Nepotism is not a new concept. I would bet that anyone reading this article can imagine an example where nepotism played a role in one’s obtaining a legal job, rising to prominence at a law firm, or securing a client. Some people, including myself, used to scoff at those people. I thought that one should rise or fall based solely on his merit. I was wrong (and naive).
What made me change my tune? Two things. First, I recently came across a study that concluded that ants practice nepotism. The ants can distinguish who their closest relatives are and kill their more distant relations. If ants practice nepotism, that means that we should, too. As the saying goes, if birds do it and bees do it (and even educated fleas do it), we should do it, too.
Second, I recently became a part of a new ant colony. For the next three months, I will be working with my dad. After two days of working together, I can now say that nepotism rules. Screw meritocracy….
I am kidding about the meritocracy part. I do not believe that one should be favored solely based on who she knows or who she is related to if that person is not qualified. Working with family, however, has certain advantages that I have only heard about. For instance, there is something to be said about working to build a family legacy, or to carry on that legacy. There are motivators that take over in that situation that go beyond acquiring wealth or power. Also, as many small-firm lawyers who work with family told me (and I now understand for myself), working with family means that you have absolute trust in your co-worker.
Working with family is a common theme among many small firms. Indeed, I spoke to a woman who recently left Biglaw to work for her father’s family law firm. She told me that unlike her previous environment, she was working with a mentor who truly cared about her development because he wanted to pass the firm down to her upon his retirement. I also spoke to a man who works at a firm with three generations of his family. He said he could not imagine working anywhere else. Now I understand their sentiments.
What is the moral of this story? Do not discount working with family, do not discount those who work with family, and if you come back in your next life as an ant, make sure you stick close to your family (or you won’t be back for long).
Have any feelings (pro or con) about working with family? Email me. Also, if you have a story of small-firm office romance, email me.
When not writing about small law firms for Above the Law, Valerie Katz (not her real name) works at a small firm in Chicago. You can reach her by email at Valerie.L.Katz@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter at @ValerieLKatz.