The Hidden Force of Ego: How an Unchecked Ego Damages the Lives and Careers of So Many Attorneys |

The Hidden Force of Ego: How an Unchecked Ego Damages the Lives and Careers of So Many Attorneys


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Harrison Barnes' Legal Career Advice Podcast - Episode 34

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  • The happiest and most successful attorneys are often surprised when their success comes.
  • You will do better when you stop prioritizing how things make you look and feel.
  • When you remove yourself from the equation and just concentrate on what you can do, that feels right and makes you and others happy.
  • Too many people base their lives and careers on others' opinions, withdraw when they do not get the feedback they want, or keep pushing to get more and more approval to their ultimate detriment.

Between the ages of eight and eleven, a series of miserable things happened in my life. The first thing was that my step-sister, with whom I was close, was shot and killed while working in a fast-food restaurant in Detroit. Shortly after that, my stepfather was diagnosed with cancer and became very sick over the next few years before dying. My mother was very disturbed by this and disconnected completely, and to cope she started drinking—too much.

Because I lived in a relatively small community and word about all of this got around, I decided that the only way to “be normal” and “look normal” was to excel in elementary school. I was the absolute best student in my class by far and tried harder than all the other kids to look normal. I also poured a lot of energy into sports and became extremely good at that. I believed that if I did well in school and sports, and if everything looked "good" on the "outside," I would be fine.

The truth is that things were not right on the inside. My home life was complicated and depressing. Because the school knew what was happening in my home life, they asked a school social worker to speak with me several times. This social worker typically would appear in the doorway during my art class and take me down a dark staircase to an office that had no windows. He would take out board games like "Chutes and Ladders" and play these games with me and then ask me what was going on at home and how I felt.
The school did the right thing. My father started trying to get me to live with him (my parents were divorced) when my problems began. He would tell me that if he learned of bad things going on at my house, he could go to court and get me removed from my mother's custody. I had a half-sister and did not want to leave her or my mother. I felt that if I just did some things differently, I could help my mother. I also feared I would lose my relationship with my mother if I left and lived with my father. Consequently, I always told the social worker that everything was great in my life and never shared any information with him. 
I did the same with my father.
I kept everything inside and channeled my energy into doing well in school, sports, and overachieving—all while feeling negative inside. I was afraid to look vulnerable and wanted to be the man of the house, fix my mom, and go forward, making everything look beautiful. I missed out on many of the rewards and growth my childhood might otherwise have offered. 
By the time I got into seventh grade, I was very depressed and withdrawn and started to get bad grades—I grew tired of trying to be best at everything and keeping my emotions in. When I got into eighth grade, I started acting out and got kicked out of a private school in Detroit for being a bad student and making trouble. I ended up repeating ninth grade because, then too, I was depressed, a bad student, and not able to apply myself. My athletics, scholastics, and everything else fell by the wayside.
My life changed when I moved with my father to Thailand. Had I stayed in my previous environment, I have no doubt my life would have turned out differently. Many of my friends from that time are dead (mainly from drugs and alcohol), others went to prison, and none turned out well. For example, the wealthy father of one of my old friends bought him a liquor store to get him back on track, but after less than a year of owning the store, it was closed down by the state because he had been knowingly selling liquor to underage kids.
I came to believe that I could control my environment and the people around me by merely bending my will. I thought I was in control of the world, not the other way around. When you believe you can control the world and the people around you, this creates all sorts of issues that are incredibly damaging. We need others to survive, and we need to be vulnerable to survive. We cannot do anything without others. Everyone needs others. My successes in life have come through others, and my lack of success happened when I did not rely on others. 
You may be wondering what this has to do with your legal career—the truth is it has everything to do with it. The more successful attorneys become and are, the better they are at bending their will, not being vulnerable, and not sharing their feelings with other attorneys because this is not welcome in the legal profession. The entire premise of being an advocate for someone is hiding that person’s vulnerability and making the client’s position appear strong when it may not be. Attorneys need to hide their vulnerability as well—the vulnerable attorney does not get jobs and is not viewed favorably by other attorneys.
A short time after I got into legal placement, I started to realize how difficult it is for attorneys to be vulnerable and share their weaknesses. 
  • If an attorney is unemployed, they have a challenging time getting another job because this looks weak.
  • If an attorney has lost a job or had issues at their last employer, the next legal employer will often avoid hiring them.
  • If an attorney wants less work or less challenge, it is difficult for them to get new positions if they verbalize this because other employers think they are weak.
  • If an attorney has had any personal issues in the past (health concerns, substance abuse, arrests for inconsequential things), it is challenging for them to get positions.
  • Attorneys should not have personal issues (for the most part) or be vulnerable.

