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Confessions of an Asian Male Adoptee

     My first step toward the first real crisis of my life began with my secretary. She was every young male attorney's fantasy -- a pretty green-eyed blond with the body of a cheerleader and a totally guileless fondness for men. The fact that Patty frequently misplaced files, bobbled appointments, couldn't write intelligent letters and accidentally deleted important emails and pleadings were minor drawbacks that I learned to work around. They were more than made up for by the adoring way she would smile up at me while kneeling at my feet to fuss with files.

     I had heard that she was engaged but dismissed the suggestion as a groundless rumor. If she were engaged, I was the pope. Patty made a habit of coming into my office at odd moments and kneeling at my feet, often while wearing a short skirt and/or a top that emphasized her well-shaped breasts. In that position she would go over questions, correspondence, court calendars, time sheets and filing details. One day at quitting time Patty came in, closed the door behind her and told me that she found me "irresistable". As I said, I wasn't the pope, and nature took its course, right there in my little junior associate's office.

     It didn't take long for her fiance to discover why Patty wasn't coming home directly after work. He retained a shrewd lawyer who sent a "confidential" letter to my firm's managing partner threatening an alienation of affection suit. It was legally groundless as Patty wasn't yet actually married, but the fear of publicity was enough to send the management committee into immediate damage-control mode. They worked out a settlement that involved Patty leaving with a big payout to her and her (ex-) fiance and a censure letter to me for violating the firm's theretofore nonexistent no-fraternization policy.

     I was angered at not having been consulted on the settlement despite the lack of legal grounds for the fiance's threatened suit. I went to the managing partner to voice my indignation at having my record dinged without a chance to speak on my own behalf.

     "Consider yourself lucky," said the managing partner, a balding tax lawyer with coke-bottle wirerims. "We took a chance on you. Your conduct hasn't borne us out." When I continued to protest having been censured for something against which no rules had existed, he pointed to the door. "You can go voluntarily or you can be helped out." The look in his magnified eyes made it clear that his words applied not just to my leaving his office, but to my leaving the firm.

     I knew that I wasn't the only lawyer in the firm who had dated support staff, even married ones. The only thing that made my case different, I concluded, was that I wasn't white. I was also convinced that the firm's management would have loved to fire me. They hadn't only because they didn't want to invite a potentially embarrassing wrongful termination suit. But they made it clear they wouldn't have been sorry to see me quit. As far as they were concerned, I had become a nuisance.

     I wasn't without friends among lawyers in my associate class and even a few in more senior positions. But once word spread about my affair with Patty and the censure letter, attitudes toward me cooled. Even partners who had liked my work stopped giving me new assignments. I was forced to knock on doors and ask for new work. I wrote a letter to the managing partner complaining that I wasn't being given enough assignments to stay within guidelines for billable hours. That prompted a sudden change of tactics. One morning I found my desk covered with case files. They were going to bury me in the hope that I would suffocate.


     The files were mostly the types of mass-tort defense cases where the quality of pleadings and appearances by any one party defendant was rarely critical. Yet each file called for the filing of papers and appearances at hearings and depositions according to strict calendars. The hope was that I would buckle under the pressure of trying to juggle too many files. It was a low-risk tactic from their standpoint. From mine, it was actually a blessing in disguise. My new responsbilities let me spend more time away from the office and learn the routine at hearings and depositions. Often I would be gone most of the day, then return late in the afternoon to put together whatever papers had to be filed. I was spending most of my days on repetitive appearances but billing stellar hours.

     If I had continued that way for a few years, I might well have restored myself to the good graces of the powers that be on the strength of the sheer number of hours I was piling up. But I was undergoing a rapid evolution in the way I saw my place within the firm's scheme of things. I no longer saw honor or prestige in being a big-firm lawyer. Instead, I saw indentured servitude compounded by racial tokenism. I was a token who had overstepped the confines of the place to which I had been relegated. I decided to bide my time, learn the profession, then leave to set up my own practice. Meanwhile, I resolved not to deny myself any opportunities to overstep the offensive boundaries they had drawn around me. Around that time I shed whatever residual delusions I may have had about being essentially a white guy in an Asian guy's skin.

     Mass-tort depositions and court appearances were cattle calls of mostly young big-firm litigators-in-training. By gender we were divided almost equally between male and female. We were often thrown together for hours on end, with many opportunities for banter, coffee breaks and plain lounging around. We were mindful of professional ethical constraints against the appearance of conflicts of interest. Yet, at least among defense lawyers, the potential for actual conflict was minimal. Romances did blossom and affairs were carried on beneath a thin veil of professional distance. I was no exception. The only difference was that I attracted more attention than everyone else. PAGE 4

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"Around that time I completely shed whatever residual delusions I may have had about being essentially a white guy in an Asian guy's skin."