What To Do When You Make More Than Your Colleague (And He Knows It)

Old Coins, originally uploaded to Flickr by underactive.Reader G wonders how to deal with a coworker who has become angry and nasty after discovering a salary difference…

After months of looking for a job and interviews, I finally found another job as an attorney at a small firm. Previously I had worked in another small law firm where I gained substantial litigation experience. On my first day at the new firm I learned that the firm had hired another associate who graduated the same year as myself. I learned that this associate had less substantive experience than me, was making less than me (he asked for less during interviews) and his billing requirement is less than mine. Once he learned that I made more, billed more and was treated as a more “senior” attorney this associate began making disparaging statements to me, where on several occasions the associate has mentioned that it is ridiculous that I am making more than him etc and the firm’s decision makes no sense. This associate also attempts to undermine my opinion and knowledge in every chance he gets. It has become very unpleasant and he reminds me of the super-competitive people in law school who just did not know how to have a normal conversation. Every time I try to work with him on a project, he uses it as a way to tell me that he is smarter and more knowledgeable than me.

I know I should not let his issues bother me, and I am very confident in my work. However I think I need to address this with him somehow. Do you have any advice on what to say to him exactly? I don’t want to create a hostile environment since this is a small firm, but I cannot let this continue any further.

I’m afraid you’ve discovered one of the cardinal rules of life:  DO NOT TALK ABOUT MONEY.  True, some firms are lockstep, and there is a sort of freedom when everyone knows what everyone’s making.  But every other job in the world?  Make like The Go-Go’s and keep your lips sealed. (Pictured above: Old Coins, originally uploaded to Flickr by underactive.)

Now that the cat’s out of the bag, though, I think you’ve got a few options.

1) Distance yourself / lay low until this blows over.  Avoid working with him where you can, avoid talking to him at coffee breaks, et cetera.  Be friendly, but stay away as much as possible.

2) Pick your battles — and know how to fight them.  For example:  if you have to work with him and he makes repeatedly snide comments to you (and only you), just let those go.  Maybe arch an eyebrow or give him a pained expression, but for the most part, let him boast all he wants to in private.  On the other hand, if he questions your work product in front of your boss or client, you need to shut him down very quickly — and the best way to do that is by knowing your work product inside and out so you can defend it adequately (and, if this makes sense, as casually as possible:  defend your work without getting defensive). Ultimately, he looks bad in doing this, and you want to make sure that you correct any misconception he might create while also staying “above it” — the last thing you want to do is look like two squabbling children.  I would also suggest you keep your guard raised.  For example, if you’re both working on the same project, make sure that you’re CC:ed on everything and invited to every meeting he is.

3) Talk to HR or your boss. Let them know why the working relationship is strained, and ask them for advice on how you should handle the situation.

4) Talk to him.  This guy does not sound like the kind who can be reasoned with, but if you want to try:  put yourself in his shoes.  How would you feel?  What would dull your anger?  Whether it’s looking for a new job, asking for more money at review time, or just enjoying the smaller billable hour requirement, perhaps you can give him helpful suggestions or at least some sympathy.

Readers, how have you handled awkward work situations like this — particularly when a salary disparity has been discovered?


  1. That sounds icky.
    I wonder how he found this out? Did you tell him without thinking about it? Was he snooping? He someone from HR let it slip? It’s hard to solve now, but I would want to know how he found out so I could make sure nothing like this happens again.

    • anon for this :

      IME there is less confidentiality about these things at small law firms unfortunately. I actually sincerely doubt G told this person her salary and, more likely, someone else told him or he availed himself to the information by knowing where to look for it.

  2. Ugh, how awful. People who talk about money are so gauche. I’m sorry you have to deal with this.

    • On the one hand, I know what you mean by “gauche” in this context and totally agree. On the other hand, labeling talking about money as “gauche” is a way for people who have money (and hence don’t have to talk about it) to distinguish themselves from people who don’t have money (and hence have to spend a lot of time worrying/talking about it, and trying to figure out stuff that people who have money tend to know already). For instance, it being “gauche” to talk about money is a great way to keep women working a given job from realizing they’re paid less than men doing the same job.

      (I don’t mean this as any kind of personal comment on you, Rawr; it’s just a thing I feel strongly about.)

      • Thank you for articulating exactly what I thought when I read that comment!

      • And…you should definitely be talking about money with your spouse. And your kids, to an extent, so they can learn to deal with money.

        Agree that its gauche in the OP’s context.

      • Didn’t take it personally at all. I grew up in a family where we didn’t discuss money, and now that I’m on my own figuring it all out, I wish we had. I would feel comfortable discussing these things with close friends, my fiance, etc., but definitely not in this situation. Here though, I don’t think it’s about oppressing people or paying them less, I think it’s more about this guy being a jerk.

