The different types of Lawyers

( 111 votes, average: 5 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.
In hockey, there are the goons — oversize, gap-toothed bullies who help their teams win by fighting with other teams' goons. There are the goal scorers, who have a talent for threading the puck through tiny holes in the goalie's stance with uncommon regularity. Last are the hustlers, scrappy players who can deliver stunning body checks, fire the puck like marksmen to the goal scorers, and take care of all the thankless tasks that help their teams win.

What's the point? For one thing, hockey is hard. But more important is the hackneyed sports metaphor: The best hockey teams, like law firms, are made up of archetypal role players. Everyone on the ice has the same objective — win the game — but each player goes about the task in a different way. Similarly, all lawyers at a firm have the same objectives-get clients, serve them well, make money-but each lawyer takes a different approach.

A lawyer is, basically, an entrepreneur. She's responsible for running her corner of the practice as if it were a small business in itself. Entrepreneurs are quirky folks. They do whatever it takes-whatever they believe it takes — to grow their businesses. We've identified five archetypes, each with a different method for getting work done. As a young lawyer, you would do well to study them and consider which best fits your personality. Then all that's left is to spend the next 10 years of your career becoming one of them. After all, the wizard in the corner office who hands out pearls of wisdom like candy before hitting the back nine every Friday? He wasn't always like that.

1 The Insider

Definition: Establishes prized connections with powerful people in the political and corporate worlds, then parlays them into business for the firm.

Where to Spot One: In Capitol Hill corridors, at high-profile charity events, and in the op-ed pages.

After New York governor Mario Cuomo lost the 1994 race for a fourth term, he did what many newly former politicians do: He went back to his old job, as a lawyer. Cuomo had entered private practice in 1958. In the almost four decades intervening, he amassed a long list of powerful friends and a reputation as a clean-living statesman. But in a way, it was his prestige and his legal expertise more than his Rolodex that made Cuomo an attractive hire for New York's Willkie Farr & Gallagher. "There is the luster that he adds to the firm," says Jack Nusbaum, Willkie's chairman. "To have him here is a jewel in the crown. His reputation was such that we anticipated or hoped that he would attract business. Prior to being the governor of New York, he was a skilled lawyer; he almost made it onto the Supreme Court. He's had appointments by judges to do things. When you've run an organization as large as a government, you bring certain skills that no other lawyer has."

High-profile examples of Insiders are as common as ex- politicians: Former New York congressman Herman Badillo is a name partner in the New York firm Fishbein, Badillo, Wagner & Harding; ex-Delaware governor Pierre du Pont is at Wilmington's Richards, Layton & Finger; and former Senate majority leader George Mitchell is now a partner in Piper Rudnick's Washington, D.C., office. They have friends in the Justice Department, they're on the board of a global conglomerate, they're in with a senator-hell, they were a senator. And those connections give a firm its most important asset besides the restroom: access.

How to Be One: Your resumé probably doesn't include a stint as secretary of defense or mayor of a major American city. There are other ways to get inside City Hall. A lateral move to a government job for a couple of years-on a state representative's staff, say, or as a Securities and Exchange Commission attorney — can yield several BlackBerrys' worth of contacts to people who could be of great value to any large law firm. Whether in the public or private sector, or both, a little job-hopping early in a career creates an instant network that will only grow as former colleagues move on to other jobs, too. "For example, people who leave a law firm for a while to do enforcement work at the SEC come back with two things: a knowledge of the process of the commission and a reputation," says Nusbaum. "They know all the people at the agency. They can pick up the phone, talk to the right person, and get access." (There's that word again.)

Anyone fretting over the inevitable pay decrease that accompanies government work is advised to do a little long-term thinking. Consider the payoff that can come later, in the form of a hefty bonus for bringing in work no one else can. "If you can afford the pay cut and you have a sincere interest in the work that an agency does, it's better than going to school," says Nusbaum. "You'll get an education and experience, along with a reputation. And you will get the money back many times over."

2 The Specialist

Definition: Knows more about the intricacies of, say, federal communications legislation, or banana-plantation law, than anyone else in the world.

Where to Spot One: On TV being interviewed about international art theft, or the legal rights of the marmoset.

The Rolex watch company will celebrate its centennial next year. Common sense would suggest that over the last 10 decades, Rolex could have expanded into countless other product areas-cameras, cars, clocks, you name it — but instead it has stuck with the wristwatch and only the wristwatch, devoting every ounce of its energy into perfecting and producing the finest watches on the planet. Their pursuit of excellence has not been derailed by the kinds of misguided brand extensions on which other companies have blown millions (ever been to the Volkswagen theme park? Neither have we). Today Rolex is, well, the Rolex of wristwatches.

A niche of legal expertise is no different: If a lawyer owns a particular practice area-she does the most work on it and handles the most cases involved with it — she too may become the go-to attorney in that area. James Sprayregen of Kirkland & Ellis has built a national reputation by making his name synonymous with bankruptcy (in a good way). He's worked as bankruptcy counsel on some of the country's biggest and most complex restructurings and insolvencies, including those of United Airlines, Conseco, TWA, Chiquita Brands, and United Artists. When a business-news TV program needs an expert to speak about changes in the bankruptcy code or to explain the economic repercussions of the latest belly-up, Sprayregen heads to hair and makeup. The appearances help establish him as the authority on the subject, and that aura of authority attracts clients.

