The other day we were in a meeting with the head of strategy and marketing and the Chair of an AmLaw 100, and the Chair mentioned an extremely promising introductory meeting he’d had a few days earlier with the General Counsel of a well-recognized company. Although the GC and the Chair had never met, the company already knew and respected this firm and used it from time to time for some specialized matters. What made the meeting so noteworthy was that the GC revealed they were planning some aggressive new initiatives and wanted a fresh and savvy outside law firm to help them navigate forward. Suddenly our AmLaw 100 firm seemed to have the inside track, with few if any alternatives on the GC’s shortlist.

So far so good, and a promising if not-yet-newsworthy episode. But then the Chair related the back story of how the meeting came about, and we shifted abruptly into an alternate universe of unprofessional and just plain immature behavior. I’ll explain at the end why I think this story carries the freight of meaning it does and isn’t just an addictive but bad-for-you episode of reality TV, Law Land version.

Groundwork for the meeting was laid when the  company appointed a new CEO who was acquainted with a (good and reasonable) partner at our firm; partner reached out to the CEO who set up the meeting with the GC. Shortly before the meeting, the Chair sent out an all-hands email letting people know about the pending meeting and asking if anyone knew anybody at the company.

Our offending partner—we’ll refer to him as Narcissus—piped up that the company was already “their client,” that it was “proprietary to our group,” and that holding the meeting was ill-advised because it could jeopardize that relationship. (This was the intermittent and specialized work I referred to above). Also, Narcissus couldn’t be responsible if the firm lost that work.

This is a perfect example of everything that’s wrong with this place!

our Chair exploded at this point in recounting the tale. Those of you watching at home should feel free to embroider his language in your imagination; you run little risk of overshooting reality.

On how many levels is this wrong? My partner Janet Stanton, who was among many other things Director, Client Relations, at Orrick before joining Adam Smith, Esq., has some thoughts. Then I’ll be back to wrap up this column and make good on my promise of putting this mind-bending story in a larger context.

Over to Janet…

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