In most cases, the attorneys who most readily get jobs have very few weaknesses. Law firms, in particular, want to hire attorneys who appear strong. The more vulnerable you look, the less likely you will be to get hired.
I had a recurring conversation with recruiters from our firm over the past two decades. They said they did not "feel safe" working with successful law firm partners because these partners often "screwed themselves over" by trying to control the situation. Because the recruiters could not advise, give feedback, or otherwise assist, they could not get the results they otherwise would have. 
It is generally only the most successful law firm partners with multimillion-dollar books of business who do this. They assume they know everything and, as such, take complete control over the situation and do not allow others to advise them. They are used to being in power and dictating terms. People around them are simply tools to make things happen.
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When I first started recruiting, some of the first people I worked with were successful law firm partners. I noticed that in a good proportion of these cases, the partners would come to me and already know the firm, or firms, they were interested in and not be too willing to listen to my suggestions. When they got interviews, these partners were not interested in sharing their feedback with me and would often arrange more meetings with the law firms on their own. They did not want help negotiating salary nor getting feedback from the firm. It seemed they only wanted to take control of the entire situation. 
They also were "vague" in terms of their reasons for moving and what they wanted out of their search. Due to this, it was more difficult to advise them and find them the sorts of opportunities I might otherwise have found. Besides the firms they already had been interested in when they approached me, these attorneys refused to listen to new suggestions.
Because they tried to control everything, they:
(1) missed out on opportunities,
(2) did not receive feedback, and
(3) were likely to repeat negative situations without knowing why.
In contrast, the most successful associates, counsel, and partners who do legal job searches tend to want feedback, look at lots of opportunities, and are open to learning. They are also willing to be vulnerable with me, which helps me understand how to make them more attractive to employers.
I was recently working with a very successful law firm partner seeking a position. He could have gone to a variety of firms. He had a good enough book of business, was at a major firm, and was attractive to law firms. However, like many successful attorneys, he needed to control the situation. He was very discriminating and eliminated too many firms from his search. He was not willing to listen to advice. He was not clear about what he wanted in his search. He was not forthright that he had lost his job and had a limited time finding a new one. He would not share his compensation, the firms he had already applied to, or anything. When he went out on interviews, he was not looking for any advice.
Consequently, he ended up taking a position with a firm that primarily does insurance. He is not an insurance lawyer, however; he is a corporate attorney from a 1,000+ person major law firm, and the law firm did not have a corporate practice. Had he given up control of the situation and allowed others to advise him, he never would have been in the position he was in. He would have been much more successful and gotten a much better job.
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When you try to control everything around you and bend your will to it, it can create many issues for you. I had been trying to bend my will to others for the majority of my life. Trying to bend my will is something that had provided untold misery to me in my life—from when I was younger and trying to control my home situation to when I got older and did the same with my life and career.
Over fifteen years ago, I was driving through Malibu one day and saw an open house. I liked the house, my wife said it was her dream house, and I decided that I would have it. The only problem was that the house was $15,000,000 and needed a lot of work. I had done this with other people, places, and things in my vicinity over the years. For example, there was a building across the street from my office for several years that I looked at. I decided that I had to own it, put my name on it, and have it serve as a base for my expanding empire. I did not ask others what it was worth – I simply paid what the owner wanted. I did the same with the office I was working in and paid what the builder asked for the office and purchased it.
The fact that the home was $15,000,000 did not matter. I had used my will to get all sorts of things done in the past: I had built companies, bought buildings, hired the people I wanted, got people jobs, and made whatever I wanted to come true. I had gone into the legal profession and achieved everything I wanted with my will, despite not wanting to be an attorney and not enjoying being one. I had gotten the achievements, people, and material things I wanted with everything I had ever done. At the time I looked at the house, I was driving a Rolls Royce Phantom. My life was ridiculous.
