When someone’s professional reputation precedes them…

..don’t let it be the sole determination of your relationship with that person. Certainly be cautious if the situation warrants it, but always keep an open mind.

When I was but a wee attorney, I was warned about a partner at my firm who was notoriously hard to work with. Or at least that’s the experience others had with him. When he was looking for someone with my expertise to work on a project, I hesitated as I replied to his email. Was I setting myself up for failure? Or, at the very least, some really bad days at work?

That partner ended up being an incredible mentor and ally. When my firm’s out-of-town brass asked for a meeting with me at the height of the recession, I knew I was being laid off like so many others had been in the previous months. I went to the partner and shared my fears. He immediately went to the receptionist and asked her to alert him when the brass returned to the building. He wanted to intercept them before they met with me and save my job.

When his efforts to save my job didn’t work out, he asked where else I’d like to work. I named one of the few firms in town with a practice group in my area, and he picked up the phone right then and there and made a call on my behalf to a senior partner at the firm. He basically told him he had to hire me, that I was invaluable. And, I’m quite sure based solely on his recommendation, they did hire me. Unlike so many young lawyers, I was never without a job during the recession, in no small part thanks to that phone call.

Four months later when I was miserable at said firm, I booked lunch with the “scary” partner who had become my ally to tell him I was changing firms. I was sure he would be disappointed that he called in a favor for me at my new firm, and now I wanted to leave. The situation wasn’t great for me or my biggest client, however, so I made the decision to leave and braced for lunch.

After hearing my reasons for wanting to change firms, he didn’t admonish me for walking away after he’d stuck his neck out for me. Instead, he said, “I would have never sent you there if I’d known it would be like that.” I was stunned.

It’s been several years now, and I live in another city and don’t practice law full-time, so I don’t keep in touch with the partner as much as I should. Today he left me a message to congratulate me on finishing my book and tell me he’s proud of me.

So much for the “scary” partner.

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