Friday, January 9, 2009

F-Bombs and Other Curses/Language

Hmmm....there seems to be some back and forth in the comments to my last post regarding F-bombs in the office, and related bad language.  Look, I am not saying that I never say the F-bomb.  I am just saying you need to be careful about language you use in the professional workplace.  You'll recall this came up in my discussion regarding being careful what you put out there in the social networking/cyberspace world. 

If you are sitting in a friend's office and the F-bomb flies, this is not a big deal. But, you need to be careful about who you use foul language in front of -- don't assume that just because someone is your age, or younger, or you are very familiar with them, that throwing the F-bomb or other foul language is ok.  The best thing is to be careful and watch the language.

First, do not curse in an interview!  DON'T DO IT!  Did you hear me?  Don't do it. Just because some of us look young and maybe even hip doesn't mean we think it would be appropriate for you to say shit, or f-bomb or whatever along those lines.  Or "the professor screwed me with that grade."  This goes to JUDGEMENT...and we will think ... how will this person behave in front of a client?

Case in point, a relatively youthful partner of mine takes great offense when people curse -- in any setting.  A person interviewed with her as a lateral.  This guy figured they are about the same age and let the f-bomb fly.  She complained and let her views known.  I don't believe he got hired.

Second, do not curse with clients.  Even if you are on very friendly terms, remember this is still an attorney/client relationship.  Remember, I told you guys and gals at the very beginning of the blog -- YOU ARE NOT AT HOME.  Guard your words.  

Case in point, I had a client who is a very religious woman.  You wouldn't necessarily know this off the bat, but over the years, I have learned how devoted she is to her religion.  She would take offense to cursing.  

Overall, just be cautious.  That isn't saying you can't be yourself - but keep in mind you are in a professional setting and it is always better to be on the conservative side when it comes to oral and written communications.  

We can address the TMI factor in communications in another post.

Hope you have a fun-filled weekend.  


Anonymous said...

Sorry about "dropping the f-bomb," as you call it, on the last post. I thought we were all adults and it was an anonymous internet comment thread, not an interview, but hey, your blog your rules. Might I humbly suggest, however, that when a single word offends in a long comment, an edit might be the more appropriate course of action? Again, your house, your rules.

This ties well into the content of the comment you deleted. I can certainly understand why one wouldn't curse with clients, just as I can understand why one wouldn't get sloppy drunk with them or tell them about that orgy one attended last weekend. (Can I say "orgy?") Why, however, must one pretend throughout one's internet life that one doesn't get sloppy drunk, etc., as you suggested in your facebook&c. post? What business is it of the client's or the firm's what I do--and what I allow others to know I do--in my private life, if I am a good lawyer and behave appropriately in a professional setting?

The answer we always get is that such behavior shows bad judgment, but this is circular. It's only bad to have a sloppy-drunk photo on facebook because employers will think it's bad, and they'll think it's bad because we should know they'll think it's bad. This doesn't make any sense. The real reason seems to be some sort of underlying puritanism, wherein we all pretend that we don't do things like that and are as conservative in our personal lives as in professional lives. Or is there another reason I am not seeing?

The reason that such behavior on the firms' part is offensive is the sense it conveys that the firm has bought us, not our services. I can have all sorts of goodwill towards my employer, but that doesn't make it reasonable to expect me to change my personal life more than I must to perform the requirements of my position. On the other side of it, a BigLaw shop may have over 1000 lawyers, and its reputation shouldn't be so fragile.

Anonymous said...

Wow - bad enough that you had to be told. If you were an adult, you would get it.

f-3 said...

If your firm can find your information on the Internet, so can your client who is forking over big bucks to hire you to work on their matters. Pictures of you in a not-so-flattering light doesn't exactly scream, "Pay me $500 an hour!"

So no, it's not puritanism. That's just clients not wanting to risk their money, and it's simply a matter of trust and perception, both of which figure prominently in business relationships. If certain behaviors have *any* chance of affecting client acquisition / retention, you bet firms are not going to risk it.

It's likely that one day you will be on the other side of the fence - i.e., being the buyer of professional services (be it legal or what not), and when you are pressured by execs to justify why you hired certain lawyers / agents, etc., and when you are pressured to show results from that spending, you will also be a lot more conservative and less prone to take risks with people you hire.

Anonymous said...

I am officially leaving the "hiring partner's office." This blog is outdated and the fact that comments have been censored as if this were a formal setting is enough for me. I am tired of the pompous behavior and the "common sense" information that is passed off as important. Thanks for nothing substantial HP...adios.

Anonymous said...

It sounds like the answer, such as it is, is that GCs need to CYA. A GC will hire a firm based on some combination of intuitive and rational factors and hope for the best. If the firm is unsuccessful, the GC will come under fire from rivals and superiors, and will need to explain his hiring decision. Unfortunately, people are often unwilling to accept that life is uncertain, that an outcome might have been negative despite all best efforts, etc., and so blame will be placed on the GC if any hook for it is found. Any information suggesting that a firm is less than perfect, or that any of its attorneys have flaws or peccadilloes is such a hook. To protect their own careers from blame for unfortunate outcomes, GCs must keep up appearances that don't help anyone in themselves. It's all a perverse signaling game with very little relation to actual merit.

Is that about right?

Anonymous said...

Boo hoo. It looks like some of the kids who went straight from undergrad to law school are upset they can't treat their careers like a frat party. Some people do, but they aren't working for prestigous least not for long.

Personally, I love reading updates. Keep up the good work HP.

I'd like to see a post about day to day firm life, i.e. vacation, sick days, and personal days. Most firms give you 4 weeks, but is this realistic, if say your firm average hours are around 2000?

Anonymous said...

Gee, has it ever occurred to some folks that not everyone wants to work in BigLaw??? Speaking as a lawyer working in the entertainment field & having clients in the industry, a great many of them don't want to deal w/the typical lawyer stereotype. Such lawyers have also told me about going to events & drinking w/clients for the sake of rapport + good client relations. I think a challenge to that area is knowing where the line b/t showing a personality & ruining your professional credibility is & being careful not to cross it.

My rule of thumb has been to adapt to the client you're dealing with. Thankfully, I'm in a position to eventually start my own firm so I get to create my own policies & interact with anyone in whatever manner I please. If you start your own firm, you make the rules.

Anonymous said...

11:25, point taken. But, this blog was created for advice about big law, and more specifically geared towards junior associates, hence a more conservative least that's my view.

Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous @ 3:43PM,

I believe the concrete answer you are looking for is propensity reasoning: if you prove your frat boy behavior in pictures, you're susceptible to the same behavior in any situation where alcohol is involved. What's that? You're so mature you know the difference? Really?

Best of luck to you.

Anonymous said...

HP, I'd love a post where you talk about what makes junior associates stand out. As a partner, I'm sure there are certain attributes or special things that junior associates do that make them stand out. Maybe think about junior associates you've been impressed with in the past, and talk about what made them different. Specially organized memo's? Wiz at westlaw?