Search out your peers.

Just about every lawyer is aware of the conventional wisdom that it’s important to have a mentor.  Law firms often establishing mentoring programs.

But peer groups are something else.  For instance, every law firm associate knows how critical it is to have a more senior associate willing to answer questions that range from how a particular partner operates to what business development expenses the firm will pay.  It’s also helpful to talk with peers from other firms or other geographic regions about issues that range from how to get into a leadership role in a community-based organization and to use that exposure to your benefit in your law firm, how to present a work-from-home request to the partner you work for, etc.  Especially when the group you connect with is truly your peer group — i.e. female associates working in a large law firm, sole practitioners in practice for 5-10 years, lawyers interested in leaving the law — the input from others can suggest new ideas, provide much-needed support, and allow you to participate fully without feeling exposed to your competitors.

So, how to find such a group?  Several alternatives.

1.  There are a number of online communitiesthat you can find by searching.  I’ev read a few but I haven’t participated in any, so I can’t recommend any in particular.  The benefit to these is clear: you can participate anytime, day or night, and there is little risk of having your identity revealed if you’re careful not to post too many identifying details.  Of course, when you read what others have to say, there’s no way to consider the source of the comment, and that may reduce its value.

2.  Many bar associations have groups that will fulfill this function.  Young lawyers’ sections or law practice management groups are fertile grounds for wide-ranging discussions about how you practice and what you want from your career.  You can also join a substantive section for more input on the mechanics of your practice.

3.  Self-selected groups.  It would be easy to start a group of peers with a monthly discussion topic, planning to meet at lunchtime or after work for an hour or so.  The ideal group size is probably 6-12, with rotating leadership roles, and some mechanism for a group check-in on what topics are important to the members and how well the group is functioning.

4.  Groups run by a coach or recruiter.  The benefit of these groups is that they’re run by the same person or the same group of people, so there’s a continuity in leadership and the leader is trained.  The groups tend to stay very much on track because everyone has a demonstrated commitment to the group and the work.  And there’s an opportunity for great self-revelation without being unduly vulnerable, because the group members typically will not know one another outside the group and may even come from different geographic areas.  The benefit of this group is that you get coaching as well as peer interaction, generally for a monthly fee that’s substantially lower than it would be for individual coaching.

If you’re looking for something — help in deciding how to shape your practice, support in working toward better work/life balance, sharing with non-competitors as you work toward making partner, or whatever else might be of interest to you — search out your peers.  Lawyers often tend to be so independent that we reject help from others, but participation in peer groups can bring all sorts of rewards.

And if you’re interested in a coach-led peer group, watch this space.  Within the next couple of weeks, I will be announcing a pilot peer group that I’ll be leading along with two others with substantial experience in working with lawyers — at reduced fees, since it’s a pilot program.

Retreating for professional reflection

As soon as I finish typing this post, I am going on retreat for the weekend.  I’ve checked into a hotel that has a nice view, a good desk, 24-hour room service, and oodles of peace and quiet.  The high-speed ‘net connection is working here — unlike at my office — and I am preparing to retreat to do some evaluation and business planning.

One of the problems lawyers have with their practices is that we rarely take time to reflect on our goals and our progress toward them.  Instead, we tend to be in fast forward motion, moving forward all the time, but not pausing to ask whether our motion is getting us toward what we desire.  Michael Gerber, author of E-Myth Mastery and related books, argues that entrepreneurs must work on their businesses as well as in them.  It’s the same for lawyers, because even those lawyers who are working at mega-firms are, in a sense, leading their own businesses.  We too must stop and reflect on how our business, our practice, is running.

A retreat is the ideal way to do this evaluation.  Not the typical law firm retreat, replete with meetings and cocktails and chatter, but a private retreat.  A retreat can be enormously useful in as little as 3 hours, though a longer retreat is restorative as well as better suited for deep reflection.  Depending on what you need, both personally and professionally, you might consider retreating at home, at the office, or to a hotel/retreat center.  Consider what you need, both in terms of what creature comforts will facilitate your turning inward and also in terms of what support you need.