    • My salary is online, courtesy of Governor Rick Scott. And, yes, that decision caused problems in Florida state agencies.

  3. anonymous :

    i echo everything Kat says. cover your butt, but in general, take the high road and just be the professional, mature, responsible adult that you are being paid (more money) to be.

    and yeah, find out how that info is getting around in the first place. weird.

  4. Apologies for early threadjack.

    At what age did your friends start pairing up? I am 22 (in 1L, hence the name) and it seems like everyone around me is drinking the relationship Kool Aid. It’s frustrating because sometimes I feel unincluded/uninvited to dinner parties, etc. that just end up being for couples. I’ve just started law school, and it’s also frustrating to try to make friends with people who really don’t need to confide in you because they have their S/O. Am I being paranoid, or is this a welcome wake-up call to the typical saga of the young, single woman?

    • I’m 23, and two weekends ago I had at least 10 friends or acquaintances announce marriages or engagements on Facebook. So, as someone who is also living a Kool Aid-free lifestyle at the moment, I feel your pain.

      With that said, I have many good friends (including my best friend) who are in Long-Term, Serious Business, Headed for the Altar, relationships, but that has not unduly impacted our friendships. Others have dropped off the face of the earth, but eh, if that’s the kind of person they are, I don’t want to go to their dinner parties anyway.

      There are also plenty of us single folk out there, I just don’t think we tend to run around waving “I’m single! I’m single!” banners the way some people advertise their relationships. It’s also okay to be the only single person in a room full of couples, I am increasingly realizing. It always ends up being less awkward than I thought it would be.

    • MissJackson :

      I’m guessing that many of lot of your classmates are older than you. At that age, even a few years make a big difference.

      People pair up at different times. I have friends who paired up in college, and friends who are still single at 30. At about 28 I felt the big shift where more of my college friends are now married than single. But it’s really different for everyone.

      It’s easier for single people to be very close friends with other single people, and the same can be said for couples — you tend to have similar priorities (going out and meeting new people/dating vs. couples activities). You cannot actually be the only single girl at your school/in your town. It sounds like you just have to go find them. Or go on some dates and see if you can get you + your date invited to some dinner parties if you prefer. If you’re feeling really left out, you could always express this to the hosts of these events (“I know this is sort of a couples thing and I’m not a couple, but I love the idea of a dinner party and I feel kind of left out. Would I be a fifth wheel if I came along next time?”) You’re probably not getting invited because the host(s) think you’d feel awkward, so if you take the initiative and ask to come, I’m sure they’d be happy to have you.

      (Sidenote: I assume that you don’t call it “the relationship Kool Aid” in front of these people, right? Or make other comments suggesting that being in a relationship is inferior/lame? Because that would certainly make me uninvite you to my dinner parties.)

    • 1L, I think someone mentioned this in the morning thread, but (I think) this is a very region specific thing. For example, when I was 22, none of my friends were married and very few were engaged. Now at 28, its about 75-25 (married/engaged vs. single).

      Try making new friends. Join activities that aren’t “couply”, like a sport or something. Try on-line dating. And welcome the fact that while your friends are doing all their couple things, you can study more and smoke them on finals. :-)

      As a side note, I think you need to also make peace with the fact that you may not make the same kinds of friends in law school you made in college. People in law school tend to treat school a bit more like a job and less like a life-changing, all-encompassing experience. The friends I made in law school tended to be more like work friends — people I’d go out with occasionally and with whom I’d talk about life and work and such, but not the soul-mate type friends I made in college.

      Also, at 22, you are way to young to worry about whether you’re ever going to settle down or if this is a “wake-up” call time. Have fun and meet people and you’ll meet the right person eventually. Get back to us in a decade if you’re still single (and if all these married people are still married, but that’s neither here nor there).

      • You’re absolutely right re: treating law school like a job, and how that differs from, say, college/undergraduate education. Maybe the expectations I have are shaped by the latter, while I haven’t realized that I’m experiencing something completely different in the former. That could also be part of it.

        • I think it’s really hard to make any conclusions about a law school after less than one semester. My law school was definitely more like undergrad in terms of making close friends. It wasn’t in an urban hotspot, and most people who came to the school came for the school itself as opposed to the location. Most of the activities there involved classmates. That said, I was miserable my first semester because I found it hard to make friends, but now I think I have several friends I will probably keep for life.

          • In my experience, those who worked between undergrad / law school treated law school like a job. Those who went straight through from undergrad treated it a lot like undergrad. For the record, I went straight through, and I loved law school. Great friends and great times.

        • My law school was also very social but it took a while to become close to people. My closest friends from law school are not from 1L year.

      • That was me, with the region-specific comment. In the Boston area, people don’t get married so young. I went to very few weddings in my 20’s. Around here, most people get married in their 30’s.

