When I moved to New York I was dreading the task of finding a new place to get my brows threaded (I didn’t- I bought blades instead), and a hairdresser (I didn’t- I find a lot of DIY styles on Youtube). I was chatting with a friend, from Indonesia, who is also in New York and she spoke about missing her tailor and florist in Jakarta.

 

Now that we are all in quarantine, where only the essential workers are allowed to go to work, it made me wonder what are the essential services a professional woman needs to survive? Here the are top 8 essential services every woman in law needs of speed dial.

 

1.A Hairdresser

 

After you turn 25, you need to have a hairdresser, or a couple reliable options. You need a hairdresser who understands your hair texture, remembers your hair goals and you trust that, even if you fall asleep in the chair- he/she will make sure you wake up looking amazing. 

 

2. A Tailor 

 

It is fun to buy clothes, but its even better to fit them like they are made to your specific proportions- as a  short person I need to have my trousers and shirt hemmed. However a number of shops now have a Petite, Tall or Plus Sized  range which is great and inclusive- but a tailor just gives your outfit that extra nip and tuck. If you can find a tailor that is also a designer, you can work together to create outfits together and some one of a kind pieces for your work wardrobe or social events. 

 

3. An Accountant

 

You need to keep count of your coins- even if it’s Bitcoin. There is a running joke that lawyers are bad at maths, but great at money. We can earn and spend very well, but we may need someone to help us with taking stock of what is going on, plus filing our taxes. In addition, if you are planning on running your own business- a law firm or other venture- you need robust accounting services! I personally use The Finance Guy to take care of everything! If you want their family and friends rate- let us know!

4. An “Events” Organiser  

This is the list of people  or places that help you prepare for “events” or occasions.  Basically, your go-to for cakes, flowers, a good curry (if you are invited to a potluck and didn’t have time to cook), and a sommelier (even a bottle store clerk will do).

 

5. A Financial Planner

 

An accountant is step 1, but then you need a financial planner to help you grow, protect and diversify your portfolio. You want to be a good steward of your finances to establish a good legacy of wealth and, you need someone competent to guide you. We have partnered with PPS as a sponsor, and if you want to have a direct conversation with them – let us know. 

 

6. A Mechanic

 

If your car is still within the warranty terms, for the most part, you are fine- but afterwards you realise how quickly the costs add up with the dealership. There are other mechanics who are authorised dealers- and can sign off on the services to keep your service book up to date, but you need to find someone reliable. 

 

 

7. A Brand Strategist

 

You have a brand- whether or not you chose to acknowledge it- but when someone comes across you, there is an impression that is made so you should control that narrative. A brand strategist can help you design a brand around yourself professionally and personally- ensuring that your messaging to the world is strong, clear and aligns with your values. This may include doing something like doing a photo shoot, creating content on a blog or podcast, or writing a book. 

 

 

8. A Therapist

 

As a lawyer, you deal with so much- dealing with other peoples problems and the overall pressure of the profession. You need to have someone helping you to manage your own problems and learn ways to cope with the challenges that arise. Managing stress and taking care of your mental wellness is essential to how you show up to and for your clients and/ or colleagues. If you aren’t sure about therapy, perhaps look into coaching or event just having a trusted friend to confide in to keep you accountable to your development. 

Which other service providers do you qualify as being essential to you?

It goes without saying that the last few weeks have left the globe reeling with an unprecedented wave of anxiety given the current COVID-19 pandemic. It is almost serendipitous that as we all try to adjust to life under the lockdown or confinement measures, the month of April also happens to be Stress Awareness Month. 

Stress Awareness Month has been held every April, since 1992. During this annual thirty day period, health care professionals and health promotion experts across the globe join forces to increase public awareness about both the causes and cures for managing stress in these modern times.

What is stress?

Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, stress was a frightening reality for many people as they battled various issues such as growing unemployment, family conflict, and personal illness. Not to mention the added stress that comes from social media. There are various factors in our day to day lives that can cause or trigger stress. Stress can be triggered by many things including work, deadlines, finances, traffic, and relationship issues. Stress is a natural reaction, as the body tries to deal with any negative pressures placed on it. In some instances, stress can actually be useful when dealing with high-pressured, demanding situations, e.g. it can help us perform optimally for big transaction negotiations or trial preparation. 

Stress can become a problem when these pressures become overwhelming, and in some cases, can be a precursor to more serious anxiety disorders and even depression. Some indicators of stress may include:

  • Disturbed sleep
  • Muscle tension
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Lack of motivation
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Change in eating habits
  • Increased use of alcohol or other drugs
  • Unhealthy eating 

How to manage stress 

Undoubtedly given the current global health crisis stress levels are at an all-time high for many. The good news is stress can be managed through the use of various stress management techniques that equip you with the tools to handle stress triggers and stressful situations in a structured way. Techniques to help you manage stress in general, as well as COVID-19 stress, include the following:

  1. Avoid, or at least reduce, your consumption of nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol. Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants and so will increase your level of stress rather than reduce it. Instead, challenge yourself to drink more water – your body and your skin will thank you for it.
  2. Take part in physical activity as part of your daily routine. There are so many options be it working out at the gym, running, talking a walk or doing a dance class. While we observe lockdown there are plenty of online workouts to help you stay in shape in the comfort of your own home. Check out some of the best home workouts here.
  3. Get more sleep. Try to aim to go to bed at roughly the same time each day so that your mind and body get used to a predictable bedtime routine.
  4. Talk to someone. Talking things through with a friend, work colleague, or even a trained professional, can help you find solutions to your stress and put your problems into perspective. Just by virtue of the times we live in, everybody is encouraged to see a therapist, particularly people of color as we often carry generational trauma.
  5. Start a journaling practice. Writing about stressful or emotional events has been found to result in improvements in both physical and psychological health. 
  6. Spend an hour doing something you love. The lockdown conditions have presented opportunities to spend time doing the things we love such as reading, cooking, listening to music, spending more time with our children. Whatever it may be, you can also carry that practice into your daily life even when the confinement restrictions have been relaxed.

Do not hesitate to seek professional help 

It is no secret that building a career within the legal profession is and can be a very stressful journey. Studies show that the suicide rate amongst lawyers is rising.  If you, or someone that you know, have been struggling with stress over a long period of time and feel overwhelmed we recommend getting some professional help. 

Here are some useful links.

Best Online Therapy Programs of 2020

South African Depression and Anxiety Group 

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

NHS Suicidal Thoughts Help Site 

The greatest weapon against our stress is our ability to choose one thought over another” 

 – William James 

Innovation is something that is so much fun to talk about because from your couch (or carpet) you can imagine a whole new world. You get to be as outlandish as the bounds of your imagination allow and there are no constraints on resources, everyone cooperates and the slicker the Powerpoint transitions – the greater the excitement. It’s like watching an Instagram workout video while you’re waiting for your lunch at Nandos and deciding that’s what you will do at the gym tomorrow! Then morning comes… and we know how the story ends. 

Bubs GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Innovation, like building muscles is hard, especially when you have been living a sedentary lifestyle. We don’t expect a couch potato to go from dad bod to Dwayne Johnson from just buying Nike dri-fit outfits, getting the latest Apple Watch, joining the best gym, or even getting a personal chef and trainer – it’s about his commitment to change. Similarly, we can’t expect a law firm to become Google just because they use Kira, let employees wear jeans, provide free dinners and have a Knowledge Management team. 

 

Where most industries say “adapt or die” the legal industry says “adapt and die.” 

 

Entering “No-man’s Land”

It isn’t a secret that the legal industry hasn’t really been touched by cultural or technological innovation. Granted, the legal tech industry saw investments of up to $1.2 billion in 2019 alone, but by the first quarter of 2020 almost $100 million dollars had been lost as two leading startups announced they were closing down. Upcounsel  and Atrium both announced that they are closing doors – Upcounsel is migrating to LinkedIn and Atrium is returning some money to its investors. These companies had clients and they had lawyers doing good work- so what happened? I think that regulations played the biggest part with Upcounsel as bar association rules disallow fee-splitting between lawyers and non-lawyers. Upcounsel made its money from taking a fee from lawyer on the platform for referrals- but their position was that it was a marketing fee and they were not splitting fees.

With regards to Atrium, in my opinion, the overheads were too high as they hired top talent to service startups, without the safety net of a diversified practice. In addition, there may have been a culture clash between the backgrounds of the founding team – with Justin Kan a superstar entrepreneur and his former Biglaw cofounders. Justin came from the mindset of “Move fast and break things” and lawyers come from the mindset of “dot every I and cross every T”.

At some point I was questioning if legal clients had Stockholm syndrome?

Doing things differently is met with a penalty – both from the industry and even from clients- who are becoming more sophisticated and pushing back a little more. However, they still like to use the same 5-6 law firms – think of your city and I bet you rattle off their names.

When we started Lawgistics, we set ourselves up as a full-service mining consulting firm providing regulatory, environmental, health and safety, labour, compliance and litigation services. We were all associates and senior associates from the top international law firms that had offices in South Africa- charging almost 50% less than we were billed while we were at the firms- but we couldn’t sign one big mining client. We were met with so much skepticism and suspicion from the same clients who would heckle us when we would send our bills when we were in the law firm. Because we were flexible, we pivoted to another target market – which has allowed us to survive, grow and start another startup within our startup.

Facing The Facts

Whenever I look at all the lawyers that fled the legal industry to flourish in another industry- its bittersweet because those law firms or law teams lost talent because they didn’t know how to nurture it. Even if you find a wonderful firm or team – the legal industry has limited options for how you can earn your keep. As a South African trained lawyer in the USA, if I want to take up a legal position I need to write a state bar exam- which would be expected of any lawyer that wants to practice outside the jurisdiction they were admitted into. It takes a lot of creativity, lucky breaks, relationship management or willingness to take a pay cut to get out of a purely legal role. Non-lawyers just see you as a lawyer (drafting machine, litigator, some version of a TV lawyer) and at times, other lawyers just see you as troublesome, lazy or undisciplined if you want to take up a non-legal role. 

 

Before we can start saying the legal industry embraces innovation, there has to be a cultural change. The legal practitioners, clients and even regulators need to be open-minded in how to deliver legal services. We also need to be open-minded about who provides the services- from accepting and encouraging lawyers from all backgrounds, law schools, genders, races, sexual orientations, religions, ages to enter into and STAY in the industry.  

 

What are some things you think are holding back innovation in the legal industry?

Picture this scenario, it is 17h30 and as you check off items on your work to-do-list you realise something is amiss, your blood suddenly runs cold as you are gripped by sheer panic. Your heart drops as the realisation sets in that you have indeed missed something that may have near-catastrophic consequences for your deal, matter, case, insert whatever may be relevant to your practice area. Whether it is an incorrect filing of a notice or an oversight on a critical clause that has already been heavily negotiated, we are all familiar with that sinking feeling when you realise something is about to go horribly wrong. Typical responses might include plotting to pack up all your worldly belongings and disappearing off the face of the earth or curling yourself on to the floor in the fetal position until the situation miraculously fixes itself; both not very viable options in the real world. So the bad news is there is no saviour coming to rescue you out of the mess, however, the good news is you will get through it, somehow. 

In most professional environments there is this omnipresent fear that any mistake or failure will catapult you into the deep dark abyss that is “career-limiting move” with no prospects to ever return. Those three words, career-limiting move, are the bedrock on which many law careers have been built on. From the minute you are released from the utopia that is university/college and plunged into the perilous legal fraternity you quickly learn that mistakes are simply not welcomed in these spaces. This is further complicated by the myth around perfectionism, which is almost always heightened for women. At worst, this lethal combo can lead new entrants to becoming so crippled by fear that they come off as disengaged or on a one-way collision course to a point where they are constantly making mistakes.

What we all know for sure based on our own human experiences is that mistakes and failures are inevitable. They are part and parcel of how we learn and grow in any aspect of our lives. Because we are all different, this process will invariably look different from person to person. Here are a few tips to help you get through it. 

Acknowledgment

The key thing is to always acknowledge our mistakes, failures, and shortcomings. Once you do acknowledge the mistake it makes it much easier to do the introspective work and identify how you could have done things better or differently. Yes, it is true that mistakes on your employer’s time may often have a cost implication but once we know better it immediately places us in a position to do better. 

Be vulnerable

When you have screwed up you have to bite the bullet and speak to your manager or whoever you report to, the results may often surprise you. It is super important to be upfront with them and give them as much detail so that together you can work out how to fix the issue. It also helps to have a work buddy or confidant or better yet a mentor that you can trust and talk to about how to bounce back. Chances are they have probably experienced something similar and may even be able to share a few pearls of wisdom. Being vulnerable in the workplace is not easy but the alternative is far worse.  

Have compassion for others 

The one thing I learned from working in high-pressure environments is that everyone is going through the motions just like you… anxiety, imposter syndrome, self-doubt, wanting to be recognised… all of it. Knowing this positions you to be more patient and more thoughtful of others and whatever challenges or struggles they may be facing.

Have compassion for yourself 

If your compassion does not include yourself, then it is incomplete. I can tell you for free that beating yourself up over mistakes and failures does not move the dial one bit. In as much as it is important to take responsibility for your actions be careful not to spiral into a pit of self-blame. 

Be open to learning

No matter how far you advance in your career it is so important to have a teachable spirit. Keep yourself open to learning new things. A good friend of mine always drums into my head the saying “you don’t know what you don’t know”. If your firm or company offers training or courses that may help you improve or develop new skills, grab such opportunities with both hands. Take the initiative to identify courses or training that you think may add value not only for you but for the firm as well and propose it to management.

Failures and mistakes as we navigate the winding road that is “career development” is a conversation that definitely needs to be continued and openly discussed. Just like author Brené Brown, the Legal Werk also encourage vulnerability and courage, so if you would like to share your learnings from your experiences with failures and mistakes please share them with us in the comments below, on social media or drop us an email. We would love to hear from you.

Today we are catching up with Adedumade Onibokun, a Nigerian trained lawyer practicing in Lagos! He is also a fellow blogger that runs the blog The Legal Naija that shares content on all things law in Nigeria. He is also our first male WCW!

 

1) Your qualifications 

I studied Law at Olabisi Onabanjo University and attended Law School before proceeding to the University of Bradford where I studied an LL.M in International Business Law. Currently, I manage my law practice based in Lagos.

2) Your practice areas:

My practice areas include different aspects of corporate law including Arbitration, Mergers & Acquisitions and Finance

3) The reaction when people find out you are a lawyer:

Usually, most people will say “Nice! So if I get into trouble, I can call you?” and tell them that  “I am not the “trouble” kind of lawyer,  but the “business type of lawyer”.

While some others will give a nod and say “all lawyers are liars” or they will simply call me “D LAW”, a common name given to lawyers in Nigeria.

4) A major move in the last 5 years:

I have had a number of major moves in the last 5 years, firstly,  I started my practice in 2015 and it has been a learning curve for me all the way. Secondly, I also got married at about the same time and I have 2 amazing children, my son and daughter who are quite adorable.

Finally, although I started Legalnaija- which is Nigeria’s first online legal education platform, in 2012 it has grown tremendously within the last 5 years. This has been incredibly exciting for me!

5) Why you chose to study law:

Initially I didn’t plan to study law as I was interesting in journalism  because I had an uncle who I admired who was a practicing journalist and he would tell me stories about his work which I found fascinating. However, while discussing the  choices with my dad, he advised I pursue law instead as my mum also studied law, so my parents convinced me it was a better option.

6) Something you wish you could change about the legal industry:

One thing I would like to change is the length of time parties spend litigating. I remember while in Law School we were out on attachments to various courts and I noticed that all cases got adjourned for long periods, with no return dates for over 4 weeks. I  definitely would like to radically reduce the time spent litigating claims in court.

7) What apps do you use to increase productivity OR apps you have to turn off to increase productivity:

I find social media apps to be a good way of showing people what I do. I also find that my law blog gets a lot of traction because of my social media engagement. I love learning apps too and I usually spend some of my free time taking free online courses.

 

8) How do you network:

I like to network anywhere I find myself, for example, right after my university I printed complimentary cards. I think I was the only law student that had a complimentary card at the time in Law School.

I always believe every opportunity to meet new people is always a good way to network.I also ensure I attend legal and business events.

9) Whats your “Go-To” beauty staple and closet item?:

I feel naked without a good cologne, so you will always find one in different places,  like the office or in my car.

10) Describe your Werk style:

Simple and classy does it for me.

11) When stressed or overwhelmed or lost focus temporarily, what do you do to refocus:

Usually I would just take some time off work to  spend time watching a movie or relaxing with friends.

13)A physical or spiritual practice you have adopted:

Exercise. I feel great when I exercise, I recently joined a gym and I really enjoy working out and going for a swim.

14) Can you share something you are struggling with right now? 

I am becoming better at personal discipline every day.

15) The best or most worthwhile investment you have ever made? (can be time, money, energy,etc)

Starting the Blawg, Legalnaija. It has created so many opportunities for me.

16) Major goal for the next 5 years:

Grow my firm and represent my constituency as a Legislator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.  

17)  Quote you live your life by:

“A cut above the rest”.

18) What books have you read that have greatly influenced your life ?

Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene

 

How can people get in touch with you:

 

LinkedIn: Adedunmade Onibokun

 

Social media handles?

@adedunmade on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

 

 

 

I was going to title this “Working with difficult people” but it doesnt have the same sting or effect as “Working with a**holes.”

According to Adam Grant, an a**hole is a person who “demeans and disrespects other people and, either denies it or just doesn’t care.” All of us have worked with someone who has left us feeling demeaned, de-energised and feeling very bad about our ability, competence and even self worth. That person is an a**hole.

Bob Sutton is an organisational psychologist at Stanford who has studied relationships in the workplace, and he discovered that people are mostly a**holes to their peers and subordinates.  The impact of a**holes is actually measurable, because they create an environment of fear, where people stay silent about mistakes because they are afraid to rock the boat. In addition, working with a**holes makes you dumber, because when someone is disrespected his or her cognitive ability is temporarily affected- which limits your creativity and clear thinking. Working with A**holes makes us all less productive.

In a survey undertaken by the International Bar Association and market research company Acritas, which covered over 7000 respondents from 135 countries- showed that large law firms have a bullying problem. A bully is an a**hole! The study revealed that 55% of female respondents have been bullied, including a female lawyer in Australia who “would cower in the corner of her office” while her manager would kick filing cabinets while screaming at her in a fit of rage. Another respondent said she was bullied to the extent where she considered taking her own life, and began to doubt every aspect of her life- from work and personal.

This is alarming, absolutely unacceptable and can no longer be tolerated. In my personal experience, I worked in a team that systematically kept black lawyers from rising above a certain level, anyone who called this out would be bullied by blatantly false feedback to HR during performance reviews, or starved of work opportunities to the point that they wouldn’t meet their budget and be asked to leave the firm. Another team in the firm was headed by the worst kind of tyrant and a**hole, which has now come to cost the firm its reputation as details have been revealed in the media.

But What About Steve Jobs?

 

Steve Jobs was infamously known for his cruelty, ruthlessness and meanness – the question is- did he succeed in spite of it or because of it? Grant says, there is a difference between being demanding and demeaning. 

When you are demanding, you have extremely high standards  and a low tolerance for work that falls beneath that. To be demeaning is to devalue other people as human beings- treating them with such disrespect that they feel worthless.

Grants further says that leaders who demean their employees have learned to rationalise their aggression. They see that it gets them short term results, which helps to justify their behaviour, while long term damage is often invisible to them. However the study by the IBA shows that the effect of bullying is that 63% of the respondents will leave their current employer – causing a high staff turnover and up to 14% said this would contribute to them leaving the overall profession.

Having multiple generations in the workplace has led to millennials being referred to as “the Snowflake Generation”, because they, allegedly, take everything so personally and expect to be coddled. Regardless of this view, if you think you have to be demeaning to people to succeed;  then you may be an a**hole.

How To Approach an A**hole

An argument

Sheila Heen, a Havard Law School lecturer and recovering lawyer,  advises that when you want to communicate with an a**hole about their behaviour  you should not “match their energy” in the moment, because they are way more experienced than you and will pummel you. What you rather want to do is to speak to them about the impact of their actions on you.

Heen says not tell them “I don’t know why you feel the need to undermine me or demean me. I don’t know why you feel the need to humiliate everybody and control everything.” Because what you’re doing is you’re telling them something about their intentions and their character, and you can bet that they’re going to argue with you about that. What they can’t argue with is about the impact that it’s had on you. So the most important thing is to separate intentions and impact.

What Companies Can Do About A**holes

Being an a**hole is actually contagious, so the sooner companies can stop them, the better off they will be in the long run.

     1. Zero Tolerance Policy

A zero tolerance policy for demeaning, disrespectful behaviour. A workplace where bullying, sexism and racism are immediately penalised creates an a**hole free environment. According to Luis von Ahn, the founder of Duolingo- a language learning app with 300 million users, he would “rather have a hole than an a**hole.” Which means, he would rather have a vacancy in the team than fill it with the most brilliant a**hole.

In the IBA study, a respondent said “Senior management talks a good game about bullying, but when a big billing lawyer or senior partner is involved the real values show themselves.” The survey shows that of those who were bullied 57% did not report, but of those who did-  72% found that the response was insufficient or negligible.

Law firms and other organisations need to adopt this policy, because it is eroding the enthusiasm and even the quality of work that is produced by employees. If firms do not start living their values, they will soon go the route of Enron, Steinhoff, Bosasa and VBS.

    2. Improve Hiring Processes

When hiring the organisation should consider- which is more costly to the company replacing an average performer with a star, or replacing a toxic employee with an average performer?

As part of the hiring process, Luis recommends that organisations should call the applicants references to ask “Do he/she work well with others?” An unequivocal “yes” is good news, but a qualified “yes” is bad news.

Given the protections received by employees in South Africa and how costly it can be to get rid of them, organisations should invest more into ensuring they hire the right person for the job.

   3. Give Employees a Voice

Cindy Hess is a partner in a  law firm, Fenwick and West which has a very unique way of pairing associates and partners, by letting associates decide which partner they want to work with on a client instruction. After their assignment with that partner, the associates will rate the partner anonymously and state if they would like to work with that partner again.

Grant says it is important to reward and promote people who elevate others – which means paying special attention to how those in power treat others who do not have it. To prevent bosses from acting like a**holes you have to give subordinates power that they wont be victimised for exercising”

Hess says this practice at Fenwick and West allows for news about an a**hole partner to travel fast, so associates are going to choose to work with the people that they enjoy working with—who they’re going to learn from, who are going to mentor them, who are going to take an interest in their career. And those partners who don’t act that way are going to have a really difficult time getting their matters staffed.

I remember when I was doing my articles and it was time for rotations, some of the Candidate Attorneys would actually cry when they found out which team and partner they were assigned to because that person was an a**hole. It would be so empowering it CA’s and junior associates could pick the partner they worked with a free market economy like Fenwick and West, because I am sure some partners would be over subscribed and others would be left with “blue ticks” about their assignments.

   4. Outsource HR

HR is supposed to be impartial and an adjudicator between employees and the employers, yet the reality is that in-house HR is always on the side of the employer. In environments like banks and law firms, HR does not generate fees, therefore are an operational expense at the mercy of fee earners. Therefore, HR will do the bidding of the fee earners, which works especially well if the partner is an a**hole- they will be protected by HR.

If the HR function is outsourced, the contractor does not know the internal dynamics of the organisation and does not have the same motivation of a bonus, medical expenses, etc so an external HR consultant would not have to compromise their independence. The contractor is earning a fixed amount,  in addition they would have other clients that can expose them to dynamic solutions to organisational problems. The contractor would most likely work closely with the CEO or COO of the firm, and it is unlikely they would work one-on-one with each partner, hence their exposure to the a**hole partner is limited and they can do their job properly.

 

In conclusion, Grant and Sutton admit that an a**hole free workplace does not exist, but it does not mean that organisations should not try to create one. Useful criticism and asking hard questions is welcomed, but being an a**hole is not, therefore when someone acts like one they should be immediately chastised or the behaviour will become normalised.

The legal industry, as revealed through the IBA study has its fair share of a**holes and its up to us to distance ourselves from colleagues that display such horrendous behaviour. We cannot give the title of my learned colleague to an a**hole. We need to do a better job of addressing this behaviour and if they won’t change, then they must leave the company and preferably the profession.

Have you worked with an a**hole?How did you deal with it? or are you a recovering a**hole? How did you self-regulate? Let us know in the comments below.

 

 

 

 

Adam Grant is back with Season 2 of his podcast Work Life with Adam Grant, where he studies “how to make work not suck.” In one of the most recent episodes, he talks about how rivalries, done right, can actually create success for all parties involved. In this article, lets explore how legal professionals can collaborate as rivals.

Gavin Kilduff is an associate professor at NYU who has carried out extensive research on rivalries, competition and their effect on motivation and performance. As part of their research, Kilduff found that your rivals performance will influence your own performance. We can see this within sports teams where you will find rivalries of iconic duos, like Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, who were teammates on the Los Angeles Lakers statistically played better when they were on the court together.

Kilduff states that rivalry has a physiological effect our bodies, with an increased heart rate and alertness, which can encourage creativity and risk taking. However there is also a downside,  because when the stakes of the competition are really high, it leads to a “whatever it takes to win” mentality that can get destructive. Sir Richard Branson has first hand experience with this when British Airways (“BA”) tried to muscle Virgin Atlantic out of the airline industry with illicit actions such as contacting Virgin  customers to cancel flights and rebook them on BA. In the end BA settled with Virgin for $945 000, which Branson paid to employees as a Christmas bonus!

