Associates in the Trenches

Best Interests

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College basketball may not be your bag, but if your supervising partner is passionate about amateur hoops, glancing at the sports page just might help you score some career points of your own.

“Nothing can be wrong with sharing a hobby with a law firm partner because when you have rapport, mistakes might be glossed over, and your work will be reviewed more favorably when bonus time comes,” says Joseph E. Ankus, a former associate who is now a legal search consultant in Weston, Fla. “People like to work with people like themselves.”

He mentions a former colleague who was an enthusiast of both Harley-Davidson motorcycles and Porsches. As luck would have it, their law firm had a partner who was also heavy into Harleys and another who was, as Ankus puts it, a “Porsche person.” The associate spent quality time with one partner on motorcycle rides and developed a friendship with the other by swapping car parts.

Of course, the value of shared interests only goes so far. “If you blow a statute of limitations, just because you enjoy Harley riding is not going to save your career,” Ankus cautions.

And associates might want to tread carefully as far as sports related activities, especially if your partner invites you to go head-to-head on the tennis court or play a round of golf. The problem, of course, is who should win.

“It’s situational,” Ankus advises. “If a partner is really competitive and mature, play your hardest, because you don’t want to look weak. If you’ve got a partner who is an immature baby, you’d better watch out.”

Even if you’re not a Harley nut–or an opera, football or wine nut–associates can still use a partner’s interests to nurture the relationship, says Beth B. Richardson, a former associate who is now clerking in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Her judge, William B. Traxler Jr. of Greenville, S.C., is a devotee of the state’s history. Although Richardson has lived in the South for three years, the New York native knows little about South Carolina. But that’s changing, she says, thanks to Traxler. “He questions me about a historical figure from South Carolina, I’ll go research it, and we’ll have a conversation about it,” Richardson says.

Playing To A Passion

While in private practice, Richardson noticed that many partners’ interests were somewhat male centric, large­ly because most partners were male. That being said, she says female associates not interested in traditionally male pursuits can still make a connection by inquiring about the person’s passion.

“Even if you don’t share anything in common with a partner in the law firm, you could forge a relationship over dividing or conquering those differences,” she says.

Sharon Meit Abrahams, director of professional development at a Chicago based law firm, agrees. Finding a common interest is still easier for men, says Abrahams, author of “100 Plus Pointers for New Lawyers on Adjusting to Your Job,” published by the ABA’s Career Resource Cen­ter. But she believes that women are definitely getting better at it. And as the number of women partners increases, she says, it will become more common for partner passions to include activities that many female associates already enjoy, such as book clubs, music and theater.

Of course, some associates say the fact that they share an interest with a partner means only that. And they prefer it that way.

“I really like the fact that here I feel it’s all about the merits of my work, and I don’t have to go out of my way to feign interest in something I’m not really interested in to get partners’ attention,” says Kathryn Taylor, a Chica­go litigation associate. “I find that very comforting at some level.”

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