I’m Awesome But Despised by Colleagues

Q 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.

A 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.

Ex-Bitter is a former big firm lawyer who now doles out advice to anyone who asks. Got a question? Email it to advice@bitterlawyer.com. Or read more Advice from an Ex-Bitter.

5 Comments

  1. NMW Solo Attorney

    June 8, 2012 at 9:28 am

    I’m with your staff and colleagues – I can FEEL the sense of superiority from here, and it makes you a pompous ass. I’m guessing that there are others at your firm who also work hard. When you give off the vibe that you are better than anyone else – why would they like you? And you don’t socialize with them – because you have friends (sounds like – “friends who are better then these aholes…”). You don’t have to be friends with the people you work with, but you cannot disregard building relationships. It doesn’t mean they are your BFFs. We are human, and relationship building at work is important – or the Bitter Lawyer is right – you should leave. They don’t like you – because you have made it clear that you do not like them, so why are you working there???

  2. Upstate Midsize firm associate

    June 8, 2012 at 9:56 am

    The problem isn’t that you’re not drinking with your “fat ass” colleagues, it’s that obviously, by your letter, you don’t respect the talents and humanity of the people around you.

    I’m a midlevel associate at a decent-sized firm in my thirties and, like the letter writer, I don’t “drink” with anyone from my firm, or really associate with them at all outside of work. I have plenty of non-law friends, don’t care to associate with other lawyers much, and live a good distance away from the office, far from anyone else who works here.

    And yet, I feel comfortable, “liked,” and upwardly mobile here. Why? Because I ask other people for advice and assistance. I share “war stories” with the other attorneys to get a sense of what is trending in our practice. I tell my secretary, on a weekly basis, that I would frankly commit malpractice in a matter of hours if it weren’t for her trustworthy skills. I buy her small but meaningful cards and gifts on important days and express heartfelt appreciation for her work. I admit to the rest of the staff when I am outside my expertise of practicing law and need help, for example, locating a file.

    At the end of the day, assuming my skills as an attorney are comparable to yours, I would run circles around you, because I value the team I work with, and they will help me when I call on them, because I treat them like respected professionals, instead of cannon fodder.

    You’re not too “individual” for anything. You’re just a dick.

  3. Vernunft

    June 9, 2012 at 9:06 pm

    “reins” you illiterate

  4. r. dernister

    June 13, 2012 at 8:43 am

    And you wonder why the public hates lawyers. Having a strong ego is a requirement for the practice of law; being an arrogant a**hole is not. This young man has a lot of growing up to do. Perhaps he should run back to daddy and grandpa so when he crashes and burns they can cover for him. God, I get so tired of guys like this. Why do they all become lawyers?? Yeah, I know: so they can become judges.

  5. Jason

    May 10, 2013 at 2:08 pm

    Maybe you should try not being such an asshole.

    “But I am not liked by my colleagues or staff.” Let’s analyze why:

    “I do not fraternize with my colleagues. I am done with the bullshit socializing with colleagues”

    “Allowing the people at the firm into my personal life will only give them more gossip material.” Uh-huh.

    “As to my staff, I am running a rather tight ship” Translation: I’m an asshole to them about everything.

    Proof: “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.” I’m seeing a pattern here.

    “A while back our overstaffed and overpaid marketing house”

    “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” Are you kidding at this point?

    “I do not drink with my fat ass colleagues”

    Bottom line: you are in for a huge personal crisis when somebody finally busts your over-inflated, ivy league ego.

    Get over yourself and roll around in the dirt with some of us normal folk.

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