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Law People

Better Law Practice Through Better People Management

Whistleblowers United

Posted in Client Service, Communication, Conflict, Culture, Decision-Making, Emotional Intelligence, Ethics, Leadership, Management, Professional Development, Risk Management, Uncategorized

Speaking of ethical decisions, those who would be whistleblowers are usually caught by emotional crosswinds, often mentioning the difficulty they have in dealing with their own mixed emotions.

As researchers concluded in “The Role of Emotional Intelligence in Ethical Decision Making at Work,” “Whistleblowing involves an intrapersonal conflict—an internal struggle of conflicting emotions that need to be recognized and regulated. Empathy may also play a part when the whistleblower identifies with potential victims of corporate misbehavior. More common ethical dilemmas involve interpersonal conflict, such as blaming others, discriminating against them, and generally attempting to avoid personal accountability or blame. In these cases, emotions come into play either through a sort of ‘gut check’—recognizing one’s feelings of guilt—or via empathy when an individual anticipates or feels the victim’s emotional reactions.”

Let’s take a look at a few of the most notorious whistleblowers. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, lawyer Colleen Rowley, who was Chief Division Counsel to the FBI’s Minneapolis field office, wrote an analysis for then FBI Director Robert Mueller documenting how FBI headquarters personnel in Washington, D.C., had mishandled and failed to take action on information provided by the Minneapolis office regarding its investigation of suspected terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui, which information she felt could have averted the 9/11 tragedy.

Rowley has discussed her internal struggle to control conflicting feelings of anger over the FBI’s actions, her positive feelings for the organization that she dedicated many years to (and continued to work for for several years thereafter) and some fear for her own career in wrestling with whether to bring critical information to the attention of Meuller.

After leveling her criticisms, Rowley continued at the FBI and was one of three people awarded Time magazine’s “Person of the Year” for 2002. In February 2003, Rowley wrote a second open letter to Mueller in which she warned her superiors “that the bureau is not prepared to deal with new terrorist strikes that she and many colleagues fear would result from an American war with Iraq.” 

The other two notable whistleblowers honored in 2002 by Time magazine were Sherron Watkins from Enron and Cynthia Cooper of WorldCom.

Watkins was Vice President of Corporate Development at Enron Corporation when in August 2001 she alerted then-Enron CEO Kenneth Lay of accounting irregularities in financial reports, although her memo did not reach the public until five months after it was written.

Cynthia Cooper was serving as the Vice President of Internal Audit at WorldCom in 2002 when she and her team, often working at night and in secret, unearthed a $3.8 billion fraud — at the time, the largest incident of accounting fraud in U.S. history.

So what does emotional intelligence have to do with this? What has become clear is that emotional intelligence skills allow a clearer analysis of the situation and support would-be whistleblowers confronted with these ethical dilemmas. Emotional perception skills allow them to see more accurately why they are experiencing emotional disturbances — which might not be evident to the simply rational mind — and therefore make them better able to identify the ethical dimensions. Emotional management skills allow them to eliminate those emotions that are irrelevant to their assessment of the situation. It also allows them to manage their own fears and rebound emotions associated with whistleblowing, so as to embolden them with the courage and optimism to proceed and the resilience to recover from the emotional fallout.

Emotional empathy for victims can also play a part in helping individuals make ethical decisions, and in motivating them to action. Famed legal-clerk-turned-victims’-advocate Erin Brockovich said that it was her empathy for the suffering victims of pollution caused by Pacific Gas and Electric’s irresponsible actions that helped fuel her decision to pursue legal action against the powerful corporation, a case that was settled in 1996 for $333 million, the largest settlement ever paid in a direct-action lawsuit in U.S. history. She said that same empathy motivated her to continue her efforts to help other victims of corporate-caused environmental dangers.

What do these people have in common? Greater emotional intelligence skills are clearly one of them. Being of the female gender looks to be another. The relevance of the two is that as a general matter women score at least marginally and sometimes substantially higher in certain emotional intelligence skills, including empathy, than do men.
So what’s the lesson? Do we add emotionally intelligent women to the list of people we would just as soon not have snooping around the corporate ledgers?

Certainly whistleblowers are of mixed value depending on your perspective. All those personal injury and class action lawyers out there on either side of the fence are rooting for those emotionally intelligent women to break all the ceilings and go for the ethical gold. But any organization interested in avoiding liability and improving function and bottom line results recognizes that encouraging and supporting early “whistleblowing” is the most direct route to those objectives.