You can undoubtedly achieve by forcing your will on people and situations. As my life had shown up until that point, you can force your will onto situations. For the most part, I had been able to achieve whatever I wanted in my life until then by using a bunch of self-improvement techniques that enabled me to create goals, impress what I wanted on to my self-consciousness, and push forward and achieve those things. You can get whatever you want—within reason—if you understand many of these techniques. The most successful people want the objects of their desire more than the next person and fire up their minds about what is possible.
The problem with purchasing this home was that it was ridiculously irresponsible from a financial point of view. Although I could afford it at the time, I had no idea that a significant recession in 2008 would create all sorts of issues for me financially—in terms of supporting all of my property, businesses, and more. I did not measure the fact that I had other obligations. I was not thinking anything through—I bent my will and personal desires to what I wanted, not what was feasible or made sense.
Financially, I had also surrounded myself with a bunch of "financial yes men”—accountants and bookkeepers who would do what I wanted to avoid upsetting me and losing their jobs. They, too, had seen that I would bend my will to get whatever I wanted.
The home was an incredibly irresponsible decision. I purchased it mainly because I wanted it and decided that I should have it. As we looked at it, my wife also said something that pushed me in the wrong direction: "If you can pull off that home, you will be 'amazing' and a 'superstar' in my book." A statement like that was enough to push me in this direction to try and prove something. Because of my ego and wanting to not look like a superstar, I purchased a home that was far from my office, picked up and left where I lived, and moved into something I could afford less and less as time went by.
This decision cost me a ton of money; it caused me undue worry, wasted effort, introduced me to people I would instead never have met, created a strain in my marriage, and it is still a mistake I regret to this and every day. I was trying to do more than I should have been trying to do before I was ready. I was trying to bend my will into proving something to myself and the world. I was doing this because I knew how, but also because my ego controlled me, and I was not attached to people who could have guided me and given me the right platform to make good decisions. My mistakes were selfish and not smart.
Something happened to me one day when I was going to work after I started my business. I was leaving a parking garage, and a man in a turban came up to me and said, "good luck" and said he wanted to prove to me that he had a message from God. He told me to guess a number from 1 to 10 and also the name of a flower. He turned around, wrote something on a piece of paper where I could not see it, folded it up, and put it in my hand. 
I remember that I guessed the number 6 and chose a violet for the flower. When I opened the piece of paper, it said “violet” and the number 6. I was in shock. 
He then started to tell me a bunch of personal stuff about me that seemed incredibly on-point. Some highlights: "You only are comfortable being with one woman at a time," (most people are); "Your parents were divorced, and you grew up trying to do everything on your own,"(a significant percentage of people are from divorced homes), and a few other things that blew my mind at the time. However, he said to me something I remembered the most: "Never get any partners. If you get any partners, you will end up on the street."
As I stood there astonished by what he had said, he then asked me for money to support his "mission from God," and I handed him everything I had in my wallet, which was about $60. I asked the man if I would see him again, and he said that God would send him, or someone like him, back into my life if I ever needed a vital lesson again. I then walked away, utterly amazed at what I had witnessed.
I have since learned he was employing common tricks. You are unlikely to pick five because it is too obvious—so you pick something close. You are unlikely to pick rose because it is too obvious, so you choose violet. Nevertheless, his trick combined with "insights" into my life and character left me believing that this man must have some special knowledge. His advice carried a lot of weight I should take seriously—especially as it pertained to getting partners.
Early in my business career, I had many people who worked for me want to be my partner. I also had people with outside placement firms want to be my partner—including one man who had once owned the most significant legal recruiting firm in California. Each of these people was talented but was not as talented, in my opinion, as I was. I did not think these people would work as hard as I did, would genuinely be invested in growing a business, or think long-term. Consequently, I ignored them and refused to become partners with them.
