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, you may as well prepare for many frigid years of being looked over.
The Cool Guy
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.
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
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.
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.
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.