Edge International Communiqué
Insights and Analysis from Edge International, the Leading Global Consultancy to the Legal Profession

February, 2014     
Don't Worry, Be Crazy


Research suggests that slightly psychopathic tendencies may serve as an advantage in the workplace. 


by Douglas Richardson 

Lawyers, rest easy: no matter how many shark jokes have been aimed your way, and regardless of how often you've been called a cold-hearted attack dog, a ruthless hired gun, or a crazy @#$%**!!, you are probably not a true psychopath. Not diagnostically anyway. Recent research suggests that probably only 1% to 3% of people in the general population can be validly classified as psychopaths. True, for lawyers, a population whose members have self-selected into an often cold, impersonal, non-humane, self-aggrandizing and power-driven profession, the numbers probably are higher.Even so, even if your colleagues, clients and adversaries may see you as a jerk, you're probably not a certifiably crazy jerk.


Yet the psychopathic spectrum certainly includes more than its share of lawyers (as well as an above-average number of CEOs, surgeons, police officers, salespeople, journalists and other hyper-competitive people). However, even if you are on the slightly crazy fringe, don't despair (which is highly unlikely for you anyway, given your diagnosis): your crazy pieces actually may have considerable social utility. According to Cambridge University research psychologist Kevin Dutton, in many circumstances the rest of the population can learn a thing or two from you.


In The Wisdom of Psychopaths (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2012), Dutton suggests that in such highly competitive fields as law, business and sports, it is beneficial to be a little antisocial, hard-minded, impulsive, risk-taking, power-seeking, seductive and interpersonally aggressive. Marginal psychopathy becomes dangerous psychopathy only when that seductive charm becomes devious manipulation; when self-confidence morphs into grandiosity; when stretching the facts in the name of advocacy crosses the border into pathological lying; when tough-mindedness becomes cruelty; and when courage distorts into foolish impulsiveness.


Dutton, tongue slightly in cheek, posits a skill set he calls The Seven Deadly Wins, that is, "seven core principles of psychopathy that, apportioned judiciously and applied with due care and attention, can help us get exactly what we want, can help us respond rather than react to the challenges of modern-day living, can transform our outlook from victim to victor - without turning us into a complete villain."These seven characteristics are Ruthlessness, Charm, Focus, Mental Toughness, Fearlessness, Mindfulness, and Action. Sound like anyone you know?


Note that these adaptive traits live just across the border from some truly chilling psychopathic territory:Coldheartedness and a total lack of empathy. Machiavellian egocentricity. Impulsive nonconformity. Externalizing blame, Carefree nonplanfulness.


It obviously is prudent to keep self strong-armed guards at the border between acceptable self-interest and outright evil and to keep a check-rein on the totally toxic expression of characteristics that encourage others to come after you with pitchforks and torches. You can't succeed if you are demonized as an evil villain and avoided like the plague. Or if you're in jail or involuntarily institutionalized.


But Dutton suggests that if you want to succeed - say, in law - these slightly psychopathic characteristics can confer a distinct advantage if used with self-awareness and in moderation. Clearly certain psychopathic traits can serve admirable ends or take admirable forms, such as when ordinary citizens performed extraordinary feats of bravery on 9/11. Psychologist Philip Zimbardo, author of a treatise on why people become evil in certain situations ("The Lucifer Effect"), also opines on how pathological tendencies may support heroism and courage: "It means not being afraid of the fallout for ourselves. It means not being afraid of putting our necks on the line."


Of course, these psychopathic traits are more likely to manifest in males than females (probably courtesy of the evolutionary impact of testosterone and the expression of power it encourages), which is an obvious problem in a legal profession that claims to honor diversity and equal access to power. Dutton suggests that more research is needed to understand gender differences in psychopathy, but for the moment we probably have to defer to anecdotal evidence that there are more crazy (or semi-crazy) men than crazy women  - and also that women have to work harder to act tough then men.Still, that's why crazy women really stand out (for better or worse), and why so many female lawyers complain that the same behavior that is labeled assertive in men is called aggressive in women.


This discussion is not intended as an excuse or apology for vicious or willfully anti-social behavior. Law firms that enact and enforce "no asshole rules" find that their collective cultures are the better for it. But we must acknowledge that in a profession with crazy demands, crazy deadlines, crazy pressures, and sometimes crazy rewards, we should not be surprised at the prevalence of people who are a little bit crazy.


Difficult Conversations and the Execution of Strategy


Holding difficult conversations can advance the goals of the firm.

by David Cruickshank   

The title is the answer to the question "What are two things that law firms typically do not excel at?" The two are linked. While firms are getting much better at defining their strategy, they often think that the strategy is self-evident, and therefore self-executing. Instead, they find that their talent management fails to match their strategic ambitions, and the implementation of strategy falters. Developing the skills and urgency to hold difficult conversations is one step that can help a firm get strategy execution back on track.


"Difficult conversations" has become part of the talent management vocabulary since the publication of Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most* in 1999. It refers to a conversation that neither side really wants to have but they need to have if they are to repair a relationship, move toward a common goal or advance a project. We find these examples of avoided, difficult conversations in firms. Conversations with:

  • the capable but unmotivated associate
  • the under-performing partner
  • the driven team leader, who tramples staff and associates to get results
  • the "solo partner" who consistently departs from a group's strategy or client base
  • the "stuck leader" who has an old-school management style or who does not adapt to a new strategy.

