There’s something about lawyers. And I don’t mean all lawyers: I mean there’s something specifically about trial lawyers. It’s something a bit off-kilter, maybe a little annoying. Certainly off-putting. What is it about trial lawyers specifically and litigators in general that should concern you?
[Disclaimer: I’m saying “us” because I’m a litigator. But let’s be clear: as a first-year associate, I haven’t yet assumed any of the personalities that I’m about to describe, and that’s a good thing. Because every one of them is thoroughly miserable.]
Call it ego, narcissism, whatever the word du jour is; but the “something” I’m referring to is a tendency these lawyers have to walk into a room and suck all of the light out of it, drawing every ounce (if we can measure light by the ounce) completely into themselves. Walking, talking, light-sucking, human black holes. They refuse to accept that any attention may be directed to anyone else. No, the trial lawyer is alone on the stage, and all eyes must be on him. (Although by no means do they have to be he’s. Female trial lawyers can be just as bad, if not worse. But to avoid the awkward he-or-she construction, I’ll just refer to them all as “he.”) During my time in this world, and not just on Neptune, I’ve found that trial lawyers fall into one of three categories: The Wall of Sound, The Do-No-Wronger, and The Self-Lover.
First, let’s say hello to The Wall of Sound. And we’re lucky to say hello: it is likely the only word we will be able to fit into conversation with this specimen. With him, the minute you open the door, he begins to talk. His voice is awe-inspiring: its timbre is booming, the volume, borderline deafening. The Wall of Sound doesn’t seem to notice us as we back away from him, desperate to preserve our eardrums. No, he just keeps on. The thing about WoS, though, is that sometimes the words coming out of his mouth are interesting, perhaps even valuable. But there are just so many words. He loves words, he’s a true word guy. Big words, small words, looong words, all the words! He’s a bore with his words, and if you had met him in the real world, you would keep your distance. But here on Neptune and in most other firms, Wall of Sound is a partner, so you pretty much have to have face time with him. Luckily, he can be entertaining, especially when he gets confused by his own steady stream of words. His verbosity leads him to odd and unexpected territories of conversation that he didn’t intend to visit, giving you great fodder for gossip with your fellow first-year associates at happy hour or during random kitchen meet-ups. He may begin by telling about the weather, and the innocuous start leads him into a story about his army days and a casino and some friends who one night took turns with a prostitute. In a parking lot. (True story.) The Wall-of-Sound’s one-sided conversations can be incredibly awkward. But you owe it to your friends to share the stories with them.
Next is the Do-No-Wronger, named thusly not because he can do no wrong. Rather, I give him this moniker because he believes himself to be incapable of erring. Each mistake is dismissed as insignificant, and each minor victory is amplified to monumental levels. A summary judgment win in a $500-small-claims-court action is grounds for a chest-thumping strut around the office. A complimentary offhand comment by a judge fuels his monologues for weeks. He is, in his mind, the greatest trial lawyer who has ever wheeled a litigation case down a marble hall. And he has no need to be humble. If you accidentally offend or upset him, the easiest way to right the wrong is to remind him that he is the best.
Finally, and most loathsome, we have the Self-Lover. This partner (notice a trend?) is the worst kind of awful. The other two main types of partners are, although annoying, generally harmless. By contrast, the Self-Lover is completely useless to you in your profession, and is often quite the opposite, primarily because he disguises himself as a Good Guy. But make no mistake: the Self-Lover’s only priority is himself and his own well-being. He takes absolutely no notice of your needs and desires, or even your career goals, despite posing as a mentor. He cares about nothing but self-preservation and the all-important bottom line. Anything that affects his income is to be eliminated. Unfortunately, The Self-Lover is a great actor, so the self-love-to-exclusion-of-all-else thing is difficult to spot.
The Self-Lover has you fully believing that he’s looking out for you. You make a mistake and he responds, “that’s how we learn.” He tells you long stories about his practice and his life, and you will yourself to believe that you are thereby learning to be a lawyer. You may even start to view him as your guide through the complicated world of law firms and practice. But be warned: he is no such thing. He will not hesitate to cut you.
If I now have you examining an action or statement that you may have previously thought was simple kindness with skepticism, then, my friend, you’ve learned. Pour yourself a glass. And allow me to leave you with this final thought: these people are not your friends. Keep your real friends close; the partners at your firm care only about themselves, no matter how kind they may seem to be. They are annoying, maybe entertaining, at best; at worst they can pose a very real threat to you. So as you go through your time at your first law firm, do yourself a favor: keep your head down, and your eyes wide open. Nobody cares about you but you.