One of the most persistent mistakes legal professionals make is to not understand the importance of "fitting in" in their work environment. Indeed, fitting in is something that both enables you to get and keep a job. In terms of what it takes to succeed in the practice of law over the long term, "fitting in" may actually be more important than your skill level.

Why Attorneys Need to Figure Out How to Fit in in their Law Firms or Find a New Firm Where They Do: The Importance of Fitting In
 
A. Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes

This little known observation is something that is lost on many legal professionals and can result in unhappy and unfulfilling careers. Conversely, being aware of this often results in very happy and fulfilling careers. The problem is that it is often the very best attorneys and those with the best academics and technical skills are the ones who end up not fitting in.

Having been raised to believe that the true measure of success can be measured purely by how well they perform academically, many attorneys enter the legal profession like a comet. They arrive at the very best firms and soon leave this firm for the next and then the next. If they are smart they learn the importance of fitting in. If they are not smart, their legal career is quickly over and they are left blaming a self-imposed set of circumstances and people for the problems in their careers.

I have been a legal recruiter for several years and am constantly speaking with firms that are hiring, laying off and firing attorneys, paralegals and legal secretaries. Obviously, in my job I am constantly seeing both good and bad things happen to people searching for jobs. The interesting thing about my work is that I often get a first-hand account of why people are getting hired and why people are losing their jobs. If there is one thing that sticks out for me, it is that the people who get hired and keep their jobs are generally those who fit in. The people who are losing their jobs, and having the most problems landing employment are those who are not fitting in.

A. The Importance of Academics and "Externalities" to Your Job Search

In order to get an interview at certain hiring legal hiring organizations, you do need (for the most part) to have certain qualifications. If a law firm is seeking someone with three years of experience, you are going to need to have something close to that. If a law firm hires people out of the top 1/3 of their class from only top 25 law schools, you are also going to need to have something close to these qualifications. With very, very rare exceptions though, once you get beyond these types of hiring criteria you are going to be competing with a large group of people. Who do you think is going to get the job?