Saturday, March 7, 2009

no loyalty in biglaw

HP has a friend who has been let go as part of the layoffs we are seeing at the AM Law firms.  Friend was saying that she was surprised that her former mentor, who was now in a management position hadn't done more to help/protect her and wasn't doing much, if anything, to help her find a new job.  Friend at least hoped that Partner will give a solid reference once friend independently finds a new job.  It surprised friend that Partner just taking care of Partner.  Of course friend isn't naive, just friend thought for all the years of work and sacrifice for Partner, that Partner would look out for friend.  And that is not the case.

This, blog friends, is a hard but necessary lesson.  I know I have said this before but remember, law firm management and partners and other senior (and junior attys, for the most part), are NOT YOUR FRIENDS.  When push comes to shove, they watch their own asses, not yours.  I once worked for a partner, we will call him Larry.  He could be charming, and he would even host summer events at his home, take summers out bowling, etc.  To the casual observer, Larry was a cool guy.  But was Larry really cool?  NOOOO. Larry would be the first to blame another (usually junior attorney) for any mistakes/issues caused by Larry.  Larry would bad mouth people behind their backs.  And sure enough when times were slow, Larry would blame others and would be the first to cast off other attorneys to lay off world. 

We think that based upon, in some cases, years of dedication and hard work,  loyalty should follow.  Heck, as a personal principle, I believe that it should  I am loyal to those people who are part of my team or in my network.  But overall, in firms, this is not the case.  Do not look for emotional validation from your partners.  Do not expect that they will take care of you in "good times and bad."  Remember, during the bad times, their focus is on bringing home the bacon.  Many of them have overextended themselves and have huge expenses.  Many of them are single income families where they are the breadwinner.  It is once again survival of the fittest, and they will jettison you in order to stay on the cruise boat.  It is just reality. I am sorry it is depressing, gang, but just giving you the facts.

Now, what can my friend do?  She is doing the right thing, not burning his bridges with Partner and hopefully getting out of him what she needs, a great reference.  Friend may even stay in touch with Partner down the line, and if Partner is smart he will do the same and you never know where Friend will end up.   But Friend's lesson is a good lesson for us all -- one I wish I knew long ago when I became disappointed that someone I worked with didn't seem to advocate for me.  You are your own advocate - don't depend on others, especially BigLaw partners during 2009.  Loyalty in Big Law is awfully hard to come by.


Jeffrey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

This is good advice, but perhaps you can try to delve deeper.

Loyalty can be hard to come by in general, but it is far more difficult to come by in law-firms.

Why is it hard to find even remotely decent human beings (e.g. people who recognize that you've worked hard for them for years and do what they can to return the favor when the time comes) in law firms at the partner level?

Some I've talked to who have worked in the legal and political realm think it is even worse at large law firms than in politics.

Lawyers, at least some of them, think this is a profession and ostensibly hold themselves to a higher standard in many ways.

Yet in this regard they are worse than all, but the most shameless backstabber in any other industry. What gets you a bad rep in most jobs is just par for the course at a law firm. Sad.

And the question is why?
And how, if at all, can influential partners who are decent human beings (or at least would like to believe they are) at least begin to change this awful state of affairs?

f-3 said...

HP - I have the same question as 5:07 above. What is it specifically about the practice of law that brings out such characters? We're not the only profession where a lot of money gets thrown around, so I can't just pin everything on the financial stakes involved.

What you are pointing out is a vicious cycle. If, in response to selfish behaviors, the modus operandi is to "watch out for yourself," then aren't we just breeding the next generation of partners who will only watch out for themselves when trouble hits again? It goes back to the question that 5:07 raised - what can anyone do to change this sad state of affairs? And isn't now (when even senior attorneys need help) the best time to speak up and advocate for some change in mentality?

I'm not a partner and have no idea how to get them to think differently. Would love to hear more.

Anonymous said...

I'm still in law school, but this post doesn't surprise me, nor would it surprise me for any other field.

I think it is a harsh but true reality that 90% of people are inherently selfish. For these people, seemingly altruistic behavior is actually motivated by mutual benefit. Most of the time these people do not even realize they are so self-serving... at least they will not admit it to others and often themselves. Based on first hand experience and anecdotes, I know this type of behavior HP describes exists in the business world, in academia, and politics. Why should the law be any different? When more money, prestige and time is at stake, it will only be amplified.

It is a sad realization, but once you set your expectations properly you can more easily avoid over-exposing yourself and move beyond it. Ultimately, how you treat other people will affect your life positively or negatively, whether it be professionally or personally.

Anonymous said...

8:29. Maybe you have not worked in other fields, but rest assured that it is the exception, rather than the rule, in most fields that a boss who had an employee work day and night for them for years would simply undercut that loyal and hardworking employee whenever s/he thought it was in his/her best interest.

Yes, most people ultimately are selfish and one cannot expect that when there is one job available and you and your boss hypothetically are vying for the same spot that your boss will magnanimously say "you deserve it. take it."

But we're not talking about that. We're talking about the equity partner who makes a mistake and is quick to blame the junior associate for the mistake. This despite the fact that the junior associate worked hard and gave up countless nights and weekends to help the partner. We're talking about the partner who lacks any sense of basic human decency. We're talking about the partner that has obliterated from his/her conscience one of the most basic human instincts: helping those who have helped you.

Such a partner is par for the course at a law firm, but an abhorrent figure (albeit an existing figure) in most other industries.

And one of the problems is that people like HP can only take the first step and tell everyone else to realize this pathetic reality and watch out for it. This is, of course, because most in the legal profession are cowards (to use the buzzword of the month) and are truly the most selfish and self-centered people you can meet. Most associates that produce top quality work product, but who are decent people, realize they are surrounded by partners who, at best, are like HP, and they depart for greener pastures.

Anonymous said...

I agree with 8:27. I have worked in three industries over twelve years, and while you have your selfish scum always, they are seen as the exception, and are not treated as "oh, that is just how things are." The picture that hiring partner is painting here is realistic, but tragic, and I don't know why the only answer is to suck it up and let it carry on.

Anonymous said...

Well, HP you've confirmed my total hatred for lawyers despite being one myself.

It also prompts some food for thought: Why are the higher ups ragging on younger lawyers who want work/life balance? What gives them the right to expect loyalty or any effort from lower level attorneys if they're not going to show the same? And why bother w/any kind of kissing of behind?

Anyone care to explain this to someone who's decidedly anti-Biglaw?

Anonymous said...

In response to 6:11, associates still have incentive to kiss-a#$ and Partners are still in a position to denegrate requests for work/life balance because of supply and demand. There are simply too many young associates who are eager to fill the position left by unsatisfactory (read: demanding) associates.
Regardless, this lack of loyalty remains unacceptable.