Crabs in a Barrel Syndrome: Attorneys and “Office” Politics

Although ‘Crabs in a Barrel” is a phrase most often associated with Blacks, the concept can be applied to human beings in general, blacks for the purpose of this post and its historical connotations but definitely lawyers. So when you add this historical, psychological scheme to the legal field, you have some pretty transparent and disturbed black attorneys.

My Synopsis: Crabs are scavengers who eat whatever they can get access to. When one puts many in a barrel and as one opens the lid, one will notice crabs climbing on top of each other to get to the top to exit. Now logically this is a methodical way for ALL crabs to leave, standing on the “shoulders” rather shells of the others, then the next then the next. However, characteristic of this syndrome is that each crab only desires ITSELF to exit, so  it uses the others as a stepping stool to do so no matter what the cost. In the end the stupid crab doesn’t realize that as a loner he is susceptible to the one(s) who put him in the barrel with the others in the first place, it eventually will be cajoled, seasoned only to be steamed for someone’s palette. Get it?

This syndrome is everywhere but the acute nature of it when trying to “arrive” in America is peculiar among black Americans. I noticed that Africans and West Indian attorneys usually sit together, arrive together and even eat together on document reviews.  Then again there aren’t many black American attorneys (especially women) to begin with.

Yes, there is an ethnic and cultural distinction among these groups though they MAY have a historical common tie. If anyone knows about black history, divide and conquer and “breaking a person” then you can understand how this is more prevalent among black Americans. Even as of 2010 one will see on network television a sassy black assistant who is smart but for some reason is the servant of the white person whose life isn’t together (I’ve even read this about movies, i.e. Morgan Freeman-no I don’t detract from what he accomplished but still); the black males who focuses on a short-term scheme bound to fail but with a false hope it will grant a windfall, etc.  The African migrant who became a citizen or who is on a work visa, usually grew up in an enviroment surrounded by people who look like them, share all of the same culture, understands their struggles within their original homeland. In America, blacks are frowned upon, janitorial staff who is of Latino descent, or the Indian or Ethiopian guy who may work at a convenience store or the parking garage. No matter how much one reminds ALL Americans and immigrants of the contributions and foundation that blacks and Native Americans have made, in 2010 most of the time a Black will be the butt of a joke before a South Asian, Asian or an African.

In document review land, one does not work to gain experience, one works for survival. As the economy steadily worsens (and even before), this becomes the bottom-of-the-barrel way to live until the following week. Thus, the goal is to stay on the job as long as possible no matter what. Knowing that most likely Black Americans (sometimes it will be an African who does it, but from what I observed this is rare) won’t have any alliances to conspire to get “others” fired, he or she becomes confident that at least they can assail another Black, because the reality is that no one cares what happens to a Black and if someone who appears to look like them are at the helm of subjecting the target to an earlier exit, by all means.

It begins with an overzealous black attorney (for purposes of this post). The one who is all too friendly, smiles just a little too much and one wonders what types of “special” brownies she ate. If one is normal, one cringes at the fangs bared as it reminds you of Jack London’s novel ‘The Call of the Wild.’ She will be the one who arrived on site only five minutes before you but is an expert of where everything is and who are the correct points of contact. All the while she acts like she’s 007 asking people around you about you, whether or not you worked with the other before, make subtle comments at the “standoffish” behavior one appears to demonstrate. While this is happening she is counting how many people, regardless of race or gender, that she has summoned unto her mental prowess to bring more attention to this other person. 

The next step is to become friends with the team lead or project manager. If this person is Black, you may really be in trouble because likely this person also never really had any “power” in the legal field as they were usually not left in a position of supervision of others.  Then if accessible, the same person will attempt to reach the senior associate (who will likely be white) on the case, but knows this is not likely as she has not been admitted to the socially accepted notion of speaking to a peer–but she is not considered one. At this point the attorney has brought out the plastic stacking cups of illusion with gossip, make-believe and conspiracy. Like some document reviewers the target may not care as she does not desire to be there in the first place, but I doubt anyone isn’t scuffed by false pretenses, false accusation and conspiracies. The real question to ask is why, I assume for the temporary euphoria that someone thought she was important enough to influence the decisions of others. Little does she understands that she is even less respected for betraying one of her own. She probably thought she was a puppetier, yet was only the string and wood for the unseen hands you will never be. The reality is that everyone will be “released” when the contract ends anyway, as you stood on the others’ shells you will be consumed just like the rest.

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