What questions should you ask yourself on retreat?  The list is truly endless, but here are some good ones:

1.  How well am I functioning in the office?  What changes do I need to make either in the office environment or in how I prepare myself for my workdays?

2.  What is my business vision?  What kind of practice do I want, and how well am I developing that practice?

3.  Who are my clients?  How is client development working for me, and what changes do I need to make?  What new activities do I need to undertake?

4.  How satisfied are my current clients?  How can I better serve them?

5.  Am I an active member of the legal community?  Am I meeting my own expectations for pro bono work?

6.  Am I maximizing my energy through good self-care?

7.  How is my work/life balance?

8.  What one change can I make in my life or my practice that will create greater satisfaction for me?

As we move into fall and the end of the year, it’s an ideal time for review and revision.  Give yourself — and your practice — the gift of a retreat.  Please contact me if you’d like support in designing a retreat or in helping with strategizing to help you reach your goals.

“Law practice the way it should be.”

David Maister recently profiled Christopher Marston, a 29-year old Boston attorney who founded a 9-person law firm known as Exemplar Law Partners immediately after he graduated from law school.  The firm bills exclusively on a fixed price model, offering more budget-friendly services to its clients and a good work environment for its lawyers.  The firm touts its practice as follows: “No hourly bill.  No hourly bull.  Law practice the way it should be.”  Marston is blogging about his experiment, and his comments are truly fascinating.  I particularly commend his post titled, “The Dirty Little Secret About Hourly Billing and Low Professional Satisfaction!”

It will be interesting to follow the firm’s success.

Passing up good for great

There’s a key skill for balancing work and life, and it’s one that doesn’t come naturally to many of us.  Cheryl Richardson, author of Take Time For Your Life and Stand Up For Your Life (among others) calls it “passing up good for great.”

As children, we’re taught the old saw that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.  While that’s a valid saying under some circumstances — when we have something that’s perfectly good but are tempted to get greedy and to try for more — it can also be a limiting belief that actually does us harm.  Sometimes, we need to release the bird already in hand so that both hands are free to grab the two in the bush.

It is difficult to hold onto mediocre while reaching for greatness.  So, for instance, if you’re applying for new jobs and you get one offer that’s ok but not great and a response from the other potential employer saying that you’re a terrific applicant, you’re on the very shortlist, but they haven’t yet decided… You cannot accept job #1 and have any expectation of later accepting job #2.  By the same token, if you’ve been saving for a vacation, you can’t spend your vacation fund to go away for a weekend and still expect to go to Europe as originally planned.  Another saying fits: you can’t have your cake and eat it too.

Right.  What on earth does this mean for work/life balance in practice?

Work/life balance requires surrender of part of one area — whether it’s time spent on work or time spent on personal matters — in favor of the other.  You may choose to work less and play more, or vice versa.  You may decide to arrange your children’s school, activities, and transportation so you can be at work between 7 AM and 7 PM.  You may decide to forego a vacation this year so you can be on a prestigious trial team.  The catch is that whatever decision you make will require you to give up something so you can have something else.

We humans don’t generally like giving up anything we want.  We want it all, and we want it all now.  Maturity requires us to recognize that perhaps we can have it all (though that too is open to question), but we certainly can’t have it all at the same time.  The single most useful skill for deciding how to arrange this work/life balance is the ability to pass up good for great.  Learning that skill requires that we be able to recognize what’s good and what’s great, to identify appropriate time frames to help with the good/great evaluation, and to guard our decisions zealously.

Recognize what’s good versus what’s great.

This judgment will be different for each person.  I might decide that being able to attend my child’s soccer games regularly is good but having a prestigious position that will pay enough to let me easily pay for their private school is great.  I might decide that having a $200K income that requires 70-hour workweeks is good, but having time to volunteer 20 hours a week in my community is great.  Each good/great decision informs a life decision, because if I accept good and forego great, I will be unhappy.

