Let’s play: Which year sucked more?

Subtitled: Turns out, I DO hold a grudge.

Obviously 2020 is a major major contender. We all know that. We’ve got a global pandemic, a potential economic disaster, an authoritarian thug qua idiot in the White House, and police still killing black people for no reason, left and right. The racial protests are the only glimmer of hope I’m seeing – all ages, all races.

My law partner and I have this running joke. Or not so much a joke, but a routine. Because it’s not really funny. It’s kind of tragic and pathetic.

Every Fall, almost daily until Christmas break, we pop into each other’s office and say one of the following:

  • Thank God this year is almost over!
  • Dear Jesus, next year has to be better, right?
  • Fuck me, this year can’t be over soon enough!

Reliably, we have said this, as I recall, approximately 100 times each in 2015, 2016, 2017, & 2018 (OMG – THAT WAS A BAD YEAR).

Third and fourth quarter 2018 were all kinds of financial horror shows, and I nearly had a heart attack a number of times envisioning my house being foreclosed on by my creditors. BUT … it led us to make some serious decisions that made 2019 and 2020 less painful. We moved into much smaller hoteling space, moved our tech into the Cloud, and set everyone up to work seamlessly from home. Short-term pain for long-term gain. All of which set us up well for the pandemic shit show of 2020. Who knew this working from home thing was going to become the “new normal”?

So we still have to see how 2020 plays out, and Wave 2 is coming, I can feel it. Nevertheless, 2020 has not been that painful for me personally (health issues aside – another blog entirely). As I just said, working from home has been seamless. Spending time at home with hubby is not a trial – we are very good at giving each other space, so when we do choose to spend time together (on the couch, binging Bosch), it’s entirely enjoyable. We are not sick of each other (or at least I’m not sick of him!). I’m an introvert anyways, so social distancing hasn’t been that much of an inconvenience. On occasion, I would kill my mother for a nice steak frites at a French bistro with friends, or an outing to the ballet, or browsing through Chapters and Nordstrom Rack – but by and large these are luxuries I can live without. And The Bay delivers. So does Amazon, damn them.

We did have to cancel a $6K trip to Antigua just as COVID was descending but before there were any travel prohibitions to merit a refund, so that sucked. And we most very likely will not get to Mahone Bay this summer or even this fall. I will miss that view every day.

But for my money, right now, I’m going to put my chips on 2016 as THE YEAR THAT SUCKED THE MOST. Somewhat similar to 2020, from a global perspective, it sucked eggs (but for very different reasons). Might I remind you of a sampling of the horrific headlines from 2016:

  • Brussels bombing killing 32, wounding over 300
  • Brexit vote in UK stuns everyone, after which they google to figure out what leaving the EU actually means
  • Hate-crime Pulse nightclub mass shooting in Orlando, killing 49 people (wounding 53)
  • Bastille Day terrorist attack in France, killing 86 and injuring 458 others
  • James Comey announcing investigations into Hillary’s emails, TWICE, including TWO weeks before the fucking election, which was the final nail in her campaign coffin
  • The revolution in Syria was decidedly put down by brutal government forces in Aleppo
  • North Korea started nuclear testing again
  • Russian interference in US election, leading to …
  • A Trump-like asshole/buffoon elected in the Philippines (Duterte)
  • And let’s not forget in Canada, Fort McMurray fire displaces thousands of people for weeks/months

Then there’s the almost endless list of amazing celebrities who died unexpectedly & far too soon:

  • David Bowie
  • Alan Rickman
  • Garry Shandling
  • Prince
  • Garry Marshall
  • Gene Wilder
  • Leonard Cohen
  • George Michael
  • Debbie Reynolds

I recall dreading opening up the CBC or Toronto Star app that year. What next? What else? Holy shit! He’s dead too?