This man's advice was very good at the time and saved me a lot of heartaches. Two of the people who wanted to be my partners turned out to have terrible characters and ended up getting in lengthy, drawn-out lawsuits with the partners they did find after I rejected their advances. Both did this with several people. Had I gotten into bed with any of these people, it would have almost certainly hurt me a great deal and destroyed all of my businesses. However, at the same time, this attitude hurt me quite a bit.
Years later, a private equity company came to me and wanted to be my partner and give me a bunch of money as well as half of a business they had bought for $65,000,000 in exchange for half of a few companies I owned. I also toyed with this idea for a while but ultimately turned it down because I was afraid of giving up control. Not doing this was probably a huge mistake. It was a mistake because I could have surrounded myself with people who had a better understanding of business, and I could have learned from them and improved dramatically had I taken their offer. With their advisors and professional teams, they significantly increased the size of their business over the years. I never had professional advisors who hurt me. My need to control the situation and everything harmed me.
One of the most dangerous aspects of being an attorney and, in fact, being successful in anything is the constant demand to bend our desires and will onto whatever we are seeking to do. If we decide we need to go in-house, work in a law firm, work in a better law firm, or do anything in particular, we will do whatever we can to make that happen. If we decide we need to be a partner, we need to bend our will into making that happen.
As I discussed above, one of the characteristics of the most successful attorneys is the ability to bend your will to what you want and control the situation. You impose your will on your clients. You impose your will on everything you do. However, your ego and desire to impose your will on everything may ultimately harm you.
I was fired by an attorney recently. For years this attorney had been billing me tens of thousands of dollars per month and was not getting results. He was seemingly extending litigation by creating more hatred and work on both sides. I saw what he was doing and understood what he was doing because I used to be a litigator and understood this. When the other side reached out and wanted to sit down for a settlement discussion, for example, this attorney rejected this without discussing it with me—which I learned about when I spoke to the other side in the litigation. When the other side served discovery that would cost $50,000+ to respond to outside of the discovery cutoff, he did not object—even though he knew the discovery deadline had passed.
I decided to write all of this down and share it with my attorney and the other side. The litigation had been manipulated for profit, and my interests were not being served. I sent copies of the memo to my attorney, the associates working on the case, and also the partner and associate on the other side. Within a few minutes of my attorney realizing what occurred, he withdrew from the case.
This is a case of two sides with huge egos. My attorney tried to manipulate the case and run up the bill by pushing me in one direction, not sharing information and making decisions contrary to my best interests and finances. I was unwilling to allow someone to advise me and was bending my will to get what I wanted from them as well. This created issues on both sides. I was trying to force a result from him and me. I ended up finding someone to take the case who was willing to listen to me—and this may not have been the best idea for me.
You need to look closely at your legal career and understand when and how you may be using your ego (and how you feel) to control it. Your ego controls everything happening to and around you.
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Most attorneys, like I was and am, are trying to achieve something and prove something. You use your ego to build yourself up and power through life trying to reach something. This ego makes you buy houses you cannot afford, take jobs that you think you should have but make you unhappy, makes you want to look like a specific person, and as if you have control over the world. You want to show the world that you have mastered it and its rules.
One of the stupidest things I ever did was when I was about seven or eight years out of college at the University of Chicago. I received an email from the class secretary, and he asked me what I was up to. Today, I would have ignored such an email because it doesn't matter; however, I thought it did back then. So, I decided to write an email back talking about my success in law school, firms I had gotten jobs with, and all of the offices I had opened in my legal recruiting firm, everything I had done, and how many people worked in the company. I must have written three or four long paragraphs and was very proud of what I had written.
