Bad and Worse Advice for Law Firm Associates

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By Murray Gottheil | August 28, 2023

Do not confine your children to your own learning, for they were born in another time –  Chinese proverb

The Chinese were on to something. We all make the mistake of teaching things to younger generations based on our own experience. Here is some of the bad advice that I gave to my associates:

  1. Never hire someone with a mistake in their job application. If they cannot make the effort to proofread their resume or cover letter, how can you trust them to be careful in their legal work? (The best associate I ever had told me that there was a mistake in her resume that the hiring committee missed – or possibly forgave. Thank God that I was not on the committee. I would never have met or married her.);
  2. Every word that you write says something about you, whether it be in a letter, email, or document. If there is a mistake, no matter how minor, it reflects poorly on you. (I kind of still believe this one, but I now recognize that impossible standards are unhealthy.);
  3. Meet every aggression from opposing counsel with more aggression. They have to know that you will not be pushed around. (I now believe that there are better ways for dealing with some people, although I still think that this is good advice for dealing with some others.);
  4. Never say no to new business. (This is truly stupid advice.);
  5. Do whatever it takes to make the client happy, even when they are unreasonable. (More truly stupid advice.);
  6. If you make a mistake and do not lose a few nights of sleep, you don’t care enough. (I still think that you should lose at least one night’s sleep over a serious mistake, but you also have to know when to let go.);
  7. Becoming a partner should be your most important career goal. (Dumb and dumber.);
  8. Just because you do not agree with the values or ethics of some of the partners does not mean that you should hesitate to join the partnership. (Even one partner with poor values can make your life miserable or bring a firm down.);
  9. For a man to take a paternity leave is just weird. (Please forgive me. I am a product of my times.); and
  10. Your first five years of legal practice are for learning your craft. You can worry about bringing in business later. (I still think that there is truth in this one, but I could be convinced to shrink the number to three or four, and in any event, you need to start networking much earlier.)

Luckily for the younger generations, they do not seem as inclined to listen to the teachings of prior generations as we old folks were (although I am old enough to think that they should listen a bit more.) 

It is possible that I am feeling conflicted about some of this stuff, which I suppose is the point. There are often no clear answers. As a more senior professional, I have come to realize the arrogance of maintaining absolute views on any of these issues.

Murray is a happily retired lawyer who lives in the country, drives a pick-up truck, writes, teaches and mentors. You can reach him at [email protected] or see what he is up to at


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