[TRANSCRIPT] Why Most Law Firm Attorneys Are Angry and Dislike Their Jobs and Lives | BCGSearch.com

[TRANSCRIPT] Why Most Law Firm Attorneys Are Angry and Dislike Their Jobs and Lives


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This presentation today is about why many attorneys are angry and dislike their jobs and lives. Several years ago, a solo practitioner from Ohio applied to work with BCG Attorney Search several times. Each time, we told him we couldn't work with him. At BCG, we try to work with almost everyone if we have positions. Unfortunately, in his particular case, he didn't have any experience and had been unemployed for a while. There wasn't much I could do to help him at the time.

Unbeknownst to me, he was convinced that I didn't do any recruiting and that my only purpose was to write about the legal market, advertise jobs, and then tell people I couldn't help them. He assumed I was getting some pleasure from not helping him and concluded that I was responsible for keeping him unemployed. He became very upset and started a hate website that claimed I was responsible for his and others' lack of success in the legal profession because I didn't have jobs for all of them. It became a site that implied there was a conspiracy to keep him and others down. This went on for a long time, with attacks against me and even my wife at the time. He believed the company didn't exist and maybe I didn't either, which was unfortunate.

This particular incident was incredible and tragic. But before I tell you more about him and what happened, I'd like to ask you a couple of things. Why would someone be so upset with me? Why would someone think a legal placement person is the cause of their troubles because he can't help them get a job? People have been getting jobs without me for the longest time. While I help a lot of people, I'm not the only person who gets people jobs. If anything, more people get jobs without me than with me. So why would someone take me so seriously that they believe I was keeping them out of the job market?

Have you ever blamed others for your lack of success or the lack of positive things occurring in your career? Have you ever worried that other people might be responsible for things not happening the way you wanted in your career? Attorneys are very competitive by nature. They might admire and respect other competitive attorneys. If you are hiring an attorney, wouldn't you want one who is competitive to defend and represent you? I certainly would. The more competitive my attorney is, the more capable they are, irrespective of their paper qualifications. Society needs competitive attorneys. If you are competitive with other attorneys, you are likely to do well. Large law firm attorneys often work the most hours, not because they have to, but because they need to be the most competitive. If a law firm can find a competitive attorney, it is probably also serving its clients well.

How important is the competitive nature of attorneys to law firms? People who go to the best schools and get the best grades and access to the highest-paying jobs tend to be the most competitive. The attorneys who bill the most hours generally have the most job security. Attorneys who generate the most business generally get the most jobs. Over the past year, I represented a couple of Olympic athletes who are now attorneys. They had decent but not stellar qualifications. Despite this, there was a major feeding frenzy over both of them. One attorney received at least ten offers, and the other at least seven, even though their practice areas were not in demand. Meanwhile, more qualified candidates from better firms and law schools were not getting the same level of success. I asked myself what was going on.

One firm said they wanted their attorneys to be competitive. The only conclusion I could draw was that the competitive spirit presumed to be inherent in former Olympic athletes was driving interest in these candidates. The association with the Olympics was likely also helpful. The legal profession involves a significant focus on status. Status is something all animals, including humans, are concerned with. When dogs meet, for example, they sniff each other to understand each other's relative status. Attorneys are very good at understanding their status in the legal community. Status makes them feel good about themselves and more successful. Without the ability to compare themselves to others, the status of most attorneys becomes meaningless.

When attorneys meet, they often start by assessing each other's status, asking where they work and where they went to law school. When attorneys discuss the relative status of one another, any form of superiority shown by one attorney can make the other feel threatened. This threatened attorney can either accept their lower status or fight to maintain their status. A similar phenomenon occurs when firms compete against each other. Small firms battling large firms, for example, often frame the fight as much about status as the issue at hand. Status happens within law firms too. People will ask if you are a partner, associate, or equity partner, and firms with the highest status tend to attract the best candidates.

When an attorney is confronted by their lack of status in the legal profession, they have several options. They can make efforts to improve their status, help elevate the status of others, get others to elevate their status, hurt the status of others to feel better about themselves, or have others help them pull down and disparage the status of those who threaten them. If you are an attorney and competitive, you will face these choices. Most attorneys are quite competitive and eager to improve their status. I recommend making efforts to improve your status and avoiding choices that involve hurting others.

How do you improve your status? Working hard, getting an LLM from a prestigious law school, becoming a better attorney, and getting business are some ways to improve your status. You can also help elevate the status of others so they can help elevate yours. This means working hard for people so they want to return the favor. You can also get others to elevate your status through family connections or favors from powerful people. However, very few attorneys make these choices when their status is threatened. Instead, many choose to blame and attack others.

Blaming others for their lack of success is one of the major reasons why attorneys become negative and angry. The legal profession makes it difficult for attorneys to obtain and maintain high status. Achieving initial status with law firms is extremely competitive, and even if achieved, it is difficult to maintain. Additionally, attorneys are trained to blame others for most things. They are expected to take their client's side and make the other side look less deserving of respect. This tendency to blame others can extend to their own lives, making it rare for an attorney to accept full responsibility for their career issues.

