A key concept in Jungian psychology can help attorneys survive life in a firm and avoid disastrous self-sabotage (see, for example, Gen. David Petraeus). It’s the concept of the shadow.

Carl Jung saw the shadow as containing all that has been polished away by parents, family, school, society, culture, church, etc. The shadow is the bearer of instinct and negative emotion: rage, lust, envy, grief, etc. It is all that people must learn to master to take up membership in society. Inability to master the shadow marks a person as an outcast: a dangerous position to occupy and a dangerous person to be.

There is a way in which people attempt to present themselves to the world, which Jung called “persona” — a combination of all the most desirable features sought by the culture. The successfully constructed persona is what makes each person a “good boy” or a “good girl,” and its opposite is the shadow.

But the shadow is never eliminated. It remains as an active component of the psyche, and its contributions, when brought through correct channels, are what separates the ordinary from the extraordinary. For instance, the shadow is what causes people to listen to music rather than merely hear it, for it has struck something inside us, below the conscious mind. Truly arresting art gives us images of the shadow. Film so often deals with the shadow; think of the film noirs of the late 1940s and early 1950s, which portrayed people driven by rage, jealousy, lust and greed.

Those last four words make me think of the practice of law, because when the practice of law goes off into the weeds, the drivers are some combination of these four elements that William Shakespeare, at the height of his powers, worked into the finest art.

Since each person possessesthe gift of the shadow, what might be the best position to take with regards to it? Poet Robert Bly, in his essay, “A Little Book on the Human Shadow,” advocates an attitude of openness towards the shadow. But this can make lawyers uncomfortable. That’s because there is an unspoken persona idealized in law practice: imperturbable rectitude, fearlessly taking on giants or squashing insurrections in the name of what’s right and good. But the practice of law has dragged its “Shadowbag” (a Bly term) around with it since the days of Shakespeare’s Shylock and before. The shadow always has been so strongly present in the practice of law because of an equally strong insistence on the perfect legal persona.

One of the guiding principles of Jungian psychology is that the psyche always seeks balance and integration. So, whatever is present in the conscious, rational mind has its equal and opposite in the unconscious. If lawyerstry at all times to appear “good,” then the “bad” part is equally magnified in the unconscious. At some point, the repressed “bad” will come to the fore one way or the other.

The very image of the practice of law is Themis holding the balancing scales of justice. It is no surprisethat a practice as powerful as the law has a strong negative aspect.

But let’s be specific. How do the elements of greed, lust, envy and rage express themselves in contemporary law practice? How about a firm marketing risky legal opinions at a high price to big-dollar clients, generating a huge influx of cash and getting the attention of federal prosecutors? Or, the almost universal occurrence of workplace sexual harassment and affairs? Or professional envy leading to hatred and rage between partners in the same firm, creating in-house feuds and fiefdoms (the subject of an earlier article)?

The shadow is alive and well in firms, no matter how they try to appear above reproach. After a number of years of working with lawyers and firms, I am convinced that the shadow is as much behind the management of the contemporary firm as is good business practice, perhaps even more so.

It would be incredibly naive to assert that firms should try harder to mitigate against the shadow. That would only strengthen it. Instead, it might be better, for lawyers and management, to stand back and regularly ask, “How are we allowing greed to drive our actions? To what extent does personal grudge guide personnel decisions? How am I failing to care for myself (or this firm) so that I am involved in clandestine sex with co-workers? In what way has the need for revenge influenced my billing practices or representation of a client?”

In this way, the firm acknowledges the shadow and its permanent place in human life. But, instead of an attempt to eliminate the shadow, wise management views its impulses as a guide to compassionate practice with regard not only to the firm, but to the individual lawyers and their clients.