We all have people in our lives that we dislike. It's important to remember, though, that not everyone on this list will be threatening - some just happen to represent the views or principles which you disagree with most of all.
- People of different political parties
- Attorneys at law firms better than you
- Attorneys who went to better schools than you
- Attorneys with more business than you
- Teachers who were mean to you
- People who hurt you in the past
- Former co-workers
- Ex-romantic partners
- People who have done better than you
- People who have not made the most of their opportunities
- People of a particular religion
- People with authority over you
- Law firms better than yours
- Schools you did not get into
- Schools better than yours
- The government
- Marriage between men and women
- Marriage between people of the same sex
Everyone in most law firms has different objectives, from the receptionist that greets you to the legal recruiting coordinator who takes you to interviews, to the junior associate who interviews you, to the mid-level associate, senior associate, junior partner, and senior partner. Every person involved in your interviews either sees you are a non-threat threat or may not care.
When you get hired, these people will also have opinions about you. Depending on how you conduct yourself in the interview stage and then after working there, these people will either help you, work against you or not.
Being threatening means different things at different points in your career. The concept of whether you are a threat is massive and far-reaching. Far too many people destroy their careers by being seen as threats. People often get fired, iced out of work, feel excluded and unhappy, and are not hired. Every person you are dealing with inside a law firm has a plan, which is often completely hidden from you. You only get hired, survive and advance if you play this political role effectively.
Everyone is different, and people are threatened, resent, and do other things. Therefore, it is essential to govern your actions accordingly and realize that rubbing even one person in the wrong way can harm your career.
If people resent or feel threatened by you, people may:
Not interview you;
Find trivial reasons not to hire you;
Find fault with the work you are doing that they ordinarily would not find a spot with;
Not support you when others are talking negatively about you;
Not provide you with the information you need to do your job well;
Not give you work;
Exclude you from social and other events;
Not be your friend;
Talk negatively about you behind your back;
Not include you on important projects—or give you unimportant roles;
Avoid you and isolate you; and,
Try and prove that they are better than you in any way to make themselves feel better about their lack of achievement in this space.
These are the ten most common actions that make you seem a threat and create resentment.
Coming from a better firm or having experience at a better law firm will threaten some attorneys.
I meet attorneys who know nothing other than I went to law school and volunteer the fact that they spent a summer at a well-known firm or have some different experience. This does not bother or intimidate me, but it does some people. Attorneys that are from better firms are often very proud of this.
Imagine you went to Wayne State University School of Law and are working at one of the largest law firms in Detroit as a fifth-year corporate associate. You've had a great experience there and are doing well. You believe you could make a partner in a few years if you keep working hard and have never worked anywhere else. You attended a public school in a working-class suburb of Detroit. Both of your parents worked in the automotive industry (your father installing transmissions in Jeep Plant, and your mother in human resources for Ford).
One day someone shows up in your office for an interview that went to the best private school in Detroit. They grew up in a wealthy suburb, whose parents are both doctors, went to Princeton and then Columbia Law School, and have been a corporate associate with Simpson Thatcher in New York for the past six years. The person dresses very well, has worked on much more sophisticated matters than you ever have, says they work more hours than ever and has experience running the sorts of deals you have only assisted.
Would this person threaten you? Unless you've spent the past few decades meditating hours each day or have some other secret, you would. You would want to do everything you could to ensure this person does not get hired, and if hired, look for things wrong with them. You would look for their weaknesses and hope they made mistakes. They do not make you look good.
If you were the Simpson Thatcher associate, you would only be likable if you did not brag, make a connection, try and be agreeable, and come across as a nice person. You do not want to upset anyone and act like you are better than them. Unfortunately, you are starting on the wrong foot, and your presence has the potential to make people feel bad about themselves.
Attorneys will defend their ego against the threat and resentment coming of you coming from a better firm by finding reasons to say: "It is strange she has these problems. Such a big firm has trained her. I guess we do things better around here, and I have a better experience."
You went to better schools than the people you are talking to and working with.
If you went to a great college or law school, there is nothing wrong with that. What is wrong with this is expecting special treatment because of these schools. The school you went to says nothing about you other than you were the best applicant for the school when you applied (because of your test scores, grades, and other accomplishments). This past achievement means you have it in you to do very well in the future if you apply yourself. The school should never be a threat; your potential should be – and this is the threat.
