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BigLaw: Top 10 Tips for Surviving Large Firm Power Struggles and Office Politics

By Matt Berg | Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Originally published on February 15, 2010 in our free BigLaw newsletter. Instead of reading BigLaw here after the fact, sign up now to receive future issues in realtime.

Through mergers and acquisitions, many of today's larger firms find that they need to recreate chains of command and reporting lines. This scenario can create tension and competition, sometimes intentionally, until a new order is established. But whatever the size of your firm, and whatever the flavor of your political tension, following the ten tips below could prove key to your survival.

1. Do Your Job and Do It Well

Add business value. Make it your primary objective — always. If you catch yourself spending time getting caught up in matters related to interpersonal politics, and unrelated to your ability to get your job done, it's time to refocus.

2. Enjoy Yourself

Smile. Having a positive mindset not only makes work more pleasurable for you, but it also makes it less likely that people will take your off mood personally. A good attitude has the added bonus of making your co-workers want to be around you, and even want you to succeed.

3. Promote Yourself

Don't assume that everyone has noticed your efforts and understands the value you bring to the firm. Don't boast or brag or openly angle for credit. Self promote through an agenda of good work and make sure that body of work is widely known, especially outside of your department or practice group. If your boss is the only one who understands your value, then your job is only as secure as that of your boss, and you only hold your job upon your boss' good will.

4. Be Forthright

Nothing undermines your reputation faster than being caught in a lie or a half-truth. And as the offenses grow larger or more involved (e.g., trying to cover up something you've done), your chance of surviving a discovery of such transgressions decreases.

5. Admit Mistakes

Failing to admit when you've missed the mark in one way or another is a close second to lying. Conversely (though not necessarily intuitively), nothing earns respect faster than being willing to stand up and take it on the chin when you've erred.

6. Be Respectful of Everyone

Don't gossip about fellow employees. Leave your personal life at home. And leave discussion of others at the door. Remove yourself (non-judgmentally) when others are doing so by letting folks know you need to get back to work.

7. Listen to People

Make eye contact. Stop thinking about what you're going to say next. Attentive listening earns you points with someone quickly. And failing to listen will erode their opinion of you just as fast.

8. Observe the Chain of Command

The first stop in resolving a problem with another employee is to talk with them directly. If this strategy fails, be aware of your respective places in the chain of command. It may be necessary to have your boss communicate with theirs. But don't let them meet without all parties present. The situation can easily be misunderstood by those not directly involved, or could even be swept under the rug.

9. Communicate

Don't leave people wondering or out of the loop. Nothing raises flags in the minds of people who might be suspicious of your motives than cutting them out of a discussion, or failing to notify them about a meeting, a decision, or a change in plans.

10. Be the Bigger Person

People generally aren't malicious. But they often operate from fear. Sometimes the source of their fear is clear — job security. Often, the source is trickier to identify. Perhaps their self-esteem is on the line, or they have personal issues at home. No matter the source of their perceived malice, it's always better not to take things personally and stay above the fray. If you can do so and remain objective, not only will you have the moral highground, but you will also avoid getting dirty yourself from having been involved in mudslinging.


Given human nature, it's inevitable to find yourself in situations in which politics and power struggles affect your quality of life at work. When it happens, focus on the basics as outlined above. You can't change the people around you. But if you focus on doing the right thing yourself, I can promise that at the very least you will sleep better at night.

Written by Matthew Berg, Director of IT at Wolf, Greenfield & Sacks, P.C..

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Topics: BiglawWorld | Law Office Management
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