The inevitable part of being a lawyer is that you need to work with other lawyers. If you thought you would be able to avoid this or have nightmares about law school classmates, then perhaps the practice of law that necessarily includes working with attorneys may not be for you.
As a small shop, it is important to evaluate how you work with other attorneys. Business is often referral-based and your reputation, which is gold if you are making your own way, will be based on how well you work with others. This does not mean being a doormat, but it does mean starting to understand how to build relationships or, in the least, be collegial with “opposing counsel.”
Pro Tip: Do not brag about who your clients are on a call with other lawyers.
I am not sure why this happens, as it bears no relevance to the situation at hand very often. If I am a good lawyer, I have assessed the lay of the land before I get on the phone with you or am sitting with you in a meeting to know who your firm is, who you are, and who you have worked for. I am probably not impressed unless you developed that business relationship yourself, and I am not clear how that ends up helping your client or mine.
Demonstrating your largess in this manner is also not good for client relationships when the client on the phone or in the meeting is not one of the clients you are bragging about.
Being a lawyer does not mean you need to be aggressive. You need to pick and choose your battles as well as decide when it is appropriate. Otherwise, chill out.
There are times when lawyers are working together and everyone should be happy. If we have a client taking on their first round of investment, our client is elated and so is the investment firm. It is one of those times everyone is in a good mood and excited for what is next.
Being aggressive for the sake of trying to seem tough is just stupid. Sending antagonistic emails and ridiculous redlines ends up souring a relationship that should be healthy. Sometimes, casting off the formalities and picking up the phone just to chat gets things buttoned up much more quickly.
Being the Poster Child for What People Don’t Like About Lawyers
The legal profession has a bad reputation. I hope this does not surprise anyone. When you have a small shop, you cannot afford to be this poster child.
As the legal profession is undergoing the radical shift it is currently experiencing, people are not only expecting that the way we work or bill will change. They are also expecting attitudes and relationships will change.
We have worked with many large firms, who even though our relationship was largely adversarial given the circumstances, were more than willing to refer business if their firm did not handle a certain practice area, suggest my partner and I to be on panels at conferences, or even collaborate on outside projects that may not be related to our practices.
You can be a dogged advocate for your client and their interests while being collegial and respectful. To sum things up, knocking off the jerk routine can go a long way.
Christina Gagnier leads the Intellectual Property, Internet & Technology practice at Gagnier Margossian LLP, with a specialization in social media, copyright and information privacy. She is also at the helm of REALPOLITECH, a digital public relations consultancy that provides a broad range of services, including crisis communications. She serves on the Board of Directors of Without My Consent, combating issues like revenge porn. If you ever need to find her, start with Twitter at @gagnier or email her at email@example.com.