        • You alwasys stuff stuff specific to Boston that I disagree with (gifts at weddings, people getting married later). I’m in Boston and went to college out of state. All of my Boston friends were the first to get married around 24/25/26 and most of my college friends were in the early 30’s range.

          • I only lived in Boston for 2 years, so I could be 1500% off base here. But my observation was that people who were born-and-bred Bostonians (or in nearby areas) tended to stick together and have XYZ sets of norms, whereas people who had moved to Boston in their 20s/30s either for school/work/etc. tended to stick together and go by a somewhat different set of norms. I’m told (by people who lived in both places) that the same is true for Minneapolis. Maybe it’s true for many cities, but certain towns (SF, NYC, LA) have such high numbers of transplants that the difference is less obvious.

            ?? Food for thought.

          • I agree with lower-case anon that some of it is almost certainly that people who stay in the place they grew up are more likely to get married earlier while people who move for college or after are more likely to get married later. I think if you stay in your same social group and don’t move, you are more likely to pair up earlier. Most, if not all of my friends, feel their high school friends got married earlier than their college friends, and I’m convinced that has something to do with going away to school.

            Also — it is also very possible that this is a cultural thing within the region. It is definitely true that certain ethnic groups and religious groups in the Boston area tend to trend towards earlier marriage then other groups in the Boston area (and, presumably, the whole country).

            All that said, it is statistically true that people in New England and other urban areas get married later in life than in other regions.

    • Many of my friends met their partners when they were 25 and started getting engaged around 28. Many friends are still single and in their early 30s. 22 seems young to find a life partner.

      Although I have a partner, I definitely need my girlfriends to confide in. I don’t see that ever stopping.

      Also – as to dinner parties, can you try to host your own party and invite friends so you get included in the group? Many couples are too boring to realize that having an odd number at a dinner party always makes for more lively conversation because people are bouncing around. Make sure if you host a party not to sit couples next to one another and you’ll have a great time!

    • Are we talking “practically engaged” type relationships here, or just couples that are together more than a month or two? The first started among my friends when they got to their late 20’s, the first probably as soon as we got out of highschool.

      Although, as an often-single woman, I completely understand feeling like you’re the only one not in a relationship, I’m getting a sense that you’re a bit defensive/territorial in your dislike of relationships. I’m not saying you secretly want a boyfriend/girlfriend, just that maybe you have to accept that this is how friendships go once you leave school. Your friends will have other friends or significant others and whole friend groups that aren’t shared with you, and sometimes they’ll share secrets with those people that they won’t with you, or they’ll consider their SO more important to their life than you. And sometimes they’ll share things with you that they won’t with their other friends or their SO.

      So are these parties really “just for couples” or are you uncomfortable because it’s full of couples? There’s a pretty big difference. Maybe you just have to learn how to be friends with couples, which is a bit different than being friends with a bunch of single people.

      • I agree with the suggestion to learn to be friend with couples. I also do think, however, that there are some couples that are unable to hang out without each other or make others feel uncomfortable when hanging out with them. I am often the 3rd, 5th, etc, wheel when I go out with groups of friends. It used to bother me, but now, eh, I don’t care. Hanging out with a couple is just like hanging out with two friends. It was a realization that was very hard for me when I was 22.

        I was really miserable my entire first year of law school and was convinced I had no friends, and that everyone else was having a happy, happy time without me. I found this not to be true, and now I have a small group of girl friends from law school with whom I am as close, if not closer, than the girlfriends I had in college. Our “closeness” is different from what you may be used to from college. I know I am not as important as their SO/husband/kids, sometimes they cancel on me, and often times we can’t get everyone together at one time, but it’s okay. It is a part of growing up that is difficult to acknowledge.

        • “I know I am not as important as their SO/husband/kids, sometimes they cancel on me, and often times we can’t get everyone together at one time, but it’s okay. It is a part of growing up that is difficult to acknowledge.”

          I think that this is exactly what I am having trouble dealing with. It sounds kind of petty and insignificant when you put it that way, like I just have to suck it up, haha. =/ I guess I’ll just have to learn to deal with it, but that’s why I’d thought I’d ask the hive for some advice.

          • No, its not petty and insignificant. I’m sorry if it sounded that way. It was really, really tough. Honestly, I stopped being friends with some people who were always “coupled” because they couldn’t not bring their SO/partner everywhere. I made new friends, some were coupled, some weren’t, some with kids (!!). It’s about the person you are friends with, and not their relationship status, that will determine whether they make you feel comfortable in their and their better half’s presence or not. Also, maybe its something you can work on, too.