When you look at a decision — be it the big ones I’ve mentioned or small ones like whether to go out for dinner or to stay in and relax — you can recognize what’s great by the internal voice that says yes!  When you consider an option and get an “eh, that’s fine” gut response, that’s your sign that you haven’t yet found great.  Good versus great is more than a pro/con list; it requires you to engage your values, your priorities, and your desires.

Decide what standards will guide you.  These standards must honor your values and ensure your integrity.  Although these standards are intimately related to your values, they’re more like facilitating principles.  For instance, if one of your top values is family, you might have a standard that says that you will not accept any work situation that intrudes on your Sundays.

Identify appropriate time frames when evaluating good versus great.

Sometimes what’s good versus what’s great will depend on duration.  For instance, you may decide that the opportunity to chair a bar section for a year is great even though it requires you to cut back on business development activities and to stop singing with your church choir.  If your commitment to the bar would be three years, you might decide that it isn’t a great opportunity.

When considering opportunities that are not time-limited by their own terms, good decision-making may require you to put some time limits on them.  For instance, you may decide that you’ll accept a demanding position for a year but no longer or that you’ll try a new networking group for 6 months and then reevaluate.  The key is to determine the length of time that an option is great, or at what point it may slide back to just being good.

Zealously guard your decisions.

Once you’ve identified good versus great, and especially once you’ve begun to act in conformity with that decision, do whatever you must to put boundaries around your decision.  You will have an opportunity to revisit your decision; while reevaluation is often worthwhile, be sure not to fall into the trap of accepting good when you’ve identified great.

When you decide to pass up good for great, you accept quality over quantity; you develop a high degree of selectivity about what you allow into your life and how you choose to spend your time and energy; and you refuse to settle for less than what’s best for you.  It takes practice to give up something that’s good, especially when great isn’t immediately in front of you.  Practice with small decisions (if you’re tired, is good vegging out in front of the TV, or is it getting extra sleep?) so that you’re well-trained when the big ones present themselves.  Spend some time deciding on what your guiding principles are.  Finally, think about other areas of your life or your practice where you might pass up good for great.  If this skill seems conpletely foreign to you, consider requesting support, whether it’s from colleagues or from a coach.  Difficult though it is, the skill will serve you well.

Controlling anger

As attorneys, we’re often faced with statements, actions, arguments, behavior, etc. that is galling in the extreme.  It’s a common practice in litigation among some to make an effort to find their opponents’ hot buttons; push the button and out pops an ugly, crazy person — not someone a jury would respect or believe.  (Same goes for witnesses, too.)

So how can you handle it when faced with provocation that would make the Buddha quiver with rage?

1.  Keep your attention on the motivation behind the provocation.  Is the person who’s enraging you doing it intentionally, or is it a by-product of words or behavior that he likely thinks perfectly appropriate?  If it’s the former, don’t give him the satisfaction of knowing he succeeded.  If it’s the latter, consider whether displaying annoyance would stop the behavior or simply let your opponent know that he’s found a soft spot.

2.  Breathe.  This is great advice for just about any situation, but it’s especially good for dealing with anger.  You can react, which implies knee-jerk emotional feedback made without any reflection, or you can respond, which implies feedback that follows a pause and analysis/reflection to determine the best way to address the provocation.  It’s far better to respond than to react.  There’s no reason why you can’t fall silent for a few seconds (which may feel interminable to you and your opponent) while you work through your options.

3.  Speak softly.  Most of us tend to raise our voices when we speak in anger.  Therefore, it’s disarming to do the opposite and to speak more quietly.  The effect is to appear reasonable and controlled (especially helpful if your opponent is ranting and raving and appearing to be out of control) and to force your opponent to listen carefully to hear what you have to say.  I am informed that in Japanese culture, when two parties are arguing, the one who raises her voice first loses.  It’s a difficult tactic for many of us to master, but if you can speak softly in the face of provocation, you will stand a much better chance of controlling your anger.

