Partners need to consider a variety of factors when they decide to hire an associate. Often, the academic credentials of an applicant are important so a partner can gauge whether a candidate has the ability to process information well and is wiling to put in the hard work to succeed at the job. In addition, an applicant’s work history is important in determining if an applicant has the experience in an area of law that is relevant to what an applicant will be doing in a new position. However, for some partners, not pissing off their friends is also an important consideration during the hiring process. Sometimes, partners do not wish to hire associates who used to work for their friends at different law firms, and this can make it difficult for associates to advance in their careers. Such behavior is unfair, and partners should choose the best associate regardless of whether this will upset the friends of a partner.
I first experienced this phenomenon within the legal profession about five years ago when I was looking for new opportunities in my career. At the time, I was not seriously considering starting a law firm, and I thought I would be happier working at another law firm. Accordingly, I applied to a law firm that offered a higher salary and which had a team I knew would be a good fit for me based on my background in a given area of the law.
After submitting my resume, I got a phone call from one of the partners at this shop. I somewhat knew this partner from depositions and court appearances, and I was surprised that she personally called me in response to my application. This partner generally asked me why I wanted to leave my current position, and I told her that I thought I would be a better fit at her shop from what I knew about the firm from my experiences. This partner asked me if there was anything wrong with my current shop, and I responded that there were no glaring issues but that I would be more comfortable in a new position.
However, the partner told me that she was good friends with a partner who worked at my firm. This partner at the other shop conveyed that she did not want to upset her friend by hiring me because this could create ill will between her and one of my current bosses. This potential employer said that she did not want to interrupt the team that her friend, my current boss, had created, and so, that employer would not consider my candidacy for the open position.
This really upset me. I wanted to leave the firm at which I was currently employed. Due to politics and friendships rather than any other factor about my candidacy, I was being prevented from being considered for this new position. I did not care if taking a new position at a different shop would ruffle some feathers among old friends, I just wanted to secure the best position as I progressed in my career.
I think it is really unfair if partners make hiring decisions based on their personal friendships rather than whether a candidate would be a good associate at a firm. The legal industry should strive to be a meritocracy. As such, only valuable factors about a candidate, like their experience in the legal arena, should be the determinants for whether an associate is hired. This helps ensure that a firm gets the best candidates for each job.
In addition, it is completely unfair for job candidates to get punished for working with a friend of a partner from a hiring firm. It is not the job candidate’s fault that interpersonal complexities might make it awkward if a job candidate moves from one firm to another. Associates cannot predict who knows who within the legal industry, and cannot do anything to avoid a situation in which a partner has a friendship that might make a given hiring decision awkward. Another candidate should not be hired based on such interpersonal relationships when this is not really reflective of whether a job candidate will be a good attorney at a given law firm. Partners should be more mature and only base hiring decisions on objective characteristics of an associate.
All told, the legal industry is much smaller than people might think, and it is true that hiring decisions can strain interpersonal relationships. Nevertheless, partners need to grow up and make hiring decisions solely based on whether a job candidate will make a good attorney at a given shop and not whether hiring decisions will ruffle the feathers of a partner’s friend.
Jordan Rothman is a partner of The Rothman Law Firm, a full-service New York and New Jersey law firm. He is also the founder of Student Debt Diaries, a website discussing how he paid off his student loans. You can reach Jordan through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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