        • I agree, before law school I had mainly mail friends… after law school I had/have a very tight knit group of girlfriends. I’m not saying that sometimes they don’t annoy the heck out of me– but I feel like we are more on the same level than I am with my pre-law school friends.
          I felt like the younger people (me) in law school became more tight knit than the people who started older… and there was definitely a lot of friend shifting from this point in 1L yr to about March– then it got very stable. My motto is, relationships should be easy and there are so many people to make friends with that if someone isn’t treating you the way you want to be treated, you should move on (for friends & boyfriends ;-p).
          Also agree w/ the treat hanging out w/ a couple thing as hanging out w/ 2 friends– it is probably how the couple sees it as well.

          • *male, not mail– although I do love Amazon ;-p
            *also excuse all other typos!

      • No, we’re talking practically engaged. I’m 22 and have about 5 close friends that have been dating people for 4 years, etc.

    • Just wait until two years after law school.

    • I responded to your question the previous thread… mostly to say that waiting is worth it, and being 20-something & single can be awesome.

    • I am 30 now, and I have exactly two single friends. It also becomes a lot harder to make new single friends as you become older, as most people have established groups of friends and many of those people are in couples. Certainly my social life has changed a lot in that people I used to see all the time, I see less of now, as they are busy with their relationships or insist on bringing their boyfriends/husbands along every single time. Occasionally is fine, but when you can’t get any girly time in because, heaven forbid, he may float away if you aren’t surgically attached to them, then it starts to get old.

      This is not to say all people in relationships are like this and I have some friends who definitely aren’t, but those friends who are like that, our friendships have definitely changed.

    • I think it’s less about coupled v. single and more about the personalities of the people you’re befriending. For example, I’ve been in a serious relationship for almost 8 years, but I’m not what I call a “Boyfriend Girl.” What I mean by this is that although my partner and I live together and spend a lot of time together, we have very different interests and spend plenty of time apart too. Even if we do go to the same party, we could easily spend the entire night talking to different people. There are definitely coupled-up people out there who don’t feel the need to do everything together, and those will probably be the ones with whom you feel more comfortable.

      There’s one other important thing you didn’t mention: if you relocated for law school but a lot of other students are from the area, they may already be kind of settled in their social circles, or may have stayed local to stay close to partners. That may be a factor in what you’re experiencing – that you are in a new place ready for adventure and they are simply having one new experience (law school) in an already familiar world. I also agree with the comment that the age of these people plays a big role too.

    • FWIW (this may not be any consolation), I’m married (and have been for ages – I’m old) and I have absolutely the opposite problem (or maybe it’s not opposite, just related?) – I’ve moved a lot since college and I have a hard time finding women friends to hang out with. My husband’s great, and my best friend, really, but I wish I had girlfriends I could just hang out with, go shopping with, that kind of thing. (I just think it gets harder and harder to make new friends as you get older.) So keep in mind that your coupled friends might actually really really like to find someone who’s *not* their S/O to talk to.

      (Also, the first semester of law school is just stressful and unreal.)

    • I bet it’s a response to the ridiculous stress of being in a professional program. People do weird-ass things when they’re stressed out, like getting married or becoming attached as a distraction. This happened to many of my friends when we started our PhD programs. I do not think it will get better, you might just have to adjust your idea of who you can hang out with and in what capacity.

      On another note, it might be very dependent on where you live. In Buffalo, NY, which is deep into the small-town mentality (no offense to the minority of you for whom this does not apply), both of my sisters “couldn’t wait” to get married, and they did so in their early 20s. People in certain areas of the country or in certain demographic groups do not value the benefit of waiting to get married until both people are mature adults. They both got separated/divorced within a year or two. I waited until the supposedly unreasonable age of 28 to get married, and we’re not having any problems. I realize that this is N=3, but their problems (and our lack of) were all related to personal maturity. In this way, people might mature over the next year or so, and you’ll have an easier time with some of them.

  5. There is a whole world of single men and women out there. consider ditching your uninclusive couple friends and broaden your social circle with your fellow signeltons,

    • I think there’s a benefit to having a diverse group of friends that includes singletons and couples. There are plenty of couples out there who aren’t glued at the hip, and I find it relaxing to have friends who aren’t really interested in talking about dating and other single issues. The people who stop being your friend when they become part of a couple really weren’t that great friends to start with. A true friend will remain friends regardless of marital/dating status, even though the time available will probably be more limited.

  6. Bursting out :

    PSA for preggies: A Pea in the Pod is on Gilt today.

    I don’t love their styles or prices, but there are some decent work pants & skirts in today’s sale.

  7. I have to admit, I wish more people talked about money and their salaries. Obviously, it can raise issues like this, but I think a fair amount of gender discrimination would be rooted out if employers couldn’t hide behind their employees’ self-imposed silence about what they make. A friend of mine found out on her last day of work that, despite having years more experience than her male predecessor, she had made about 10K less per year than he did for three or four straight years.

