Question: I am a senior associate (9 years) at BigLaw, predominantly in M&A and cross-border transactions. The lowdown is, I am fairly successful, hailing from a family of lawyers. I graduated from an Ivy League college, made Law Review, declined an offer from the firm where my family holds the reigns, and secured a position at this firm on my own steam.
Today I am second in command to the partner in charge of the department. Our clients respect me, compliments me when they are teleconferencing with other partners, and I bill like crazy, meeting my targets, if not exceeding them.
The gist of it all is that I know the law and I know my (our) clients. But I am not liked by my colleagues or staff.
I do not fraternize with my colleagues. I am done with the bullshit socializing with colleagues—just because it is expected from me. Everything about working in BigLaw is fake, except the law and the clients. I have friends outside the firm. Allowing the people at the firm into my personal life will only give them more gossip material.
As to my staff, I am running a rather tight ship, that with the partner always traveling or consulting. I am lenient, but I do not ask twice and I do not suffer a fool. Yet, my staff is forever running to HR with complaints, and then I have firm management coming down on me. Speaking of which: our practice manager and I do not see eye to eye. He is a bully who thinks of himself as the Holy See. A while back our overstaffed and overpaid marketing house asked me to run with a social media initiative. I said no (for simple reasons—I suffered a conflict of interest. The related social media platform is a client and secondly I did not see myself doing something that the marketing outfit can do.)
Suddenly, apart from being the most marketable person in this firm (did I mention I played varsity and can double as an Abercrombie model?) and being the most published senior associate, now I am not a ball player anymore, according to the powers that be.
Not a ball player and not nice to my staff and “isolated” because I do not drink with my fat ass colleagues who are incapable of getting their heads out of unspeakable orifices of third parties who may or may not promote them.
So my question: am I too much of an individual for BigLaw? I am not going to make partner here, am I? So I am thinking of canning it, taking a few clients with me, and joining the BigLaw outfit where the dad and granddad are at.
So much for making it on my own steam.
Answer: I like this letter. First, it has a slight element of bullshit to it. Former varsity Ivy Leaguer who can double as an Abercrombie model, made law review, publishes more than any other senior associate, exceeds billing targets, and has a dad and grandpa in the business. Yet won’t make partner because he’s kind of strict, mean even. Really?
But I digress. Are you too much of an individual for big law? Who’s to say? Law is made up of highly successful megalomaniacs like you. And I mean that in a mostly good way. It’s part of the territory, what makes some good lawyers great. But typically a great lawyer has a sense of humor or can be appropriately self-deprecating, or can see that his or her success depends a great deal on the success of those under and around them. Basically, they have all the accomplishments you list but also command a fuller package that includes empathy, humor, and kindness, three things that are vastly underrated by the profession. Remember, we’re not talking war generals or commanders or assassins here—we’re talking lawyers, well-rounded great lawyers.
So, should you join pop in the other big law outfit? Probably. You proved your point—if that’s what it was about—that you can make it on your own steam, unless “making it” on your own steam also means becoming an embittered asshat partner. Which gets me to a critical unlisted question: what makes you happy?
Honestly, ask and answer that question. I presume you are at least in your mid-thirties, maybe a bit older, with thirty or more years ahead of you. Do you really want to be hanging out at a place for the next three decades with—in your words—“fat ass colleagues who are incapable of getting their heads out of unspeakable orifices of third parties.” Probably not. At least not without changing.
Jump ship. But do it only if it will make you happy and the other place is a good fit. Or if practicing with grandpa will, at least, make you a little less wound up. In the end you can certainly continue to be the awesome Ivy League law review Abercrombie billing machine. But that doesn’t mean you won’t ultimately become “that asshole partner” we all despise. No one needs that, even you.