want to discuss our shoes/handbags/clothing/looks in a professional/working environment. I was in this man’s office to ask him for work, not discuss footwear. Plain and simple. And, I doubt he’d ask my male equivalent about his Gucci loafers. Although it’s not as blatant as asking me to get coffee or answer his phones, it’s still sexist and it’s still wrong.

    • Anonattorney :

      So, one caveat – at least in my office, when male associates where recognizably expensive clothes, they do get similar comments from partners. It doesn’t mean the comments are okay, but I don’t think they are *always* gendered (although, of course, I would agree that they often are gendered). Sometimes they are just a tight-fisted boss who doesn’t like seeing their employees with money to spend on what the boss would consider frivolous items.

  16. I think I would have pointedly looked at his Rolex and said, “Well, lucky for you it looks like you can afford me.”

  17. Chewbacca :

    What about the obvious: “So, did you get her the bag?” Either he did or I’d think it would make a guy with a Rolex look a bit cheap. Either way, I don’t think it’s ever a good idea to give in to the urge to put people their place. Plus, it usually backfires.

    • Witness Protection Program :

      This kind of comment makes me glad we don’t work together. If someone–even a client–says something that’s hurtful to any of my colleagues, I will always have my colleague’s back.

      But I guess you just keep looking out for Number One and tolerating all manner of injustice around you.

      • Just how do you “have your colleague’s back”? I am not seeing “all manner of injustice” in the balance here.

        • Witness Protection Program :

          Then you’re not thinking very hard.

          “I don’t think it’s ever a good idea to give in to the urge to put people their place. Plus, it usually backfires” apologizes for and tolerates all manner of inappropriate and hurtful conduct. I really don’t want to surround myself with people who think and behave like that.

          • Um no- that’s extremism. You’re extrapolating pretty far to get that refusing to have a knee jerk reaction means that Chewbacca apologizes for and tolerates “ALL” manner of inappropriate and hurtful conduct.

    • Ah, that would have been a funny response.

  18. I’m sorry, but did anyone else see the irony here? This blog is all about professional women discussing fashion, even very expensive splurges. And, yet, here we are getting offended because a man mentioned an expensive accessory? Between this and the ridiculous “back in the good ol’ days” rants this weekend, I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re the source of a few jokes.

    • Eh, there are ways of mentioning expensive accessories without setting off the jerk alarm. For example:

      “Nice bag! I was just in an LV store finding a purse for my wife.”

      “Oh, my wife loves LV bags. I was surprised by how much they were, but I’m glad we can all afford the things that matter to us!”

    • I’m inclined to agree. There are things in this world to get offended about. This just isn’t really one of them. I’ll agree that it put her in an awkward, how-do-I-respond sort of spot and that it was sort of obnoxious, but I just can’t get offended about this. When I saw that the post was about obnoxious sexism, I expected it to involve commenting on her body or s3x life or something like that. Not an accessory.

      You have an expensive bag. People are going to notice that. Either get something less noticeable or just deal with it.

      • While I do think there’s some sexism here, I think that the more helpful discussion really ought to be polite ways of fielding the inevitable comments about how much money lawyers make. EVERYONE gets those comments and it’s really helpful to have a good response. Because today it’ll be about the bag; tomorrow it’ll be about airplane upgrades/hotel choices/cars/etc. (regardless of the attorney’s gender).

      • Anonymous :

        I completely disagree that someone who has an expensive bag just needs to “deal” with comments, because it implies that the comments are appropriate in the first place. It’s rude and completely unnecessary to make unsolicited comments on what someone else spends their money on, and just “dealing” with those comments condones and perpetuates them. I guess anyone with an iPhone must be subjected to “if you can afford that, you can afford rent/food/[insert anything else for which public assistance is provided]!”? To take it outside the money context, I guess a woman who chooses to dye her hair red should constantly be subjected to “WHOA! FIRECROTCH!” comments.

    • I disagree and since you brought up the weekend topic about the content of this blog: this is a work place dilemma that many of us face.

      This is the is what has been missing. The other personal topics, that have nothing remotely to do with careers or fashion, take up far too much space.

  19. Hmm, I’m not sure I agree that this comment is sexist, but perhaps that is because I have seen clients make similar “I guess that’s where the legal fees are going” comments about male attorneys’ luxury cars many times. I think that sort of teasing about obviously expensive items is pretty standard. Even if there is a double standard and such comments would not be made to men, this remark is really pretty tame as far as inappropriate/offensive remarks go. I agree with Kat that the OP’s response was not ideal if its not her client, particularly if she’s an associate. I really think this is the kind of thing you’re expected to laugh off at the associate level. I would never risk antagonizing a client (and the partner) over something this minor. Save that for when the client hits on you or says something really outrageous, and you really feel like you can’t continue having a productive working relationship without saying something.

    • Bewitched :

      Ditto, I have totally seen the same comment made multiple times with regard to male associate’s cars. I think the client is always looking to throw a punch when it comes to legal fees. It’s just another lawyer joke, as noted above. No offense to our doctor colleagues, but sometimes in these situations, I throw the medical profession under the bus! “Yes, I love it, I saved forever to buy it. Now, my friend the dermatologist, she seems to get a new luxury bag every week!”. Of course, YMMV, and I certainly do appreciate that not all physicians make the big bucks, but since client is way over generalizing, sometimes I head down the same path too….

    • Amelia Bedelia :

      agreed. I’ve received similar comments for where I ate dinner and have heard them for cars that some partners drive. I think it’s just poor attempt at humour from the client, and possible trying to connect with a woman and show he knows what kind of purse it is.

    • This was my exact thought! I could see this being said about male attorneys’ nice cars. I probably would have laughed and said, “I know, right? We should all be investing in LV/luxury goods!”

    • Anonattorney :

      Yep.

  20. I don’t find Reader O’s comment to be inappropriate at all. IMO, it’s a straight “apples to apples” comparison and she called out the commentary in a way that was appropriate to the situation.

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