Discover your emotional intelligence level and how to raise it personally and in your organizations from our new book The Emotional Intelligence Edge for 21st Century Laywers due out this summer from the ABA.

Reducing the Liability Coming to Low EI Law Firms and Law Departments

Posted in Coaching, Communication, Conflict, Culture, Decision-Making, Diversity, Emotional Intelligence, Ethics, Leadership, Management, Mentoring, Professional Development, Recruitment, Retention, Risk Management, Uncategorized, Work Satisfaction

An amendment to Rule 8.4(g) to the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, first circulated in December 2015 and then adopted on August 3, 2016, prohibits lawyers while practicing law from engaging in conduct they “know or reasonably should know” constitutes harassment or discrimination based on “race, sex, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status or socioeconomic status,” because that harassment and discrimination “undermines confidence in the legal profession and our legal system.”

What is clear from the comments to this amendment is that it is intended to have wide application in the legal profession, including in the operation and management of law firms and law practices.

This amended Rule alone could have a significant and broad impact on the legal profession’s liability, since many legal workplaces have cultures conducive to harassment and also suffer from chronic under-representation and under-promotion of women and minorities. While violation of the Rules does not necessarily indicate liability, they are routinely cited in disciplinary actions and lawsuits, and their violation may be “evidence of breach of the applicable standard of conduct,” as set forth in Section 20 of the Preamble of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, as amended.

Certainly lawyers have already proven themselves vulnerable to the explosion of sexual harassment suits. These lawsuits exact financial and reputational costs that can be devastating to both individuals and organizations. They also jeopardize future growth by adversely impacting a firm’s or department’s desirability as a workplace and service provider, particularly among Millennials, who are highly sensitized to even micro-aggressions.

Legal workplaces have been subject to various types of discrimination claims as well, and the math often looks pretty convincing. For example, while for more than three decades half of all law school graduates have been female, and over-represented in high class standing, they make up less than 20% of partners (and less than 10% of equity partners) at most law firms and less than 20% of senior legal officers at most corporations. While there are arguments that an ethics rule may not make much difference in these stats, it isn’t surprising that a rule against discrimination is being demanded.

The conduct that engenders these types of lawsuits often arises because of low emotional intelligence — a failure to read one’s own and others’ emotional cues, to empathize with and understand those emotions and/or to manage them appropriately. Studies undertaken to raise ethical behavior of doctors and nurses in the healthcare setting concluded that, “[o]verall emotional intelligence of hospital employees had a significant impact on their ethical behavior,” and that “higher EQ scores” — specifically the ability to regulate one’s emotions — “predict higher performance in ethics.”

Emotional intelligence reduces risks of liability in several ways: the emotionally intelligent can more accurately assess the risks involved, can better understand which ethical standards are appropriate to the situation, and they can recognize and deal more effectively with the emotional fallout from ethical choices they make. Empathy in particular gives us a decided edge in making ethical decisions — people simply act more ethically when they are able to put themselves in someone else’s shoes.

Making sure our lawyers are emotionally intelligent is the primary bulwark legal workplaces can put in place in order to reduce harassment, discrimination and other ethical lapses and their associated costs and damage.

Muir’s book entitled The Emotional Intelligence Edge for 21st Century Lawyers, due out from the ABA this summer, reviews the advantages of an emotionally intelligent practice, in ethics and other areas, shows how to determine your individual emotional intelligence and gives steps for raising both individual and workplace EI to help avoid liability.


Happiest of Holidays!

Posted in Announcements, Books, Business Development, Client Service, Coaching, Communication, Compensation, Conflict, Culture, Decision-Making, Diversity, Emotional Intelligence, Ethics, Innovation, Law Departments, Law Education, Leadership, Management, Mentoring, Pro Bono and Community Service, Productivity, Professional Development, Profitability, Recruitment, Retention, Risk Management, Succession, Teamwork, Wellness, Work Satisfaction, Work/Life Balance

From Law People Management to you and yours, we wish you peace, prosperity and good health during the holidays and throughout the New Year.

To that end, we are pleased to announce the publication by the American Bar Association of our book The Emotional Intelligence Edge for 21st Century Lawyers currently scheduled for summer of 2017.  A first in the industry, the book tackles how lawyers can overcome the stagnant growth, client dissatisfaction, vulnerable profits and debilitating distress that menace law practice in this century by using the proven advantage that emotional intelligence provides. More to come in the New Year!