4.  Vent.  Express your anger in some forum that poses no risk of exposing it.  Writing can be helpful, but especially if you write an angry response to an email, be sure that you don’t accidentally send it!

5.  Exercise.  That’s physical venting.  When feasible, it’s a great idea to get up and take a walk instead of marinating in a situation that makes you angry.

6.  Selective release of anger.  Sometimes, it’s absolutely appropriate to express your anger at the person whose behavior has caused it.  But consider the consequences of such an expression.  Will you disrupt a relationship?  Do you stand to lose ground?  Will your expressed anger cause the person to react in a way that will cause you even more trouble?  And when you do choose to display anger, consider doing so through your words only but continuing to speak in a low, even tone of voice.  That will reinforce the gravity of your words.

And, despite our best efforts at these tactics, sometimes we all lose our tempers.  Especially in time of frustration and stress, it’s easy to let it slip.  When that happens, don’t be afraid to apologize and admit to being human.

6 Tips to turn your commute into valuable time

Very few people have truly short commutes these days.  I know of only one woman who lives within 15 minutes of her office, regardless of the time of day she makes the trip — and that’s because she’s only a 15-minute walk away.  The rest of us put up with anywhere from 30 minutes to a couple of hours a day in commuting, time that often feels wasted.  A few years ago, I lost my 20-minute one-way commute when I moved to a lovely house that was at least 45 minutes from the office.  If I traveled during busy traffic times (not even rush hour, just busy) the drive time swelled to a minimum of an hour and twenty minutes and often longer.  I was not happy.

Most of us hop in the car, listen to the radio or a CD, grind our teeth (or worse) as we try to cope with traffic, and essentially move through the commute time mindlessly.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.

I’ve learned some ways to use that travel time to my benefit, either personally or professionally.  I’m sharing these tips now, in recognition of the increased traffic that tends to accompany the start of the school year.  These tips assume that you’re driving; you have many more options if you’re able to take mass transit or to carpool, which most lawyers can’t, just because of the uncertainty of working hours.

1.  Podcasts.  There are tons of terrific podcasts that will enrich your life, both professionally and personally.  On the professional side, check out David Maister’s work, which you can find here.  These podcasts are organized by topic (the latest being on business strategy), and each is an incisive, immensely practical, and even entertaining take on topics of importance to professionals.  The Wall Street Journal offers a variety of podcasts that will get you up to speed on news, financial issues, and some lifestyle trends.  And NPR always has something new and interesting.

To find podcasts that interest you, visit Podcast Alley or the iTunes Podcast page.  You can find podcasts about current events, religion, history, entertainment, spirituality…. You name it.  Sample some and see what piques your interest.  It’s amazing what you can learn that will be helpful immediately in your professional life, what you can contribute to your next cocktail party conversation, and what might inspire you.

2.  Books on CD.  If you don’t have time to catch up on the latest best-sellers, this might be the answer.  Audio books are available at most libraries or you can buy them.  My favorite solution is Simply Audiobooks, which is a Netflix-style rental-by-mail service.  (And, of course, Simply Audiobooks has a podcast with book reviews, too.)

3.  Thinking time: Plan (or review) your day, practice for an argument, mull over potential case strategies, etc.  It’s often difficult to get time to stare out the window and just think, and yet that’s one of the most valuable things we can do.  If you spend commuting time contemplating a particular legal point — what are the downfalls of the argument you’re considering, and what’s the risk/benefit analysis? — you will often find that the time is profitable.  Even if it’s just mentally organizing yourself for your day or your evening, thinking time in the car will allow you to make better use of your time in the office or at home.  Keep your cell phone handy (hands-free, please) so you can leave yourself a voicemail with your brilliant conclusions, or invest in a micro-cassette or digital recorder if you have an assistant who can transcribe your thoughts for future reference.  Commuting time is also a good opportunity to reflect on your goals, whether what you’re doing is moving you closer to attaining them, etc.

