A successful lawyer hires a new scrivener to join his small firm. Enter Bartleby, a quiet, initially efficient, anti-social little man, who proceeds to work well as a copyist, but refuses to help out with any other office tasks...
"Imagine my surprise, nay, my consternation, when without moving from his privacy, Bartleby in a singularly mild, firm voice, replied, 'I would prefer not to.'"
Bartleby's famous defiance has been considered a precursor to absurdist literature, anticipating the themes we would later encounter in the work of Franz Kafka (The Trial, A Hunger Artist). It is said that Herman Melville wrote Bartleby as an emotional response to the fact that Moby-Dick was not selling as well as he had expected. Sadly, Bartleby was not especially popular upon publication either.
Mary Gaitskill's infamous short story, Secretary takes place at a very different kind of lawyer's office.
"When he asked me to come into his office at the end of the day, I thought he was going to fire me. The idea was a relief, but a numbing one. I sat down and he fixed me with a look that was speculative but benign, for him. He leaned back in his chair in a comfortable way, one hand dangling sideways from his wrist. To my surprise, he began talking to me about my problems, as he saw them."
I will leave the rest of it up to you to read.
You can find both stories online: