1.800.973.1177CAREER COUNSELOR’S CORNERPAGE 1 continued on backOne of the most persistent mistakes legalprofessionals make...
1.800.973.1177CAREER COUNSELOR’S CORNERPAGE 2 continuedwill identify with them and be sympathetictowards them. Your employ...
1.800.973.1177CAREER COUNSELOR’S CORNERPAGE 3 continued on backworst academic qualifications are often thepeople who fit i...
1.800.973.1177CAREER COUNSELOR’S CORNERPAGE 4 continuedner cooked by the managing partner, etc. Oneof the items was an ent...
1.800.973.1177CAREER COUNSELOR’S CORNERPAGE 5she attended the same religious group as thehiring partner;c. I believe one a...
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  1. 1. 1.800.973.1177CAREER COUNSELOR’S CORNERPAGE 1 continued on backOne of the most persistent mistakes legalprofessionals make is to not understandthe importance of “fitting in” in their workenvironment. Indeed, fitting in is somethingthat both enables you to get and keep a job.In terms of what it takes to succeed in thepractice of law over the long term, “fitting in”may actually be more important than yourskill level.This little known observation is somethingthat is lost on many legal professionals andcan result in unhappy and unfulfilling ca-reers. Conversely, being aware of this oftenresults in very happy and fulfilling careers.The problem is that it is often the very bestattorneys and those with the best academicsand technical skills are the ones who end upnot fitting in.Having been raised to believe that the truemeasure of success can be measured purelyby how well they perform academically, manyattorneys enter the legal profession like acomet. They arrive at the very best firms andsoon leave this firm for the next and then thenext. If they are smart they learn the impor-tance of fitting in. If they are not smart, theirlegal career is quickly over and they are leftblaming a self-imposed set of circumstancesand people for the problems in their careers.I have been a legal recruiter for severalyears and am constantly speaking with firmsthat are hiring, laying off and firing attorneys,paralegals and legal secretaries. Obviously,in my job I am constantly seeing both goodand bad things happen to people searchingfor jobs. The interesting thing about my workis that I often get a first-hand account of whypeople are getting hired and why people arelosing their jobs. If there is one thing thatsticks out for me, it is that the people whoget hired and keep their jobs are generallythose who fit in. The people who are losingtheir jobs, and having the most problemslanding employment are those who are notfitting in.A. The Importance of Academics and “Exter-nalities” to Your Job SearchIn order to get an interview at certain hiringlegal hiring organizations, you do need (forthe most part) to have certain qualifications.If a law firm is seeking someone with threeyears of experience, you are going to needto have something close to that. If a law firmhires people out of the top 1/3 of their classfrom only top 25 law schools, you are alsogoing to need to have something close tothese qualifications. With very, very rare ex-ceptions though, once you get beyond thesetypes of hiring criteria you are going to becompeting with a large group of people. Whodo you think is going to get the job?I’ll tell you who is going to get the job: Theperson who meshes best with the hiringcommittee.Most attorneys presume that the mostimportant thing that employers are lookingfor in an interview is whether or not theyhave the skill set to do the job. Whateverthe qualifications of the job, the fact of thematter is that the employer would not evenbe interviewing you if they did not think youcould do the work. Whether you are a sec-retary, attorney, or paralegal, virtually everylegal employer out there is smart enough toknow that you can be trained to do the workthey are interviewing you for if your skills arenot immediately on target. Employers mayuse your skill set as an excuse NOT to hireyou after the interview. More often than not,though, the person that gets hired is the per-son they feel would fit into their firm best.A. What Is “Fitting In?”The remarkable fact about fitting in is that itwill vary depending upon the legal organiza-tion you join. Fitting in will mean somethingdifferent if you want to work for the govern-ment than it will mean if you want to work fora law firm or a corporation. Fitting in simplymeans that you will be comfortable aroundyour coworkers and they will be comfortablewith you. Fitting in can also be akin to beingpart of a family-everyone may not be thesame; however, they share a certain set ofbeliefs and philosophies about the world.Being comfortable means different things todifferent people. This can be expressed as aset of positives or as a set of negatives. Youremployers do not want to have to think theywill be uncomfortable around you. Your em-ployers do not want to have to think that youwill be critical of them. Your employers wantto think that you will embrace, on philosophi-cal and moral levels, their approach towardsbusiness and the world. Your employers wantto feel that you will get along with everyonein the office and will not be a source of ten-sion. Your employers want to think that youThe Importance of Fitting In[A. Harrison Barnes]Before you go the traditional route and try to interview at every AmLaw 100 firm, it’s important to consider where you might fit in, as this is often the onlyway to get your foot in the door.
  2. 2. 1.800.973.1177CAREER COUNSELOR’S CORNERPAGE 2 continuedwill identify with them and be sympathetictowards them. Your employers want to thinkthat you will support them and back them up.On yet another level, your employers want tosee you as a “kindred spirit” and someonethey can take a maternalistic and/or paternal-istic approach towards.The more an employer views you as a “kindredspirit” and someone they can take a maternal-istic/paternalistic approach towards, the morelikely you are to get hired and remain hiredonce you are with a particular legal organiza-tion.While the analogy is far from perfect, a legalemployer, in many respects, can be viewed assomething akin to an immediate family. In anyfamily, there are likely to be a variety of dif-ferent personality types. Nevertheless, mostfamilies share a lot. They tend to share thesame religion, they tend to share certain val-ues among their members, they tend to havesimilar beliefs about the importance of educa-tion, and they may enjoy doing certain thingstogether. They are also likely all of a similareconomic background and know a lot of thesame people as a group. These commonali-ties are something that bind them together onmultiple levels despite all of their differences.It is because of these commonalities that mostfamilies, for the most part, are comfortableamong one another.In order to fit in with a legal employer, youneed to be seen as a member of the family.In order to be a member of the family, youneed to be bound to the employer by a set ofcommonalities. On its basest level, going to agood law school or getting good grades theremay be enough to break the ice. This is notsomething that enables you to fit in over thelong term, though. In fact, having a sharedexperience and an outlook towards the worldis the one thing that is likely to help you themost. This is the essence of fitting in. Themost successful attorneys and legal profes-sionals are those who are able to fit in withtheir employers’ environments.At the risk of being “non-pc” I will simply notea few things. If you examine most law firmsclosely and get inside of them you will almostalways notice some very strong similaritiesin terms of the type of people that are mostoften hired. The people are never the same;however, their tolerance (or lack of toler-ance) for certain types of behavior is oftenquite similar. In addition, many law firms arecomprised of people with a very similar setof life experiences. Many law firms may bemale dominated bastions made of groups ofmen with an affinity for football. Still otherlaw firms may be comprised of a great deal offormer military men. Other law firms may bedominated by people of a certain race, religionor even sexual orientation. Whether or not anyof this is “correct” is not for me to say. WhatI will say, though, is that none of this is theleast bit surprising. People want to be aroundothers that they feel comfortable with andshare a similar set of experiences with. If youshare a similar set of experiences to any ofthese dominant groups, you are more likely toget interviewed, hired and promoted.And this brings me to an important pointthat is significant enough, but that few legalprofessionals ever take the time to realize.You cannot fit in with every group of people.Certainly there are law firms and legal em-ployers in every city of the United States thatare considered the most prestigious. You mayhave the academic and other qualificationsto go work at these places. The question thatis important, though, is not whether you havethese credentials, but whether you fit in. Youare likely to experience the most success andlongevity in the practice of law if you find anorganization where you fit in. If you do not findan organization where you fit in, you are likelyin for a rough ride.The drive to succeed for certain lawyers dic-tates that they only go to the hiring organiza-tions that are the most universally recognizedas the best. The concept of “fitting in” is sooften ignored when it is the most importantaspect to consider, in my opinion. In theirdrive for success, attorneys ignore what isimportant for them and give more credenceto what the dominant opinion says is the bestand the most important.B. Fitting In at Different Stages of Your LegalCareerI would like to walk you through a typical legalcareer from (1) being hired as an associateout of law school, (2) being hired as a lateralattorney following working in a legal environ-ment for some time, to (3) making partner ina law firm. If you are not an attorney and workin the legal profession in another context, thesame observations will likely apply.1. The Importance of Fitting in When You AreInterviewing With Employers in Law SchoolIn law school, certain firms and employerswill generally only interview you if you (1) arecoming from a certain level of law school, and(2) have a certain grade point average. Onceyou get the interview, though, it is all up toyou. The most important factor determiningwhether or not you get a position will be yourability to fit in.Many of the best minds in the legal professionnever are able to get positions in prestigiouslaw firms precisely because they cannot fit in.There are, of course, firms out there that willhire people because of their sheer academicprowess. Indeed, the better your law schooland the better your academic performance,the more likely it is that employers will “lookthe other way” if you do not fit in perfectly.Nevertheless, on some level you are going toneed to fit in. As you move down the food chainin terms of your law school and academicqualifications, the importance of fitting incontinues to increase.If you are currently practicing at a large,prestigious law firm, or if you worked thereas a summer associate, take a few minutesto consider the following. The people with the
