Why Working with Jerks is Great for your Legal Career


Jerks, bumbling fools, idiots, incompetents, and prodigious users of other people. Your legal career is going to be full of them.

Sometimes they are your boss.

Sometimes they are your colleague, peer, supervisor or subordinate.

But they all share something wonderful – they are great for your career.  I guess at this point I could launch into a post about turning the other cheek, thick skins, communication skills or whatever – but, apt as those things might be to the situation, I’m going to head in a different direction.

Ambivalence is the Problem

For most young lawyers the problem is not, in fact, that they have any of these characteristics (although plenty of people do).

The problem for young lawyers is that in fact they don’t know what characteristics they have.

They define themselves by their lack of definition.

So in they go to work, day in and day out, not having any particular personality of their own and just trying their best not to get in anyone’s way.

To a large extent, they succeed.  In fact, young lawyers can be so good at this camouflage technique that they don’t get noticed at all.  They blend in to their surroundings like a chameleon, taking on the qualities of those around them rather than forming their own.

How do Jerks help that problem?

Jerks assist with the process of elimination.

You see, as irritating as these people can be, they normally are not 100% jerk.  They might be 20, 50, or 80% jerk on some subjects or in some ways, and that is where you can start to use their jerk-ness to your advantage.

Analyse the jerk in question.  What is it, specifically, about them that makes them a jerk in a given situation?  Do they use people?  Do they say everything’s urgent when it’s not?  Do they lie, cheat, steal (hopefully not)?  Do they lack integrity or do they take credit for other people’s work but blame those others when things go wrong?

Whatever the qualities may be, identifying them and articulating them (not in writing – let’s not be stupid) lets you start to define what you DO want to be as a lawyer.  The things that bother you now are the things that you can start eliminating from your character.

In essence – you can use your jerk to assist in your constant improvement process.

So Use your Jerk for Good, Not Evil

Whoever your jerk is, they can help you.

Here’s the process to take advantage of the situation:

  1. Figure out precisely why they are a jerk;
  2. If you show any of the same qualities, then identify them in your own behaviour and eliminate them;
  3. Identify the positive equivalent of the jerk behaviour and start to implement that;
  4. Repeat.


Just to avoid any doubt, nobody I have ever worked with, now work with, or may work with in the future was, is or will be a jerk.  Obviously this article is only about other people.

I’m sure you are the same – but just in case you know someone, perhaps you should share this article with them?