The “Mean Girls” of Law: How Attorney Cliques Could Make You Miss Out on Referrals

By Eddie Gamez - April 6, 2016
The “Mean Girls” of Law: How Attorney Cliques Could Make You Miss Out on Referrals

Is your legal circle making you lose referral income?

“You’re like really pretty.”

“Thank you.”

“So you agree? You think you’re really pretty?”

Sound familiar? It’s one of the most iconic conversations from the 2004 film Mean Girls.

Now, why would we be referencing a movie about teenage girls? It’s because situations like this occur even among lawyers.

“Mean girls” do exist in the legal industry. The only difference is that this type of behavior could result in you being passed up for referrals from other lawyers who feel excluded from your group.

While it’s great to have a professional circle, it’s important to be aware of how your circle is perceived and how you’re treating other lawyers.

An eyewitness account   

Recently, we spoke with a solo attorney (Attorney A) who told us about a fellow attorney she encountered (Attorney B) when she first started her law practice. Since she was new to solo life, Attorney A attempted to chat with Attorney B to possibly have him introduce her to his network.

According to Attorney A, trying to engage Attorney B in conversation was awkward and uncomfortable. Even though Attorney A was trying her best to break the ice and be friendly, Attorney B remained distant and unwilling to interact with her.

Much to her dismay, Attorney A soon found that Attorney B was a part of a group of attorneys who behaved this way, whether they were at a networking event or hanging around their office.

The result of the interaction

After a few months, Attorney A still hadn’t connected with any of the lawyers in Attorney B’s legal circle; however, she did make friends with many other lawyers. Attorney A didn’t understand why none of the attorneys in Attorney B’s group seemed interested in speaking to any outsiders, but they all developed a reputation for being exclusive in the legal community.

Eventually, Attorney A had an opportunity to send a referral to a colleague in a different practice area. She knew one of the lawyers in Attorney B’s circle could have been a good fit, but she felt she couldn’t share it with them because they were so cold and distant toward her.

Instead, she reached out to a mutual colleague and asked if they knew anyone who might be interested in the referral. Additionally, she specifically told her colleague that she was not interested in sending business to Attorney B or any of the attorneys in his circle.

Attorney A felt that her interaction with Attorney B’s group was so poor that she would rather send her clients to someone she didn’t know well than someone she felt didn’t like her. It was the best strategy she had to protect her clients and her firm’s image.

The sociology of legal cliques

For many, social cliques go as far back as childhood and sometimes those behaviors carry over into adulthood. Your ego doesn’t just go away as you get older and even the most educated people can have low self-esteem.

Everyone wants to be liked and many people enjoy feeling a bit superior sometimes. We’ve all been guilty of thinking we’re better than someone else, which often drives us to exclude them from our group of friends or social activities. It’s human nature.

When a group of attorneys get together at a law firm, shared office space or bar committee, it is possible for them to revert back to childhood behaviors. They want to be accepted and they become picky about who they invite into their group. It’s still easy to engage in those old school habits of shunning someone who seems different or fails to meet their standards.

Is your “clique” affecting your referral stream?

The interaction between Attorney A and Attorney B was unfortunate, but it also reveals a lot about the risks of limiting yourself when it comes to forming relationships with other attorneys. Is thinking you’re better than someone else really worth missing out on new business?

It’s understandable to want to gravitate toward people you like and it even makes sense to be selective about who you associate with. For example, if someone is dishonest or engages in consistent irritating behavior, then no one would fault you for not wanting to be around them.

However, you must remember that getting to know another attorney serves an economic purpose as well as a social purpose. Other attorneys can be some of your greatest resources for advice and new business. But you can’t expect someone to help you out when you were never very nice to them in the first place.

That doesn’t mean you need to make an effort to be everyone’s best friend. You just have to be willing to give new people a chance and avoid acting too full of yourself. Never exclude someone because you don’t think they’re good enough. You can’t predict someone’s potential and this type of thinking will only come back to hurt you.

How to be a lawyer who gets referrals

1.  Don’t be too quick to judge

When you encounter a new attorney at your law firm or at an event, make an effort to at least greet them and introduce yourself. You never know when you’ll hit it off with someone and you could be opening the door to a lucrative professional relationship simply by being friendly.

This isn’t only limited to new people. Take the time to reconsider someone you may have neglected to talk to in the past. It’s never too late to circle back and try to make a connection.

2.  Focus on being helpful

Let them know that you’re around if they need anything and make yourself available to connect later. Reach out to them again if you see them around and ask how things are going.

If they have a question, try to answer it for them or direct them to someone with the answer. Invite them to lunch or offer to grab coffee with them. Even if you can’t send referrals to each other, you never know when another attorney can exchange a favor with you or introduce you to their network.

Being helpful also breaks the ice for attorneys who have been around, but you don’t know well. You don’t have to be someone’s buddy to offer them a hand with something. Lawyers who make an effort to fulfill the needs of others often get more referrals because they create a sense of gratitude among their colleagues.

3.  Introduce peers to your network

Don’t be shy about bringing new people into your circle. Sometimes your colleagues will need someone else to make an introduction in order to feel comfortable talking to new people.

The attorneys in your circle will be more likely to acknowledge and accept a new person if you make an effort to include them. Ultimately, this new attorney relationship could benefit some of your colleagues and they’ll be glad you connected them.

4.  Pay attention to your colleagues

Your reputation is affected by the people you choose to spend your time with, which means you should really pay attention to how some of your colleagues treat others. You don’t want to be associated with someone whose values and behaviors don’t align with your own.

For example, if your peers have a problem with you bringing someone new around, then maybe you should reconsider how much time you spend with them.

A strong professional network should be built with positive, solid relationships that fuel your professional growth. Elitists and people with poor character will only bring you down.

Don’t let a “mean girl” clique dismantle what you are trying to build. If you don’t pay attention to how you and the people you associate with treat others, then you won’t be able to develop new relationships and your career will suffer.

When developing your legal circle, make sure everyone is open-minded and inclusive. Some lawyers are incredibly brilliant, but you have too much to lose to waste your time on the wrong people.

Have experience with attorney cliques? Comment below and let us know what you think!
How to Rapidly Increase your Referral Network

About Eddie Gamez

Eddie Gamez is a Law Firm Suites staff writer and stand-up comedian. You can follow him on Twitter (EddieDGamez) if you need a laugh.

One thought on “The “Mean Girls” of Law: How Attorney Cliques Could Make You Miss Out on Referrals

  1. I was just at a women’s state law association monthly meeting. One of the first things the president said was that people don’t feel invited at their events and that the group was very “cliqueish.” Ironically, while we are waiting for the meeting to start, they were talking about how nice someone’s tan was and no one said hello, welcome to the meeting, how are you, etc….
    Additionally they mentioned that they weren’t responsible for reaching out to the local women law student association groups, it’s the schools responsibility. However, each school has a state chapter affiliation. Also, when asked about the mentoring program they said “um yea it’s not really up and working and we only mentor 3L’s anyway.” Maybe they should read this article.

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