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Associates' Lament/I Hate Myself for Working Here: The Soundtrack of Your Life

Associates’ Lament/I Hate Myself for Working Here: The Soundtrack of Your Life 

When I was in high school in Edmonton, I had the privilege to attend Old Scona Academic High School, soon after the school opened. I am not bragging when I say this—the school was undersubscribed initially and accepted any student with an average of at least 65% who wanted to focus on academics and were prepared to go to school in a heritage building that didn’t have a gymnasium. Not having a gym meant that we had to jog to a church gym three blocks away for Phys Ed class, but it also meant that the third-floor space was available to us as a theatre (a role I believe it still fills) and I, along with many of my schoolmates, embraced drama and musical theatre as our primary non-academic activity since there really wasn’t much else we could do.

We didn’t necessarily have talent, but we sure had fun. One of my favourite memories was staging Guys and Dolls, a musical set in the 1950s about a group of gamblers who meet a group of missionaries who want to save the gamblers’ souls, and of course a gambler falls in love with one of the missionaries. I haven’t heard much about Guys and Dolls for years, but it was a big deal in the 1950s. A movie version started Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra as the male leads!  I was the understudy to the female soprano lead, Miss Sarah, who was played by one of my closest friends but was also a chorus girl and extra if I wasn’t needed. It was touch and go in the days leading up to our first performance as my friend had not told her extremely strict parents that she was in the production, let alone that she had a lead role. As much as we all hear stories about the understudy becoming a star after stepping into the breach when the star falls ill or can’t perform, I was really relieved when she got her parents’ approval to be in the production with only a few days to spare.

But I still know the lyrics to the Guys and Dolls songs, not just the ones I might have had to sing but pretty much the whole libretto, and as I aged and had new experiences, lyrics ran through my head.  I converted lyrics from 1950s life in New York City to apply to my life. One song, Take Back Your Mink, which we chorus girls sang, is about a young woman who returns lavish gifts to a man with improper intentions. Taking back the mink, and then the gown and other accessories, involved removal of clothing, down to respectable little slips. I can’t believe we were allowed to that in high school—but it was almost unheard of for parents in those days to intervene or try to object about what schools were doing.

Take Back Your Mink is the song I still know best, and the lyrics run through my head easily (but it is not a complex song!). Many years later, as a hockey mother of three, I rewrote the lyrics as Take Back Your Rink to express my dissatisfaction with aspects of minor hockey culture. One son played what was then called Minor Midget Triple A, and we had a terrible coaching experience, with coaches who were grooming the top players to attract scouts. The second-string players, like my son, were told that they were never to take a shot on goal. Their sole job, if they got the puck, was to pass it to one of the designated stars. This policy was actively harmful to the kids, and the association brought in a former NHL player who counsels kids with trauma to support the kids. The team won the Provincials, but no trophy or bragging rights are worth disempowering young people at critical life stages.

I don’t remember all of the verses to my song, but it went something like this:

Take back your mink

Take back your pearls

What made you think

That I was one of those girls?

Take back the gown

The gloves and the hat

I may be down

But I'm not flat as all that.
Take back your rink

Take back your ice and your pucks

What made you think

That I was one of those schmuks

Take back the sticks

The skates And the pads

I may be down

But I’m not flat as all that
I thought that each expensive gift  you'd arranged

Was a token of your esteem

But when I think of what you want in exchange
It all seems a horrible dream

I thought that each extra session you’d arranged

Was a token of your esteem

But when I think of what you want in exchange
It all seems a horrible dream

I wish I had written it all down, but making up the rhymes was how I kept my sanity in the stands, watching my son being hobbled. My happiest hockey mom moment was a year later when my son announced that he just wanted to play community hockey for his grade 12 year so he could focus on school, spend time with his friends and have a year to enjoy high school.

Coping with being a hockey mom wasn’t the only place I used song lyric therapy. Being an associate in a law firm had all sorts of challenges—long hours, being expected to cancel plans on a moment’s notice if you dared to make plans, and difficult personalities, plus the elusiveness of partnership. At my firm, there were two lawyers my year and we were very close friends. The firm liked to tell us we were fungible and generally our performance reviews were pretty similar. We would both get feedback that “we needed to take the ball and run with it” which frustrated us because partners in our firm liked to carry the ball across the finish line themselves and weren’t very good at passing. Our response was usually “what ball???”

I still knew the words to another Guys and Dolls song, called Adelaide’s Lament, which became the Associate’s Lament:

It says here...

The average unmarried female,

Basically insecure,

Due to some long frustration may react!

With psychosomatic symptoms,

Difficult to endure,

Affecting the upper respiratory tract.

In other words,

Just from waiting around for that plain little band of gold,

A person can develop a cold.

You can spray her wherever you figure the streptococci lurk,

You can give her a shot for whatever she's got, but it just won't work.

If she's tired of getting the fisheye from the hotel clerk,

A person can develop a cold. (sneezes)
… It says here

The average non-partner associate,

Basically insecure,

Due to some long frustration may react

With psychosomatic symptoms

Difficult to endure

Affecting their mental health

In other words,

just from waiting around for that plain little ring of brass,

A person can develop a pain in the a**

You can spray her wherever you figure the streptococci lurk

You can give her a shot for whatever she’s got

If she’s tired of 24/7 work

A person can develop a pain in the a**

But my all-time favourite for law-related lyrics was Joan Jett’s I Hate Myself for Loving You. I think that the song resonated with me as a person trying to deny that I was in a relationship with someone whose needs always came first. But wasn’t that the way things were at work, too?
I hate myself for loving you

