I recently read Company Man, the memoir of John Rizzo, who was an attorney for the CIA for more than thirty years. Rizzo’s career spanned the covert war in Afghanistan helping the Mujaheddin fight the Soviets, to post-9/11 scandals about CIA enhanced interrogation techniques. Rizzo shares unique insight into his role giving legal advice when there was very little precedent or guidance to go on.
One particular sentence in the book struck me as being widely applicable in a business context. Rizzo asked the director of the CIA about his relationship with the directorate of operations. He received a response very much like this: They didn’t like me, and I knew they never would, but they were forthright with me. What a great reputation that is for the people he was speaking of! They didn’t like the CIA director. Apparently, they didn’t hide that from him. But they didn’t allow that dysfunction to get in the way of their integrity. They were honest and forthright in spite of an otherwise broken relationship.
Having a Reputation for Integrity in the Face of a Fractured Relationship
Most of us operate in relatively small legal communities. We are going to be working with, against, and alongside the same lawyers for decades. Odds are fairly good you aren’t going to like a good many of those people, possibly the majority of them. Yet you are going to rely on each other to get your work done. Discovery matters, settlement discussions, and even trial preparation are more easily accomplished when their is mutual trust.
Your personal feelings of affection or animosity should have no bearing on whether you comport yourself with integrity. President Eisenhower said of integrity: “The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible.” A reputation for integrity takes the entirety of your practice to build and maintain, but you can lose it with a single indiscretion.
Unfortunately, your reputation for integrity and being forthright is affected not only by your own actions but by the reputations of others in your firm. I have had opposing counsel who doesn’t know me tell me, “I’ve known Partner X a long time. He’s one of my favorite people. If there’s anything you need in this case let me know, and we will sort it out.” I’ve also known of opposing counsel telling an associate at another firm that until proven otherwise, they assume the associate to be a lying, dirty dog because they work for Partner Y. Neither I nor the other associate did anything to warrant either response. But on the one hand, I did my best to maintain that trust, and on the other, the associate did what he could to distinguish herself from the mistrusted partner and endeavored to repair the gaping fissure of distrust.
Regardless of the status of your relationships with co-counsel or opposing counsel, you would be well served if when that walk away from a case you have worked together, they can tell others, “They were forthright with me.”
Photo by William Beem.