I’ll Tell You What He Didn’t Do

By Murray Gottheil | June 13, 2024

Those of you who read my stuff from time to time know that when I retired, I moved to the country, bought a pick-up truck, and started listening to country music. One song I like is by Carly Pearce, and it has the following lyrics:

… Everybody’s asking what the hell happened, Wonderin’ why it all went wrong

Mama always said, “If you can’t say something nice, Then don’t say anything at all”

And I’ve got my side of the story and he’s got his side, too

So I ain’t gonna go and tell you what he did, But I’ll tell you what he didn’t do.”

Carly got me thinking about a phenomeally successful lawyer of whom I am aware. He has a great practice that commands an obscenely high hourly rate and many clients who are willing to pay it. He makes several multiples of what the average partner earns in a good-sized firm. He is well regarded in his firm and in the legal community. He is respectful to his associates, and sometimes downright emotionally intelligent and supportive.

I have never actually met this particular lawyer, but I feel that I know him because I have spoken to several of his former associates. When I speak to them about why they left his firm, they don’t tell me what he did, but they tell me what he didn’t do. 

The most important thing that this very successful fellow did not do is show his associates a path to enjoying the success that he has achieved. More specifically, he did not:

  1. Teach them more than they needed to know to support him;
  2. Help them develop their skills to the point where one day they might be his equal;
  3. Introduce them to his clients and promote them as equally competent to him;
  4. Help them develop the skills required to bring in their own clients;
  5. Reduce their billable hour requirements to a level that would facilitate developing their own client base; and
  6. Show them a path to being anything other than his junior, and certainly not a path to partnership in his firm.

So, these bright young associates have left, as did their predecessors, and this lawyer has to once again train newcomers who will leave in a few years as well. Maybe he is fine with that. Running his business this way allows him to maximize his income, which is perhaps important to him. However, I cannot imagine the stress caused by constantly losing associates and training new ones while still servicing his many clients

I don’t know what his take on all of this might be. It could be that he thinks that young folks today don’t want to work hard anymore, or that it is just impossible to find good help, or that people today do not understand that they have to pay their dues, or that there is just no loyalty anymore. He might, quite rightly, think that he did a great many things well with these associates. Carly Pearce would likely say that it wasn’t what he did; it was what he didn’t do.

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 lawanddisorderinc.com.


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