When we look at the legal industry, our rivals range from colleagues within our workplaces to external competing organisations. The legal industry is quite individualistic in that each practitioner is charged with making a name for themselves, by billing their own fees and arguing their own matters. Therefore collaboration isn’t something we are good at, even within teams, there are instances where senior attorneys would refuse to train junior attorneys because they look at them as a rival. In the end what results is “cut-throat cooperation”, where people pretend to work together, yet hide key information on matters and clients for themselves.

Initiatives by State Owned Companies, like Eskom, IDC, Transnet, etc to pair small black law firms with big law firms on highly specialised matters, in order to promote skills transfer are a prime example of cut throat cooperation. What happens is that the black law firms attend meetings at the client and are copied emails, occasionally review drafts-  but are not  intimately part of the process of actually preparing the work. As a black junior associate in a mostly white team, it wasn’t uncommon to be taken along for meetings to and when you return to the office, you never hear about that matter again. The large law firms see the smaller black firms as potential adversaries and therefore find it difficult to help them to succeed. The white law firm partners see the black associates as future rivals and hence aren’t keen to train or expose them to work.

As lawyers collaboration is not our natural inclination, we are not taught about it in university or during articles. However we have to learn to do so because it will improve the quality of work, and increase billable hours. It is about winning but without becoming a ruthless saboteur. So how do you collaborate cooperatively, when the stakes are high?


1. Have A Reason To Collaborate

From 2014 to 2016, my friends (who are also lawyers) and I ran a food business called Mutton Glutton, selling mutton burgers and sausage rolls at various pop up events between Johannesburg and Pretoria. When we got there we were overwhelmed by the helpfulness of the other vendors, who would give us hotdog or hamburger rolls when we ran out, or let us use their adapters to connect our equipment to the electricity points and even invite us to other gigs where they would be selling. It was the complete opposite of what we were used to in the legal industry. The reason for this was to create more variety for customers, where having options creates more interest in all the stalls because customers want to try a little bit of everything. It was therefore beneficial for us to all cooperate and work as allies working together to reach a wider goal, of keeping customers interested in our stalls than heading to the food court at the mall.

In the legal industry it would be advisable for legal professionals to collaborate with rivals in order to elevate the quality of legal services offered to clients and to also increase the pool of referrals you can make as well as receive. As The Legal Werk we are working on My Learned Colleague as a platform to encourage collaboration of legal professionals, sign up and find out more about to work other lawyers in a ways thats beneficial to all. The official start date will be announced soon, so make sure you are signed and don’t miss out.

2. Have Respect For Each Other

According to Grant, there are 2 types of respect- “the respect you earn and the respect you are owed.” Owed respect is egalitarian and is due to you as a human being, whereas earned respect is meritocratic and is bestowed on you for your performance or your contribution to your company or industry.

In the legal profession, we tend to place earned respect above owed respect- if a person works in a bigger firm, specialises in a very niche legal area or argued matters in higher courts, we give them respect on that basis other than simply that they are a qualified legal professional.

Often times the practice of law can be seen as a zero sum game, wherein its each lawyer for him/herself- legacies and livelihoods are in  the balance of billable hours. However as legal professionals we have all been subjected to bad lawyer jokes or just heard some terrible interpretation of law by non- lawyers.

Therefore in order to elevate respect for our profession, we need to have respect for one another.

3. Agree On Status


Once you establish mutual owed respect, then you have to agree on status and seniority of the players in the relationship. The junior legal advisor must defer to the head of legal as his/ her senior in matters, rather than thinking they are on the same level. Too much similarity causes tensions between the rivals and leads to cut throat actions if the parties can not agree on who is more senior. You want the more senior professional to feel they are handing the torch to the next generation of legal professionals and not like they are putting a nail in their own career’s coffin.

4. Check Your Emotions

When your rivals loses or is facing a challenge, you may feel a shot of happiness caused by their misfortune, but, when they win you may feel green with envy. However in a friendly rivalry the emotions are a little more complex because as much as you want to do well, you also want the other person to succeed. According to Grant, “its ok to envy your rivals success, as long as you also celebrate it.”

Working with a rival can be hard, but it pushes you to do your best and overall elevates the quality of competitiveness in your field. Lets be open minded in approaching this exercise whether its within our immediate teams or with other colleagues in the legal industry.  Although this the opposite of A Hunger Games mentality, I think the phrase “May the odds ever be in your favour” still applies.

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