Balancing the Bar

Happiness and the Practice of Law

A note on Law Firm Culture

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Sometimes I can’t get over the way in which lawyers treat one another.  The clinging to their control and identity as a “lawyer” is a serious flaw of the occupation.  Frankly, there is little if any mutual support within the practice of law.  There is no pat on the back or good job.  If you are lucky you have a few good friends within your firm. Someone you can go to and commiserate about the latest case or the politics of law firm life.   Simply put, the law firm is generally a male hierarchy where the rules are modified to suit the needs of those who “think” they are in charge—The Alpha.  The alpha inevitably tries to tell the more marketing savvy and gregarious persons what they should or should not be doing and worse yet always has a justification for why the real successful partners should be paying more overhead.    The general environment is competitive and not welcoming to the “individual”.  Individuality is not wanted and roundly criticized.

We all pretend that the practice of law is bad because of opposing counsel, the courts, the judges or the clients.  For me, the real issue is how we treat our fellow partners and associates.   To be in a profession where conflict is not only present, but expected there is a lot of avoidance of conflict.  Sometimes, there is downright abusive behavior among partners or between attorneys and staff.  There is almost always someone who refuses to own their own part in the dysfunctional relationships that result.  It is always the other persons fault.  Then, when a person stands up and says no you owe and will give me respect, there is a shock and criticism not of the abuser but of the partner who refuses to be treated disrespectfully.  You are always told “he is a nice guy” or he can “do” things for you so keep that in mind. 

The reality is the Alpha may think he can control everyone but he cannot command me or any other partner unless they consent.  As Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Never give someone the power to say yes who doesn’t have the power to say No.”  So, what do you do in this situation to acquiesce and go along to get along?  Or, like me do you learn to choose your battles.     

It is a delicate line.  Personally, I am learning to be a “pass through entity” and let the ego and personality quirks of my partners pass through my mind.  The personalities and egos of others can become an annoying part of life if you grasp them and fail to control your reaction to them.  But, if they pass through your mind you can observe them, assess the situation and the react only when necessary.  By doing this,   I am learning not to absorb the competitiveness and anxiety around me.  I am just an observer and what I see does not make me happy or content.  I am making my own place in the legal community.  I focus on taking care of my clients, and my staff.  I am there for my friends/coworkers and I am happy with my little part of law firm life.  With that said I am a strong female and set and maintain boundaries which are true to who I am (more on setting boundaries in an upcoming post).

The reality is whether female or male, each person must decide whether to assimilate into the firm culture or whether they wish respect the culture of the firm while still figuring out how to be true to herself or himself.  This is an issue all lawyers face.  We all have the same fears and worries and firm culture can either help support its attorneys or make things so much worse.  The choice is up to the individual but also the Firm.  Each firm is different yet the same.  Finding out how to fit in is a challenge but can be overcome if one trust their inner voice and be true to yourself you will learn how to maneuver and succeed.

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Author: Tabitha M. Hochscheid

Attorney since 1995, interested in Attorney Health and Well Being and related issues for lawyers and the general population. Developer and Committee Chair of the Cincinnati Bar Association Health and Well Being Committee.

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