During my second year of law school, I scored a summer internship at one of the biggest firms in the city.
I had high hopes the gig would lead to a future full-time job, so I was a bit of a perfectionist. I took on extra assignments all the time and even came in on weekends.
By mid-July our performance reviews were in, and when I got mine, I was absolutely gutted to see a “needs improvement” notation under the section about communication skills.
And if that slap in the face wasn’t bad enough, my boyfriend had just broken up with me.
Fired up by anger, I emailed my supervisor to ask for a meeting, and then cried in my cubicle during my lunch hour. What was wrong with me? I was smart, had high grades… and I was pretty cute-looking according to my now-ex, who repeatedly professed his weakness for my C-cup tits.
However, in the middle of my pity party, Gary — a senior partner at the firm — showed up unannounced.
“Lisa, meet me in my office at seven sharp tonight.”
Dumbfounded, I nodded as he retreated. Gary wasn’t asking. Gary never asked — he gave orders.
He was never “mean,” but I was definitely more than a little intimidated by him. According to my sources at the firm, he was in his early 50s, had no kids and was divorced from the second Mrs. Gary for years now. He kept a low profile. You never heard Gary swearing on his phone or saw him exhibiting the cocky machismo of some of the other guys at the firm.
But when Gary spoke, everyone stopped and listened.
What the hell did he want with me? Up until then, he had only acknowledged my existence with precious few words, like: “fax this please” and “thank you” when I handed him a case file.
I probably looked ridiculous to him, sitting there with a puffy, red face and tears in my eyes like a little kid. I went to the rest room, fixed my makeup and worked hard until 7 p.m.
By then, just about everyone had flown the coop. Some were out with clients or at dinner, but most had called it quits for the evening. Sure there were a few holdouts barricaded in their offices, judging by the lights coming from under a few doors. But once I got to Gary’s floor, I realized he had the place to himself. His secretary and the junior partners were all gone. His office suite was the only light at the end of the hall, and the blinds were drawn.
I took a deep breath and knocked.
“Enter.” Gary was poring over a stack of case notes at his deck. He glanced up at me nonchalantly. “Good, you’re on time.”
“I’m usually very punctual, sir.”
“That’s one of your strengths, Lisa, yes.”
Suddenly, I felt like I wanted to crawl into a hole and hide, but I just stood there, awkwardly clutching my notebook.
Gary cleared his throat. “It’s come to my attention you had some concerns about your performance review.”
“Yes, I — ”
“Your direct supervisor is out of town for the week, so he asked me to meet with you.”
“Are you going to elaborate on your concerns or are you just going to stand here, wasting our time?”
“Oh — uh, sorry.” I cleared my throat. “I’ve been putting in more than 60 hours a week — as you probably know. But it says here that my communication skills are lacking. And I wanted to know why? I’ve done really well with the briefs, and client follow-ups. At least, I thought I did.”
“Yes, you have excelled at both those things.” Gary stood up and stretched.
I felt my eyes wandering; for a guy in his 50s, Gary definitely kept in shape. The salt and pepper accents to his dark hair maybe betrayed a little age, but not his face or physique, that was for sure. He was one good-looking guy.
“So then… ”
“The problem, Lisa, is your lack of confident communication in other regards. Like this meeting, for instance.”