We often think of these situations as a challenge to harmony, associate retention or esprit de corps. But the avoidance of difficult conversations is also a threat to strategy execution. As an example, we have recently been working with firms on their client teams and industry teams. The creation or revival of these teams is a core element of their strategy. To succeed, lawyers on these teams have to get outside their practice group silos and change their working relationships in the firm, notwithstanding the incentives of the compensation system or their past specialized success. Not everyone gets on this bandwagon. Both individual partners and firm leaders have to expect passivity or outright resistance and be ready to hold difficult conversations with those who are not adapting. Indeed, I would argue that strategy execution, not just harmony, is the main reason to embark on these conversations.


Returning to the client team example, suppose that you could turn the difficult conversations into learning conversations and changed behavior in your colleagues? These might be some results:

  • the associate sees a strategic purpose to his hard work and is motivated to develop more client relations
  • the under-performing partner understands that his economic performance depends on more cross-selling through client teams
  • the team leader, confronted with the feedback of unhappy team members, learns to get team results without alienating those on whom she depends
  • the "stuck leader" takes on a specific leadership project that will advance client team RFP responses.

I can't teach you how to hold a difficult conversation in this short article. Even reading the book will not get you there. It is a skill - as challenging as perfecting your golf swing or your tennis backhand. However, if leaders and key partners in your firm devote time and resources to learning the skill, you will have a key tool for executing the firm's strategy - thus getting more people on that bandwagon.


As the authors of Difficult Conversations point out, tact is not sufficient: "Delivering a difficult message is like throwing a hand grenade." But avoiding the conversation will impair the implementation of strategy: "Choosing not to deliver a difficult message is like hanging on to a hand grenade once you've pulled the pin."




* D. Stone, B. Patton & S. Heen, Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most, Penguin, New York, 1999.


Author note: If your firm would like to learn more about becoming skillful with difficult conversations and overcoming obstacles to strategy implementation, contact the author of this article, David Cruickshank 

Collective Brilliance: Teamwork Defines Success

Team support serves a range of obvious - and less obvious - goals.
by Bithika Anand 

Individual brilliance may define a successful lawyer; however collective brilliance is the cornerstone for a successful law firm. As a lawyer with strong core competencies, unless you are able to work in a team and harness your colleagues' skills, your firm will always perform below par. 


Improved client deliveries, enhanced quality and increased office morale are undoubtedly some of the more talked about advantages of effective teamwork. However teamwork also has a great role to play for retaining clients and talent as well as for creating leaders.


In this age where clients require comprehensive advice across practice areas, team support is indispensable to deliver innovative, all-encompassing and responsive advice. Team support is also critical for recovering from a demoralizing result in court or in a transaction. It is also a great boost at the time of celebrating success.


Beyond the above points of view, there are also other lesser talked about aspects which make it crucial to promote the team culture.


  • Client Continuity: Independent partners tend to dominate client relationships, more often for the benefit of the firm, however this practice is not bereft of its drawbacks. Lateral transfers or the exit of a proactive independent partner too often affects a firm adversely. Firms should aim at striking a balance between 'institutionalising' the client relationship and allowing partners to 'own' their clients. The relevance of team work therefore also extends to client retention and is a tool for creating redundancies for client servicing. When a team services a client, there is an opportunity for multiple relationships to develop. This allows for increased confidence, scalability and a show of strength on the Partner-in-charge, thus developing an assurance of continuity in the minds of the clients.
  • Talent Retention: The legal profession is such, where there is always a possibility for lawyers to become secluded due to their own workload or that of those around them. Lawyers within a team interacting on a regular basis for the duration of a matter or deal develop a sense of fellowship, common interests and commitment towards the accomplishment of the team's objectives. The law firm can benefit immensely from the inter-personal camaraderie of the lawyers. This also often leads to the creation of personal bonds which become an important part of the firm's retention policy.
  • Creating Leaders: Often, teamwork accentuates situational leadership. Cohesive and efficient team work, allows for opportunities to each person in the team to lead and take responsibility in areas of their core competencies. Attorneys who are part of a common pool are often pulled in all directions and do not emerge with enough opportunities to take initiative in relation to the work of a designated team. The creation of teams allows individual attorneys to focus more effectively and efficiently towards their own growth as well as what they deliver to the firm. Moreover the responsibility of managing a team provides partners with an opportunity to leverage their billing and business development capacity. From the firm leadership's point of view, the firm can identify partners who can take up an additional firm-level leadership position based on their management of their team. 

All in all, there are many nuances of how teamwork benefits your firm as well as what you need to be careful about. The bottom line however remains that teamwork can contribute positively towards the firm's success in more ways than one.


Contact the author, Bithika Anand

In This Issue
Douglas Richardson discusses surprising research findings that relate psychopathic tendencies with success.
David Cruickshank explains how holding those "difficult conversations" can benefit your firm.
Bithika Anand explores some lesser-known merits of teamwork.
  Gerry Riskin

Gerry Riskin 





Ed Wesemann



Pam Woldow
Doug Richardson 

John Plank 

 John Plank







New York,

Ft. Lauderdale, 

Mike White

Of Counsel 

Legal League Consulting, LLC  
Delhi and Mumbai,
At The Podium: Upcoming Appearances by Edge Partners   


Jordan Furlong Feb 27
Luncheon Presentation
Association of Legal Administrators, Puget Sound Chapter
Seattle, WA  

APRIL, 2014

Jordan Furlong Apr 02
Keynote Presentation
CMO Summit
Legal Marketing Association Annual Conference
Orlando, FL 


Jordan Furlong Apr 27
Keynote Presentation
LESA Litigation Refresher
Lake Louise, AB


Gerry Riskin Oct 17
Keynote Presentation, Annual Futures Conference
College of Law Practice Management
Boston, Massachusetts 

Edge Blogs

Jordan Furlong's  



Ed Wesemann's Creating Dominance


Pam Woldow's At The Intersection


Gerry Riskin's Amazing Firms, Amazing Practices

Nick Jarrett-Kerr's NJK

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