Byte of Prevention Blog

by Jay Reeves |

Being a Selfish Jerk Won’t Help You Make Partner

It seems nice lawyers don’t always finish last after all, at least when it comes to career success.

New research shows that being “aggressively Machiavellian” doesn’t help you get ahead. In fact, being a jerk is just as likely to backfire.

“Any power boost disagreeable people get from being intimidating is offset by their poor interpersonal relationships,” says Science Daily, reporting on a pair of studies conducted at the University of California-Berkeley Haas School of Business and Colby College.

The study tracked hundreds of workers over the course of more than a decade to see how their personality traits affected their career progress. Researchers sought an answer to the question: “Does being disagreeable—that is, behaving in aggressive, selfish, and manipulative ways—help people attain power?”

“The researchers found that ‘selfish, deceitful, and aggressive individuals were no more likely to attain power than were generous, trustworthy, and nice individuals,’” according to Psychology Today. “This isn’t to say that so-called ‘selfish jerks’ don’t reach positions of power; we all know they do. That said, the good news for anyone rooting for ‘nice guys not to finish last’ is that being a jerk often backfires because, among many flies in their ointment, disagreeable people are more likely to burn bridges and have poor interpersonal relationships.” 

Read more about the studies here, here, and here

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NC Rules of Professional Conduct
Preamble: A Lawyer’s Responsibilitie

Preamble [5] A lawyer’s conduct should conform to the requirements of the law, both in professional service to clients and in the lawyer’s business and personal affairs. A lawyer should use the law’s procedures only for legitimate purposes and not to harass or intimidate others. A lawyer should demonstrate respect for the legal system and for those who serve it, including judges, other lawyers, and public officials. While it is a lawyer’s duty, when necessary, to challenge the rectitude of official action, it is also a lawyer’s duty to uphold the legal process.

Preamble [10] Many of a lawyer’s professional responsibilities are prescribed in the Rules of Professional Conduct, as well as substantive and procedural law. However, a lawyer is also guided by personal conscience and the approbation of professional peers. A lawyer should strive to attain the highest level of skill, to improve the law and the legal profession, and to exemplify the legal profession’s ideals of public service.

Preamble [13] Although a matter is hotly contested by the parties, a lawyer should treat opposing counsel with courtesy and respect. The legal dispute of the client must never become the lawyer’s personal dispute with opposing counsel. A lawyer, moreover, should provide zealous but honorable representation without resorting to unfair or offensive tactics. The legal system provides a civilized mechanism for resolving disputes, but only if the lawyers themselves behave with dignity. A lawyer’s word to another lawyer should be the lawyer’s bond. As professional colleagues, lawyers should encourage and counsel new lawyers by providing advice and mentoring; foster civility among members of the bar by acceding to reasonable requests that do not prejudice the interests of the client; and counsel and assist peers who fail to fulfill their professional duties because of substance abuse, depression, or other personal difficulties.


Jay Reeves is author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World. He practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. Now he writes and speaks at CLEs, keynotes and in-firm presentations on lawyer professionalism and well-being. He runs Your Law Life LLC, which offers confidential, one-on-one consultations to sharpen your firm’s mission and design an excellent Law Life. Contact or 919-619-2441.


About the Author

Jay Reeves

Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. He was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He is the author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World, a collection of short stories from a law life well-lived, which as the seasons pass becomes less about law and liability and more about loss, love, longing, laughter and life's lasting luminescence.

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