California Takes on Attorney/Client Sexual Relationships

Posted in Client Service, Culture, Emotional Intelligence, Ethics, Risk Management, Uncategorized

As noted in our ever-popular posts Lawyers Lusting After Clients and Their Spouses and Addendum to Lust, forum shopping should be on your mind if you’re looking for some nookie from a client. California may soon become one of the “don’t-even-think-about-it” states.

The California Bar Association has proposed that any sexual relationship arising between a lawyer and his/her client during the course of the representation be prohibited by the California Code of Ethics. For those of you under 30 years old, you may be scrutinizing that proposal with incredulity. Yes, indeed, surprisingly enough, that practice is allowed in many states, including, at least arguably, up till now in California. Muir was cited in an article on the proposed change.

To further expand, the current California rule bars lawyers from coercing sex with a client or demanding sex in exchange for legal representation and also bars sex with clients if the relationship causes the lawyer to perform legal services incompetently. Hmmm. Looks like lots of wiggle room there for a tenacious lawyer. The state bar commission notes that of 205 complaints, the bar undertook disciplinary action in only one instance, which it considers evidence that the old formulation is not adequately protecting clients.

The proposed change, modeled after Rule 1.8 (j) of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, bans any sex with a client unless there was a sexual relationship before the representation (also an exception in 17 other states), with California specifically allowing advice to spouses and registered domestic partners. It also explicitly prohibits a third party — someone not the client — from pursuing disciplinary charges over any alleged sexual impropriety, just to minimize the angry husband/boyfriend fallout. Privacy and the absolution of consent is cited by lawyers against the proposal, which will have to be approved by the California Supreme Court and bar commission trustees.

Forewarned is forearmed.


Muir Contributes to Podcast for Millennials on Female Lawyer Exodus

Posted in Announcements, Conflict, Culture, Diversity, Leadership, Management, Work Satisfaction

Starting today, Monday, November 28, you can listen to a podcast on Gen Why Lawyer that Muir contributed to discussing the issues around the Female Lawyer Exodus, particularly as it relates to Millennials, by going here. You can also link to the podcast on iTunes here.

Studies on the Currency of Influence: Trump vs. Clinton?

Posted in Client Service, Conflict, Culture, Emotional Intelligence, Leadership, Management, Productivity, Teamwork

Here’s a thought that will hopefully make us all more likable around the Thanksgiving turkey: “A growing body of research suggests that the way to influence—and to lead—is to begin with expressing emotional warmth.”  That is the conclusion–probably surprising to the legal crowd–of an interesting research study looking at what gives leaders the power of influence.

Whether leaders like it or not, we make judgments about our leaders depending on the emotions they project. That study clarifies that we look primarily at two characteristics: first their warmth, which we believe indicates their trustworthiness, and then their strength or competence, and, importantly, in that order. Moreover, “[T]hese two dimensions account for more than 90% of the variance in our positive or negative impressions.” Suppressing emotional warmth and banking on an impression of competence to drive respect, which lawyers often naturally do, can actually lower our standing in the eyes of others, making them distrustful. As the authors of the study concluded: “Leaders who project strength before establishing trust run the risk of eliciting fear, and along with it a host of dysfunctional behaviors.”

This concept may have been demonstrated in the course of the presidential campaigns of Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton, whatever you think of their respective positions or the election outcome. While neither enjoyed high approval ratings, Trump’s strength was apparently in striking an emotional chord in his supporters, while Clinton’s (lawyerly) strength was in projecting her competence, using lengthy position papers and the mastery of wonky details. Newscasters fretted over whether Trump would ever deliver on the substance and Clinton would ever warm up. In spite of repeated attempts to convince her audiences of her bona fides, “untrustworthy” was one of the recurring characteristics she was saddled with. “Warm” was how both a cautious Paul Ryan and combative Lindsey Graham described Trump after first conferring with him as the presumptive Republican nominee, which assessment, not his position papers, apparently led to at least the beginning of a thawing process.

Leaders who express warmth also help groups cooperate and perform. In an experiment at Yale University, a group of volunteers played the role of managers who worked together to allocate bonuses. An actor planted among them always spoke first, projecting one of four emotional states: active cheerfulness, calm warmth, passive sadness, or irritable hostility. Not only was the actor able to infect the entire group with whatever emotion s/he projected (as a result of the well-established rule of emotional contagion), but more importantly the two positive emotions led both of those groups to improved cooperation and fairness, and also to overall better performance. Similarly, in another study, the leaders determined to be the most effective in the U.S. Navy (hardly a bastion of feel-good leadership) were those who were warmer, more outgoing, emotionally expressive and sociable.

