Five Types of Law Partners

From BigLaw to the mom-and-pop shop, partner track bottlenecking forces every firm to suffer a garden variety of big chiefs. As a ball-busting, hopeful associate, if you don’t see yourself being (or being able to morph into) one of these five types of law partners, you may as well prepare for many frigid years of being looked over.

The Cool Guy

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He hangs out with associates after work, picks up the tab 75% of the time and is usually tapping some hot third-year litigation associate on the DL. Despite his exalted intra-firm status, he pretends to be “one of the guys.” He’s easy to love early on, but his charm wears thin pretty quickly. The first night out with this dude, you’re convinced he’s the coolest man you’ve ever met. But six months later, after seeing him make an ass of himself trying to pick up a college senior at the local bar, you’re embarrassed to know him. You realize he’s just a sad 38-year-old frat boy without a frat playing both sides against the middle. Sure, he pretends to be just like you, but when push comes to shove, he’s not. One minute, you’re slamming tequila shots together, the next, he’s telling you the Stock Purchase Agreement you drafted sucks and he has no choice but to give you a below-average review.

Advice: Don’t get suckered into his “I’m one of you” BS. He’s one of them. He’ll lull you into thinking you can say or do anything you want around him, but you can’t. And at the least opportune time, he’ll flip and remind you of this—and you’ll hate yourself (and him) for it. If you’re lucky, it won’t ruin your career. If you’re not, it just might.

The Cliché

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He’s gruff, dismissive and intimidating. You keep thinking he’s going to warm up, but he never does. He throws things at the wall, yells at his secretary and proudly demeans associates. You wonder if he’s aware enough to know that he’s a caricature, but you quickly realize he doesn’t have an introspective bone in his doughy body. The first time you see his wife, you do a double take. “Really? That sweet, nice, reasonably attractive woman is married to him?” Boom. He’s suddenly human again. You begin to think that, deep down, he’s probably a decent guy—until he calls you a hopeless idiot for the unprofessional credit agreement you turned in.

Advice: If you can stomach his blunt, loveless personality, he’s pretty good to work with. There are no surprises, no false pretenses, no trap doors. And, if your skin’s thick enough, you’ll actually learn something.

The Aloof Genius

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He’s hard to look at, hard to talk to, hard to understand, but fellow lawyers talk breathlessly about what a genius this dysfunctional lunatic is, which only gives him even more license to run with his whole “I’m the eccentric lawyer” thing. You try to connect with him and admire his unique genius from up-close, but all you get are incomprehensible emails, off-putting smiles and nonsensical assignments.

Advice: Avoid like Chlamydia. He’s just too hard to understand—and too impossible to impress. Plus, since he’s universally regarded as “super smart,” you’ll be penalized for not connecting with him and be considered “not that smart” yourself.

The Rainmaker

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Car salesman with a law license. His favorite goddamn quote is, “Law is a business.” He’s always talking about clients, bills, collections and relationships. At any given minute of any given day, he knows, to the penny, how much revenue his clients have generated. He also knows how much money everyone in the place made last year. And what they’re going to make this year. He’s committed the AmLaw profits-per-partner to memory, but with a gun to his head, he couldn’t tell what Rule 10b-5 says. He mocks investment bankers but quietly envies them. You kind of dig this guy at first because he’s not a legal tool and actually has a personality, but the more he talks, the less interesting he becomes. You begin to wonder why he even practices law if all he cares about is money.

Advice: Develop a solid relationship with him, but don’t become his go-to associate. At least not in the early stage of your career. Rainmakers can help, come partnership time, but they’re not great legal teachers.

The Jackass

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Everyone knows he’s an asshat moron, yet, for some inexplicable reason, they still tolerate him. He’s been at the firm for 20 years. People generally like him, but they don’t respect him. He’s the butt of countless jokes, yet the partnership never gets rid of him. Other partners tell you to avoid working him, but it’s not always that easy since he’s always looking for people to work with him (because everyone’s trying to avoid him). When you finally do work with him, you’re initially shocked at his intelligence. Maybe the rumors were wrong? Maybe he’s smart as hell and everyone’s just jealous? About two weeks into the deal, however, you begin to see the cracks in the intellectual armor. After a few more weeks, you’re convinced he’s developmentally disabled and should be prevented from dispensing legal advice immediately. You stop listening to anything and everything he says—until he’s suddenly right again. Now you’re really screwed up. He’s too dumb to listen to, but he’s just smart enough that you can’t ignore him.