    • I tend to agree. I share information with a select group of associates who are either a few years ahead of me or a few years behind me in terms of seniority. The information we share has been invaluable in knowing when to ask for raises/promotions. If these ladies (and yes, they are all ladies) didn’t dish – I wouldn’t know what I was entitled to!

      And I have learned that my employer tends to give raises to men without them having to ask. I don’t know why, but it is what it is. Since I know when I have to ask, I’ve managed to avoid making less than my male colleagues. But ONLY because I knew to ask.

      • Agree. I don’t think it’s gauche to talk about money, so long as you aren’t advertising your salary or bringing it up with people you barely know. With people you trust, though, it’s the only way to know if your compensati0n is in line with everyone else’s. Particularly in a non-lockstep firm, it is key.

    • I agree – I’ve always liked the idea of comparing myself to others and seeing whether I could improve, and if so, how.

    • Totally agree.

    • AnonInfinity :

      I so agree with you, and being in your friend’s position is one of my biggest fears. The lack of transparency has me resigned that there is nothing I can do besides advocate for myself.

    • Agreed!

    • LinLondon :

      I agree. My company is actually very female-dominated and I had to be the inadvertent bearer of bad news to a colleague who has the same job as me, has been at the company longer than I have, and was making less than me. I felt a bit guilty, but then I thought to myself “Hey, I bargained for a higher salary, I work my butt off and he does, too, so he needs to grab the bull by the horns and get paid what he deserves.”

    • I agree with this. I have a feeling that another (male – what a surprise) lawyer at my firm, in my class year, earns more than I do…even though I bill about 40 to 60 hours more a month than he does. But I can’t prove it, so I’m stuck.

    • Agree. I don’t mind discussing my salary / benefits with friends. They’re all lawyers anyway, and the information exchange can be really helpful.

    • SF Bay Associate :

      I agree. One of the unanticipated benefits of working for a big firm is that my colleagues and my friends at other big firms all know each other’s salaries and general bonus range, and we can talk about it. There’s much less possibility of pay disparity. If someone’s bonus is a lot more than mine, they probably worked 100+ hours more than me, and at that point, I think their bonus should be more than mine. A friend of mine just got a fat mid-year bonus because he’s been killing himself on a case this year. Because we all know what we are making, he was able to share his good news, and just how good his news was, with his friends, and we got to be really excited for him. The ability to be honest really takes some of the drama out of the office.

    • MeliaraofTlanth :

      Agree. There’s only one other associate my class year at my firm, who started about the same time I did, and I flat out asked them what they made because when they hired me, they told me they were offering me the rate for my class year, and I did wonder if that was true (they are paying us the same). Associate and I have now decided we both need to ask for raises come our one-year mark. It’s nice to know one of us is not getting screwed.

    • Yep. I was a supervisor in a government agency. A male attorney who started a few years after I did and who was not a supervisor was in my office complaining about his salary. He let slip what he made which was a good 5K more than me. By the end of the day, I had a nice raise.

    • Jumping on the agree bandwagon here. All of my jobs have been in government or campaigns where my pay was made public by law – but so was everyone else’s. It doesn’t necessarily mean everyone gets paid fairly, but it does at least mean you have a better shot at it. I’ve absolutely used the quarterly or annual publication of salaries to negotiate significant pay-raises for myself.
      The only drawback is when you are jumping to a new employer and trying to dodge the salary requirement question. If they want to know what you made at your old job, they can just look it up.

  8. I wonder if a passionless, but pointed, response that puts him in his place would work, i.e., “Yes, we’ve established that I make more money then you. Can we move on, please?” Possibly repeated, word for word, any and every time.

    I can’t believe someone would actually, explicitely, bring this up to anyone but a supervisor in a review. Amazing.

    • Excellent response.

    • I have to agree with this. I could never just sit there and arch an eyebrow at him or give him sympathy. He needs to get over himself. If he has an issue with his compensation, then he can take it up directly with the powers that be. You negotiated for your salary, you think your salary is fair. His salary is not your problem.

    • I like that. I would add, “You’re complaining to the wrong person, champ.”

      • HA! I love saying Champ.

        • If you appreciate “champ” and have six minutes of your life to kill, listen to Dane Cook’s “Chicken Sangwich” skit. Not posting a link because it is NSFW…and makes me snicker out loud, which is also generally NSFW because my work isn’t usually that funny.

  9. I wish it wasn’t considered so taboo to talk about money, and I cynically wonder if that’s an idea thought up by those who determine salaries, not those who get them. Both times I have found out what several of my coworkers make, it’s been very illuminating and useful. The first time was how myself and my coworkers realized our wages were influenced by the number of dependents we had, and the second time allowed me to ask for a raise to get a more fair wage.