At the end of 2016, a very good guy and former colleague named Geoff Taber perished in a house fire/explosion, on Christmas Eve, along with his wife and two young sons. I remember hearing right before Christmas dinner, via email from my law partner, that a classmate of her son had perished in a fire. We all need to be thankful, etc. Then I got home and googled the tragedy and found it was Geoff’s son, Geoff’s family. It was unimaginable that this force of nature, this perpetual motion machine, was gone. And his whole family with him. I can’t think of a death that blindsided the legal community as much as his. My former law firm of Osler was devastated. A colleague said, in the immediate aftermath, it was like walking around a disaster zone, everyone hushed and glassy-eyed.

What a horrible end to 2016, quite frankly, for everyone who knew him.

But the cherry on the top of the turd sundae that was 2016 was my professional life. We were 7 years into a 3-partner start-up boutique law firm. Revenues were steady. 2014 was a banner year for $$; we were all killing ourselves with too much work, which perversely makes most lawyers happy.

Moving along hunky dory, my two partners and I decided we needed to have an offsite retreat in late spring 2016, just focus on The Firm, where we wanted it to go. Fair enough. Even though we worked side by side every day in the office, we almost never had any time to talk about anything, other than to triage or in passing. I welcomed a day to focus and be together as partners.

Partner #2 decreed we needed a professional facilitator to keep us on track for the day – we’d set an agenda, work through it, make decisions. Productive day, no tangents, no chatting about family, no joking around. (We were all very friendly, so tangents were 100% probable.) So off I went (not Partner #2, who came up with the idea) to find a facilitator, inquiring of friends and clients, until I procured a nice woman with impeccable references. With a $2500 per diem.

What with sacrificing a day’s billings (x3 partners), and offsite rental, and the facilitator, this was a not inexpensive investment in The Firm. But well worth it, right? To move The Firm forward, spend a day together, brainstorming and bonding and ensuring a shared direction.

I thought the day went well. A gorgeous June Friday, we created a new mission/vision for The Firm, made some decisions about direction, had a nice lunch outside next to a golf course. I drove as we left, dropping Partner #1 off at the subway and driving Partner #2 to her neighbourhood. Smiles, happiness, contentment.

We presented the new mission/vision to The Firm the next week, printed up copies for everyone’s offices. I updated the website. Momentum! Enthusiasm!

Onto Chicago, as hubby would say.

And then ONE WEEK LATER, one week to the day since our approx. $10K daylong retreat, Partner #2 announced that She. Is. Leaving. The. Firm.

AND We. Cannot. Ask. Her. Any. Questions. About. It.

Her. Mind. Is. Made. UP.

Then she hugged us and said, ominously, she hoped this wouldn’t ruin our friendship. That was when I should have known.

Totally blindsided. What the heck was the offsite retreat about, which she instigated? Did I just spend $10K for the unexpected purpose of confirming her niggling idea to leave? That wasn’t really the investment I had planned.

I at first thought, what with her having two very young ones at home (maternity leaves subsidized by The Firm, of course), she was going to take a hiatus. Or maybe do some work, from the side of her desk, from home. But NO, she was Going. To. Open. Her. Own. Practice. Meaning take business away from The Firm. Competing with The Firm. One week after a day long strategic planning session. That. She. Instigated.

Excuse me while I pull the knife from my between my shoulder blades. Ouch.

But … okey-dokey. Deep breath. It’s a partnership. Not indentured servitude. There’s a contract we all signed, and an exit clause we all agreed to. Everyone’s entitled to use it. I suspected her husband, who inherited her relationship with The Firm when he married her, had never been that keen on it. I’m not sure why, given that The Firm had pretty much kept Partner #2 afloat for the first few years – she took home more than she contributed in revenue to The Firm, thanks to Partner #1 and me. But now she was starting to generate some profit, and perhaps the idea was she (and hubby) now didn’t want to share that profit with us.

Whatever. It really doesn’t matter why she wanted to leave. We had to deal with it.