  3. 3. 1.800.973.1177CAREER COUNSELOR’S CORNERPAGE 3 continued on backworst academic qualifications are often thepeople who fit in the best. They act as lawyersfrom the firm are expected to act. They havethe right level of professionalism. They getalong the best with others. While this doesnot always hold true, it does more often thannot because these people got into the law firmbecause they excelled on this fitting in/sociallevel the best. The news is that these samepeople are often the ones who do best in thelong term in the practice of law. The ability tofit in will only continue to increase throughouttheir careers.I want to give you a couple of illustrationsfrom my own law school experience.In my second year of law school I was in aninterview with the hiring partner of a law firmthat-quite frankly-was at such a rarefied levelthat I did not think I deserved to be interview-ing there. This high powered law firm came tomy law school (a top 10 law school) and onlyinterviewed five people for ½ hour each beforejetting back to New York. Most other highpowered law firms came to our school and in-terviewed all day. Some even interviewed for acouple of days straight. Suffice it is to say thatthis particular law firm is often considered thevery best New York law firm and its interviewschedule simply reflected the fact that it didnot believe more than five people in the entiresecond and third year class of nearly 800students merited interviews. While I am surethat not everyone in my class tried to get aninterview with this firm, I am confident at least100 or so students did. I had no idea why I hadbeen selected to interview with this law firm.The other four people they were interviewingwith were widely known to be at the very topof their law school class. While I was a goodstudent, in contrast to those people I was notall that special.I entered the interview cognizant that I did notbelong in the particular interview based on mygrades and was surprised to see that the part-ner was very welcoming and in the interviewasked me when I could travel to New York. Atthe end of the interview I rose to shake theman’s hand and when he held his hand outhe gave me my fraternity handshake! I real-ized right then and there that was the entirereason I had been interviewed. While I did notultimately get this job (after a call back), I wasthe only student in my school that receivedan invite to visit this firm’s offices despite thefact that I did not believe I deserved the initialinterview.If you think about what was going on there,I am sure that something similar to this hashappened to you in your own career or jobsearch at some point. If I did not have theacademic qualifications to be interviewingwith this law firm, why did I get the interview?The reason was because the partner had alsobeen involved in the fraternity I was in. Thefraternity was a small national fraternity withnot too many chapters throughout the UnitedStates. He knew that I had endured some ofthe same hazing experiences he had when hewas younger. He also know that we had sungthe same songs and been indoctrinated intomany of the same philosophies. He probablytook an affinity to me because he saw me assomewhat like himself.Many people who do not have a good un-derstanding of the political nature of legalenvironments often presume that the purposeof an interview is for the employer to gaugetheir skills and technical acumen in thepractice of law. This is wrong. People whosucceed in interviews are people who the lawfirm perceives will fit in the best. Every singlejob I have ever gotten I have gotten becauseof these sorts of factors. I could go on and onwith this list but will not. However, the singlelargest reason you are likely to get and keep ajob is because of your ability to fit in.If you are or were a summer associate in alaw firm during law school, the test there wasfitting in as well. Beyond your work ability andthe economics of the firm being able to affordto hire you, your ability to fit is ultimately whatwill determine whether or not you get an of-fer at the end of the summer. The barrage oflunches, firm events, dinners and other groupactivities are all a test of whether or not youcan fit in with the group.The people that do not fit in with the group arealways easy to recognize. They tend to be criti-cal of the group. They tend to create problemswith fitting in. The issue here is that mostsummer associates realize that it is all aboutfitting in. That is one of the main reasons thatstories circulate each year about summerassociates who do not fit in. These storiesbecome widely circulated because they areso unusual. Here is one of the more notablestories I have ever heard. This particular storyis told by Tucker Max, an individual who was asummer associate at Fenwick & West in PaloAlto, California in the summer of 2000:-----Original Message-----From: [Suppressed]Sent: Monday, June 05, 2000 2:51 PMTo: [Suppressed]Subject: The Now Infamous [] Charity AuctionDebacle...Here is the story of what happened to me thisweekend at my firm’s retreat. That’s the lasttime I ever drink before an auction:Aaron and I decide to leave for the SilveradoRanch by car instead of taking the bus at 2 pm.You have not lived until you’ve ridden throughthree hours of Bay Area traffic with Aaron atthe wheel. By the time we got to Silverado, hewas madder than fire.The first reception starts at like 6pm. Thereare finger foods, etc., and lots and lots ofwine and beer. Not really liking any of thefood, I start drinking. Heavily. By the time Iknow what’s going on, I’m talking to the namepartner, Bill Fenwick, in a redneck accent.Of course, he is from Kentucky, so we talkedabout basketball for an hour. It was great.About 9pm the charity auction began. Therewere lots of “Fenwick” type items, like a din-
  4. 4. 1.800.973.1177CAREER COUNSELOR’S CORNERPAGE 4 continuedner cooked by the managing partner, etc. Oneof the items was an entire night chauffeuredby the hiring partner, [John]. In my inebriatedstupor, I thought that if I won this, then theywould have no choice but to give me an offer.The bidding starts at $50. People are biddinghere and there, but I get tired of all the slowbidding, so I stand on my chair, and hold upmy bidding card. Without getting down. So theauctioneer takes this as a cue to just startyelling price increases, without even identify-ing other bidders.When the price hits about $800, [John] saysthat he will pay half if a summer associatewins. The bidding automatically doubles (Johnis a litigator). As the price gets to $2000,I think I have the thing won. I get the “go-ing once” call, and then this other summer,Aparna, goaded on by some partners, decidesthat she has to beat me. So the bidding hits$2600, and before I know it, I’m on stage, tak-ing the mike from the auctioneer, and yellingat Aparna to stop bidding. My exact quote,“Aparna, seriously, stop. I have to win, this isthe only way I’m getting an offer.”So that just inspires more partners/attorneys/recruiting staff to contribute to Aparna’s pool.When the bidding hits $3400, I start yelling,on the mike, about how this isn’t fair, becauseshe has partners bankrolling her, but I onlyhave a “few scrubby summers in my corner.” Ikeep trying to bid only like $5 more than her,but the auctioneer gets all mad at me, and ismaking me bid in hundred dollar increments.When her bid hits $3800, I get back on stage.After some banter, the auctioneer asks me if Iwant to bid $3900.I ponder this for a second, and in front of thewhole firm and spouses/significant others,with the mike in my face, say, “Fuck it--goahead.”I won the auction.This particular email was rapidly circulatedamong most summer associates in large lawfirms around the United States after it waswritten. From a social standpoint, the reasonthis email was so widely circulated because itshows the antithesis of fitting in and highlightsthe importance of doing so.Whether your legal career is in house, orwith a law firm, chances are that you will beworking in close proximity to a relatively smallgroup of people. For example, if you are alitigation attorney, you will be practicing withother litigators in your firm. Even with theselitigators, you are likely to practice closelywith a small group of partners or associates.Since you spend so much time at work, thesepeople are going to become quite aware ofyour style of work, your personality and, likeit or not, a lot of details of your personal life.In all of this, these people are going to want tofeel comfortable around you. In addition, thesepeople are going to want to be able to feel thatthey can develop a relationship with you overtime. In all respects, you are going to need tofit in.2. The Importance of Fitting in When BeingHired as a Lateral AttorneyFitting in is important to being hired as a sum-mer associate and then given a permanentoffer once you are a summer associate. How-ever, after you have been practicing for a fewyears and want to transition into a new lawfirm, the importance of fitting in will arguablybe further amplified.When employers hire people at the laterallevel, they are generally asking themselves acouple of things. The first thing they are ask-ing is whether or not you can do the work. Inalmost all instances, your resume will answerthis question. If you get into the interview,chances are the law firms will then be tryingto decide whether or not you fit in.Shared experiences take on a different formwhen someone is trying to move laterally to alaw firm. As a legal recruiter, my job is madeeasier by knowing the sorts of shared experi-ences that are likely to get people in the doorin different sorts of law firms. For example,if someone is in Los Angeles and worked forthe Los Angeles office of a major New Yorklaw firm, I know that other New York basedlaw firms in Los Angeles are more likely to beinterested in that attorney than Los Angelesbased law firms of a similar prestige level.The perception is that these attorneys willshare a certain “New York outlook.” In fact,who knows why this occurs. The same can beheld true if one is moving in Palo Alto fromone major law firm to another. They are mostlikely to be hired by another major Palo Altofirm.All of these