    • I think that is why websites like glassdoor.com can be so useful– when they are updated… just wish they had MORE info!

  10. Buy Him A Ruler :

    Buy him a ruler.

  11. Hmm. In this situation, I wouldn’t give him any other reason to be mad at you. I’d kill him with kindness to the point where he’d feel stupid for acting the way he does.

    • I tried that. It ended in my work enemy telling everybody that I am sucking up to her because I know she is better than me and I didn’t want anyone to find out.

      • Honestly, if someone’s talking about you behind your back, they’re the person wasting energy and time on you. It’s not your problem. It took me a while to learn this, but it’s really true. Chances are that other people will be able to see you for what you are, and himself for what he is, and be able to judge the situation for themselves, if they care enough to do so. I wouldn’t worry about it.

    • Who cares? Kill everyone with kindness. If they think you’re doing it for some weird reason other than just being nice, that’s their problem, not yours. And you shouldn’t stop being kind because of it.

  12. momentsofabsurdity :

    I have found that the cool stare (or sometimes, the wide eyed and shocked stare, depending on the recipient) works well when it comes to snarky comments of any kind. Just stare for a few seconds and go, “Why would you say something like that? Okay, now moving on to our X project.”

    Since there really ISN’T any justification for what he’s saying, he probably won’t throw a tantrum to you and this will probably make him feel uncomfortable, especially if there are other people around.

    • Yes I like this advice. I don’t think you want to be in the position of defending your work to him because, after all, you’re more senior than him.

  13. Threadjack: I am in biglaw. Work has been really, really, really slow for me for the past few months (although I am a relatively new hire). Billables for Oct were 70, Nov were 110. I have emailed our assigning partner twice this week to notify her that I could stand to take on a few new matters. She did pass on two small things to me earlier this week, but I finished them both. I am currently on track to bill 0.3 hours today. What is my next step? Do I just keep on notifying the assigning partner? I’m not sure whether work is slow for everyone, and I’m not sure how long I stay on the partner’s radar. FWIW, she noticed last month that my hours were pretty low (after she asked me to input all my hours, and I told her I already had).

    • MissJackson :

      How new is “relatively new”? Can you talk to others in your practice area to find out whether they are also really slow — and how long it took them to get a full work load?

      This varies a lot by firm, I think, so best to get someone on the inside to talk to if you can.

    • Anonforthis :

      You sound like me a year ago. My first few months were very slow and its a very common. You need to start NOW going beyond the assigning partner to build relationships with other partners in the office directly. Offer to do some non-billable work for them now. Write an article or a client alert for them. But then come back and ask for billable work. Be frank with partners you trust that you’re slow.

      Also, if this is a big big-law firm with multiple offices, I suggest reaching out to partners in other offices who do the type of work you are interested in. Present it as “I’m interested in this, will you talk to me about the practice here in the firm?” If that goes well, they very well may offer you work on the spot or soon after.

      P.S. There are going to be people who tell you not to worry about this since you’re new. But that is what I was told repeatedly by everyone at my firm and after 9 months I was laid off. You need to be your own advocate. I know there’s a taboo about talking about hours, but you should find people you trust and talk to them about it, so you can get a general sense in the office for how the rest of the associates are dealing.

      • It may help to actually stop by her office in person rather than just sending another email. Tell her your concerns.

        • Anonforthis :

          Agreed, you should always do things in person (its harder to say no in person). Also, if you try to connect to attorneys in another office, use the phone! Again, personal contact has a more lasting impression.

    • Do you have to ask your assigning partner for work, or can you reach out to other partners? If so – do that, post haste. At this point, even if you’re supposed to only talk to your assigning partner, I’d still casually mention to any partner that you talk to that you have some time to help out on any projects that they might have.

      It also may be two things. First, work ALWAYS dries up this time of year for attorneys. Especially if your work has anything to do with government agencies. No one wants to work right now and people procrastinate like crazy. Second, does your fiscal year end in December? If so, the more senior associates are likely hoarding their work in an effort to make their hours. It sucks, but that’s life as a young associate. If there really is no work to be had, start asking around if people need help writing articles, read some treatises on your practice area, basically just do anything that might increase your value to the firm while you’re not billing.

    • Do you have to go through this “assigning partner”? Because my advice would be to start banging down doors. Solicit work from other people, including any senior associates who may have stuff to pass off on you. If work is slow for everyone, it’s going to be important that people know you at least tried to get work versus sitting in your office like a bump on a log waiting for it to come to you.

    • Agree with everyone else, but also want to add if you’re not doing this already that you should pick up a pro bono assignment, knock out some mcle credits, and put in some “contribution” hours (e.g. write a law review article or give a presentation).