If you're interviewing someone who did not go anywhere near as good as school as you did, they are likely to be threatened. You would be too. You should simply not bring it up or discuss it. There is no reason to.
To get around this, for some stupid reason, people will often say things like ("when I was at school out East,")—which is the same as saying: "I went to Harvard but am not going to say it because I think you will be upset by it." This is even more condescending. If you have excellent qualifications, just play it down.
Attorneys will defend their ego against the threat and resentment of you having attended better law schools by finding reasons to say: "It's hard to believe he went to such a good school. He does not have common sense and is not doing well here. I'm a much better attorney despite not going to as good of a school."
You are coming from a more prominent or more prestigious market Attorneys in smaller markets often are intimidated by attorneys from larger markets. There is a perception that attorneys from larger markets may be more sophisticated, intelligent, and exposed to more significant matters.
You should never go into interviews or new employers and act like there is something better about you because you have experience in a larger market. This will threaten people. You do not want people to be intimidated by you when you try to work for them. It would help if you played this down.
Attorneys will defend their ego against the threat and resentment of you coming from a more prominent or more prestigious market by finding reasons to say: "It's hard to believe she worked in such a big market. They are not doing well here. Despite having practiced in this small market."
You are from a much better social background than those you speak with.
Some people grew up in super-wealthy areas. There is nothing wrong with this. However, letting people know that fact can engender resentment, make them think you think you are better than them, or maybe that you do not even have to work. So please do not bring it up.
I knew a guy in law school that played polo. He was brilliant and had a lot of suitable qualifications. However, he went into every interview and talked about how he played polo growing up, played it now, had a bunch of horses, and grew up very wealthy. None of this went over too well with any law firm. He did not get any jobs despite being an intelligent guy. You do not want to emphasize stuff that separates you from people. The perception of many attorneys is that people who have a lot of polo horses and spend a lot of time playing polo do not need a job and think they are better than the people they are speaking with.
Most attorneys have never ridden a horse, much less played a sport that costs a lot of money like polo.
Attorneys will defend their ego against the threat and resentment of you from a much better social background by finding reasons to say: "It does not matter how you grew up or who you know here. This is a meritocracy, and I am doing far better than this person from a better background."
You make people aware that you know negative information about them, or their employer, making them feel you are a threat. I once interviewed a guy for a position with a judge I was working for, and he appeared to be our first choice in all respects. Then before he left, he started asking me about some negative information he had read about the judge somewhere. Naturally, this made me feel poorly, the judge and my co-clerk did not like it, and he did not get an offer.
Everyone has stuff they are not proud of in their background. Unfortunately, the world is composed of all sorts of people that are happy to say negative things about anyone or any employer. The problem is that the second you look like you might be on the side of someone against someone else, they will not want anything to do with you. People want to hire people they believe are on their side and not the other way around. People want to work with people they think are on their side and not the other way around.
Attorneys will defend their ego against the threat and resentment of negative information about them or their employer by finding reasons to say:
"I may have made mistakes in the past, but I have proved I am a better attorney than this person who made me feel bad about myself. They should be careful about who they judged and were wrong about me."
You have entirely different politics than the people are you are speaking to or working with People are very passionate about their political backgrounds and often entirely at odds with people from different backgrounds. If you believe your politics do not matter when searching for a position, you would be completely wrong. You are mistaken if you do not think it matters if you are conservative, liberal, socialist, democratic, or republican.
People are tribal animals and want to be around others they believe will have their back regarding political issues. If someone believes that it is vital to defend large corporations and another person does not, these two sides will clash. It is never a good thing.
The judge I worked for was a conservative and made decisions and conducted his courtroom as he was entitled to as a traditional—just as a liberal judge would do the same. While he had control over the people he hired, such as myself, my co-clerk, his secretary, and a few other people, he was not the one who hired the court reporter working in the court. This court reporter did not like his politics and lobbied everyone she could find about how much she disliked the judge's decisions and politics.
She took me golfing to discuss it and spoke with every person she could find. The judge did not like this, and she was a significant threat because of her political differences. I am sure he would have preferred to have someone else in her role if he could have.
Your politics can be a threat to your employer. I have hired countless people in my career that have political agendas that interfere with their jobs. For example, I once had a man working for me that ordered everyone in his office to take the day off to have people help elect the political candidate he wanted for office. While I did not care about his politics, ordering 15 people to take the day off and expecting me to shut down one part of the company and pay them to do this was a threat.
