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February 19, 2007

sutton on lawyers and the “no asshole rule”

Filed under: Haiku or Senryu,viewpoint — David Giacalone @ 2:53 pm

DeleteButtonN Robert I Sutton‘s new book “The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t” will be released by (Warner Business Books on Feb. 22, 2007. An identically-titled article is in the latest edition of American Lawyer, and was posted this weekend at (Feb. 20, 2007). However, the article does not deal directly with lawyers, despite the fact that a) many people consider the words lawyer and asshole to be synonyms and b) Sutton has written about the connection at least twice at his Work Matters weblog.

Bob Sutton is a professor of management science at Stanford University. He argues that “assholes” are bad for business, regardless of their individual effectiveness. In a favorable book review at Life at the Bar, Julie Fleming Brown explains:

NoAssholeRule “According to Bob, an asshole is one who oppresses, humiliates, de-energizes, or belittles his target (generally someone less powerful then himself), causing the target to feel worse about herself following an interaction with the asshole. (And, as his examples prove, this behavior is not by any means limited to male perpetrators or female victims.) These jerks use tactics such as personal insults, sarcasm and teasing as vehicles for insults, shaming, and treating people as if they’re invisible to demean others. Sutton distinguishes temporary assholes . . . from certified assholes, who routinely show themselves to be nasty people. The latter, he argues, must go [from the workplace].

In his weblog post “American Lawyer on THE NO A**HOLE RULE” (Feb. 11, 2007), Sutton says “I don’t think that there are more assholes in the law than in other occupations, despite the popular stereotype” and he notes that doctors appear to be more abusive in the workplace than lawyers. Nevertheless, Sutton explains that “there are some special challenges for law firms that want to enforce the rule.” He concludes, “Indeed, you might say that one key to law firm management is learning how to turn your assholes on and off!

donkeyS Sutton gives three reasons why application of his Rule is especially difficult at law firms:

First, there are big power differences in law firms among people at different levels, and as I’ve shown, there is a lot of evidence that power can turn people into selfish insensitive jerks, who act is if the norms of civility that the rest of us have to follow don’t apply to them!

DeleteButtonG Second, as I show in The No Asshole Rule, one of the primary causes of demeaning behavior, backstabbing, and an nastiness of all kinds is severe competition between individuals, when life is seen as an I win-you lose game.

DeleteButtonN Third, often “people hire lawyers to be tough and nasty –to do their dirty work. But people who are best suited for such work aren’t always capable of turning off their venom when they deal with staff members and fellow attorneys.”

Sutton is right that many people hire lawyers “to help intimidate rivals . . . through demeaning interpersonal moves meant to unnerve and intimidate opponents — dirty looks, put-downs, teasing, glaring, and intense eye contact.” He also suggests, there may even be times when those skills may help a lawyer “in the courtroom, a deposition, or a negotiation when used at just the right moment.” However, I’m pretty sure that such tactics are not as successful or as accepted as they once were, and I’d like to discourage their cultivation by newbie lawyers out there, who think they can turn it off and on at will.

stepping on
sidewalk ants the boy
everyone bullies

. . . . . . . . . . . . . by George SwedeAlmost Unseen (2000)

In another posting, “Lawyers and The No Asshole Rule (Feb. 15, 2007), Sutton says that lawyers are naturally interested in The No Asshole Rule. He quotes from a 2004 piece by Aric Press, editor of American Lawyer, suggesting that law firms do “jerk audits.” Among Press’ insights, this one may be most telling:

“At a minimum, what I’m suggesting is that you [law firm managers] ask yourselves this question: Why do we put up with this behavior? If the answer is 2,500 value-billed hours, at least you will have identified your priorities without incurring the cost of a consultant.”

A few more thoughts: DeleteButtonN

  1. As Sutton points out, the “nasty but neutral” defense is unlikely to assist you (or your client). “Equal opportunity assholes,” who demean people routinely regardless of race, gender, age — and regardless of pending litigation — shouldn’t count on throwing themselves upon the mercy of the court based on their inherent personality trait or genetic deficiencies. (see this Littler article, Nov. 2004)
  2. donkeyS The book offers a 24-question self-test to see if you are “a certifiable asshole.” You can take Sutton’s Asshole Rating Self-Exam (ARSE) at Guy Kawasaki’s ElectricPulp website. I expect webloggers will be tagging eachother to find out the results. Let me say in advance that I do not plan to take the test (much less reveal my results).
  3. Over at shlep, I’ve posted much of the information presented in this post, but also explained why the rule works pro se, too.
  4. Admittedly, it can at times be difficult not to respond in kind to the jerky behavior of your opponent. This President’s Week, you might try “learning from Abe Lincoln’s thick skin.”
  5. See the take of “third wave” Texas lawyer Chuck Newton on The Rule here.

the gossip
her yard fills
with leaves

. . . . by tom painting – from the chapbook piano practice

“Frost has formed!”
he yells
then pisses

from the face
of the man yelling for me…

don’t be mean
to that horsefly

. . . by Kobayashi Issa, translated by David G. Lanoue

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