I sent off what I had written and thought nothing of it. However, a month or so later, an alumni magazine arrived. When I went to the class notes, they took what I had written and put the entire thing in quotes: "Harrison Barnes writes …" and there was a long email I had written (typos and all) about how I had done this and that. At the time, I thought this was a good thing, but as time went by, I realized that there was something wrong with me that I needed to write so much and felt I needed to tell so many (mostly strangers) from my college class what I had done. My ego was controlling the situation.
Your ego is something that drives what happens to you in your career. When an attorney is young, they make decisions and do things based on trying to satisfy their ego. Most successful people are trying to aspire to use their ego to fix and fit any situation. You need to use your ego to get results — and it is essential. However, your ego is something that can create all sorts of issues. 
A very successful attorney asked once if any law firm attorneys I work with that are incredibly successful are happy and have well-rounded lives. The most successful law firm attorneys tend to have books of business of at least $5,000,000 a year. There are very few attorneys in this category that I have ever met or worked with that are happy at work, at home, and have well-balanced lives. They may do well at work but have unbalanced romantic relationships, or have poor relationships with their children. They may be doing well professionally and personally, but have horrible health problems. These people can stay continually motivated, but this motivation and bending their will in every direction ultimately causes them many problems.
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When I told him this, he was very shocked and seemed taken aback because he realized that maybe all his drive and ambition were not ultimately going to take him to a position of happiness and success in his life. If he was going to be happy and successful, maybe he should not be pushing in the direction he was pushing himself—or, he needed to do something different.
I have an extremely successful neighbor who died not too long ago. He died while on vacation in the Bahamas. When his wife found him, he was wearing a CPAC mask clogged with cocaine around the edges. The man was only 55.
He was controlled by his ego and used his ego to become hugely successful. He ran a successful credit card processing business, and at one time, when he was younger, he sold another credit card processing business he had started for $120,000,000. He had been a cocaine addict when younger and used this to push himself to work harder and achieve more. He quit cocaine when he was in his mid-30s and was sober until he was 50 — and then started using cocaine, drinking, and doing all sorts of behaviors like this in earnest. He divorced his first wife when he was in his early 40s and married a personal trainer he had hired to help him to get in shape.
He talked about all of the money he made and his private jet, among other things. He used to gamble millions of dollars in Las Vegas on the weekend and get the best seats in clubs. I went there with him a few times and watched him playing blackjack, betting $250,000 per hand for hours—I could not believe what I was witnessing. At the Bellagio, where I stayed with him one time, he had a suite that must have been at least 7,000 square feet that had a pool, private gym, theater, full kitchen, and more. We were given the best seats at clubs and served $5,000 bottles of champagne (which he did not need to pay for since he gambled so much). Because my wife and I were with him, the hotel gave us a 3,500 square foot suite.
Every Fourth of July, he had a massive party at his beach house in Malibu where there would be expensive caterers, DJs on the roof, and rap and basketball stars would stop by and visit. At night, he would have a giant barge pulled out in front of his house to release fireworks.
A few years before he died, I heard he was in New York talking to a private equity firm. When he was there, he had a panic attack, fell, hurt his leg, and ended up in the hospital for several days. I did not know what was going on, but when he returned, he bragged that he had raised all of this money. I felt like there was something wrong with this and that he must have some issues financially. I did not understand why a guy who was betting $250,000 a hand in blackjack would need money from a private equity firm.
When he died, the casinos had put liens on all of his property because he owed them more than he had. The man had effectively gambled away all of his money and left his wife and child with nothing. When he was in Vegas, he was treated like a king and made to feel successful and liked. The money he spent fed his ego. Ultimately, I believe continually pushing himself, and the need to feed his ego killed him. He knew he was out of money and could not go further. 
I see this with attorneys all the time. They push themselves so hard, for so long, that it ends up killing them and causing them all sorts of issues. Their ego makes them strong but eats them up inside and makes life difficult for them to live and be happy. They keep building themselves up and trying to prove something to others, and they never stop. Each new achievement and thing they do is like a drug that pushes them forward again and again.