4.  Learn something.  If you’re a lifelong learner, this tip might be for you.  Invest in CDs of lectures on history, philosophy, business, science… Whatever tickles your fancy.

5.  Relaxation time.  Ok, traffic isn’t relaxing.  But if you surround yourself with music you enjoy, make sure you have hot coffee or cold water, optimize your car seat for comfort, and — most importantly — optimize your attitude, it can be somewhat relaxing.  Decide not to worry about getting ahead through traffic since more often than not, arriving at your destination five minutes later than you’d hoped won’t change the course of your day.  (If it does, choose to decrease your stress level and leave earlier.)  Drive mindfully, noticing the sights you pass, the colors of the sky, what people in cars around you are doing.

6.  Vent.  Especially when you’re driving home, take time during your commute to rehash the day’s events and to vent any frustration you may be carrying.  Don’t bring the toxicity into your home; instead, take your private time in the car to say whatever you’d like to whomever you’d like without any negative consequences.  Just don’t be surprised when folks in other cars look your way and giggle… And don’t get so wrapped up in your venting that you succumb to road rage.

7.  Think about whether you should move closer to work.  As you drive mindfully, notice the neighborhoods you pass.  Perhaps one of them should be home for you.  According to Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone, every 10 minutes you add to your commute causes a 10% decrease in the amount of time you devote to your family and your community.  There’s a psychic toll as well as a financial toll.

Each of these tips will help to minimize the commuting burden and to maximize the pleasure and efficiency you experience at work and at play.  The key is in making conscious decisions on how to use your time.�

Shape up your communication skills. Now.

The true impact of yesterday’s security changes to prevent terrorist attacks on airlines likely won’t be revealed for some time.  We’re now in the initial period of confusion and revelation, rebellion and adaptation.  That will pass, I assume, and we’ll likely settle down to a new style of air travel, one that will probably be even less convenient that what we were accustomed to as of a couple days ago.

Two things are for sure, though.  First, at least in the short term (and I would suspect in the long term as well), these disruptions will change the calculus on travel.  If it’s possible to drive in 5 or 6 hours, flying may not be worthwhile.  It’ll certainly raise a question, especially in view of the flight delays that can be reasonably expected.  People may begin to question whether travel is worth it even for longer, but fairly mundane, trips.  Especially now that videoconferencing and other “virtually there” technology is so good, people may begin to rely on it more and more.

And that leads to point two.

Communication skills are going to take on even more importance.  Studies show the importance of body language and other nonverbal communication:  7 percent by the words used, 38 percent by voice quality, and 55 percent by the nonverbal communication.  Those figures explain why email is so often misunderstood (well-intentioned humor being interpreted as an insult, for example) and why word selection is critical.  Although some nonverbal communication is retained in videoconferences, it’s lost entirely on conference calls.  We tend to communicate in the same way regardless of setting — meaning, if we’re in a meeting with clients, we’re likely to communicate in the same way whether the meeting is in person, via videoconference, or via teleconference — and that’s a mistake.  This is an excellent time to sharpen your skills of word choice, your attention to what communication setting is necessary, and your awareness that you’re missing a large chunk of the true message if you don’t get the information communicated nonverbally.

Spend some time playing with this idea over the next few days.  Pay attention to the medium, the message, and how the message is influenced by the medium.  Sharpen your communication and word choice.  Meetings will, of course, continue to take place in person.  But if you’re prepared to communicate clearly regardless of the mode of communication and to spend the effort to make sure that those with whom you’re communicating are conveying their true message regardless of mode of communication, you will be in a much stronger position than someone who doesn’t consider the communication impact of different media.

Internal client development

Generally speaking, law firms use the phrase “client development” to refer to the process of signing clients that the firm will represent in litigation, transactions, etc.  This blog has previously discussed client development for associates.  But today, I’d like to consider another type of client development associates must consider: internal client development.