How many lawyer leaders are known for projecting warmth or other positive emotions? This is not a common characteristic. Lawyers often look to elevate their most “competent” peers into management, rather than those most liked. Yet, as a study of 51,836 leaders found, likability has to be a factor since the chance that a manager who is strongly disliked will be considered by his/her organization as a good leader is only about one in 2,000.

Is either warmth or likability factors on your performance review checklist?

My experience with a department chair illustrates the cost of ignoring the value of warmth. The woman was a well-known authority and thought leader in a highly complex niche. Members in her department clearly respected that expertise, but to the person they did not enjoy working with her. She was insular, highly critical, unresponsive to interpersonal conflicts, time management issues and other concerns. When she was criticized by subordinates, the firm and she both reiterated to them her high standing in her legal area. She was unquestionably competent. But this leader, who was so well credentialed and attracted clients, was unable to personally connect with those in her group. Most left the department. Those who couldn’t eventually left the firm. The firm finally made her a department of one partner with frequently rotating subordinates, but the lack of stability, coupled with her poor interpersonal skills, eventually turned off many of her clients. She became furious that the firm wasn’t “backing” her by forcing associates and staff to stay in her department and by pushing back against client dissatisfaction. Eventually she decamped for another firm, which no doubt had to wrestle with these issues again.

Upping our emotional intelligence game will make us not only better lawyers but also better leaders. We need to be able to access positive emotions when needed and then be able to project them in a way that maximizes our influence, both with colleagues and clients. Perhaps that is why “transformative leaders,” i.e. those able to effect significant change, can be identified by their high emotional intelligence scores.

Happy Thanksgiving! Remember to keep it positive.

Dumbing Down the Law?

Posted in Innovation, Law Departments, Law Education, Leadership, Management, Productivity, Profitability, Recruitment, Retention, Risk Management, Uncategorized

Here we are into another application-to-law-school season and there are hopes that the numbers are starting to look up. After all, the news over the last few years–the lower number of applicants to law school (declining over 40% to the lowest level in 15 years), the low enrollment rate (2014’s was the lowest since 1987), the lower graduation rate (also down), and the lower rate of those passing the bar (the lowest in some states in 27 years), all culminating in the employment rate for law grads falling in 2014 for the sixth consecutive year–are unsettling statistics for an industry premised on providing over-the-top excellence from the best of the best.

And matters may actually get worse. In an effort to maintain enrollment, Pace Law School in New York is matching the tuition at state schools, and the State University of New York-Buffalo Law School and the University of Iowa College of Law announced they would not require the LSAT  for applications from top students from their undergraduate schools (although the ABA caps the percentage of LSAT-less matriculants at schools at 10 percent of a first-year class.). Another tactic, favored by the majority of law schools, is simply to lower admissions standards. “Nine in 10 law schools have allowed LSAT scores of students in the bottom quartile to drop–meaning those whose scores are already the lowest of the class are getting even worse,” according to a report by the nonprofit that creates part of the Bar Exam.

Daniel Rodriguez, dean of Northwestern University School of Law, which has cut its first-year class size by 19 percent since 2011, says he pushed for the school to slim its classes partly because, with fewer jobs available, he thought it was “irresponsible” to keep taking in so many new students.

That’s the way the ABA Rules look. Standard 501 of the ABA Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools 2015-2016 states that “a school shall not admit an applicant who does not appear capable of satisfactorily completing its program of legal education and being admitted to the bar.”   

The ABA Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar is responsible for enforcing this standard. Unfortunately, for the past five years while law school admissions standards have plummeted, the Council has shown no willingness to use this standard to protect unqualified applicants from being admitted to law school when they have poor prospects of actually becoming a lawyer.

According to Council Chair Justice Rebecca White Berch, “the Council is working on revising the Standards to make them clearer and more easily enforceable.”

In the meantime, the legal field is squarely on the horns of an existential dilemma: do the increasingly lower GPAs, LSAT scores, number of applicants, percentage of applicants admitted, and percentage of graduates passing the bar all undermine the cream-of-the-crop position–as in, we only hire the cream of the crop, which is what makes us so smart/effective/successful?

