5 Law Firm Partner Types and How to Deal With Them

By Andrew Lu on November 12, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Your early law firm experience usually boils down to luck -- and the type of law partner you're assigned to.

If you get a partner who is pleasant to work with, you may be one of those lucky few associates who has a long and fruitful career. Get stuck with a screamer? You may end up becoming a blogger by year's end.

Law partner types vary from firm to firm, and the disparity among partner types is often evident. Yet despite there being thousands of firms and even more law partners, law partner types typically fit into five general categories. They are:

1. English Professor. Perhaps the worst partner type on this list, this partner thinks she was an English professor in a past life and will redline your internal memos/emails to death with inconsequential grammar corrections. You'll spend hours fixing your grammatical errors and then get an earful when you spend seven hours writing, editing, and re-editing a two-paragraph memo that no one will see outside of you and the partner.

How should you deal with Professor types? Manage your expectations. Once you realize every single thing you do will come back to you, it won't hurt so bad.

2. Alpha Male Screamer. When he isn't taekwondo-ing opponents in court, he's jumping off helicopters or fighting in a cage. Full of bluster and tall tales, this partner will scream, berate, and verbally assault you because you need to be reminded constantly that he is more of a man than you.

How should you deal with Screamers? Proceed with caution. You may find that screaming back sometimes works. An alpha male screamer is basically a workplace bully, and just like in the schoolyard, you may need to stand up to him. Just make sure you have legs to stand on (i.e., know the cases you cite really well).

3. Mindreader. You'll get a five-minute talk on what it is you need to research. You'll then spend the next five hours trying to figure out exactly what it is you're supposed to be doing. And even after those five hours, you'll usually write something that's completely wrong or research something that has nothing to do with the case.

How should you deal with Mindreaders? Ask questions. Swallow your pride, and go back and ask questions. If you're still uncertain, brace yourself for the partner's annoyance and return again. Chances are this isn't the first time the Mindreader has been asked for clarification.

4. Mr. Nice Guy. Be very wary of the "cool" partner in the office. That's because there's no such thing as a cool partner. If you're out getting drinks or just shooting the breeze in his office, be careful what you say and never spread gossip. You will get the urge to let your hair down and confide in the cool partner. Never do so. Partners are loyal to each other, not first- or second- year associates.

How should you deal with Mr. Nice Guys? You can be fun and have a good time. Even joke around. But always remember you are still dealing with your boss.

5. The Delegating Partner. It's a strange thing, but young associates are usually tasked with the most difficult research projects. Partners rarely do hardcore research on their own, and will delegate to their associates anything they don't know the answer to off the top of their heads. So be prepared to research things that have no answer, and issues that could seriously hurt the client in question.

How should you deal with Delegating Partners? Perform meticulous research and bill without caring what gets chopped off. Perform good work, and other partners will soon feed you work.

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