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The Biggest Mistakes Lawyers Make in Interacting With Others

published June 30, 2021

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When you are working in a law firm as an attorney, you have many other people around you at all times. These are mainly other associates, partners, and your superiors. When you interact with them, it is important to appear a certain way because your reputation and attitude dictate how successful you can become. You want people around you to think positively of you, and part of that has a good attitude.
 

Many aspects go into creating the impression of a good attitude. You have to be confident, assertive, honest, business-savvy, in control, have people skills, know how to take charge, and retreat when necessary. But every coin has two sides, and every aspect can work both for and against you.


Every attorney needs some core characteristics; however, they can do more damage than good if you take it to the extreme. Take honesty, for instance. Everyone considers honesty to be a virtue. But in most interactions with others, you have to be careful about not being too honest. Should you really say to the associate sitting next to you that he looks terrible today? Of course not. You have to be careful; otherwise, your reputation might suffer greatly, and you will never be liked in the office or get another client again.

So, what qualities or characteristics should you never demonstrate at work?
 

Arrogance


Confidence is a crucial trait of any attorney. You have to seem confident in what you are doing; otherwise, your supervisors will never believe that you will represent the firm appropriately, and clients will be hesitant to trust you with their cases. But when confidence gets out of control, it becomes arrogance, which can be fatal for your reputation and profession.

Relationships between people, both personal and professional, are based on how they create each ofter feels. We surround ourselves with people who create us to feel good, valued, understood, listened to. People who focus on themselves and are quick to point out how great they are usually don't make us feel any of those good feelings. On the contrary, they often make us feel bad or "less than." And no one wants to be associated with a person like that.

However, it is naive to think that as a young lawyer (or any other lawyer), you can do it on your own without other people around you. Thinking that you are infallible and can do everything better than others is one of the biggest mistakes lawyers make. You need powerful lawyers above you to help you start. It would be best if you also had other lawyers and associates to help spread the good word about you or support you in more complex cases you cannot do independently. It would help if you had good relationships with all the other people you meet daily, such as judges, clerks, secretaries, clients, competition. And you won't have any of this if you are arrogant and continually gloat about how much better than everyone else you are. But if you approach your peers and bosses with the mindset that you value them and know that you can learn a lot from them, they will jump to help you any time you need it.
 

How Is Arrogance Most Often Displayed in Law Firms?

 

Constantly Mentioning What Law School You Went to and What You Accomplished There


If you could get into a top-tier law school or were at the top of your class, it is definitely a great accomplishment that might have opened some doors for you or even secured you the job you are currently in. But school can only get you so far. After starting your legal job in a firm, the importance of school accomplishments means nothing if you cannot support it with the quality of your work. And even if you can, no one really cares about where you went to school or what you did there.

If you are sure of the skills that got you into the school, you don't need to tip them out. Your actions will speak for yourself. Only insecure people feel the need to tell everyone how great they are. And other lawyers know that. Your parents can brag about your school accomplishments. You should work hard every day to live up to the expectations your credentials create for you.

Feeling Entitled and Having "I Deserve" Mindset

If you have the attitude that you believe you deserve things, it can often seem arrogant and can really hurt your profession. Especially recent law school graduates come to their new jobs feeling like they deserve the world. More money, better working hours, other work benefits. But the truth is there is always someone who deserves more or has more than you. And your existence is not that bad either; every job has its perks. If you are working in a large law firm, your starting salary is probably better than someone in a smaller firm or government. If you are starting in a smaller firm, you have a better chance to grow quickly. And you cannot find better working hours in the legal industry than when working in a government office.

So, stop complaining about the things you think you deserve and don't have. Instead, start proving that you deserve the things you think you do.

Boasting About Your New Lawyer Status

Becoming a lawyer in a law firm is amazing, but that doesn't automatically give you the right to feel like you are better than other people working in the same building as you or that some work is beneath you. When dealing with clients or arguing a case in court, you have to appear confident and sure, but you have to be a part of the team in the office. And that sometimes means helping the secretary with sending out documents after hours or learning how to set up conference call devices for the partners. Never feel like you are better than others because you are an attorney now because you can quickly fall off your high horse with a bad reputation.

Acting Like You Know Everything About Being a Lawyer When You Are Just Starting Out

Just like with everything else in life, becoming a great lawyer comes with experience and time. You cannot expect to be an expert in the field right out of law school. Others in your firm have also had to go through the process to know how real-life experience differs from what you are taught in school. You aren't going to convince them otherwise by acting like you know everything.

You have a lot to learn from people around you, so if you act humble and are willing to take advice from more experienced people, you can really benefit from that. This does not mean that you have to act subservient, but you should find the right balance of confidence and humbleness.

Acting Like You Are Better Than Your Peers Because of Your Credentials and Focusing Only on the Higher-UPS

Often, lawyers believe that there's no point in socializing with their peers, and they only want to move in the higher circles of their superiors. But it would be best if you tried to impress everybody in a law firm and do a good job with everyone to get ahead. This includes your peers and people that are maybe currently struggling in their performance. You need friends in your office when you spend most of your time there, which will not happen if you ostracize yourself from your coworker.
 

Lack of Confidence


Another characteristic that is a mistake to display in a law firm is the opposite of arrogance - lack of self-confidence. While you have to have the attitude of still having a lot to learn, as said in the previous section, you must also have confidence in your skills and ability to learn. How else is your new employer supposed to believe in you when you don't even believe in yourself?

Hiring new lawyers is very expensive for firms, so the management wants to be sure that they made the right recruiting decision pretty quickly; therefore, if you approach every new task with doubts about your abilities and let others know that you do not feel ready or up to the task, they will start to doubt you as well.