Attorneys will defend their ego against the threat and resentment of you having different politics they disapprove of by finding reasons to say: "It is clear that people from this background do not do well in this law firm. We stand for what is right and this person not doing well here proves it."
You have a social plan, and you will use the employer for this.
Attorneys who do not get hired often advertise their social and political agendas on their resumes. They also are excited to speak about this in interviews.
Be careful if your social plan is related to "rights" that threaten someone. Again, I do not want to get dragged into this conversation, but whenever someone is fighting for some rights, they may be threatening someone else.
If you believe that children as young as five should be taught in schools that they can choose their gender (and be male or female), this is likely to offend some people. If you believe that children as young as five should not be allowed to choose their gender, this is also likely to offend some people. In addition, people from a specific religious background may not like you if you advertise this on your resume.
If you believe that society should allow all illegal immigrants to vote, give them benefits and give them affirmative action access to public universities, this is likely to offend some people. On the other hand, if you do not believe illegal immigrants should be allowed to vote, receive benefits, or get public access to universities, this is likely to offend people.
If you believe that a movie should not be made in the United States unless more than 50% of its actors are crew are gay or black, this may offend some people. Likewise, if you believe movies can be filmed without regard to their crews' sexual preferences or races, this is likely to offend some people.
Advertising this stuff on your resume, taking sides in these debates on your resume, or making issues out of it while you are employed somewhere is something that will threaten others. There is no reason to go there unless everyone you work with is into the same ideas.
Attorneys will defend their ego against the threat and resentment of you having a different social agenda than them by finding reasons to say: "It is good to see they are not doing well. However, I disagree with them on a lot of stuff and am glad our organization stands for what it does, and certain people do not do well here."
You are friends or close to people who threaten the employer or person you are speaking with People have falling outs with others all the time. Attorneys get dismissed from law firms, and attorneys are on the way out of law firms or have falling outs with others. However, if you want to remain close to people who threaten others you rely on for work, money, or support, you sure better be careful. If you are perceived as also taking the side of a wrongdoer, you will be seen as guilty by implication as well.
When I was in eleventh grade, my best friend at school merit a suspension for the last three months of school for doing something very wrong, he was sitting at a stop sign with another kid and offered a few young kids walking home from school the rest of some candy he was eating. These children were children of faculty members at the school I attended. The children ran home, called the police, and my friend got arrested. He immediately realized that he had made a mistake and done something very wrong. Suddenly, in my last semester of eleventh grade, I started getting a much lower grade in one of my classes. This was an important time for me to do well in school, and I was not pleased. In the following year, one of my other teachers told me that he believed this had happened to me because the teacher that gave me the lousy grade was best friends with the parents of the kids who got offered the candy. The teacher told me he did not know if this was true or not, but to make sure I was careful about who I associated with in the future because people would conclude me and my allegiances from this.
I learned a lesson from what happened. People will conclude you inside a law firm based on who you associate with. If people hurt the firm or those in it, and you look like you support those against it, they will not like you either. Be careful about being perceived as taking sides in conflicts or with the wrong people. If you are close to a group of people who are seen to undermine the law firm, are not doing good work, or conflict with it, you will be seen to be siding with them. You must be as careful as possible about these sorts of perceptions.
One time, I had someone working for me who was very close with the management of another company in the same business I was. This other company seemed very interested in undermining our company and did so every chance. In our dealings with them, they cheated us and did not do what they said they would do. They copied many of our business processes and did other things that did not make me trust them.
This person's friendship with this other company got to the point where he went to a conference with several of our employees and spent most of his time interacting with them and not us. This became too much, and eventually, he was let go. His closeness with these other people became a threat. I am not proud of this, and it happened almost two decades ago, but when he was let go, we made him believe it was because of something else and not this. We found fault with other aspects of his work job. This is the thing that can happen when you look like a threat.
Attorneys will defend their ego against you being close to or threatening people that threaten them or their employer by finding reasons to say: "It is too bad they did not do well, but they were on the wrong side of a lot of stuff and not a good fit here."
You interfere with someone's clients or business.
I run into attorneys who lose their jobs for threatening peoples' client relationships.
I once saw a summer associate remark to a client about her breasts. Despite being at the top of his class at Harvard Law School, he did not receive an offer.
I saw a first-year associate lose a position with only a few months of experience because he confronted a junior partner (and told others) that this junior partner was trying to run up a bill by having him do unnecessary work.