What exactly is the pitch now of legal employers who are in fact hiring only the cream of a vastly dumbed-down crop, if you will? Now are we of the opinion that it only takes a much less smart person than we previously extolled to be a great lawyer?  That technology is supplementing our expertise to such an extent that the human factor is less significant?  That the legal robot coming online will make up for any deficits in our skills?  That it all comes down to marketing in any event?

Add the impact on the profession of these less competitive newcomers to the loss the industry is already suffering of so many lawyers who had high LSATs, GPAs  and law school standings in years past–i.e., women, who are leaving the profession in droves and not looking back, along with a sizable number of male lawyers, as well.

Recently a senior partner at a BigLaw firm assured me that they had no concerns–the Ivys were still churning out enough high performers to stock the top-of-the-line firms. And maybe he’s confident for good reason. Many would argue that the most elite law schools remain just as competitive or even more competitive.

But the drop in applications is evident there as well, making a less-well-pedigreed student body than in years past, regardless of how competitive it is once they are in law school. Since 2011, the number of applicants to law schools ranked in the top 20 by U.S. News has dropped by a median 18%: Yale Law School’s applications dipped 13%, Harvard Law School’s 18%. Columbia, Cornell, Berkeley, NYU, Virginia, UCLA, and USC all saw their applications drop by more than 20%.

“The most urgent challenge facing the top schools is that applications from students with the highest test scores have declined. In 2010, 12,177 people with the highest scores on the LSAT (165 and above, the highest possible score being 180) applied to law school. By 2015, only 6,667 people with those scores applied,” or roughly half.

A link has never been established between GPAs, LSATs, and law school standing nor between any of those factors and success in legal practice. Will we now finally start valuing, admitting and hiring for emotional intelligence, the one well-documented advantage that even someone with lower traditional testing credentials might bring to the legal game?

We can either continue to contend that we are the-smartest-of-the-brood or we can take the position that we are still good lawyers, even though our pedigree stats aren’t as impressive, for the right reasons.

Or, hey, with lower standards, maybe this is a good time to apply to law school.


Muir to Speak to the Ontario Bar Association

Posted in Announcements, Communication, Emotional Intelligence

Muir will be anchoring the discussion on “Building Superior Communication Skills” for the Ontario Bar Association’s professional development program on “New Competencies for Lawyers” on March 4, 2016 in Toronto. She is pleased to be joined for that discussion by David Caruso, of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and one of the developers of the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT), who will also be headlining the day with a discussion of emotional intelligence.

Join us! You can register here.

Lawyers in Conflict

Posted in Client Service, Coaching, Communication, Compensation, Conflict, Culture, Decision-Making, Emotional Intelligence, Law Education, Leadership, Management, Mentoring, Productivity, Professional Development, Profitability, Retention, Risk Management, Teamwork, Uncategorized, Work Satisfaction

Having just finished an interesting assignment helping a firm resolve conflict among its ranks, I am freshly reminded of what it is that puts lawyers into conflict and then keeps them there.  So please indulge me in this seat-of-the-pants riff (for the record, none of which, of course, applies to any of my clients).

Lawyers are on average highly conflict-averse.  Yes, you read that right.  Lawyers, who specialize in waging and also resolving conflicts, are nonetheless usually personally and deeply conflict-averse. Yet resolving conflict among lawyers is one of the top concerns of law firm managers (and the rank and file) in many firms nationwide.

What does that mean about lawyers, and even how is that possible?

You could make the gladiator point–lawyers are hired to be the ones who go into battle, whether on the corporate playing fields or in the litigation stadiums. So we probably have aggressive qualities in spades that must leak out into our interactions with each other, as well, right?

There’s some truth to that. But why then are we “conflict-averse,” when that should arguably be our preferred arena?

There’s the “unempowered” theory. We have data that many of the people who put on the mantle of law do so because they do not feel personally powerful.  This trait often manifests as aggressive competitiveness to show the world otherwise.  So we likely have some underlying underdog-type mentality to start with, with a layer of “I’ll show you” on top.

Nearly all of those same law students start law with the stated ambition of wanting to help those who are underdogs. Interesting coincidence, display of empathy or another empowerment ploy?

In any event, most of those young lawyers are thwarted in that goal because it becomes apparent that the “best” lawyers are making a lot of money working for corporate clients, not underdogs, and these same law students are, as we said, competitively trying to prove their worth. So they end up swallowing their do-good ambition and representing a powerful Fortune 500 company in the arena. This “disillusionment” factor is sometimes cited in trying to account for the profound distress levels of law students and lawyers and also the very high job dissatisfaction that a large portion of practicing lawyers register.

