Honeypie, You Are Driving Me Crazy

What sort of male lawyer would call a female lawyer “honey” in court? A jerk? Sure, but lawyers sometimes behave like jerks for a reason. To demean a female lawyer, push her buttons?  Most female lawyers will rip your head off if you try to play that game. There is no tactical advantage to be gained by doing so. Instead, you’re far more likely to give your adversary a reason to go to extreme lengths to destroy you and make your client’s life as miserable as humanly possible.

What sort of male lawyer could call a female lawyer “honey” in court? An incompetent loser.

Of course, there are also male lawyers who are just old school sexist, who use such demeaning language without any tactical purpose. It’s just the stupid crap that comes out of their mouths. It shouldn’t, and they should gain a sufficient level of awareness so that they stop saying stupid crap. If they’re too old, or too unaware, to grasp that such stupid crap is offensive, they need to be told.

And then there are male lawyers who are well aware of the fact that their words are offensive, serve no tactical purpose, and yet use them anyway. These are the misogynists. Yes, there are actual men who are misogynists, despite the fact that the word has been reduced to meaninglessness by its overuse. These lawyers need a hard smack, as they’re malicious in their language.

But distinguishing between these various male lawyers can be difficult, and it matters. There is a significant difference between someone who uses language to deliberately demean female lawyers and someone who uses language that intends no harm. It’s not that the words aren’t inappropriate, but that there is no malevolence behind their utterance. It takes some effort to tell one from another.

This is more effort than the word police are willing to expend.

[The National Association of Women Lawyers], which represents 5,200 women, has been backing an effort to add to the American Bar Association’s model rules of professional conduct an amendment to prohibit harassment and discrimination by lawyers in the course of practicing law. Bar associations in 23 states and the District of Columbia already have some kind of protections against harassment and discrimination by lawyers in the conduct of their profession, but the proposal would establish a standard nationwide.

The A.B.A. policy-making body is scheduled to vote on that amendment on Monday.

Is it an ethical violation to use sexist language? Should it be? The ABA has been on a social justice tear for a while, having lost interest in the relationship between lawyers and clients and having been overcome by the sound of mewling.  So what is this “harassment” of which they whine?

Many female lawyers would agree. They say that even as more women graduate from law school and represent clients in courtrooms, it is not rare for them to be addressed as “honey” or “darling.” Sometimes they are subject to a grating remark, or an arm around the shoulder, they say.

These women are lawyers. Tough enough to go into the trenches and fight the government, make federal agents cry on the witness stand, get the toughest hombre to whither under their gaze. And yet, they curl up into a ball and cry in the corner because someone called them “honey”?  Not the women lawyers I know. Not the women lawyers who belong in the trenches.

“An ethical rule makes us accountable,” said Drucilla S. Ramey, a former executive director of the San Francisco Bar Association. “Lawyers are officers of the court. We’re supposed to set a standard of conduct and that’s a privilege.”

Ethical rules do, indeed, make us accountable. It’s for that reason that we don’t create ethical rules that have no bearing on the practice of law rather than the generic progressive view of behavior. There is no ethical rule that says lawyers shouldn’t murder their clients, yet we shouldn’t, even if we sometimes would like to.

That this is the sort of mindless gibberish that is under discussion at all suggests that either someone like Ramey is too stupid to be a lawyer, or she thinks the rest of us are. We’re officers of the court? Great. Don’t lie to judges. What the hell does it have to do with setting a generic standard of conduct that has no specific applicability to the law?

But what about the “honey” problem? Why do women claim to need an ethical rule to deal with their hurt feelings?

Typically, women say, they ignore insults or sexist comments for fear of imperiling their careers or being labeled less than a team player.

So you want to act like girls,* but don’t want anybody to call you one?  And you want the bludgeon of the disciplinary rules because it’s too hard and scary for you to smack some jerk yourself?  If some old lawyer, or even judge, uses sexist language not out of malice or bad tactics, but because he’s unaware of the fact that he’s doing so, tell him.

If you find it troubling enough that it bothers you, say something.** Of course male lawyers shouldn’t call female lawyers “honey” or “darling” or “sweetie,” like diner waitresses call guys they don’t know.  If it bothers you, do something about it. Tell ’em. Smack ’em. Use your mad lawyer skillz to teach them a lesson. If you can’t shut down some jerk, some misogynist, then how are you going to shut down a government agent calling your client all manner of bad things?

Male lawyers beat each other up all the time. Old lawyers beat up young lawyers all the time. Mean lawyers beat up nice lawyers all the time. And good lawyers prevail against the ones who try to beat them up. That’s what lawyers do.

So what if it makes you sad and you would much rather have someone else do the dirty work of making your world happy and wonderful? You’re a lawyer. Deal with it. Your clients think you’re competent to make their world better, but you’re too weak and scared to do it for yourself?

For crying out loud, toughen up teacup. If someone calling you “honey” is so horrible that it makes you cry, then you have no business being a lawyer. You’re not cut out for it. You’re not tough enough for it. And if you can’t muster the strength to shut down someone who says something that offends you, then you have no one to blame but yourself.

* Uh oh. Yup, I said it.


**Be aware, however, that not everybody is obsessed with being on the cutting edge of social justice language. Pick your battles.

15 comments on “Honeypie, You Are Driving Me Crazy

  1. REvers

    My supervising lawyer when I was an intern once told me he hated women lawyers, but had great respect for lawyers who were women. I had to spend some time in court before I figured out what he meant.

