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Joe stormed into my office and demanded to borrow my nine iron. It has a nice feel and weight, and I use it to practice swings in the office when I feel tense or meditative. Joe looked tense — but not very meditative. “What’s up?” I asked.
“That slimy little bastard has gone too far this time,” he replied heatedly. “I’m gonna take him out!”
It seems that every office or practice group has a Mordred. He’s the slimy little bastard in Camelot who’s always manipulating things to his advantage, undercutting people behind their backs, and generally being a force for chaos against those trying to do something good. It’s probably a characteristic of human nature that has been a staple of life from Adam and Eve’s snake to Arthur’s Mordred to Othello’s Iago — on to our own firm’s little worm, Jerry.
Jerry’s been around quite a while, and isn’t a bad lawyer, but he’s never able to maintain consistency in his business dealings or with friends. He preys on the fears of the underperformers and less powerful, and has his tendrils out everywhere, gathering rumor and innuendo like an anemone filtering plankton out of seawater. He carefully deposits his bile and sows doubt where it will flourish. Those of us who have been around a while see through him and, frankly, our distrust continues to fuel his machinations.
As I tried to calm Joe down, I had to think about the ways to deal with a Mordred, besides Joe’s somewhat extravagant direct solution. Here were my thoughts.
Ignore him. Eventually, everyone sees through the games and ruses, and if you can focus on the long term, you can “out f**king class ’em” (as one of my partners used to say).
Play his own game against him. Sure, it’s tempting, but do you really want to go there? Anyway, it’s kinda like wrestling a pig in the mud; you’ll get all muddy and the pig will enjoy it more than you do.
Do damage control. Okay, he maligned you and made you look stupid. Who’s going to care about that besides you? Talk to the few who might, and gently let them know how you felt about whatever went on. Don’t point fingers, and certainly keep your cool. See this as an opportunity to communicate with purpose with someone you may not usually get to know.
Speak with him in a quiet moment. It may not prevent a repeat of his shenanigans, but it will do you a world of good to explain clearly, rationally and without the aid of a nine iron that you want him to stop whatever it is, and why.
Share with others in the know. Like I said, people who’ve been around know this guy and his tactics. See how they deal with him. Maybe this provides some common ground for you among others in the firm. Maybe you can even make light of being “Jerried.”
Call him out publicly. You could try to embarrass him with a public display of his deeds. But, WARNING: Guys like Jerry don’t embarrass easily and usually have a cover story that will make you look like the bad guy.
Tell Dad. You can always complain to the boss about him and what he does. The problem is that Mordreds are usually very sensitive to power and adept at ingratiating themselves with the powerful. And they are often good enough at their games that “telling” will make you look worse than them. Remember, Mordreds have no shame, no honor and no conscience.
I was ultimately able to get Joe to see the bigger picture, and to calm a bit. I explained that my nine iron was too nice to waste on someone like Jerry anyhow, but promised to bring in my old beat-up eight iron the next day. Thankfully, Joe had cooled down more by then.
I had this thought, though: If it weren’t for the snake with the apple in the Garden of Eden, where would we be now?
Otto Sorts has been reading law since before Martindale met Hubbell. Of Counsel at a large corporate firm that prefers to remain anonymous, Otto is a respected attorney and champion of the grand tradition of the law. He is, however, suspicious of “new-fangled” management ideas and anyone who calls the profession the legal “industry.” When he gets really cranky about something he blogs at Attorney at Work.
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