In the 80’s, Joan Jett made a famous song about not caring about a “bad reputation.” It was a fun song that helped springboard her career—but what worked for her music career is not something that works well in a lawyer’s career. A lawyer’s reputation is what he or she takes to the bank. It takes a lot to build, and very little to ruin. And like a mirror—it can be fixed if broken, but you will still see the cracks.
This is true across all practice fields: whether in corporate law, family law, or litigation.
As a legal recruiter, I have observed how critical reputation is in a lawyer’s career. Obviously, it is wonderful if you have a great reputation and awful if you have a bad reputation. It is better to have no reputation than a bad reputation.
Below are some of the most common negative reputations that make placing a candidate difficult. While not comprehensive, evaluate how you can steer clear of these characterizations (or, if you feel you are guilty of being that person, how you might be able to remedy it).
Q: “What’s working with Candidate A like?”
A: “I would rather chew sand and get my teeth pulled.”
Even if you are one of the top performers at your firm and have fantastic billable hours, having a reputation fo being difficult to work with will keep you from being hired from law firms and companies.
Brilliant lawyers are a dime a dozen—law schools pump out great candidates every year; overlooked talent search for new places to make their marks; brilliant lawyers move to new cities for their families; judicial clerks return to law firms. It is great to be brilliant, but do not be a brilliant jerk.
While it is great to focus on being highly capable and productive, do not do so at the expense of being difficult to work with. Pay attention to whether you are perceived as arrogant, a prima donna, or disruptive. Not being team player means that your influence is likely to become toxic, and will infect the firm’s reputation in the future.
Q: “Candidate B seems to obtain great results. It must be great working with such a productive attorney.”
A: “Yeah…Candidate B would eat his/her child to get his/her way.”
We all probably had a discussion about whether the ends justifies the means in law school.
Being a successful attorney is difficult. It is highly competitive and adversarial. But ask yourself—what is it that you take to the bank at the end the day? You can come up with various answers, but it boils down to your reputation—which is really all you’ve got.
As you probably discerned from those law school conversations, means and ends are intimately related. But in your career, your story does not end at the “end.” Collateral damage to you and your law firm’s reputation can result a variety of plagues:
- the best and brightest staff and attorneys begin leaving
- you lose business from referrals
- no one wants to work at your firm or hire your firm
Think about your reputation (inside, and outside of your firm), and take purposeful, positive steps to improve it. If your reputation is positive, it doesn’t matter where you want to go. In fact, others will be searching for you. This is not only true for law firm hiring, but also all types of hiring.