Advice: Avoid. At best, he’ll drive you crazy. At worst, he’ll destroy your career. People will either assume you’re not developing as a lawyer since he’s incapable of training you, or that you’re a complacent moron for not figuring out how to avoid working with him in the first place.

Bitter Staff is a collection of current and former editors, contributors, and various other lawyers who have written for Bitter Lawyer over the years. Posts include interviews, contests, and other general lawyerly and bitter content.

17 Comments

  1. Guano Dubango

    October 8, 2009 at 2:56 am

    Mr. Bitter, you have left out one important type I know.  The Female Bulldog Partner.  This partner is sometimes mistaken for Types 2 and 5 above, but can be distinguished by the fact that this partner has only 2 legs, but a mouth that is very big, and with a breath that can stop a clock.  This person defies any categorization, as she is imperveous to any sexual advances, even insincere ones from young associates like me, interested in getting any edge I can, no matter how disgusting the thought of sex with this beast can be.

  2. BL1Y

    October 8, 2009 at 3:14 am

    Spot on advice about #1.  We have a “Cool Girl” partner.  Well, maybe Half-Cool, she’s too much of a workaholic to be hanging out with associates outside of the office.  But in the office, she’s definitely one of the most social partners we have.  She had a couple buddy associates she would chat with a lot and take out to lunch, but when layoff season came, she didn’t speak up to save their jobs.  The cool partner isn’t your friend because she actually likes you, she’s your friend because she can’t get real friends outside of the office.  But, she’ll do nothing to help you.  If you get fired, laid off, or quit, she’ll just hire a new friend.

  3. KateLaw

    October 8, 2009 at 5:29 am

    I am all about the aloof genius types.  I worked with one and actually looked at him as a challenge.  I ended up learning more from him than any other partner.  I think they feel socially awkward so if you can find a way to put them at ease and make them feel respected, you’ve got yourself quite the alliance.  Best damn letter of rec came from my former firm’s aloof genius.

  4. Skadden Tool

    October 8, 2009 at 7:25 am

    I’ve worked with all of the above.  Like the jackass the best since I don’t care about making partner anyway.  He’s less intense, less demanding, which means I get to leave before midnight most of the time.  Aloof genius guy is the worst.

  5. Brett

    October 8, 2009 at 8:31 am

    This one made me laugh.  My brother/partner is an ex car salesman and a bartender.  He can’t tell you the definition of hearsay, but he closes damn near every client that comes through our door.  He’ll go out for drinks on a Friday night and leave with two appointments for Monday morning.  I’ve never met anyone who can shmooze as well as him.

  6. BL1Y

    October 8, 2009 at 10:00 am

    Most bar tenders close every single client who walks in.

  7. hot female lawyer

    October 8, 2009 at 11:29 am

    This article should be called the Five Types of Male Lawyers That Exist (& You Never Want to Sleep With)

  8. Guano Dubango

    October 9, 2009 at 3:01 am

    Hot Female Lawyer:  If you are really HOT and a female lawyer admitted to the NY Bar, give me a chance.  I am an associate, but can promise you will not do much “sleeping” if you spend your nights with me.

  9. hot female lawyer

    October 9, 2009 at 6:37 am

    Survey says: NO!

  10. Anon

    October 9, 2009 at 2:45 pm

    I have worked for all the above except for The Rainmaker.

  11. Fabrize

    October 13, 2009 at 7:14 pm

    ya’ll gotta love the cool guy.

  12. Former Cool Guy Partner

    October 14, 2009 at 4:28 pm

    I was that guy.  Sadly.  Ouch.  Luckily, i realized how lame I was and got married… to a fourth year associate of course.

  13. jenn l

    March 8, 2012 at 2:33 pm

    “5 types of old white dudes at law firms”

  14. trb

    September 18, 2012 at 9:04 pm

    I worked for a Cliche. I learned a lot about how law was practiced in the Dark Ages as he still works that way.

  15. TexJudge

    January 2, 2013 at 5:25 pm

    One of the reasons I avoided BigLaw is because I could tell that most of the interviews I had were populated by the stereotypes listed above. Plus, I did not want to spend 6-10 years of my life (associate) under working conditions akin to those suffered by plantation “workers” in pre-1865 Alabama (albeit indoors).

  16. Crony

    June 27, 2013 at 11:10 pm

    You know. I am sitting here trying to figure out what I want to do for the next twenty years. And these posts are 90% accurate. And there are some females that pretty much fit the bill as well. Amazing stuff.

    Law practice is just a sleazy as can be. They should be called Lawthiefs instead of Lawyers. It just is what it is.

  17. Pingback: The Seven Habits of Highly (In)effective Partners

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