You will not immediately know how everything works, and there will probably be a lot of moments where you will have no idea what to do. Still, you have to believe in your ability to learn all these things. The people above you support you, but you have to approach them with the right can-do attitude and open mind, not self-deprecating comments.

This also includes apologizing for everything you do. If you create a mistake, apologize for it, but if you say I'm sorry every time someone looks at you badly or when you are unsure of your decision, your coworker and bosses will start to doubt you. You have to sound confident when you are talking to your coworker and clients, which means deleting the constant "I'm sorry" as well as any "ehs" or "terms" from your vocabulary.
 

Competing With Your Colleagues


Looking at your lawyer colleagues as your competition is another of the common mistakes lawyers do. It might seem logical to look at them as your main competitors for potential clients or future promotion, but it is not a good idea.

If you try to have good relationships with your peers, you are helping yourself create a pleasant atmosphere to work in and friends at the moment and lay the groundwork for furthering your occupation. Your current peers might become your partners in the future or have the deciding power over your bonuses, compensation, or promotion. They might also be in the position to send clients to you if they choose to go in-house or help you in hiring if they become legal recruiters. You never know how your peers will help you in the future, so establishing good relationships with them now will help you.
 

Focusing Only on Work and Ignoring Relationships


Many lawyers think that doing their best at fulfilling tasks is enough to make them great lawyers. The legal business is a part of services which means that people and relationships with them are crucial for success. You may be the best in teaching, generating business, or writing up documents, but that alone will never be enough for a successful profession. People skills are much more important in the legal industry than sole intellect.

If you want your bosses to notice you, being enthusiastic, willing to work hard and showing it, is committed to the law, and showing love and appreciation to collaborate with others is the way to go.
 

Interrupting Others in Conversation or Swearing


You probably know this from your own experience - nobody likes to be interrupted when they are talking. When you interrupt someone, you tell them that what you are saying is more important than them. This applies to your clients, superiors, partners, or peers. You don't want to make anyone feel that way.

Sometimes you might want to say something so quickly that you unintentionally interrupt your colleague. When that happens, apologize and give them the chance to finish what they were saying. They will appreciate it and respect you more.

Swearing is another conversational mistake a lot of lawyers make. If you can, try to avoid it. You don't know how the other person in the conversation reacts to swearing, and it might offend them. It also makes you look unprofessional.
 

Complaining About Your Work in the Firm


Something you should never do is complain about your job. Not to your superiors, not to your colleagues, and definitely not on social media. Whether you are getting too much of it or too little, or work is too easy or too difficult, your complaints might have opposite effects to what you want and can even be fatal to your profession. They make you seem incompetent, which is the last thing you need when you are starting a new firm. It might also make you seem ungrateful for the opportunity.
 

Complaining About Clients


You will not love all of your clients. You will not even like all of them. There are many people on this planet, and some of them are really something. But without them, you wouldn't have a job. So whatever happens, you can't complain about them. It will not help you deal with them, and you are also running the risk of them finding out. You wouldn't want to deal with the consequences of that.
 

Letting Others Know That You Prioritize Your Personal Life Over Work and Clients (Even Though Everyone Does)


No one really thinks that your job is everything you have in living, and there is no personal life or loved ones you care more about than your law firm. But it is important to understand that being a lawyer is not always a 9-5 job. Sometimes, you might need to work long days, spend your weekend buried in documents, or skip a holiday trip because a client problem popped over Christmas, and it was time-sensitive.

This doesn't mean that you cannot have a living outside of your legal services, where you are on-call all the time. But you shouldn't be blatant and make it obvious that your personal existence comes before your job. Moreover, there is always a compromise that you can create. If you have a family vacation every year during a certain week, try to schedule your job around that time or ask to take some of your tasks with you. If you have to work over the weekend, but you also have a family celebration during that time, ask for duty before/after the event. There is always a way to have your personal being and not seem like you put your job on the backburner.
 

Giggling Often


This is a mistake mostly female lawyers create. If you giggle often, it gives the impression of immaturity and insecurity. This has nothing to do with being a positive and happy person that laughs when something is funny. That is something clients and managers value. But if you giggle too often, you might appear unsure, insecure, or not serious enough.
 

Comparing Yourself With Others and Showing How Much Better You Are Than Them


Comparing yourself with other lawyers and pointing out why you are better than them will not help you; it will only make you look insecure. Let your actions speak for you. If you really are better than other people in your office, your result will show it, and your superiors will notice.
 

Bootlicking


Sucking up to everyone around you is never a good idea. Flattering the right people at the right time can help you a lot, but when you throw out overt compliments everywhere around, others start to notice and not in a good way. The biggest form of flattery is doing outstanding work for people. And they appreciate that the most.
 

Letting Your Employer Know That This Is Just a Stepping Stone


Many lawyers come to interviews laying out their ambitions and saying that they want this job just for a short period of time. That is a huge mistake because firms want to hire people that will stay with their company for the long haul, not just until they get a better offer. It would be best if you went into any job with the mindset of being there permanently. Otherwise, they might think you will not put your all into it.
 

Substance Abuse


Alcohol and drugs are always a bad idea. They lead to inappropriate behavior and can be fatal to your career. Anyone can create a mistake, but if you get comments about your behavior regularly, you should seek help.
 

Too Much Pro Bono Work


Pro Bono work doesn't pay the bills, so if you do a lot of it instead of working with paying clients, the firm will notice. And they will assume that your personal interests are more important to you than the firm's stakes.
 

Acting Racist or Sexist


This is a big problem in the real world, just as in the legal industry. When working with people, you cannot exhibit any behavior that would demean anyone based on their gender, race, religion, or sexuality. It's toxic, and it can really hurt you. 

See also:
 

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