Last Word: Eagles’ Egos
Lexpert, January 2008
“Do you know him?”
“Not to speak of. I once sat next to him at a public dinner. He thinks very highly of himself.”
So I’m sitting next to a bright young thing at a public dinner―well, he’s probably a decade, maybe even more my senior (it’s so hard to tell these days… are those well-kept teeth or really awesome dentures? Crow’s feet just coming in or stitch marks just coming out?), but a bright young thing nonetheless, and I don’t need to wait until the desert course to find out he thinks very highly of himself. And yes, indeed (why else would I be sharing with you otherwise) he’s a lawyer―he tells me that immediately after he tells me his name. Actually, he doesn’t tell me he’s a lawyer. You know how you guys and gals do it at these public dinners―those exclusive enough to spare you the embarrassment of nametags anyway. “Hi, John Doe, PARTNER at Becloud Palmenett.” Emphasis on partner, of course, and if you get as skilled at nuances as I unfortunately am, you can predict pretty accurately from the level of emphasis just how recently he or she became a partner.
(Associates are more subtle, they’re still working it out. Should they come out and say associate? Or just say “lawyer” and let those of us who are petty enough to care infer that means not-partner? The brave ones say, “Jamie Smith, I work with Frasden Martiner Gergrain, and I don’t care if you think I’m a secretary or a mailroom clerk, have you seen my shoes? You don’t get those on an assistant’s salary, baby!” Silverbacks―those who are nearing the age of judgeship be they litigators, dealmakers or ―have a different style still. “Grunt. Bob Q. Hark” And if you don’t know who Bob Q works for, you do not need to be wooed, no matter how well-kept the teeth in your sparkling smile are.)
But I digress. I’m sitting next to this bright young thing who thinks very highly of himself―and is now wondering for what sins, for what sins did he sit down next to me? There was a perfectly good seat over to the left next to some guy with a moustache and a tacky plaid suit, who was probably a CEO of an oil and gas explore co and maybe a potential client. But no, he was tempted to sit next to one of the three women in the room, lured by the obvious lack of dentures and the merest smattering of crow’s feet, and further fooled by an apparently sympathetic smile and fluttering eyelashes (probably fake! he thinks now) to talk at length about himself. OK, so maybe he was flying a little high because―well, if you’ve seen the business headlines and were part of our conversation, you’d know why―but did he deserve to be lampooned in Lexpert just because he sat down to that [expletive adjective deleted] [expletive noun deleted] from [expletive deleted] Calgary?
Of course not. Nobody ‘s sins are massive enough that they deserve to sit next to me at a public dinner (and now, no one ever will―you’re not going to sit next to me, are you? Oh? Like to live dangerously, do you?). But my egotistical dinner companion of last month need have no fear. I do not lampoon his ego. I laud it.
Much has been written about the egos of legal eagles, much of it pejorative (much of by me). But you know what? The really, truly arrogant overblown legal ego―the one so big no firm can really contain it, the one that writes its own rules, marches to the beat of its own kettle of fish, and thumbs its well-formed (only occasionally medically augmented) nose at pundits, directories, awards and nosey writers―I kind of dig it.
Now, the fragile ego of the second stringer who aspires to superstardom, the greedy and needy ego of the primadonna who constantly needs to be stroked and flattered―brr. Foul and exhausting, and the reason crow marks and frown lines multiply like Harrison’s ground squirrels on managing partners’ faces. But the real thing―you know, the guy or gal who’s got IT and then some―yeah, it’s got some drawbacks. Difficult to deal with, because it generally belongs to someone so brilliant and competent they’re totally unable to tolerate less than competence―and prefer brilliance―in those around them. Annoying as hell for me professionally, because it is so full of itself it requires no additional stroking or flattering from me and any criticism I deign to offer just kinda pours off it without making the smallest impact.
But I’ll take that ego over a primadonna’s any day of the week.
So my bright young thing―keep on thinking highly of yourself. You’re worth it. Just beware the sins of the primadonna and the second-stringer: it’s enough that YOU think you’re hot stuff. You don’t need anyone else to think so too. And as soon as you achieve that particular state of Zen… we will all bow our heads before thy mind-blowing greatness.
Marzena Czarnecka lampoons the legal profession from a Calgary fortress. Modesty has never been among her character failings, so she empathizes a great deal with the heavy burden of the brilliant and competent.