I saw a first-year associate lose a job for talking to a reporter about someone suing a partner's client. They gave away too much information and upset the client.
I've seen managing partners of entire firm offices lose their jobs for undermining attorneys in pitches and hurting them.
I have seen many attorneys lose jobs for simply undermining attorneys they were working with within clients' eyes.
If you interfere with someone's clients or business, you mess with their livelihood. They will most often defend themselves, and the best way to do this is by pushing you out of the way. They may use other reasons, but this will usually be the real reason.
Your job is to support whoever gives you work and make them look good. If you do not do good work for a client, you do not make the person giving you work look good. If you say bad things about your firm, or the people giving you work, you do not make them look good. If you undermine people giving you work in any way, expect this to come back at you.
Attorneys will defend their ego against you being close to or threatening their business by finding reasons to say: "This person is not a team player. Therefore, we cannot trust them."
You threaten their security with a romantic partner.
A common way to lose a position, and get into trouble, is by threatening someone romantically. This can be highly threatening, and this is not something people like.
I was once in a law firm and discovered that an associate was working on a case that was having a full-blown affair with a partner, and his legal secretary, at the same time. Because my office was next to his, I quickly found this out. So, she could see him; the associate woman used to stop by my office and flirt with me to make him jealous. I allowed this to continue until I found out what was going on.
None of this would have mattered if I was not also working with him on a case. He became overly critical of my work, and I quickly extricated myself from working with him. However, he knew I knew, and people hold grudges—for a long time. When I left the firm and was invited back by one of the firms founders a year later, he vehemently opposed my returning. He held a grudge. When I billed the firm for placement when he was the hiring partner, he found excuses not to pay me for over six months.
None of this is abnormal, and this man was just defending perceived romantic threats. But unfortunately, this is what people do. People do not like threats to their romantic security.
I was at a party a few months ago and was introduced to a man and his wife. About an hour into the party, I noticed the man's wife was staring at me, and when I would make eye contact with her, she would smile. Then I saw the man glaring at me like he was angry. People react to perceived threats like this all the time. It is human nature. The point is that you do not want others to feel threatened by you. If you threaten them, then they will have it out for you. It also does not have to be a romantic threat.
I once worked in a law firm where ahusband-and-wife team was partners. The husband was highly off-the-charts legal smart but not that socially gifted. The wife was highly off-the-charts gifted socially but not that smart legally. I worked with her on a matter once and realized that she had difficulty understanding everything we were working on. I got frustrated with her ability to understand everything, could not explain it to her, and she then brought in her husband to help her know it. Because he knew I did not think highly of his wife intellectually, I sensed that I also became a threat to him. So, he stepped in and took over the matter to protect her.
If you threaten someone like this, it never goes over well. If a fellow attorney's romantic interest comes on to you, this will often not end well for you. There will always be a high price if you come on to a co-worker's significant other.
Attorneys will defend their ego against you being close to or threatening a romantic partner by finding reasons to say: "This person does not belong here."
The above factors could be expanded and much longer. After all, there are many reasons for people feeling resentful and threatened. Here are a few others that I see often:
- You are trying to show others you are more intelligent than them by interrupting them, undermining them, or correcting their work.
- You are more confident than others and act like you are better than them regarding how you carry yourself.
- You have exceptional accomplishments (business and other things) that others do not have.
- You have lots of wealth and make others aware of it.
- You act like you do not need the job.
- You talk down to others.
- You are much more put together (better dressed) than the people you work and speak with.
- You look like you could potentially sue an employer in the future.
- You use your connections to influential people to make others feel threatened or resent you.
These are some of the most common reasons people get in trouble. So, you need to do whatever you can to avoid arousing resentment in others or looking like a threat.
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About Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes is the founder of BCG Attorney Search and a successful legal recruiter. He is extremely committed to and passionate about the profession of legal placement. His firm BCG Attorney Search has placed thousands of attorneys. BCG Attorney Search works with attorneys to dramatically improve their careers by leaving no stone unturned in job searches and bringing out the very best in them. Harrison has placed the leaders of the nation’s top law firms, and countless associates who have gone on to lead the nation’s top law firms. There are very few firms Harrison has not made placements with. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placements attract millions of reads each year. He coaches and consults with law firms about how to dramatically improve their recruiting and retention efforts. His company LawCrossing has been ranked on the Inc. 500 twice. For more information, please visit Harrison Barnes’ bio.
About BCG Attorney Search
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