Thursday, May 11, 2006

A reader wrote to me earlier this week asking for clarification about one of the ten tips for summer associates I provided. Tip #7 said that summer associates should share their gossip. I should have been clearer, and explained that I only meant gossip about other people, and NOT things that partners tell them in private. My reader explained it well:

"Sure, I may tell one associate one thing, and tell another associate something completely contradictory, but there are reasons for that. Reasons the associates wouldn't understand. Reasons for the good of the partnership. And so the associate should keep his mouth shut. Each associate should realize that I surely respected him enough to give him the straight dope, even if I had to 'color' things for one of the other associates. If I wanted to have to be consistent, I wouldn't have spoken to them each privately."

That's all very true. Sometimes it's important to tell an associate a white lie, to protect him, or to protect the firm. Maybe the deadline isn't really today, but I just want the assignment to be finished. Maybe you don't really have a chance to make partner, but I don't want you to quit yet. Maybe you aren't smart. Maybe you don't do good work. Maybe the client didn't request you. Maybe you're just not invited to dinner, and so I have to make up a story to explain it. Maybe I just don't like you and that's why I'm sending you on a business trip to Chicago in the middle of winter. Maybe I don't feel like telling you the truth.

And then if you start comparing stories, people get hurt. I don't want people getting hurt, except for the people I want getting hurt. I want to have control over who I hurt. So, yes, I want to know all the gossip about everyone else. But I didn't mean to imply that anyone should be telling other people the gossip I tell them. I may tell you one of your colleagues is incompetent, ugly, about to get fired, whatever. But you should keep that to yourself. After all, maybe it's just a decoy. Maybe you're the one who's about to get fired. Maybe I'm just hiding the ball. Regardless, I have reasons. I'm smarter than you. That's why I'm a partner and you're not. So be quiet. Unless you have something to tell me, about someone else. Otherwise, quiet. Important rule. Didn't mean to be vague about it.

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