The TV stuff is more than just aura, of course-Sprayregen actually is one of the best at what he does. "Specialists are the kind of lawyers who even impress their adversaries," he says. "A lot of my clients are people I opposed two or three years ago, but they liked the way I handled myself."

A Specialist need not be a television star, of course. "Some experts are natural 'stars', but just as often, an expert will be a bookish introvert-maybe even a geek, for lack of a better word," says Neil Lewis, a management psychologist in Atlanta. "And though she may be five times as smart as anyone else at the firm, she may not be a natural at networking or practice development." She need not worry. Cameras or no cameras, word of her dominance will spread.

How to Be One: "Becoming a Specialist is a 10- or 15-year process," says Sprayregen. "One of the first things you need to do is get visibility. It's hard to become a public speaker right away, but it's easy to write articles that are derivative of the cases you're working on. I wrote articles as a first- and second-year lawyer. It's a good way to get your brand out there."

At most firms, associates are thrust into a rotation of practice areas within a larger group for their first year. As you take on more assignments and test new areas, pay attention to which assignments you're happiest and most confident handling. Ask for feedback from your superiors on all assignments to assess whether the work you prefer also happens to be the work you do best. Tell your supervisors that this is the area you want to stick with. Go to bar-association events related to the practice, and start establishing connections with lawyers you meet there. Another trick: When you see an article about proposed legislation that will affect real estate investment trusts, e-mail it to a partner and offer your thoughts about how the legislation might affect clients. Forevermore, your name will be associated with the phrase "real estate investment trusts" (and won't that be nice!). As your expertise and experience increase, make time to write articles for legal journals.

"If you're not going forward, you're going backward," Sprayregen says. "There's no such thing as standing still. Every damn week, do great work, give great service, be responsive. Handle yourself in the most professional way possible. It's the single best way to build a brand."

3 The Workhorse

Definition — A Clydesdale. Chooses to handle most work on his own.

Where to Spot One You can't. He never leaves his office.

In 1993, James Spiotto, a bankruptcy partner at Chicago's Chapman and Cutler, famously billed 6,022 hours in a single year. Broken down, it came to 16.5 hours per day, every day — he apparently pulled 52 all-nighters, mostly for his work representing TWA's unsecured creditors committee. His unfathomable claim raised a few eyebrows, and two clients reportedly conducted internal audits of their legal bills. Neither found misconduct. Chapman, meanwhile, found itself with a lot of money.

Grinders. That's what people in the legal profession call lawyers like Spiotto. "There's a guy here who sits in his office and bills 12 to 14 hours a day, with only a desk light on," says one associate at the Boston office of a large New York-based firm. "The case he's been working on lately is a couple of hundred thousand pages, and he knows them all backward and forward." It's not simply that these lawyers are saddled with a disproportionate amount of work. The Workhorse at the firm-consciously or subconsciously — would rather do the work himself. He may outwardly yearn for competent help, but in fact he feels better toiling alone. And usually it's for the best. Like Spiotto, most Workhorses plough through work until it's finished, running at full speed all by themselves while a team of others might toil for twice as long at half the speed with the same (or inferior) results. In the process, he becomes a peerless expert on any case he handles. Spiotto, who heads up Chapman's special-litigation, bankruptcy, and workout practice group, is considered the nation's foremost expert on municipal bankruptcy.

How to Be One: Oh, you have to work hard to be a good lawyer? Really? Thanks for the tip!

We know, we know. You already work hard. But what defines a Workhorse is that even when presented with a flock of fresh-faced associates, she'd rather be the one checking each case citation and making sure every footnote is crafted with perfection. Even when others have contributed, she pores over their final product to make it really final. Obsessive? Sure. Untrusting of others' abilities? Maybe a little. But it's hard to argue with the result. See, there's a fine line between the Workhorse and a workaholic. The latter typically has no life and fills the void with work, sometimes for its own sake. For Workhorses, work is an extension of their lives. They are driven by achievement motivation, says Lewis, the management psychologist. "They derive great personal pleasure from making things happen. They're internally driven, internally motivated. They're not working for money, for fame, or for glory. They believe in themselves, and they have a very strongly positive self concept based on things that are realistic."

Cautionary note: A Workhorse must strike a balance between establishing an admirable work ethic and delegating some tasks in order to benefit the practice. Says a partner at a large Boston firm: "Remember: A firm is a pyramid. You don't want to starve the people at the bottom or stunt their growth."

4 The Manager

Definition: Assembles an effective, efficient team of lawyers who complement one another and know precisely what's expected of them.

Where to Spot One In her office-the door's always open-surrounded by two or more associates at all times.

