I am sad to report that bullying is still alive and well in the legal profession. Unfortunately, I have found that the mass majority of this behavior stems from senior attorneys with decades of practice experience under their belt who quite frankly feel that threatening and bullying a younger, less experienced, associate is the sure way to succeed on their client’s case. This approach paints a bad picture of the legal profession. Although I have been lucky to deal with experienced attorneys who do not take the bullying approach to resolving cases, the few bullies I have run into have really changed my perspective of the legal profession. For example, in one of the first cases I worked on as a licensed attorney, I diligently researched and drafted a comprehensive position letter to forward to opposing counsel regarding my client’s position in the case. I felt confident about how I portrayed my client’s legal issue and was looking forward to receiving a response from opposing counsel. However, less than one week after forwarding the written demand, I received a phone call from opposing counsel whereby he let me know I was “inept, ignorant and inexperienced,” and that I should “back off before he considers filing sanctions against me personally.” As you could imagine, I was terrified.
Regardless of whether that lawyer could even do the things he was threatening, I was worried that I made a mistake, potentially put our law firm’s reputation in jeopardy, or put my client in a bad position. I immediately ran to our managing shareholder to let him know what potential trouble I had gotten myself and our new client into. Thankfully, our firm’s managing shareholder is one of the most even-keel, ethically-centered, reasonable attorneys in the practice of law, so I knew he would be able to advise me on how to fix the situation I put myself in. After a quick review of the position letter at issue, my boss assured me I was doing the right thing and that I would need to be tough and confident when dealing with opposing counsel going forward. Of course, I did just that and ended up obtaining a very favorable settlement for our client. Unfortunately, not all young attorneys can seek support and counseling from their boss or co-associates. I urge senior-level professionals to take charge when it comes to combatting bullying in the professional arena. Instead of taking a bully-approach and threatening younger professionals, I urge senior professionals to act as a mentor and strengthen the breadth of knowledge and experience within the young professional employee pool.