The legal world is a dog eat dog world. No matter where you end up, you will be dealing with hierarchy and power struggles. How will you climb the ladder and reach the heights of success in the legal profession? Surely that is one of the questions that you will ask yourself as you go in to work each day.
Whether you are in the court room, in the judge's chambers, in the law firm, or dealing with clients, you have to know how to deal with other people. If you blindly hope to rise through the ranks in the legal profession, you are selling yourself short. It will take calculation, strategy, and an understanding of how power works for you to reach the heights. I would suggest that you don't tell yourself that you do not desire to climb up to the top of your career potential. Just as law school is a competition, so is the legal profession. The big difference is that the competition that exists in law school is much more tame compared to what you are going to deal with in the legal world.
Just for my readers, I have adapted some of what I know and have read to help you understand how you can climb ever upwards in the legal world. Even if you do not use all of the strategies that are outlined in this article, you must realize that your co-workers and opponents will be using these strategies.
To succeed in the legal world you have to study everyone. You have to often operate like a spy. Watch those who you are working with carefully. Get to know them. Understand how they operate. Understand their goals, desires, and what they are known for. Everyone should be studied, from those who are new to the game, and those who are the power players. Your eyes should be on the power players like a hawk's eyes are on a baby mouse. Know them. Understand them. Emulate them. Learn what they like and what they do not. Understand the traits that they show. Understand their strengths and weaknesses. You can learn a lot from them. Knowing them will be a weapon in your arsenal.
In the legal world, just as in the courts of the king, you have to learn how to play the role of the courtier. The courtier thrived in a world where everything revolved around power. They walked a tightrope, aiming to please, but not too much. They knew to obey, but to also be distinguishable from others. Likewise, the master courtier never distinguished him/herself too much from their master. Never say more than necessary. As Robert Greene states in his book "The 48 Laws of Power," you must become a magnet of pleasure. When the partner or your superiors takes a look at you, they should think only good. You are the person who makes them feel good. You never bring the bad news. You never come with problems. You smile and bring cheer, but also work hard and give them the pleasure of your labors. When things get tough, as they often do, you will be spared.
Here are the ways to play the master courtier from the book The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene, adapted to the legal world. If you have not read this book, and you care about rising in power, you need to find it, study it, and understand it. Now, here is one of the 48 laws adapted for those in the legal world!
1. Avoid Ostentation
•You should never prattle on about yourself and rarely call attention to your actions. You will be noticed for what you do. You do not have to talk about it endlessly. There are others who will engage in this type of behavior. They think it will help them get noticed. It will, but not in the right way. In the end, their co-workers will come to despise their arrogance, and they will be pushed out by the partner(s) when their talk becomes a bore.
2. Practice Nonchalance
•Your talent must appear natural. That's where your power lies. You will be one man in a sea of workaholics. Don't tell your boss how hard you worked. He/she should be able to see that your work speaks for itself. Instead, make it seem that you have a rare talent that can not be matched. Your boss will take notice of this, and it will make you seem otherworldly. Do not go on about your work, or how great it is. Good results speak far louder than words. Your work should speak for itself.
3. Be Frugal with Flattery
•Flattery is an ugly art, and it's often a dead horse that some will continue to beat endlessly. The best type of flattery is indirect. Agree with your boss, or make it look like you learned from him. Give him/her the satisfaction of the good that comes from it. He/she will learn where the source is, and it will help you climb ever higher! Others will shine the bosses shoes with their lips, but you can do better by doing so with your actions. It is okay to speak the truth about how you feel about the bosses strengths, but don't prattle on endlessly. Better yet, look up to the boss as a mentor and go to them with questions. Ask for their advice, get to know them, and use their advice in your work. Show that you look up to them by actions.
4. Arrange To Be Noticed
•Some like to be noticed through their speech. This is never wise. It is better for you to be quiet and be noticed instead for something else. One way in which you can be noticed is by your sense of style. Stand out in some way. Dress the part of success. If your office allows one to dress down, still dress for success. Have something unique in your style that is subtle but stands out. A specific color that always appears, such as red ties. Maybe a flower pin. Nothing too much, but make yourself look interesting and unique. You are a human, not a number.
5. Alter Your Style and Language According to the Person You Are Dealing With
•Every person is different. If you are speaking with a partner, learn how he/she speaks, what they talk about, and speak accordingly. Do not be over the top or grandiose in your speech. Do not aim to impress the partner or those above you with great words. Remember, it is best to be quiet. Yet, when it comes time to say something, match that of the person you are speaking with.
6. Never Be The Bearer of Bad News
•There is a lot of bad news in the legal world. Don't go to your boss with it. Always have someone else do that. You do not want to be the person who always makes the partner or boss resent your presence because you have entered with bad news. Instead, be the person who brings good tidings. Bring successes to the boss. In the royal court, the king often killed the messenger who brought the bad news. This should be a lesson to you. Never be this person.
7. Never Become Overly Friendly and/or Intimate With Your Superiors
•Like it or not, the boss doesn't want a friend, he wants a subordinate. He/she already has friends, and many have learned that is not wise to mix business and friendship. You are there to work, to rise, and to one day become a partner yourself.
