II. Gorillas

As in, you have too many gorillas—and you tolerate, or worse, indulge them. Even one gorilla is too many if he’s sufficiently obnoxious (and yes, they always seem to be “he”‘s).

What’s so bad about gorillas?

Where to begin?

  • They are living, breathing embodiments of the proposition that the firm exists to serve their personal self-interest. By extension, anyone else who doesn’t treat the firm the same way is a chump.
  • They wilfully repudiate any notion that being together in a common enterprise should be expected to create bonds of mutual obligation and responsibility.
  • They adopt a posture of conspicuously poking their thumb in management’s eye and daring you to do something about it. This achieves two goals for them:
    • First, they make it undeniably clear to the rest of the firm who’s really in charge; and
    • Second, they unilaterally deprive you of one of your greatest sources of power in a conventionally organized law firm—moral suasion with your partners.
  • The very fact that you continue to tolerate them exposes anything you might care to preach about “collaboration,” “collegiality,” and so forth as a transparent Big Lie to everyone in the firm. People have acute antennae for hypocrisy, and they’ll know what’s hot air and what’s reality. The gorilla is reality; you are hot air.
  • They demoralize the good citizens, and the less powerful people are the more demoralized they are. Imagine yourself an associate in the office of a gorilla: Do you have a fighting chance to have a real conversation or learn anything constructive?

About this time you’re probably thinking, well, they’re gorillas for a reason; they have a huge book of business. This matters if your time horizon is measured in terms of this fiscal quarters; it doesn’t matter if your time horizon is measured in years, decades, or generations.

This is where it comes down to spine and backbone. If you care to solve the problem, you need to take the biggest one out back and shoot him. It will deliver the most powerful message you can imagine, and you won’t have to do it again any time soon.

Or don’t.

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