Not being able to discuss the rationale with her was a bit weird. We’d all pretty much discussed everything. Partner #1 frequently said that we were closer to each other, in many ways, than to our spouses. Partnership and running a business, it’s a different kind of marriage. I never called Partners #1 and #2 “friends”. They were never friends. It was something different. I thought, something more. Something that would last longer than 7 years and one off-site retreat.

Reeling, Partner #1 and I confabbed all that weekend, mostly by email, and made some decisions – stay the course, soldier on, let’s figure this out. And let’s get it done – quickly. Don’t drag it out. This could consume our energies and distract us for months if we let it. We told Partner #2 on Monday we wanted her to wrap it up by end of July – we were waiving her 3 months’ notice period under the partnership agreement. If she wanted to move on, let’s all move the fuck on already.

Partner #2 had promised she would prepare an exit plan. That never materialized. Just a draft announcement that expressed OUR huge regret that she had decided to leave The Firm.

And so it started.

I asked her about preparing a financial exit plan – the partnership agreement set out some of it, but we had created a couple of companies on the side. What were her expectations?

Long story short, she just never came up with a financial exit plan. Her plan appeared to be, in short, I’m entitled to my entitlements. You figure it out.

While I was trying to be zen about the fact of her leaving, I was not zen with how she left. Entitled, snivelling, crying, silently aggrieved without communicating her grievances. It turned into such an unnecessary shit show that I dubbed it “Kexit”, named after Britain’s exit from the EU – a shit show playing out at the same time, with pretty much the same results.

Her approach to Kexit was such a marked departure from how we had treated each other every day since the partnership began – transparently, decently, compassionately. It was inexplicable. Remains so.

It didn’t go well, let’s put it that way. It did take up months and months of our emotional health and untold hours of exit negotiations. She even lawyered up, as they used to say on NYPD Blue – escalating what should have been face-to-face amicable negotiations about what was fair to all of us. We never had an interest in screwing her. Just being fair and compliant with protocols that clients and the Law Society would expect.

Partner #1 and I both have The List. The List of The Ways She Screwed Us. We each kept our own. I don’t think we’ve ever compared them. As we negotiated Kexit, we uncovered multiple things she had committed The Firm to financially, that we were then stuck with paying. We had just invested $100K in filming videos we were going to monetize on a pay-per-view subscription platform – many of which she had inserted herself into. Those videos were now useless to us, with her in there.

I added to The List routinely, probably for a year or more after Kexit was over. I don’t rule out the possibility of adding to it in the future.

I never thought I’d go through a divorce. Hubby and I are in it for life. But in 2016 I went through a work divorce that was exceedingly fraught and painful. Unnecessarily so. Fighting over entitlements, passive aggressively, through the asshole lawyer she hired “to help US ALL!”. I can’t imagine going through an actual divorce where kids are involved. I have new empathy for anyone who has been through that.

I feel like I have PTSD. I have a gut reaction (revulsion) to the sight of her name or picture. I blocked her in Fall 2016 on all social media to avoid that happening. I’ve had to encounter her only in minimal ways. A couple years ago I was at a social gathering with her, and I was physically nauseous. I left prematurely to avoid vomiting.

She was a partner. She was never a friend. She is now nothing to me except my own personal brand of ipecac. Her name is in my freezer – my sister-in-law swears this means she will be frozen out of my life. It’s worked pretty well so far. I highly recommend it. I know for a fact her name in in Partner #1’s freezer also.

My mother used to say she marvelled at my temperament. I never got angry, never held a grudge. She suspected that pissed people off more than if I got angry. That’s no longer true. I’m not angry, but I do hold a grudge. I don’t actively wish Partner #2 harm, but if it befalls her, maybe that’s Karma. I’ve seen too little of Karma in my life. I’m overdue.

So for 2020 to top 2016, it will have to take a knife and stab me in the back with it. That could well happen. If it does, I’m sure I’ll be blindsided then too.