8. Never Criticize Those Above You in a Direct Manner
•Better yet, do not criticize at all. Criticism comes back to you. It's negative. It causes problems. The best idea is to be silent, watchful, and lurk in the shadows when needed. It is best to be quiet instead of speaking too much. Even a fool is considered wise when his mouth is shut. Learn from that. Criticizing the wrong person can destroy your chances of ever rising in a firm. Don't play with fire!
9. Be Frugal When Asking For Favors
•It is okay to sometimes ask for a favor, but this should be something that happens rarely, and it should not be pushed. Do not be the person who is always coming in with problems or needing something, such as time off. There are times to take vacations or sick days, but they should be saved for when they are needed.
10. Never Joke About Appearance or Taste
•This speaks for itself. It is good to sometimes be lighthearted and sometimes (not often) have a witty thing to say, but stay far away from sarcasm, or joking about someone's appearance or taste. This can create enemies or hurt someone who shares in that taste. That can go all the way up to the partner. There are better things to joke about if you feel the need. Let the others do this and watch as they fall like flies on a heat lamp.
11. Do Not Be a Cynic
•You do not want to be negative all time. People HATE negativity. People flee from negativity. In Robert Greene's book, Rule 10 states:
"You can die from someone else’s misery — emotional states are as infectious as diseases. You may feel you are helping the drowning man but you are only precipitating your own disaster. The unfortunate sometimes draw misfortune on themselves; they will also draw it on you. Associate with the happy and fortunate instead."•I have found this to be true in my own life. The misery of others will eat you up. It will chew you up and swallow you. In the future I will write more about this, but let me just say that there used to be a ton of negative blogs and websites about the law school "scam" and, well, look where they are all now. Gone. People hate negative people, and eventually they learn to flee from that kind of person. You should do the same and learn from that type.
•Instead of being a cynic, be positive and uplifting. People will come to you. There will be enough cynicism in the firm. Stand out in a way that shows that you are not affected by the problems of life. This will get you noticed. Partners love a person who can remain calm in the face of chaos. Most of your co-workers will not have mastered this skill, and all people fall apart at some point. Make yourself a master of this point and you will have acquired much.
12. Be Self-Observant
•Know who you are, what your strengths are, and use them. Also, know where your weaknesses lie, and guard them. Improve yourself daily. Take tasks that you are good at and shine through them. If need be, get help with the tasks that are you not so good at. You know yourself like no one else. Figure out who you are and where you want to go. If you don't have any goals, you are going to just stagnate. You didn't get through law school to just bobble about at the bottom or middle of a dynamic firm, did you?
13. Master Your Emotions
•There are some people out there who can not control themselves. That is such a pity. I had an internship in Brooklyn when I was in law school. The man, not yet a partner, but the son of one, had a fiery temper. I would know, I was tasked with cleaning up the coffee from his walls on the first day of my internship. He was a firebrand who could not keep calm in his day to day life. That is not someone you want to work for. I didn't stay there long. I don't know if anyone could or would want to when there are much better opportunities out there. If you are the guy who can't control himself, why should a partner choose you to rise to the top? Not all of us have a father who is a partner, and for this fellow, even that had not yet helped him to rise to the top of the firm he was in.
14. Fit the Spirit of the Times
•The legal world is often filled with dinosaurs who grew up in an age that has long since passed. And, while you should be careful to not offend them with your knowledge of the current world, you should aim to show them that you are talented enough to bring the firm into the 21st century. Listen to their banter about the past being a simpler and better time, and agree with them on the points that you identify with. Find common ground. At the same time, appear to be adaptable. In the end, what the partner really cares about is money, not about stopping time. If you can show the partner that you are a part of the spirit of the times, then you will be noticed for that. Likewise, appear current in dress. Don't dress as if you are living a decade ago.
15. Be a Source of Pleasure
•In Mary Poppins, the Mr. Banks becomes a partner only after he makes the father laugh. Nothing he could do on his own brought him power. Likewise, if you bring joy to those who you work with, it may psychologically help you climb the latter all the way to the top. Do not be the brooding worker who hates briefing cases. Learn to love the work. Isn't it why you went to law school? Show that you love the firm. Show that you love your co-workers, even if you do not. Show that you want to learn from your bosses. Smile, say hello, ask them questions, show real interest. Ask them about the history of the firm. Be noticed as a source of pleasure.
Use these rules to rise like a phoenix. Many people will come in day after day just to work. That's part of the game. You have to be a goal driven individual whose life is calculated for more than just working at a firm. If you turn inward, you will likely find that at some level you crave more power, more wealth, and more freedom. By climbing in the firm you will find these things. I hope that this list helped you.
I learned from the book "The 48 Laws of Power" by Robert Greene. I highly recommend it. This book should be required reading for you in or shortly after law school. Click on the book to learn more!
Greene, Robert. Elffers, Joost. The 48 Laws Of Power. New York : Penguin Books, 2000.