If, when you were growing up, your family always said “you should be a lawyer” or “you’ll make a great lawyer some day!”, what did it mean? It meant you were an argumentative, stubborn–and possibly obnoxious–pain in the butt. Not all lawyers fit that mold–I don’t, of course–but the popular conception of attorney-as-irritant finds constant reinforcement. Take these two stories: A Lawyer Bride Sues Her Florist (Wall Street Journal-Subscription Required) and At Firms With “No Jerks” Rules, Abusive Attorneys Need Not Apply. The first reports on New York litigator Elena Elbogen’s breach of contract suit against Posy Floral Design Studios for “substitut[ing] pastel pink and green hydrangeas for the dark rust and green hydrangeas that she had specified for the centerpieces . . . using wilted and/or browned flowers, leaving the event without filling half the centerpiece vases with water, and using dusty and dirty vases.” The bride and groom paid $27,435.14 for the flowers and are seeking $400,000 in damages. Stamos Arakos, co-owner of Posy Floral Design, responded “My father used to tell me, ‘Don’t deal with lawyers.’ Maybe he was right, God bless his soul.”
The “No Jerks” article discusses how companies are adopting hiring and firing practices to reduce the number of abusive bosses: “The emergence of these practices should be of particular interest to those working or hoping to work in the legal industry, where the only thing larger than the significant book of business may be the bearer’s ego.” For example, Perkins Coie began dealing directly with incidents of abuse a few years ago. “Associates who frequently yell at or mistreat secretaries damage their prospects of becoming partners” and Fortune magazine named the firm in its Top 100 Best Places to Work for five years in a row. This sounds great, and the article states firms are implementing these practices “regardless of how many hours the offenders bill or how much business they generate,” but I’m dubious about the last statement. I bet that a few million dollars in annual billings would still buys considerable latitude for jerky behavior in most firms.