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To be a great lawyer and also a nice person: Is that an impossible goal? Public surveys and many popular jokes suggest that the two results are incompatible. Even if many lawyers are by nature unpleasant, should junior lawyers model themselves on the attack dogs of the profession? There are many good reasons for junior lawyers to develop, and maintain, habits of courtesy and respect, as they are learning the more technical elements of their craft. Make no mistake: Tough times may call for tough action. The lawyer who is generally calm and congenial may, in some circumstances, be required to “kick it up a notch” in negotiation or argument. The ability to be assertive, when assertiveness is required, should not be discounted. But if a lawyer starts with a baseline of equanimity, the occasions when emphasis or outrage are expressed may have even more effect than the constant state of aggression — even hysteria — expressed by some lawyers. In the give-and-take of a lawyer’s world, moreover, a background of trust and good faith may be essential. Some suggest that only transactional lawyers need to foster a cooperative spirit to get a deal done. But even in litigation there are many occasions where horse-trading and accommodation are required. You want the deposition of my principal witness; I want your documents. You need to postpone a filing due to the press of other work; I know that I cannot try the case on specific dates because of family commitments. Deals must be struck, or the parties will waste time and money on motions and court conferences. COMPROMISE CAN BE USEFUL Indeed, unbending inability to compromise may stand a lawyer in terrible stead with adversaries and judges. To report to a client that no deal was struck, even if covered with a bravado “take no prisoners” attitude, may be worse then reporting that a deal was struck on terms that are less favorable than the client had expected. Worse, in the litigation arena, an obdurate manner may lead to much worse results before a court than might have been achieved through compromise. Indeed, the lawyer who consistently maintains extreme positions may cause a judge to question the legitimacy of every position, even if some are well-taken. Even though some clients may openly state their desire for a “killer” lawyer to represent them, that attitude may fade when the lawyer’s hyper-aggressive style precludes completion of a deal, or settlement of a lawsuit. Indeed, it must occur to many clients, eventually, that a lawyer who uses unrestrained tactics in dealing with adversaries may use the same tactics in dealing with clients. That very thought may cross a client’s mind as he reads a billing statement listing countless hours spent on filing near-frivolous motions, or fighting over every last jot and comma in a deal document. REPUTATION MATTERS Within a law office environment, moreover, development of a reputation as a jerk may be deadly. Senior lawyers avoid juniors who are distinctly unpleasant, no matter how brilliant or dedicated. Even if they do work with them, the peppery associates may get none of the war stories, gossip and advice that can come from a friendly affiliation with a senior lawyer. Senior lawyers do not generally like to mentor junior lawyers who are jerks. In the junior ranks, braggadocio may also have an extremely adverse effect. Law firms operate on teamwork. The over-the-top junior lawyer may find it very difficult to get advice from compatriot juniors, much less find another junior to “cover” an assignment when the inevitable time crunches arise. Law office staff, including secretaries, paralegals and photocopiers, may also be much less than enthusiastic, and may even subtly sabotage projects for junior lawyers who have reputations as “screamers,” or worse. Ultimately, moreover, there is the personal side of a life in the law. What does it profit you if a brilliant career is littered with the remains of a lifetime of bitter, unpleasant encounters? Worse yet, it is difficult to adopt one persona at work, and another in family and social relations. The lawyer who sets as his or her goal to become the “toughest on the block” may be in for a lifetime of wrecked relationships, and loneliness. Here’s to the “nice” lawyer: one whose professional goal is not to annihilate all adversaries and competition, but to provide good quality services and reasonable solutions to client problems, and who in the process enriches his or her family and community. Nice lawyers can — and should — finish first. Steven C. Bennett is a partner in the New York City offices of Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue, and a co-coordinator of the New Associates Group in that office. The views expressed are solely those of the author, and should not be attributed to the author’s firm, or its clients.

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