Humility’s Rennaissance

I “grew up” as a litigator. I always thought that was what you were supposed to do if you liked speaking in public and had a nasty little aggressive streak. Indeed, once I got into law-firm life, I noticed that nearly all the successful litigators had very overt hyper-aggressive tendencies. Even the more “mellow” litigation partners were eventually found out to be ruthless–once you scratched the surface.

One fallacy that I have discovered now that I am a headhunter is that transactional attorneys do not share that same trait. At the least, I’ve noticed that the younger generation of attorneys (let’s says class of ’97 and up) tend to uniformly demonstrate these overtly aggressive traits just as frequently as litigators. The trick is, however, you’ve got to know when to show your fangs.

In my view, law firms like the aggressive types–but with a big caveat; they want you to use that attack instinct on opposing counsel–not within the firm.

I see it more clearly and poignantly in the interview process. Many attorneys–come to think of it especially transactional types–think they can use the same strong-arm negotiation tactics they use in making deals in the process of approaching a firm for employment. Um, this doesn’t work.

Uniformly, in my experience, firms are very interested in hearing about your killer instincts in an interview; they are very happy to read snappy descriptions of them on paper; but they are not so thrilled to be on the receiving end of candidates’ negotiation ploys. You think this is obvious? Well. It might be, but 90% of candidates fall into this trap–maybe they just can’t help themselves or the process makes them nervous and they revert to type.

Either way, let me suggest a different approach. As the interview “dance” is a time-consuming one from a firm’s perspective, I suggest candidates use as much restraint as possible and access all of their patience. Let the firms dictate when and where to meet–do not grumble (either inside or out) when they change schedules on you and when they dither. Just trust the system and let things flow. Remember, if you are even now grinding your teeth at the thought–the time to use your ‘big guns’ is or should be reserved for what counts—your decision whether or not to accept an offer.

I’ll write again soon about aggression in firm life once you are on the “inside.” In the meantime, try to let humility and forbearance become a hallmark of your professional style–at least when dealing with your own colleagues!

For another perspective on “culture” within law firms, click here.

Pete Smith, Esq.
BCG Attorney Search, San Francisco

Leave a Comment

4 × 3 =