People I Met Practicing Law

On Being Easily Inconvenienced

I met more than a few lawyers who were ‘easily inconvenienced.’ For these individuals, any challenge, no matter how inconsequential it might have appeared to be to others, was a major problem. It was never a good time for their associates or assistants to take a vacation. Their work not being given top priority by an associate who reported to several lawyers – a catastrophe. Their shared assistant working for another lawyer at the exact moment that they wanted something done – a disaster. Staff members attending a half-day training session on new technology – a real problem. Funds for closing being delayed for an hour for whatever reason – the world was ending.

These were not bad people. They were just what we euphemistically referred to as ‘high strung’ if we were being charitable, and ‘nutso’ if we were not.

It was not particularly pleasant to report to these individuals, or frankly, to have anything whatsoever to do with them. Their nervous (and often arrogant) nature transmitted their stress to all those who came in contact with them. It is possible that there was nothing that they could do to alter their negative persona to create a more positive work environment. Or perhaps there was, but they were comfortable with their own dysfunction and could not be bothered to try to change.

In either case, the result was the same. The people who had to work with them were miserable. Some of their subordinates did their best to transfer to another department. Others voted with their feet and left to try their luck at another firm. Some of them just put up with it and often spread their discontent throughout the ranks.

Now, I acknowledge that practicing law is not the least stressful job in the world. However, some people manage to do what has to be done without driving everyone they work with around the bend. Others frown, fume, whine, bellow, and share the twelve month a year winter of their discontent with everyone who is unfortunate enough to come into contact with them.

I used to know someone who had an anger management problem. He seemed to think that this was his nature and that everyone who he interacted with owed it to him to understand how he was and to develop strategies to adapt to it. I, on the other hand, while sympathetic to his problem, thought that it was incumbent upon him to learn how to not be an asshole. Read self-help books, count to ten, leave the room when his blood was boiling, see a psychiatrist and get some meds, or see a psychologist and get some counselling. I really did not care what he had to do, but his misery should not have been my problem. I kind of feel the same way about the easily inconvenienced lawyers who I was required to deal with for one reason or another.

In law firms it is sometimes the case that the easily inconvenienced have a voice that is disproportionately loud. This is especially the case if they produce large billings and have impressive client origination credits. Firms often devote significant resources to trying to meet the needs of these people. A great deal of damage is done that translates into staff and lawyer turn-over and ultimately poor client service.

Whether expressly or not, most law firms will simply say something like “it takes all types,” especially if the type in question produces big numbers. And then they will do nothing about it. I remember one partner who complained that one of his partners was a real bitch. “But she’s our bitch” another partner replied. That may have been a barely acceptable answer to the question of what we were going to do about how this particular partner dealt with opposing counsel which impacted the firm’s reputation, but it was not much of a response to the question of how to deal with her impact on staff and associates.

Here is a thought. What if we declared that we wanted our firms to be pleasant places to work and that if the easily inconvenienced cannot be made to shape up, they would be required to ship out. How about if their issues were made to be their problem, not the problem of the rest of the firm? And what if law firms were prepared to take a financial hit to implement this policy?

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