We've all been there and it doesn't feel good.
A former associate suing Kirkland & Ellis for sex discrimination has given other lawyers nightmares after she left notes identifying weaknesses of her case in the middle of her claim.
Zoya Kovalenko, who is representing herself, worked as an IP litigator in the US firm's San Francisco office for 11 months until she was fired during her first review in September 2021, where her supervising partner told her she had "not contributed to her matters at either the substantive or commitment level that is expected of an associate".
Kovalenko sued, alleging that the IP partners gave male associates preferential treatment to her, and were taking revenge after she complained about their conduct internally a few months before she was sacked.
But she's given her ex-employer a couple of easy wins after forgetting to delete two notes querying the strength of her arguments.
One note reads, "delete? Not sure I want it because the analogy seems weak" in a section that sets out the roles of the Kirkland partners she has sued.
The second note asks: "cut?? Will this undercut the 'Kirkland-should-have-let-me-work-with-other-partners' theme, e.g., by implying these partners are so important that they have final say in Kirkland matters?"
The slip provided lawyers with "nightmare fuel" after it was circulated on Twitter. "Seriously, I want to throw up", said one lawyer. "I'm currently throwing up for both of us", replied another individual.
"That's what happens when you file brief_final_v2_usethis.pdf instead of brief_final_v2_usethis2.pdf", tutted one lawyer, as others posted, "I had a stroke reading this. There is no hole deep enough", and "I need to take the rest of the day off."
One lawyer suggested it "Also sort of undermines any argument that the pro se drafter wasn’t fired for poor performance", a point which Orrick, Kirkland's lawyers, will pick up in their response if they're feeling sadistic.
Kovalenko has claimed that whenever partners got wind of her holiday plans they assigned her extra work either right beforehand or during her vacations. She said she was "not opposed to working a fair amount when traveling and on holidays", except the partners "did not show a similar disregard for male associates’ travel plans". According to Kovalenko, partners in the IP team went out of their way to ensure the men weren't disturbed, which included dumping their work on her. She said she was sacked despite her "willingness to always prioritize work over her personal life", which seems to be the base requirement in a US firm.
Kovalenko also alleged that when she joined a trial team at late notice, Kirkland IP partner Leslie Schmidt gestured to her in front of an expert witness in a derogatory manner and commented, "Now I'm stuck with this", then made her order them all food. "No male associate had ever been asked or had to order food for any member of the trial team, including themselves", said Kovalenko, adding that the partner "clearly" felt administrative tasks were "best left to females and are too ministerial for a male associate to handle".
According to her claim, she and another female associate were "left behind" after the trial to fly home by themselves on a commercial economy flight, while the male associate flew back with the male partners on an "all-boys" chartered flight.
A spokesperson for the firm said, "Kirkland & Ellis is committed to ensuring its workplace is one where every employee is treated with professionalism and respect".
"Ms. Kovalenko was employed by the firm for less than a year during which time her performance and the quality of her work product was found to be below the standards that the firm expects of its associates."
The spokesperson said the allegations were investigated and found to be "entirely without merit", and that, "To the contrary, the attorneys named as defendants and unfairly targeted are known for their integrity and commitment to mentorship".
The firm said it "will vigorously defend itself and the attorneys named as defendants against these baseless allegations".