As an associate, particularly a junior associate who receives work from more senior lawyers, you must consider two kinds of clients: those who are external, meaning the folks we typically call clients, and those who are internal, meaning those firm attorneys for whom you do work, your supervising attorneys.  The more junior you are, the more important your internal client development skills are and the longer those skills may serve you.  Let’s consider an example.

Two associates, Ellen and Mary, begin with a firm at the same time.  Both are bright and eager to learn.  Ellen is gregarious, always chatting with more senior associates and partners about work, current events, whatever.  She enjoys discussing the cases she and others are working on, and as a result a lot of the firm’s lawyers tend to know what she’s working on and to have some idea of how she approaches her work.  When Ellen hears about someone who’s working on a case that interests her, she finds a time to talk with that attorney and offers to help if there’s anything she can do.  Mary tends to be shy, friendly when someone speaks to her but not someone who will seek out conversation.  She does very good work, and she prefers not “bother” the lawyer who assigns work until she’s finished unless she has a question.  Mary talks often with the other lawyers staffed on her cases, but she doesn’t interact too much with other members of the firm.

When a case comes in that would be equally appropriate for both Ellen and Mary, who do you think is more likely to get assigned to it?  I’d suspect it’ll be Ellen, if all other things are equal, because Ellen has been working on her internal client development.  A partner is more likely to know what Ellen’s workload is, to know how she approaches her work, to know how she gets along with other members of the firm, and to know enough about her to be comfortable working with her.  Although Mary may do equally good work, by failing to put herself in front of the other lawyers in the firm on a regular basis, they are less likely to think of her, and she’s less likely to get the assignments.

So, what do you do if you recognize that you’re like Mary?  First, go back to the business truism that, all other things being equal, people prefer to work with those they know, like, and trust.  (In a law firm, performing excellent work is the baseline, so be sure you meet that standard.  Otherwise, no amount of being known and liked will be sufficient to override the lack of trust that poor work product will bring.) 

Set out on a campaign to become known, liked, and trusted – but start by getting to know, like, and trust other members of your firm.  Go to the cocktail parties.  Eat lunch in the firm cafeteria if you have one, and make it a habit to invite another lawyer out to lunch at least once a week.  Be genuinely interested in the other attorneys in your firm, both professionally and personally.  It makes no difference that the partner has a son who plays Little League, but it does make a difference if you remember to ask how the game was when you know the partner left early to attend it.  Discuss your cases, chew over a thorny legal issue with a colleague, and ask what cases others have going.  With a strong effort and some luck, this approach will put you on good terms with others in your office and you too will be at the top of assigning attorneys’ minds when a new case comes in the door.

And for those who feel that this is a mercenary approach, there’s one other key benefit: your work life will almost certainly improve.  True, you won’t be best friends with everyone (or perhaps anyone) in the office, but spending long days at work is more enjoyable when there’s a sense of camaraderie.  Camaraderie comes from – you guessed it – knowing and liking those with whom you work and fostering a sense of being on the same team.

This internal networking is, of course, only one side of internal client development.  Other aspects of internal client development include building a strong reputation, becoming an expert in a niche area, developing skills faster than your classmates, and last (but certainly not least), asking for the work. 

Be aware of your opportunities for internal client development: as a junior associate, you can position yourself as the go-to person in your associate class and you can get superior experience in a relatively short time.  If you’re one of the rare associates who stays at a single firm for the bulk of your career, internal client development will propel toward partnership much faster and with a much higher chance of success.  If you move to another firm, internal client development can pay off in helping you find a new position and in positioning you for referrals from your old firm in case of conflicts.  It’s a win/win proposition. 