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I called one of my early mentors the other day who is (or was) a very successful attorney. At one time, this attorney had some huge clients that were household names and extremely successful. The attorney decided to join a smaller law firm where he would be the most respected attorney there. The firm he was at was growing, and he was slowly and surely losing the power and respect he had when the firm was smaller. His marriage of 25+ years collapsed, and his wife came after him in a nasty, well-financed campaign. Then he decided he would go in-house.
When he went in-house, he was up against a powerful management team run by professional managers who did not feed his ego and, in fact, questioned it at every turn. He tried to force his will on them for years, and this upset them. Eventually, they got so upset they fired him from the high profile general counsel job. Because he kept antagonizing them and made them angry—he was right, they were wrong, they ultimately found some things he could have done differently and sued him publicly for malpractice.
I called him at 3:00 in the afternoon to check in with him, and after a minute or so on the phone, I could tell he was drunk. He was working at a smaller law firm, and I would not have expected this during the workday, but that is what I got. He seemed to have lost his "ego" when I spoke with him and was at a position where he had sort of given up. I told him I knew many better places that would be interested in him, but he did not seem interested. He was in a state of defeat as far as I could tell. Because of his age, I doubt he will ever recover.
When the economy crashed in 2008, I ended up laying a lot of people off in my business – hundreds of them. I held on to my house, buildings, and other "real estate accomplishments" for a few years but then started selling them off because as the years went by and the economy began to contract in my business, I could not afford everything. A former employee of mine wrote an anonymous attack on me online. I found out who it was and spent almost a decade fighting this attack on my ego before ultimately settling it. 
He is now involved in another public lawsuit with a former employee of his. Everyone is attacking one another's ego.
When I experienced a setback financially and in business, my ego too took a hit. I went to a stage where many people went to where I told myself that I still needed things and objects to be happy in my life. I started collecting and buying expensive cars that fed my ego and which I never drove — old Aston Martins and other exotics that I worked on. I purchased a series of new Porsches, Mercedes, and BMWs almost annually. I used things outside of myself to make myself happy. Although the payments on cars were nothing compared to real estate, they were more than I should have been spending, and I did this to fill a lack inside of me and satiate my ego. I proudly showed my cars to neighbors, guests, and others.
I was giving my father a ride in one of my cars one day and told him that it had the second-fastest acceleration of any car in the world going 0 to 60 and that only a Bugatti was faster.
“Who cares,” he said.
A month or so later, I was giving him a ride in a four-door sedan I had and told him that it had the fastest top speed of any four-door sedan in the world.
“Who cares,” he said again.
That is true. None of this stuff matters. You need to move beyond it and realize that all of the accomplishments and things in the world are never going to make you happy. Your ego does not need to be fed by outside achievements, and that is never going to make things better or make you the least bit happier. It just does not work that way.
I started meeting famous people. I started a business with a celebrity. I got to know famous actors and actresses. I told my dad about this.
"Who cares," he said.
Many attorneys I work with want to prove something — and these are the most marketable attorneys. The attorney who wants more business, to get into a better law firm, to work on more significant matters, to bill more hours and to have more of this, is the most marketable. These attorneys want to tell you about everything they have done and are doing. They channel this motivation into proving something to themselves and others. They proudly tell you about the positive things that others have said to them. Their egos are powering everything that happens with them.
I have young children. They spend their days on social media pages watching what their friends are doing on various pages. One of my daughter's friends has tens of thousands of followers, and another is not far behind. Another is friends with a celebrity and picked up 25,000 followers very quickly. These children feed their egos and feel happy and accepted based on who they know, their followers, and how popular the world says they are. They want to be seen as desirable and powerful in the world by having lots of followers. A lack of followers points to their sense of lacking power in the world.
