Breast milk baristas and other antics – A day in the life of Aulich
A recent article we published on our blog last Thursday, written by one of our partners, Erin Taylor titled “Aggressive misogynism” has generated a lot of feedback. Much has been very positive. It has however, generated some negative feedback. Some has come from those nearest and dearest to us counselling us to be careful, the corollary of good publicity is sometimes bad publicity. And the corollary of being a successful and close knit firm is that there are always #haters. Some of that feedback has also come from ex-employees and competitors, and most of it can be put down to bitterness or even tall poppy syndrome. But it did get me thinking about our culture at Aulich and has led me to chime into the debate.
I am the first to admit, I am a polarising character. I have an ingrained disdain for authority, I practise law more aggressively than most, I value loyalty as high as any trait, I swear and I have no problem telling anyone what I think. Those characteristics make people lovers or haters – there is really no in between when it comes to Aulich.
I am also the antithesis of political correctness. I think the first port of call for everything is to laugh. Nothing is off limits. Including me. If you are going to laugh at everything, you have to also be prepared to laugh at yourself and I have given lots of people lots of cause to laugh at me. I accept entirely that the culture at Aulich is not everyone’s cup of tea. I even sometimes take things too far. Every single person in our work place (and even our ex-employees) would have been fired for some of the jokes we’ve all played at some point if we worked in the public service or at a big law firm.
I became the victim of the very culture I created some time ago when one of our senior associates played a trick on me by giving me a beautifully prepared cappuccino (with chocolate on top) to have in a particularly tense meeting. I was grateful to have been given the coffee but should have thought more of it – as this senior associate has been with me for over 10 years and had never made me a cup of coffee before. After drinking it (it was slightly too sweet) the whole boardroom burst into laughter. I left the boardroom to find just about all my staff waiting in the wings in fits of laughter. After attending our kitchen I discovered that the whole firm had been involved in the joke – they had defrosted one of my senior associates’ many sachets of breast milk in our freezer and made me the perfect breast milk cappuccino! Was that too far? For #metoo and for most work organisations– of course it was. But for Aulich it was funny, harmless and the joke was on me. It was also payback for the many times I have done things like put a business card in someone’s sandwich while they were out of the lunch room, got onto their computer and sent someone else a suggestive email while they weren’t in their office or just generally annoyed the life out of everyone almost every day.
I do not expect everyone to think the breast milk coffee joke was ok. But for us – it was. My point is having a rude sense of humour and laughing with your co-workers at politically incorrect things is very different to creating a misogynist culture. With the rise and rise of the #metoo I would hate to see the Aulich culture being confused or tied in with #metoo just because we do not meet the politically correct test – or as some people would say are at the very other end of the scale . We use humour to deal with the pressures of our job. Sometimes we deal with deeply disturbing matters, deeply vulnerable and troubled people, and material that the ordinary person would find very confronting. We have a counselling service for our staff, we de-brief about matters and at times we laugh about things the ordinary person would not. That’s Aulich and that’s what we have created.
So, whilst we come last in the political correct test (with me the worst of them all) – we have 25 of 30 staff who are women, half our partners women, all senior associates and management staff women, we have flexible work hours for our mothers and a freezer full of breast milk (minus one).