In the classic movie The Bridge on the River Kwai, Alec Guinness plays the commanding officer of a company of British soldiers held captive in a Japanese prison camp during World War II. The soldiers — and officers — are ordered to build a bridge near the camp. Guinness coolly reminds the Japanese colonel in charge that according to the Geneva Convention, officers must not be forced to do manual labor. The colonel persists, but Guinness stands firm and is locked in solitude for weeks. Meanwhile, the soldiers begin building a half-ass bridge under the supervision of their hapless Japanese captors. (There's a point coming soon. Keep reading.) Finally Guinness convinces the colonel that as commanding officer, he'll be able to marshal his troops and ensure that a first-rate bridge is constructed in record time. The colonel acquiesces. Guinness is released. The soldiers hail their leader. The bridge is built.

What is the point? For one thing, The Bridge on the River Kwai is a great freakin' movie. More important, Guinness puts on a management clinic every lawyer should attend. The take-away is that any group of able people can accomplish anything if they have a leader who knows how to motivate them. The most fundamental quality a manager can possess is the ability to recognize which people work well together. That means having one characteristic not commonly associated with leaders but which. in fact. defines them all: humility. "Unlike, say, great courtroom litigators or experts Managers are driven by the need for collective achievement, the desire to do more than they can on their own, the desire to build and lead a team," says Lewis.

How to Be One: Brian Jennings, a sixth-year associate in the bankruptcy group at Seattle's Perkins Coie, joined the firm as a lateral in the fall of 2001. "As a fifth- or sixth-year associate, you may be delegating to people at your level or a couple of years your junior," he says. "Sometimes you might have to delegate to a partner. You need to know how to use people as resources and use their skills without acting like you have authority over them. The way I look at it is not that I'm in charge of people but that I'm in charge of a particular project, and I need to go out and find whatever resources I need to get it done."

Still, law firms are full of egos, and the competition those egos create is important to a firm's success — if everyone's striving to be the best, good work will be done. But the ego-fest can resemble a dirty game of eighth-grade kickball. How does Jennings manage competing lawyers within the firm? "The first move is to start carving off smaller projects from larger ones, into discrete issues. Then, build from that. Give someone a straightforward project that needs to be done well but isn't central to a case. If she handles the project well, give her more responsibility next time. You'll start to gauge who you can trust on what, and eventually you sit back and realize that even if someone isn't a star attorney, she still can help in some way. You realize people's limits and recognize their capabilities."

5 The Wizard

Definition: The wise one.

Where to Spot One: In the hallway, surrounded by a gaggle of associates-or even other partners-trying to glean some of his knowledge.

''There's a guy here we call Oz," says Daniel O'Brien, an associate at the firm Thomas & Winters in Austin, Texas. "He's been here for 25 years, but you rarely see him. He knows the answer to everything. I can either spend three hours in the library researching a question or just drop by his office for a few minutes and ask him what I need to know." Everyone goes to the Wizard with all kinds of questions: Is the lateral partner we're thinking of hiring a good fit for the firm? Should the firm take on a particular oil-spill case? Is the annual partner retreat serving its purpose?

The Wizard may be expert in one particular practice area, but he has stores of knowledge about most others, too. He understands what it takes to win a case, to close a deal, to get the client what she wants — even if he never sets foot in a courtroom or sits at a negotiating table anymore. "He's the chess master," says an associate at a big Boston firm. "We stop in his office to lay out our strategy on a case we're handling. He'll ask a question or two about the client and the other party, then he puts his hands together like Mr. Burns on The Simpsons and gives us an answer. And he's always right."

About Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes is the founder of LawCrossing and an internationally recognized expert in attorney search and placement. Harrison is extremely committed to and passionate about the profession of legal placement. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placement attract millions of reads each year. LawCrossing has been ranked on the Inc. 500 twice. For more information, please visit Harrison Barnes’ bio.

About LawCrossing
LawCrossing has received tens of thousands of attorneys jobs and has been the leading legal job board in the United States for almost two decades. LawCrossing helps attorneys dramatically improve their careers by locating every legal job opening in the market. Unlike other job sites, LawCrossing consolidates every job in the legal market and posts jobs regardless of whether or not an employer is paying. LawCrossing takes your legal career seriously and understands the legal profession. For more information, please visit www.LawCrossing.com.

Richards, Layton & Finger, PA

  1 reviews   

Popular tags

Archetypal      Great Attorneys      Practice Area     

Featured Testimonials

My experience with LawCrossing was really very nice and satisfactory. I will be a regular part of its member-team.


LawCrossing Fact #34: LawCrossing has a section for feedback, which invites ideas from users on how to improve the service.

Let's Do It!

Only LawCrossing consolidates every job it can find in the legal industry and puts all of the job listings it locates in one place.

  • We have more than 25 times as many legal jobs as any other job board.
  • We list jobs you will not find elsewhere that are hidden in small regional publications and employer websites.
  • We collect jobs from more than 250,000 websites and post them on our site.
  • Increase your chances of being seen! Employers on public job boards get flooded with applications. Our private job boards ensure that only members can apply to our job postings.

Success Stories

LawCrossing is great at picking up all of the legal listings everywhere across the internet. I could have gone to three different sites to search, but you had them all on your site. That was extremely helpful. LawCrossing is a one stop shop!
  • Eileen Baca-Penner New Mexico