  14. I work in a small firm also so I’m guessing there is no real HR person, just a boss whose roll it is. Personally this is what I would do. Every time he directly brings up the pay difference simply state you aren’t the person he should complain to, and if he has a problem with it, he should bring it up with your boss and that you aren’t interested in hearing about it. If he kept up at it I might even throw a small dig in, like “I see you don’t care about this enough to bring it up with the boss, so please don’t bring it up with me.”

    Also right now I’d be figuring out which partner has the most clout/the best you get along with. Align yourself with this person. Bend over backwards for them. Get them to have your back. Its important in a small office to be friends with the right people.

    Lastly, if he is trying to screw you over, document what you can. And definitely follow the CCing advice.

  15. I don’t see this as a “salary disparity” at all — he has a lower billable hours requirement and less substantive experience than Reader G. He is getting paid less based on those two very established reasons for getting paid less. I like Lyssa’s suggested response, and I’d consider adding to that something about the point above — “Yes, we’ve established that I make more money than you do. You have a lower billable hours requirement. Nothing unusual here. Can we now move on?”

    • Thanks, Amy. While I agree that that might work (particularly if he’s doing this in front of other people), I would be worried that that just opens the door for more debate about it. He might say that the billable requirement is not that much lower, or that there are some other factors, or whatever, then she’s got to come back on that, and blah, blah, blah.

      • Good point. One would definitely want to cut off all further debate!
        I also like the idea someone else had above of pointing out he’s complaining to the wrong person. “Hey, I didn’t negotiate your salary.”

  16. found a peanut :

    What’s odd is that he’s taking this out on you – who had nothing to do with this disparity – rather than the people who actually made this determination and are actually paying him less. Maybe you should remind him of this. Next time he makes a snide comment in private re: how you are paid more, just shrug your shoulders and say, Hey, I don’t make the rules. Take it up with management.

    What stinks about this situation is that employees should be encouraged to discuss comp with one another – keeping quiet allows management to underpay people and knowledge is power, etc. Guys like your coworker are ruining it for the people who want to freely share this information.

  17. I had this probelem with Alan, when we went out. He is an accountent, and even tho he has a CPA, he did NOT make alot of money for the governement. Me, however, have a JD, and I work in the private secter, where the pay is alot better.

    So when I told Alan what I made (after taxes), it was alot more then he did EVEN BEFORE taxes, and I pay alot of taxes.

    As a result, Alan was very jelous of me, b/c he said he knew alot more about alot of things then I did, and that I only provide him with sexual energy, not intelectual companonship. FOOEY ON THAT!

    So I did NOT do any thing when he said that, but he did NOT stay over that night. I got back at him for being mean to me. The manageing partner then told me to get rid of him b/c he was jelous of me. This time I have to admit the manageing partener was RIGHT! FOOEY ON ALAN! FOOEY!

    • Oh Ellen, I think Dan Savage and I would agree with the manageing partner, DTMFA.

    • Ellen, your use of “fooey” these days is truly exemplary.

    • I don’t know, I think this is a bit over the top even for Ellen. It’s like s/he’s not even trying.

  18. Anonymous :

    If he wants to make more money he should ask for it or earn it. It is absolutely not your problem that you are worth more to your employer or negotiated more than he did.

    Next time he mentions it, you could respond “Maybe you should re-negotiate your salary if you are unhappy with it”. Though really, I would be thinking “now you know how women who don’t negotiate for more pay feel when they learn they are making significantly less than their colleagues!”

  19. Hooray for women who negotiate well! I know that’s not the only reason for the difference, but you did ask for it.

    if you can get away with it, I’d say to just give him a dazzlig smile and say “yep, I’m proud of myself” and let him suck eggs. Also, allow him every opportunity to sound like a petulant child in front of coworkers including those above you in the foodchain while you make sure your competence and hard work are getting out.

  20. Ya, I’ve found that when someone is angry at your or doesn’t like you– they take EVERYTHING in a bad light (ESPECIALLY emails)… when they like you, the opposite is true.
    It is always a good idea to be cordial/professional though in any case.

  21. I would advise someone NOT to talk to their boss or HR about it. Even if it’s a “how should I handle this?” type of questions. Bosses really don’t want to even have to think about squabbles between their subordinates. If you talk to your boss, you may get labeled (unfairly or not) as a complainer or difficult to work with.

    As for HR, unless it’s a question about benefits or how to fill out some personnel form, I would never go to HR for any kind of help. I’m sure I sound highly cynical. HR works for the company’s best interests, not yours. You don’t want to be labeled as a “high maintenance” employee.

    • In addition, if you told him what you’re making, you may have violated a term of your employee handbook. A lot of employee handbooks have a requirement that you not disclose pay.

      • That requirement is legally unenforceable in the United States. The Fair Labor Standards Act protects the act of discussing pay and working conditions.