Bob Sutton’s No Asshole Rule

I’ve been preparing a post about the challenging people we encounter in a legal practice: the nasty opposing counsel, the client who always reminds you of the cliche that with “friends” like this, who needs enemies; and even the rare colleague at work who’s a terrific attorney/paralegal/secretary/whatever but radiates fury or blame or negativity.  We all have bad days, but my thoughts were centered on how to cope when we encounter and have to deal with someone who is truly a jerk.  As I sometimes do, I typed in a few keywords to see what other people say about this kind of situation, and a fascinating blog popped up, all built around Bob Sutton’s “No Asshole” rule.  The post I originally contemplated will be forthcoming on another day, because this rule deserves its own post.

Now, I will apologize upfront for using that phrase — it’s the author’s phrase, and the distaste that the phrase brings with it actually mirrors the distaste that we all feel when we work with one of those people.  But the author uses it, on the grounds that when he sees “a mean-spirited person damaging others, no other term seems quite right.”  Truth told, of course, most lawyers hear and probably use coarser words on a daily basis.

Anyway.

The blog I found is Bob Sutton’s Work Matters.  (Love the photo.)  And in the top right hand corner, you’ll see an Amazon link to Sutton’s forthcoming (February 2007) book, The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t.  The blog also links to a tamer-titled Sutton column on Nasty People, as well as a video of Sutton discussing the genesis of the rule, which he first wrote about in the Harvard Business Review.  (I confess that I normally hate website audio and video because it’s so much quicker to read than to watch/listen, but this 4:42 video is very well worth watching.)  Sutton, a Stanford professor, says we can identify workplace assholes through their addiction to rude interruptions and subtle put-downs, and their use of sarcasm and “teasing” as “insult delivery systems.”

In describing a talk on the No Asshole Rule that he recently gave, Sutton identified three interesting thoughts that emerged from what sounds like a fascinating conversation between himself and his audience:

1.  There’s a big difference between intentional assholes and unintentional assholes:

The consensus seemed to be that more forgiveness, patience, and understanding is in order when people travel through life in a clueless state, and need help learning how they make other’s feel.  The consensus also was, in contrast, that certified assholes who demean others on purpose, and who do it because they believe it enables them get ahead at other’s expense, or to simply feel superior to others, deserve little if any sympathy — and that such bullies ought to be punished and banished. This sounds right to me.

2.  Workplace asshole identification is a tricky, inherently flawed concept:

Drawing the firm dividing line between an “asshole” and a “non-asshole” isn’t easy, but I know one when I see one. And although I do offer a definition of workplace assholes, I also realize that the world is messy and that it will overlap with lots of other concepts.

3.  Assholes tend to inflict their demeaning behavior on those who have less power than themselves.  However, peer-on-peer abuse (prevalent in organizations where many share a medium amount of power, such as a partnership) and “asshole underlings” are not unknown.

The relevance of the No Asshole Rule may be lost on some, but just about every practicing lawyer I’ve ever encountered has a story that illustrates the difficulty of working for or with an asshole.  Don’t believe me?  Ask around.

The lesson from the No Asshole Rule is twofold.  First, of course, don’t be an asshole.  We all have an inner jerk who escapes on occasion, but if it starts getting out too much, or if someone lets you know your anger is out of hand, control yourself.  And if you find yourself working for or with an asshole, know that you aren’t alone, call the situation what it is, and do your part in whatever way possible to bring this rule to your organization’s attention.  Unfortunately, abusive lawyers may be permitted to stay on in law firms when they bring in sufficient income, so enforcement is sometimes unlikely.  The tide may be turning, however, as illustrated by Sutton’s story about Perkins Coie, recited in the Nasty People column:

The Seattle law firm Perkins Coie is more specific. They have a “no jerks allowed” rule, which helped earn them a spot on Fortune magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” in 2003, and again in 2004. According to a Seattle Times article, Perkins Coie partners Bob Giles and Mike Reynvaan were once tempted to hire a rainmaker from another firm but realized that doing so would violate “the rule.” As they put it, “We looked at each other and said, ‘What a jerk.’ Only we didn’t use that word.”

I’ll be curious to read Sutton’s book when it’s published.  This is one rule I’d love to see gain predominance in the legal profession — and in society in general.