Then there’s the rational/emotional divide. Law schools require applicants to jump over some high hurdles in order to matriculate, but as the multi-year, extensive study by University of California Berkeley professors Schultz and Zedeck determined, the attributes applicants are tested for, and which are then reinforced during law school, are “academic skills,” it being safe to say that “the emotional side of most law students is underdeveloped.”

Some of lawyers’ attributes that we have good data on include low resilience, low sociability, a high incidence of introversion, high skepticism, high urgency and high pessimism, as well as low emotional intelligence, in nearly every case to a startling degree when compared to other professions and the population at large. These attributes mean we lawyers have trouble recovering from set backs, initiating and sustaining relationships (which in turn makes it harder to recover from setbacks), trusting others (which in turn makes it difficult for others to trust us), and being patient, all combined with little ability to recognize or manage the emotional fallout that we and the others around us are awash in.

Why care? Because, as the UC Berkeley professors and others have pointed out, this profile puts lawyers at risk not only for poor lawyering–think weak rainmaking and client service–but also for repeated conflict with colleagues, friends and family, which is then magnified by the additional distress of not having effective coping skills to draw on when the going, as it always does, particularly in law, gets really tough.

Being defensive–the art of fighting back instead of taking to heart any comments that might by some stretch of the imagination be deemed critical–is a common approach by lawyers to interpersonal interactions. The specter of criticism just touches too many nerves. Are you trying to disempower me even further than I already am? Hasn’t my aggressiveness worked to make me look imposing enough to keep you at bay? If I allow myself to entertain the possibility that I have weaknesses, how will I ever recover my confidence? Isn’t this just an exercise in stunting my chances at the career I want? What does that smile on your face mean–that you enjoy beating me up?

So, as in other sports, the best defense is a good offense. And often that offense is against another lawyer, who is, as we’ve just said, defensive, and so on down the line. “Feedback” has not resulted in any improved behavior and everyone is fuming.

So how lawyers get into personal conflict in the first place shouldn’t be such an enigma.

Two other approaches to conflict in the office that lawyers expertly use are suppression and rumination. Their objectives at the outset are opposite–the suppressor wishes to leave behind with alacrity any uncomfortable discussion or feeling, while the ruminator delves deeply into that uncomfortable space again and again, marinating in its painfulness. The suppressor prides her/himself on leaving the past behind (hastily) and moving forward (unfortunately with the monkey firmly planted on his/her back), while the ruminator is dutifully plumbing this terrible situation, over and over again, with particular attention to how s/he was unfairly treated.  These approaches have the twin disadvantages of disabling the practitioner from doing anything about the conflict and therefore also allowing the stakes to mount.

The intransigence of these conflicts make even more sense when you add that when someone gets down to actually doing something about the conflicts they are embroiled in, we lawyers have only one approach other than out-and-out combat–unlike corporate and government executives, who have demonstrated that they have three other good options.

Unskilled in the nuances of emotions, relationships, and personal empowerment, lawyers choose avoidance as their preferred course of action.  Or inaction, I guess.  If we walk past the conflict or hide out in the library during the conflict or talk about anything but the conflict, maybe it will go away, we tell ourselves–resolve itself, become irrelevant, peter out. Those mystifying angry faces or attempts to belittle or win are best ignored, because the only alternative we are schooled in is the scorched-earth firestorm. And, in fact, we don’t really want to go there, particularly when the people or principles involved are important to us or others.  While we might not truly understand why, we fear that the chances of recovering from that battle, whether the win is our’s or someone else’s, is slim.

So the conflict not only remains, but often grows, eventually metastasizing into what not only eats at the law firm, but what eventually eats it up. The “emotional labor” it takes to suppress, ruminate and defend all those emotions/threats swirling around us reduces our cognitive abilities dramatically–math abilities plunge, our language and logic decline, our ability to analyze and solve problems suffers. Over time, the wear and tear intellectually, emotionally and physically takes an enormous toll.

Eventually an exhausted partner or a once-promising but now under-performing senior associate or a prize client puzzled (or insulted) by inattentiveness picks up their respective marbles and goes away.  Or at least threatens to.

That’s when I usually get the call. It’s a fight over compensation, I’m invariably told.

But it usually isn’t.