        • I believe this only applies to employees, not anyone in a supervisory role.

  22. I haven’t fully thought it through, but wonder if responding with something like “can we please keep things professional/focused on our work” might help.

    I wonder like crazy about my male colleagues’ salaries… came from gov where I knew everything to corporate where I have no idea- drives me nuts. But, would never reveal my own salary. I’d be so upset if I’m way below the guys, but what can you do. I did learn a female got a benefits exception I was denied when negotiating which really bothers me. To her, I said thanks for sharing- this info exchange is helpful. And told her a few nuggets of other things I knew. Then promptly went to management to, not naming names, explain why I needed to reopen negotiations about that topic. Currently underway. It is really, really demoralizing when you find out stuff like this because it is quality of life and money. But it never occurred to me to be pissy to her- I thought good for her, I need to learn from that and go get it too. Shame on the little brat harassing the poster!

  23. Disclaimer: I haven’t read through all of the comments, so I apologize if I am repeating something that has already been said.

    Since you work at a small firm, I would actually suggest being a bit calculating and try to smooth things over with him instead of going the route of avoiding him or immediately appealing to higher authority. That will likely not only make him hate you even more (“Oh…now she thinks she’s too good to work with me”), but you could come off as being a bit whiny to your boss (“great…now I have to run interference between two first-years on top of the million other things I need to do”). Yes, I agree that his behavior is completely unprofessional and frankly quite childish, but this is a situation where it will likely pay to take the higher road.

    I would pull him aside and let him know that while you don’t appreciate his remarks, you understand his frustration as salary negotiation can be an arbitrary black box (especially in this economy!). Listen to his frustrated venting and chime in with the appropriated “yeah, that sucks.” Let him know that if he honestly feels like he is not getting what he deserves, he should consider appealing to his boss because YOU (as a first year associate) can’t do anything to change HIS salary. To me this is a win-win situation because either a) he will get the raise, his masculine ego will be instantly appeased, and he will feel like you are on his side or b) his boss will shoot him down, he will redirect his “anger” toward him/her, and he will still feel like you are on his side.

    I realize this is nowhere near a fool proof plan as people are not that predictable, but it’s a good place to start. I think there are a few jerks in every firm/company and while they can indeed be terrible people, it never hurts to have one more alley and one less enemy, no?

  24. Somewhat related question: I moved from a lockstep compensation firm to a smaller firm last year, so I am about to ask for my first raise. Is there a certain percentage raise that is normal?

  25. In-House Europe :

    I have a similar situation – I started as in-house here making more and at a higher “status” than the HR manager (who is a good 15 years older than me), with whom I share an office. It can be uncomfortable, even though the HR guy is never a jerk about it…My only advice is to remind yourself that you are worth what they are paying you. :)

  26. Egregious :

    I would ask him, the next time he mentions how ridiculous your salary is in relation to his, “what EXACTLY would you like me to do since we are not on the same level?”

    Just ask him (and add no emotion whatsoever), and quite possibly offer some answers such as “would you like me to donate the difference to charity, or to your own bank account? What exactly would you like to accomplish by pointing this out once again?” I mean, put the statement back on him since he is so much “smarter and more knowledgeable” than yourself.

    Surely he must have an answer.

    On projects which he prefers to continue to remind you how smart he is, ask him “now that we have determined you own the rights to smartness, can we move on?” Put it back on him.

    He is really trying to make this all about the you, when it is really all about him. I would point it out to him in the least obvious way possible that any statement he makes surrounding your pay are baseless, the arguments and constant disagreements are egregious and at the end-of-the-day there is really not a damn thing you can do about how he feels about it. Why continue to try to put up/reason/listen with his behaviour when you literally continue change anything about the situation?

    My issue with men like this is that they would not behave like this with another man, because another man would not allow it.

  27. Think about what a man would do in your situation. I was just looking through the post about how women struggle to negotiate higher salaries in the first place, so to have that be compounded by this guy’s asinine behavior is unacceptable.

    Would this guy think of acting at ALL like this if you were not a woman??? Probably not…

    I think you should nip it in the bud. His blatant disrespect for you is completely inappropriate and unprofessional!

    Being nice, or passive, or letting it slide in this situation seems to me a continuation of gender imbalances…

  28. LWoody123 :

    I too work in a law firm. I really like the people I work with but every once in a while there is a person who is normally nice but plays games. Two weeks ago she alleged that she overheard two staff members making a racial slur about her. I told her I didn’t hear them say anything because I was no where near when the alleged conversation took place. She insists I should go to HR with her to complain about the two staff members based on what she told me. I told her I would not lie and that she had options as to how to handle the situation herself. She became angry with me and has given me the cold shoulder but know she will try to blame me for not supporting her. I have made a note of her claim and reaction. Anything else I should do?

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