By Deborah Matthews on

Forget complicated legal conundrums, the real problem in law firms is the men, says Deborah Matthews

The defining element of my legal career to date has been the fight against the sexual behaviour of an office full of middle-aged men. Kicking open the door to my old firm’s ‘boys club’, where lead members included a male judge and several subservient male lawyers, proved near-impossible with my stiletto heels.

Middle-aged male lawyers, I have found, seem to have only two set channels when dealing with female colleagues of any age: the channel of utter contempt for you should you hold a position higher, lower or equal to them (so basically all working women), or the office sleaze channel. I have always wanted not only to turn off both channels, but unplug the TV emitting them as quickly as I could – because whichever way they are programmed is akin to the Discovery channel. In such circumstances, a day in the office is about the survival of the fittest.

Whether the male fee earner behaves in this way to subdue the female is a mystery. But it has always been a case of fight or flight for me; usually the former.

The male fee earner tends to mark his territory quickly in the law office, walking and pacing around while talking loudly on the telephone, or dictating his letters onto a dictaphone in full earshot of everyone else. Such action, I suspect, is designed to emphasise his authority over the females. Another way the man attempts to highlight this is by wearing the gaudiest ties he can find – or at least the gaudiest ties his wife could find for him.

Having conducted his predatory prowl and flashed his bright colours, the next step is for the man to glide into my office, shutting the door quietly behind him, and take a seat opposite me astride a chair.  Not knowing where to look, I typically find myself forced to make eye contact. Often this unnerves him, rapidly dismissing his forced masculinities….

Debbie will be back next week to continue her tales of jungle office life.