Blaming others and attempting to push down the status of others because of our own lack of status and success is dangerous. It can lead to continued lack of success and even the worst acts humans can do to one another, such as the Holocaust, ethnic cleansing, and most lawsuits and crimes. Our interest in blaming others and taking them down is profound. If an attorney gets a poor evaluation, they may become hostile to the evaluator. If an attorney makes a huge mistake on a project, they may blame the firm for giving them too much work. If an attorney doesn't bill enough hours and loses a bonus, they may blame the firm for not having enough work or a flawed assignment system. Attorneys who don't get made partner may blame the firm for being sexist, racist, homophobic, or hating white men. As attorneys move firms, get fired, or quit, they often continue to blame others.

I have seen that most attorneys are good at tearing others down and blaming them. This is part of an attorney's training. If an attorney can tear down the other side, they will often look much better. For over a decade, a man and several of his followers continued to write about how I was responsible for their lack of success in getting jobs. It didn't make sense because I was actually getting people jobs. It puzzled me that someone would take all their anger, fears, and frustration about job prospects and the legal system and place it on one person.

This particular man took his show on the road, driving to different offices we have around the country. He drove from Cleveland to Chicago, where I don't work, and when the receptionist informed him I didn't work there, he returned home and blogged that he didn't find me, therefore the company didn't exist. Despite our name being on the building, he continued to claim we didn't exist. This created a problem because he got other people to buy into this.

When people are looking for jobs, they may look for others to blame if they are having a hard time. In terms of Mr. Winston, I called him several times and explained that I existed and would help him find a job. But he wanted to be angry and started to become threatening. He threatened violence, so I had to go to court. He eventually agreed to take his writings down, but he would put them up again. Incredibly, he got a job as a prosecutor in Cleveland. Later, he killed himself after fleeing the scene of a shooting in Cleveland. He had broken into a house, killed someone, and shot two people. This tragic story shows how anger and blaming others can lead to devastating consequences.

When I was growing up, one of my relatives used to drive me through neighborhoods with nice homes. The goal of these drives was not to admire how others lived, but to give messages that financial success must be the product of being bad. I was told that people who lived in nice houses needed to do bad things to others to live that way. This mindset of finding fault in others who are more successful is common.

In the legal profession, there is a big need for status, and a huge desire to tear others down and attack them. This doesn't serve any useful purpose. The only solution to this lack of status is not to care at all and to attempt to elevate one's own status. The best option is to do the best job you can, contribute, and help others in your firm. The world doesn't care about the reasons you're not achieving what you want. People care about results. If you're not doing as well as you want, my biggest suggestion is to apply yourself more and try to do better.

Instead of blaming others, look for ways to succeed and improve yourself. I've noticed that when people or companies don't do well, it's often a sign they need to change. Older attorneys may need to change their ways. Businesses and people go through cycles, and with job searches, you need to keep changing the way you do things. The best thing you can do is look at what you can do differently and apply yourself. When you do that, you become much more effective in the long run. Instead of blaming others, say, "What could I have done differently?"

What could I do differently? How can I fix this? How can I really listen to what's being said or what the market's saying to me? Most people can't. If you think about businesses like Sears and other companies that go out of business, a lot of times what they've done wrong is they haven't listened to the market.

It's like that with an attorney too. You need to listen if you're not doing as well as you can. I wouldn't attack other people. I think that when this man was stalking me and ended up killing people, it's just hard to believe. But he was obviously upset at the legal job market, and I got to see that. His identity and all these things that were so important to him were threatened by not getting what he wanted. Maybe the solution would have been to accept my help, figure out how to become better at what he was doing, or maybe choose another profession if he wasn't getting the results.

He really was applying himself, and that's really the big lesson. This has been a quick presentation today, but the big point I want to make is that you can always do well, personally and professionally, if you're constantly challenging yourself, doing the absolute best you can, and figuring out what you could do differently. How could you take better care of yourself and do better? Those are some of the important things.

Thank you. I will take a quick break for one or two minutes and come back and do questions. I encourage you to ask as many questions as you have, not just about today's presentation, but about anything that is challenging you in your career or anything you'd like to know. I'm happy to answer any questions. I'll be back in one or two minutes.

Okay, let's get started with questions. Give me one second here, guys. I'm just pulling up a local Word document so I can type the questions out. Sorry to start late due to a court hearing.

As many questions as you have, these questions are always extremely helpful for others, because other people often have the same questions you do about their careers. The questions are, of course, always anonymous.

Okay, so we'll go to the first question. I'll pull this up here.

The first question is, do you post the webinar to your site afterwards? Yes, these are always posted after the webinar. Here’s a good question. Someone disagreed with the presentation. They said, "I disagree with this presentation. Sometimes you legitimately need to change jobs if you're performing well and not receiving recognition."

That's a good point. For example, my last firm was very toxic. The partner I worked for was constantly abusive and criticized my work. I received minimal raises, and the only reason I received a decent bonus was because of an outside management committee. Sometimes I did make a few mistakes, but not to the level that this partner made them out to be. At no point was a client ever damaged as a result. After I switched firms, my work environment improved significantly. The new firm was more flexible, and my work product was recognized as better.

