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To clients, people in the office for job interviews and other outsiders, The Firm appears to be a cohesive collection of attorneys working together as a team to achieve a common goal. The reality of law firms, however, is quite different. All law firms with more than a handful of lawyers are factionalized to at least some degree. The very nature of partnerships, and of lawyers, demands it. The Firm may in fact be less of a partnership than it is a collection of different groups of lawyers and solo practitioners. Attorneys practicing law under the same roof may be partners in name and financial arrangement only. Often, law firms are very far away from the ideal of a partnership and may be subject to open hostilities between different legions of lawyers. This particular situation leads to the formation of Firm factions. This is not to say that Messrs. Skadden and Arps or Baker and McKenzie were archenemies who represented factions within their respective firms. Then again, it would be no huge surprise to learn that they were. Like many other relationships, lawyers don’t really know each other until they start working together. The name of The Firm may reflect those lawyers who, at one time, thought it would be a good idea to practice law together. After trying to work together for a number of years, however, the lawyers’ names that identify The Firm may indeed also represent the different factions existing within it. Faction membership is a critical consideration for attorneys at The Firm. First of all, factionalism requires a huge time commitment. Lawyers can expect to devote between 20 percent and 30 percent of their time on faction activities, including plotting against, and spreading vicious rumors about, members of rival factions. Faction membership also determines with whom lawyers from The Firm may socialize and where they may do so. Around town, each faction has its designated lunch spots and watering holes that are off-limits to members of rival factions. Because they play such an important role in law firm life, lawyers who are new to The Firm should learn to identify and evaluate the various factions before joining one of them. Divisions between lawyers at The Firm typically form along the following lines: Practice groups. The clearest division at The Firm is usually between litigators and corporate attorneys. Litigators don’t consider corporate attorneys to be real lawyers while corporate attorneys think litigators are uncivilized beings who should be kept away from clients except in case of emergency. No one seems to think very highly of lawyers in the estate planning practice group. Profitability. Some attorneys are more profitable to The Firm than are others. As a result, more productive partners tend to gang up against The Firm’s deadwood by trying to force them out of the partnership or reduce their compensation. New alliances along these lines form whenever there is a change in the legal market. This is because changes in the market can suddenly alter the most profitable attorneys’ bottom line and take them to the very bottom of the list of the Firm’s attorneys. This is, of course, an exaggeration. When it comes to profitability figures, members of the estate planning practice group are perennially at the bottom — even lower than the clerks who work in The Firm’s copying center. Personality. Lawyers often simply dislike each other and they express these feelings by fighting over associates and staff, sabotaging each other’s careers and reporting other lawyers to the state Bar. The most intense personality differences are usually found within the sub-factions formed within individual practice groups. Pre-merger allegiances. It has become common for law firms to merge with other firms. More often than not, such mergers cause clashes of the law firm cultures. Alliances are formed along the lines of the pre-merger firms and resulting factions do battle with each other. Years after the merger is completed, lawyers will continue to refer to each other by their pre-merger firms. This helps to identify individuals as law firm friend or foe. No one, however, can remember where the estate planning practice group came from. Seniority. In the good old days, law firms followed compensation schemes based largely on seniority. More recently, however, younger partners have developed new formulas to distribute The Firm’s revenues based on the productivity of individual lawyers. This has created resentment among members of the old guard who aren’t getting paid as much as they expected for sitting around and doing nothing. They also feel they should be well compensated for constituting the primary client base of the estate planning practice group. Force of habit. The origins of certain factions go all the way back to the time when individual faction leaders were junior associates. As young lawyers at The Firm, the current faction leaders developed rivalries between each other that have not only survived but become more intense over the years. Such hard feelings are transferred to other faction members and passed down from generation to generation of lawyers. Some attorneys have tried to stay above the fray by not joining a Firm faction. This always proves futile, however, because it is faction membership that gives lawyers their identity at The Firm. Factionless lawyers are often mistaken for clients or a representative from Xerox in the office to fix the copying machines. Worse yet, a lawyer who fails to join factions may be mistaken for a member of the estate planning practice group. The Rodent is a syndicated columnist and author of “Explaining the Inexplicable: The Rodent’s Guide to Lawyers.” His e-mail address is [email protected]

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