    1. SHG Post author

      I rode the LIRR with a woman named Edith Spivak and her husband, Bernie Goldstein, for years. One day, when they were getting on the train, some young dude pushed Edith, who was pretty diminutive in size. Bernie, who was an old man, grabbed the guy about to punch him for pushing his wife, when Edith told him, I can fight my own battles. She then told off the young ruffian, to the point where he looked like he was about to cry.

      I learned a lot about women lawyers from Edith, who graduated law school in 1932. She had to fight to be taken seriously as a lawyer, and she did. Nobody pushed Edith Spivak around. I miss her.

      1. REvers

        I knew one of those, too. A little old lady who was the bogus check prosecutor for years. Totally friendly, totally honest, totally ethical. Easy going. She’d work with anybody. The kind of prosecutor you wish they all were. Everybody loved her, with good reason.

        And if you tried to screw her, she’d rip your tonsils out through your asshole. She knew how. She had scary good skills.

        She’s been gone for twenty years, and I still think about her probably once a week. I still consider her to be a mentor.

      2. losingtrader

        You rode with THE GREAT UNWASHED?
        I guess it’s not necessary now you have the SJ helicopter, but I’m as appalled by land-based public transport as much as I am by “ecomony plus” airline seating.

        Now, it’s 7:15 am and gotta go as I’m headed to the Bellagio Buffet.
        Yes, I get to skip the line.

          1. Richard G. Kopf


            He is one of the 1%. You are right to call out a fellow who preys upon the terminally stupid. “Elitist glutton.” That’s too tepid. The horrors he inflicts on the trading floor raping the accounts of teachers, social workers, and all members of the helping profession only to fuel his avarice is legendary–in a bad way. Good for you!

            Bernie will never die.

            All the best.


            PS But B is the best.

            1. losingtrader

              Someone has to pay for my dog’s cloning. Might as well be the people who, when I mention I’m having her cloned, launch into an unrelated speech about about how their dog can fetch a ball.
              It’s as if everyone in the vet’s office (I would use Concierge Veterinary care if offered) hears someone say their dog is being cloned every day.

  2. Ray K.

    The model rules are already mostly obvious and officious. Why not add one more that’s both?

    1. SHG Post author

      Ironic that you say that. If they’re “mostly obvious and officious,” why then do so many lawyers struggle with, and fight against, them? But then, “what the fuck” is not a thoughtful justification for adding more.

  3. Amy

    A prosecutor called me honey in front of a client once, in a tone I perceived as intentionally demeaning. I didn’t like it. So I called his supervisor afterwards and told her, factually and dispassionately and without expressing an opinion about what should happen. I assume she talked to him, because he came up to me a few days later and apologized. Never happened again.

    I also considered the possibility of calling him honey every time I saw him with his fellow prosecutors, and making him explain to his colleagues how that came to be his nickname. Might have done that if the first strategy didn’t work.

    That said, I do think it’s important to acknowledge that there is a tax on women who don’t speak up for themselves (in the form of being taken less seriously). But there’s also a tax on women who do speak up (being perceived as a bitch or pushy or any of the other gendered insults levied at women) is often harmful to one’s career. There are, for example, studies that show that women who negotiate on salary in the way that both men and women are encouraged to are perceived negatively for advocating for themselves. Especially if your judge or your colleagues are a little sexist, pushing back on this could have negative consequences. Some of us sometimes choose to keep our mouths shut not because we couldn’t push back, but because the blowback from doing so could end up hurting us or our clients

    1. SHG Post author

      Some years ago, a woman left a comment about how someone sexually assaulted her at a bar cocktail party by touching her on an unspecified body part. I was at first sympathetic, until she explained that she did nothing about it for fear of negative consequences. That was the end of my sympathy. If you choose to do nothing, than you’ve made a choice. If you choose to do something, I’ll back you up 100%. But you can’t simultaneously complain about it and rationalize doing nothing.

      While your negotiation example isn’t the same problem, it’s still interesting. As I recall the study, it wasn’t that women were perceived negatively for negotiating, but that women were bad at negotiating because it ran contrary to their cultural tendency to compromise and avoid confrontation. If so, then tough nuggies. Or are women not smart enough and tough enough to negotiate well? Pick a side, but it can’t be both. Either fix problems or live with them, but don’t complain about them and do nothing to end them because reasons.

  4. B. McLeod

    What sort of a male lawyer would call a female lawyer ‘honey’ in court?

    A judge (that’s the only context in which I have seen it).

    The proposed ABA rule, which is insane, is the subject of my recent post at ATL Surrogate, which I will not repeat here, but which offers a number of hypotheticals as to how the new rule will apply. In this era of “microaggressions” and “implicit bias,” every lawyer who lives and breathes is going to be “harassing” someone, constantly. The rabidly fanatical House of Delegates will, of course, rubber-stamp this proposal on Monday. That’s what they do. More lawyers need to cancel their ABA memberships to prevent these bizarre campaigns from going this far. As it is, this defense against this one will have to be made state-by-state, after the House of Delegates rams it through.

  5. Carolyn Elefant

    I’ve heard female lawyers call older male lawyers “Dude” (like Hey, Dude – cool it, you shouldn’t be speaking to me like that”) Will that be considered unethical too?

    1. SHG Post author

      Could be, but I would hate to be known as the guy who complained because some woman called him “dude.”

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