similarities are based on sharedexperiences and the perception that thesepeople will fit in. Certain firms will simply nothire from certain firms (even firms that aregenerally considered better than them) be-cause they believe that people from these lawfirms will not fit in. Most often, these firmssay things like “these attorneys are all tooarrogant” or something of the sort. The sameanalogy holds true for firms when they aremaking decisions about the types of parale-gals and legal secretaries to hire as well.When attorneys are in the job market, anexceptional legal recruiter will instinctivelyknow what types of attorneys are likely toget interviews with certain firms and whichones are not. This calculation is based firston externalities such as the school and firmthe person is coming from; however, it is ulti-mately based on other factors in the attorney’sbackgrounds that are often less evident.Recently I have seen attorneys ultimatelyhired over many other applicants for what Ibelieve were the following reasons:a. I believe one attorney was hired for a$200,000+ a year job over more qualified can-didates because he, like the partner who hiredhim, enjoyed surfing;b. I believe one attorney was hired because
  5. 5. 1.800.973.1177CAREER COUNSELOR’S CORNERPAGE 5she attended the same religious group as thehiring partner;c. I believe one attorney was hired becauseshe had formerly followed the Grateful Deadlike a partner in the firm;d. I believe one attorney was hired because ofhis military background; and,e. I believe one attorney was hired because ofher ongoing participation in a controversialprotest organization.I could continue this list indefinitely and giveyou countless examples. People always talkabout stuff like “you have to know someonethere to get a job” and so forth. I too believe ithelps get a job at certain hiring organizationsif you know someone. The reason is becauseyou have already proven that you can get alongwith someone who fits in with that firm, whichmeans you, too, will be more likely to fit inthere.I know of dozens of instances at various firmsthroughout the United States where later-ally hired attorneys with, frankly, horribleacademic qualifications are practicing atmajor firms alongside people with first-rateacademic qualifications and were hired at thelateral level for these positions. Why do youthink this is so? In many cases these peoplewith horrible academic qualifications mayhave some unusual and highly-valued legalskill. Still, more often than not, I have discov-ered these people knew someone.This is how things work in the world. If you fitin, you are more likely to succeed in an orga-nization and get a job there. I could also tellyou that there are firms out there that I be-lieve are somewhat racist and hire people thatare likely to fit that mold. My purpose hereis not to be judgmental. There are certainlyother factors that firms consider when makinghiring decisions. Nevertheless, when all issaid and done, many of these hiring decisionsare the product of people “fitting in.”3. The Importance of Fitting In To Becoming aPartner in a Law FirmThis discussion could continue indefinitely, soI will not go into all that much detail here. Inorder to survive in a law firm, you will needpeople higher up than you in your corner. Youcan get people in your corner by working hard.Nevertheless, there will always be peopleworking hard and in large law firms many-ifnot most-of these people will be asked to lookfor another job before they reach their eighthor ninth year of practice. The people that mostoften get higher-ups in their corner are theones that are able to establish bonds. Thesebonds will make people go to bat for them andhelp them. These bonds will also humanizethem to their employer and make it muchharder not to let them go, or not make thempartner.Another factor that is also of great importanceto making partner in a law firm is gettingclients. Without going into a lot of detail, theattorneys that are most often successful ingetting clients also tend to have very good so-cial skills outside of the office. A lot of peoplelike them, trust them and identify them and,consequently, give them business.C. ConclusionsMost of the conclusions that can be derivedfrom this article you can derive on your own.You need to understand, however, that fittingin is probably the most neglected topic in whatit takes to succeed in the practice of law if youare working with a group of individuals. Fittingin can be done on several levels and often-times you may not even be able to articulatewhy you do or do not fit in with a particulargroup. Fitting in is also something you cannotfake. You can often get a job without fitting inbut will have a very difficult time keeping itand advancing if you do not fit in.When you were in elementary school, juniorhigh school, high school and then college,there was probably a group you fit into. Thinkback about the reasons you fit in with thosegroups. Certainly, you have changed over timeand will continue to change. The most impor-tant aspect of why you have fit in with variousgroups in the past, though, was based on howcomfortable you felt with that particular groupof people and how comfortable they felt withyou. Your happiness and the success of yourcareer depend on the ability to recognize whenyou fit in and when you do not.