When your ego is trying to control everything, you are setting yourself up (1), to be motivated at all costs—regardless of the consequences, or (2), to give up, not live up to your full potential, and feel like you have failed. 
To maintain your fragile ego, you may not expose yourself to people, places, and things that challenge your self-worth. Others withdraw from the world, do not challenge themselves, and put themselves into situations where their egos will be fed and not ones that will challenge them. 
I spoke with an attorney the other day who is very successful—but wants to be even more successful. As part of this conversation, I pointed out that the most successful and widely-known attorneys are continually exposing themselves to the media and getting out there. Regardless of how accomplished an attorney they are, they are seen and known, and this media presence and people knowing them in the market drive success. 
This attorney told me, however, that he always turns down media requests. He is more comfortable writing law review articles and getting known that way because he is afraid he will make mistakes if he speaks with the media. He wants to feed his ego and is afraid of situations that will not do this.
Many attorneys go to large law firms that are incredibly demanding. These attorneys have very strong academic backgrounds and have typically experienced a lifetime of success in school and been in situations that have continuously fed their egos and told them how good they are. When they go to a large law firm, they realize that getting praise, advancing, and feeling the best is extremely difficult when surrounded by so many other highly driven people. Feeling their egos are not supported enough, most drop out of these environments and try something else. Many quit law, go to smaller law firms, or go in-house. Some become quite bitter at the world. The most ambitious keep going and do what is required to support their ego—they work incredible hours, bring in more work, and prioritize their careers. Some prioritize their careers over everything—their romantic life, children, personal life, and health. 
If you prioritize a law firm career, you can be very successful and have a well-rounded life, but you also need to have perspective. You need to realize that you need a family, health, and other things. You cannot make your career everything — because it will let you if you want it to. It is this advice that is most important if you are hard-charging. Finding perspective and taking your ego out of everything has huge rewards.
Successful law firm partners are always fighting over client origination credit, compensation, and other issues at work. They get their ego so involved in everything they do that it governs their careers and lives. Many are constantly under stress and trying to be the best and look the best to their peers. They leave when they feel they cannot impose their will on their partners, or their ego is not recognized.
At the same time, the worst thing that happens is when people conclude that a legal environment is not going to stroke their ego the way they need it and withdraw or give up. They either look for a practice setting or place that will allow them to feel important or give up altogether. You need your ego to do well as an attorney, and your ego is something that helps you, but it can also drive you off the tracks when you give up.
When I read, study, and hear about attorneys who have died of drug abuse, gone to prison, committed suicide, or had other serious problems, I see a common thread. They often lived concerned with how they looked to others, based their success around their egos, and did everything they could to feed their egos.
Attorneys who give up often make the same mistake. They are not getting the feedback they want from the profession and the world and stop trying because their ego is not satisfied. They believe everything is about their ego. Success comes not from feeding your ego, but from contributing to the world and genuinely connecting with others.
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People who are the most successful put their heads down and do the best they can, while trying to remain oblivious to how doing something will make them feel or look to others. They are working, in relationships, making social connections, doing certain hobbies, living in a particular home, driving a certain car, living in a particular part of the world and living their lives a certain way because they want to—not because of how something will look to others, or because it feeds their ego.
The happiest and most successful attorneys are often surprised when their success comes. 
  • Their success comes because they do not take every real or imagined slight personally and are just doing the best they can.
  • They are not overbilling people to make as much money as possible and genuinely trying to serve clients.
  • They are not abusing substances and trying to delude themselves that they need to be and act like a certain kind of person to be happy.
  • They are not dependent on what others say about them to be happy.
  • They are not afraid to be vulnerable around others and share their feelings with those close to them.