I also agree that the quality of the people you work with matters. There’s an article on BCG I wrote called "Find Your Tribe" or something along those lines. Essentially, it's about trying to work with people that match your way of thinking. I apologize if my presentation came across the wrong way, but many times when you switch firms and are in a better work environment, you can certainly do well. It's not "Find Your Tribe," it's "BCG Search: Find Your Tribe," an article by me.

If you're getting bad feedback from the environment you're in, it doesn't mean there's something wrong with you. Many times, it means there's something wrong in the environment. That’s a very good point. I don't necessarily believe that the firm you're in is going to determine your success. If you're unhappy, the problem may be the environment. Different people are happy in different types of environments. There's absolutely a correlation between performance and environment. If you're working around people with similar work styles, you will often do much better. Especially if you're in a toxic environment, you should do what you can to get into a better one. The quality of the people you work with can make a big difference in your happiness. That's important.

And there's not a lot of questions today, so I guess it's because we're at the start of the summer. But do I help you find a job as a patent agent? Yes. We do help people find positions as patent agents. We primarily do law firm placements, but patent agents essentially do the same job as patent attorneys but are only admitted to the patent bar. You don't need to be admitted to the general bar to practice patent law before the patent bar; you just need a scientific background. Law firms do hire patent agents, and we do a lot of work for them.

I wasn’t expecting an extreme example on how to address this constant concern in professional life. I agree. There’s a high level of narcissistic personality characteristics in the legal profession. Exactly. I wrote an article called "Narcissistic Personality Disorders in the Legal Profession." That's a good point. We need to address these issues and acknowledge systematic racism and groupthink control to continue to evolve the profession. I think you can expand on this topic. I completely agree, and that's a really good point.

Attorneys, as a general rule, tend to be narcissistic. A lot of it has to do with the nature of the legal profession and what it takes to get ahead. There's so much narcissism. Many attorneys become successful by personalizing everything and believing they are always right, almost to an extreme. Narcissism is a big deal, and many attorneys are very narcissistic and difficult to work with. Sometimes when talking to very successful attorneys, they almost don't hear what you're saying because they're so concerned about themselves. It's a big thing, and many times they need to be like that to be successful.

Regarding systematic racism and groupthink control, there are many systematic issues with expectations in the legal profession. It’s difficult if you don’t have that narcissistic personality to do well in certain types of firms. Those are all really good points. It's very difficult when you feel excluded or attacked and don't know why. If someone believes the environment is racist or exclusionary, it's very challenging. I agree with everything you're saying. I don’t know the solution, but social movements are addressing some of these issues.

An interesting question: What is the best time of year to attempt to move to a larger, more prestigious firm? In my opinion, the best time of year is often when other people are not looking. For example, right now, not a lot of people are looking. One of the best times is around November and December. Law firms know there will be a lot of people leaving in January after receiving bonuses, so if you start looking then, firms may hire you before people start leaving. It's often easier to get into firms during that time of year. There's an article I wrote called "Why November and December Are the Best Times of the Year to Look for New Positions." One problem with looking for a job right now is that human resources departments are busy with summer programs, which requires a lot of work.

Thank you very much, everyone. I appreciate everyone being on this call today. Next week, we’ll also have a lot of questions. Actually, here's a question that came in the chat, so I'll answer that as well. I'm having an unusual situation as a civil attorney after a majority of my career as a prosecutor. Many firms see me as a tenured civil litigator when I have only three years of civil experience. This leads to performance expectations that are hurting me and causing job shortages. Any advice on addressing this in interviews to set reasonable expectations?

It's common if you have experience in one branch of law and move to another. In terms of expectations, you need to really buckle down and work harder. Learn how things are done and probably work a little harder than others at your level. If you have only three years of civil experience, you can probably do trials fine, but writing and other tasks may create problems. Civil litigation involves heavy motion practice, which is different from being a prosecutor. I recommend working as hard as you can, getting mentors, and understanding the expectations. If the expectations are leading to shorter jobs, ask yourself what is causing you to not stick around. Understand what mistakes you might be making and seek feedback from the firm on how to improve. Law firms will always tell you what's wrong, though they may not always say it directly.

For example, they may say you need to work harder or be more careful, or you need to impress clients and get more work. The big issue between being a civil attorney and a prosecutor is often the requirements for hours and bringing in business. If you're ten years out, it's harder to hold onto positions because you're at a higher billing rate and expected to have more business. Talk to the firm to understand what you could have done differently and what they recommend you do in the future. This is a great question.

Yes, I do help people find jobs. We don't reject anyone anymore. The majority of people I work with are those we couldn't work with initially. If people reapply, we work with them. There are many practice areas that didn't use to be marketable that are now, such as insurance defense, small-town practices, personal injury, and more. We place people in all these areas. Almost on a daily basis, nine out of ten people we work with are those we couldn't initially work with.

That's all I have for today. Thank you, everyone, for being on the call. I look forward to talking to you next week.

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, HarrisonBarnes.com, and BCGSearch.com, 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 www.BCGSearch.com.

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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