Can't break free from the things that you do

I wanna walk but I run back to you

That's why I hate myself for loving you

Daylight, spent the night without you

But I've been dreamin' 'bout the lovin' you do

I'm over being angry 'bout the hell you put me through

Hey man, bet you can't treat me right

You just don't know what you was missin' last night

I wanna see you beggin', say, "Forget it" just for spite

I think of you every night and day

You took my heart, and you took my pride away
I hate myself for working here

Can’t break from the things that you do

I wanna walk but I run back to work

That’s why I hate myself for working here
Daylight, spent the night, working late

But I’ve been dreamin’ about escaping this fate

I’m over being angry bout the hell you put me though

Hey firm, bet you can’t treat me right
You jut don’t know what I was missing last night

I wanna see you beggin’, say “Forget it” just for spite

I think of leaving every night and day

You took my life, and you took my pride away

This song was a heart-felt plea about mistreatment and abuse in a relationship with an uneven division of power, so imagine my horror when the NFL acquired rights to I Hate Myself for Loving You as a theme song for Sunday Night Football and featured Carrie Underwood singing a version called Waiting All Day for Sunday Night—replacing a punk icon with a country music princess. Ouch!  I have no idea what the lyrics to this new version are—I can’t bear the idea of listening to them. What a way to neutralize an anthem about relationship inequality. Remember that all of us can suffer inequality in relationships and potentially experience abuse—lawyers of all genders and orientations. We know that domestic partner violence is not just a male against female issue, that men can experience domestic violence, and that domestic violence can be driven deep underground in the LGBTQ2S community. I am sorry that we have lost an empowerment anthem to football culture, but no one asked my opinion.

Do you find yourself writing song lyrics about how your workplace or someone in your life is treating you? It can be kind of fun, but if you are showing Joan Jett’s edge over Miss Adelaide’s frustration, please consider calling Assist (but call us even if you are just frustrated!) In some environments, unacceptable behaviour is normalized—like when everyone else around you is available 24/7 and you really need some restorative time, but you perceive that no one cares about your personal needs. You need an outlet for expressing yourself (other than saying Take This Job and Shove It!)

Articling students who experience harassment and discrimination at their workplaces can apply to be transferred to a new firm under the Law Society’s Articling Placement Program:  This program, piloted in 2022 so pretty much brand new, only applies in situations of harassment and discrimination, concepts with legal definitions.  I oversaw anti-harassment, anti-discrimination and respectful workplace programs for many years, and unfortunately, many people experience suffering due to behaviour that doesn’t fall within legal definitions. According to a recent report from the Law Society, about one-third of the applicants to date met the eligibility criteria. The fact that two-third didn’t qualify doesn’t surprise me. The reality is that people’s subjective experiences are being evaluated on an objective standard—remember the man on the Clapham omnibus from British case law? Harassment and discrimination have precise legal definitions and tests, and it is possible for individuals to experience unacceptable conduct outside of these definitions. When I worked in this area, I saw a lot of poor performance management being cited as harassment once corporate polices moved from prohibited grounds harassment (i.e., grounds specified in our human rights legislation) to antibullying, but the early law was clear that poor performance management was not necessarily harassment or bullying.

When I was working in big law, one of our articling students made a serious mistake and a senior partner came into his office and ripped a strip off him. An associate with an office nearby came in after the partner left and, in one of my favourite 1980s ways of showing support to a colleague who has just been mistreated, said that he couldn’t help but overhear what happened. He said, “Did he do this?” and mimed the partner screaming. The student nodded. “But did he do this?” the associate asked, climbing up on the student’s desk and continuing his mimed version of the partner’s tantrum. The student said, no, the partner hadn’t done that. And the associate said, “then he wasn’t really mad at you. It will be okay.” The student was hired back and went on to have a very successful career.

I would like to think that we have fewer senior lawyers taking strips off articling students than we used to have but this would be misplaced optimism. I now hear reports of stories of articling students being fired by principals for not knowing how to practice law, as if that is what law school is supposed to teach. There continue to be serious issues, and it is great that the Law Society is able to help students in the direst circumstances. I wish more could be done, but at least there seems to be more energy around humanizing articling.

If you are an associate, you might gripe because you don’t have the benefit of a Law Society program to help you move to a safer practice location. There is a good reason for this: articling students’ mobility is much more limited, and many students feel that they have to accept awful behaviour because they just want to get through their articles. Associates (non-partners—whatever terminology is used) have more options to leave a firm or to set up their own practice, so there is no corresponding program for them.

But regardless of your role in a firm (or in a corporate law department), if you are feel that you experiencing inappropriate—and potentially abusive—conduct, please call Assist. Our professional counsellors have extensive experience in helping people work through the harm caused by wrongful conduct (regardless of whether it meets legal definitions of harassment or discrimination) as well as trauma. If you decide to tough out a difficult situation for a period of time, for whatever reason, or if you are not accepted into the Articling Placement Program, please obtain support so that your well-being is not eroded. Assist’s 24/7 crisis line is here because we know that people reach crisis outside of business hours. Please call 1-877-498-6898 either to book an appointment (between 8 am and 4 pm on workdays) or after hours to get the phone number for the psychologist on call. At Assist, we focus only on the impact on you.

Peer support can also help. A peer support volunteer can help a caller (whether a lawyer or an articling student) process their experience and can share their own experience and strategies. But anyone who is feeling harmed by their workplace is strongly urged to access professional counselling.

Why do we stay in harmful work or personal relationship situations? This is a complex question that is often fact-based. But often people feel disempowered to move on, or they blame themselves for the problem, or they know of people who are in worse situations, so they decide that they have to toughen up. And sometimes we hate ourselves for staying. Let us help you assess the situation you are in and provide the supports you need to request what you need in order to thrive or to leave. You are worthy of a job that treats you like a human being and as another rock icon, Janis Joplin, said, “don’t compromise yourself—you’re all you got.”

We are here for you.