Do unto others

January 10, 2013

Nice lawyers can end up on top, reckons The Survivalist

Photo: Shutterstock

The phrase ‘do unto others as you would have them do to you’ often goes out of the window in the cut-throat world of law – especially in the race to the dwindling gas supply that is partnership.

Law is no different to any other corporate ladder in that stomping on your contemporaries can often seem necessary to survival and advancement. But there are subtle differences worth noting.

Law unto itself

First, law remains intensely personal.

Partners are their business, and success or failure – more importantly perceived success or failure – often depends on personal reputation. Thus a slight which in another corporate arena would simply be shrugged off can be taken to heart and percolated over years, even decades, only to rear its now considerably uglier head to deny a promotion, spike a merger or lose a client.

You’ll observe this happening if you look closely enough, and what you learn from observation will be really helpful down the track, believe me.

Second, even in these days of more regular career movement, longevity still matters.

If you are headed for partnership, you may end up being partners with your contemporaries for a long, long time. I know partners who have sat around a table every week for twenty years with people they absolutely loathe. It  ain’t pretty, so take early steps to avoid it. Be nice, and get a reputation for being nice, and it will sweeten every deal. Make yourself ‘nice but firm’ and you’re onto a serious winner.

Unpredictable careering

Third, and most important, you have no idea where people are going to end up.

Law is a small world, and has an unerring tendency to populate its client body from private practice. So, the assistant you are bossing, bullying and ridiculing one minute can, in the blink of an eye, suddenly become the client. I know of many, many examples of where an in-house lawyer has made it their goal to get their alma mater booted off the legal panel by way of pure revenge.

Work on the basis that you don’t know where people are going to end up, or indeed who else they know, and everyone suddenly attains a new utility.

That retiring partner who is a bit of an old duffer? Useless? Well, just so happens his daughter has her own firm and they’re looking for a new legal secretary and oh, wouldn’t you know it, your flatmate is looking for a job.

Survival isn’t just about shooting first and asking questions later – though if we’re talking about loosing off your HK416 assault rifle at a pack of mutant wolverines, I’ll let you off – it’s often about being nice and biding your time.

The person you don’t want to be

More than that, always going the extra mile and practising altruism could end up making the difference in a really tight pitch, or put you front-of-mind when the trainee you befriended ends up as corporate counsel at a major client and needs an adviser they can trust.

Being a hard-ass, a bully, manipulative, sneaky or exploitative just to climb the greasy pole doesn’t just make you the person you don’t want to be. It also shuts down opportunities you’ll never know you missed.

Happy New Year, survivor. As ever, stay frosty. TS

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