Firm Culture

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

There is nothing funny about child abuse, so I hesitate to tell this story. But there is a point to it, so please bear with me.

Back in the day when parents did not see anything wrong with occasionally giving their kids a smack, there was a very young boy who believed that if he shut his eyes tightly, no one could see him. When his father was angry, the boy would close his eyes and feel safe. When he got hit anyway, he was initially shocked. But eventually he learned that hiding did not make him safe.

There are three types of partners in law firms: (1) those who want to be in control because they know with a certainty that their ideas are best; (2) those who want everyone to get along and will try to influence everyone to play nicely together; and (3) those who like the frightened little boy in my story, figuratively close their eyes and just hope that everything will turn out okay.

I met all three types of partners in my travels through the legal profession. I will not say which type I was.

Edmund Burke is famously credited with saying that “All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”

I suppose that labelling law firm partners as “good” or “evil” may be putting too extreme a gloss on some of the nonsense that goes on in law firms. But the general idea holds true.

It would not be unusual in some law firms to be able to identify a few partners who are more focused on self-aggrandizement than on the good of the team. They have strong ideas.  They want everyone to listen, something which they do not do much of themselves.  Teamwork is just not their thing. They would be the ones who cycle through assistants and associates and generally either make people want to quit or instigate them being fired. Let’s call them the evil partners.

In those very same law firms you might find some partners who are doing their level best to temper the bad behaviour of the evil partners and protect as many of the staff and associates from their antics as possible. They like to build teams. It is important to them that everyone feels valued. Let’s call them the good partners.

Eventually a clash occurs between good and evil. Someone gives an ultimatum such as “it is either her or it is me.” Various people are poised to vote with their feet. The firm is at risk.

Everyone’s eyes turn to the silent majority. The “see no evil, hear no evil” types. The frightened little child in my story. The people who always strive to see both sides and to take neither. The decent men and women who can no longer remain silent.

And finally the silent majority speaks. They show what they are made of. Their voices roll across the plains and bounce off the mountains. Finally engaged and decisive, they render their verdict. They say:

“We agree with the evil rainmaker with the huge client base and the immense billed and collected numbers.”

The good partners move on.

Rinse and repeat.

This article was originally published by The Lawyer’s Daily (, part of LexisNexis Canada Inc.

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