(this means no.)
One of the worst things about being a junior associate at a law firm is that you aren't really allowed to say "no." Ever. To anyone. It's horrible. It's like you are not even a human being, let alone a professional. I mean really, even two year olds are allowed to say "no" sometimes! It's because everyone in the world is above you. Frankly, sometimes even my secretary thinks she is senior to me. I once had an office manager from work say that she outranked me. She was joking, but it was actually probably true.
But it's not just the explicit "no" that isn't allowed. It's any kind of no-like behavior as well. Like making plans for after work that you aren't super-excited to cancel. It's bizarre. Everyone knows it freaking sucks to work until 2 in the morning. And yet, you have to pretend like you like it, at least to the person who is making you do it.
Like this e-mail exchange that happened recently, when I was out of town for the wedding of one of my closest friends in life:
You received a phone call. Please call X Partner.
I received a message that you called. I'm actually out of the office today, and am in a noisy location. Could I call you back in about an hour?
[Which really means: I am on vacation. Do I really need to call you back? For real?]
Erin, I was going to ask you to do a short research assignment, but it can wait until early next week. When you are back in the office, let's touch base and I will let you know if the research still needs to be done.
[Which really means: Oh, you're on vacation? It isn't important, actually, and maybe it will just go away.]
So, this time, it worked out fine. X is, actually, a pretty decent person. These interactions do not always go that smoothly. And isn't it weird, that I have to pretend like I am willing to do the work, even when I'm at my friend's wedding? Wouldn't it be so much simpler if I could just say to X, "I'm on vacation. Can it wait until I'm back or is it an emergency?" But instead I have to pretend like actually I can't wait to call you back from my friend's bathroom, which is the only quiet room in the house, and would be thrilled to do legal research while all my friends that I see about once every 6-9 months are drinking and getting ready to go play laser tag (ahem, a lesbian bachelorette party if I ever saw one).