All the while, they stay motivated and do their best.
The point is that you do not need others' approval to be happy. You will do better when you stop prioritizing how things make you look and feel. When you remove yourself from the equation and just concentrate on what you can do, that feels right and makes you and others happy. Too many people base their lives and careers on others' opinions, withdraw when they do not get the feedback they want, or keep pushing to get more and more approval to their ultimate detriment.

About Harrison Barnes

Harrison Barnes is a prominent figure in the legal placement industry, known for his expertise in attorney placements and his extensive knowledge of the legal profession.

With over 25 years of experience, he has established himself as a leading voice in the field and has helped thousands of lawyers and law students find their ideal career paths.

Barnes is a former federal law clerk and associate at Quinn Emanuel and a graduate of the University of Chicago College and the University of Virginia Law School. He was a Rhodes Scholar Finalist at the University of Chicago and a member of the University of Virginia Law Review. Early in his legal career, he enrolled in Stanford Business School but dropped out because he missed legal recruiting too much.

Barnes' approach to the legal industry is rooted in his commitment to helping lawyers achieve their full potential. He believes that the key to success in the legal profession is to be proactive, persistent, and disciplined in one's approach to work and life. He encourages lawyers to take ownership of their careers and to focus on developing their skills and expertise in a way that aligns with their passions and interests.

One of how Barnes provides support to lawyers is through his writing. On his blog,, and, he regularly shares his insights and advice on a range of topics related to the legal profession. Through his writing, he aims to empower lawyers to control their careers and make informed decisions about their professional development.

One of Barnes's fundamental philosophies in his writing is the importance of networking. He believes that networking is a critical component of career success and that it is essential for lawyers to establish relationships with others in their field. He encourages lawyers to attend events, join organizations, and connect with others in the legal community to build their professional networks.

Another central theme in Barnes' writing is the importance of personal and professional development. He believes that lawyers should continuously strive to improve themselves and develop their skills to succeed in their careers. He encourages lawyers to pursue ongoing education and training actively, read widely, and seek new opportunities for growth and development.

In addition to his work in the legal industry, Barnes is also a fitness and lifestyle enthusiast. He sees fitness and wellness as integral to his personal and professional development and encourages others to adopt a similar mindset. He starts his day at 4:00 am and dedicates several daily hours to running, weightlifting, and pursuing spiritual disciplines.

Finally, Barnes is a strong advocate for community service and giving back. He volunteers for the University of Chicago, where he is the former area chair of Los Angeles for the University of Chicago Admissions Office. He also serves as the President of the Young Presidents Organization's Century City Los Angeles Chapter, where he works to support and connect young business leaders.

In conclusion, Harrison Barnes is a visionary legal industry leader committed to helping lawyers achieve their full potential. Through his work at BCG Attorney Search, writing, and community involvement, he empowers lawyers to take control of their careers, develop their skills continuously, and lead fulfilling and successful lives. His philosophy of being proactive, persistent, and disciplined, combined with his focus on personal and professional development, makes him a valuable resource for anyone looking to succeed in the legal profession.

About BCG Attorney Search

BCG Attorney Search matches attorneys and law firms with unparalleled expertise and drive, while achieving results. Known globally for its success in locating and placing attorneys in law firms of all sizes, BCG Attorney Search has placed thousands of attorneys in law firms in thousands of different law firms around the country. Unlike other legal placement firms, BCG Attorney Search brings massive resources of over 150 employees to its placement efforts locating positions and opportunities its competitors simply cannot. Every legal recruiter at BCG Attorney Search is a former successful attorney who attended a top law school, worked in top law firms and brought massive drive and commitment to their work. BCG Attorney Search legal recruiters take your legal career seriously and understand attorneys. For more information, please visit

Harrison Barnes does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for attorneys and law students each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can attend anonymously and ask questions about your career, this article, or any other legal career-related topics. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom

Harrison also does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for law firms, companies, and others who hire attorneys each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom

You can browse a list of past webinars here: Webinar Replays

You can also listen to Harrison Barnes Podcasts here: Attorney Career Advice Podcasts

You can also read Harrison Barnes' articles and books here: Harrison's Perspectives

Harrison Barnes is the legal profession's mentor and may be the only person in your legal career who will tell you why you are not reaching your full potential and what you really need to do to grow as an attorney--regardless of how much it hurts. If you prefer truth to stagnation, growth to comfort, and actionable ideas instead of fluffy concepts, you and Harrison will get along just fine. If, however, you want to stay where you are, talk about your past successes, and feel comfortable, Harrison is not for you.

Truly great mentors are like parents, doctors, therapists, spiritual figures, and others because in order to help you they need to expose you to pain and expose your weaknesses. But suppose you act on the advice and pain created by a mentor. In that case, you will become better: a better attorney, better employees, a better boss, know where you are going, and appreciate where you have been--you will hopefully also become a happier and better person. As you learn from Harrison, he hopes he will become your mentor.

To read more career and life advice articles visit Harrison's personal blog.

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