Tales Of The King’s Pass: The Rainmakers

Are you also an asshole? Because if you’re enough of a rainmaker, you can be as big an asshole as you want!!!!

Wow. You don’t get much more cynical than this.

Here’ s Karen Kaplowitz, the founder of The New Ellis Group, and a business development strategist and coach for over 20 years, essentially denying the existence of ethics and integrity in law firms as a business necessity.  In a piece on the ABA Journal titled Abuse of power within law firms: The rainmaker dilemma, she begins,

Despite their obvious economic value to their organizations, Bill O’Reilly, Matt Lauer and Harvey Weinstein were quickly sacked. Law firms by contrast have often tolerated bad actors who are major rainmakers. Can law firms tolerate abusive rainmakers in the current business climate? Do firms need to be more aggressive about confronting abuses of power?

Can they tolerate abusive rainmakers, in this or any other business climate? Sure they can. Should they? Absolutely not. “Do firms need to be more aggressive about confronting abuses of power?” What? Does this question have to be asked?

Kaplowitz goes on..

“In a post on my blog, I list some questions to ask to help you avoid becoming media fodder over lawyer behavior. If your firm is concerned that a scandal involving an abusive rainmaker will damage the firm and is ready to confront the abusers, here are some strategies for doing so..”

Huh? That’s the concern, is it? To avoid being “media fodder”? How about the ethical reason to stop abuse—because people are being abused?

Then the consultant begins quoting another ethics-lite law firm consultant. Apparently they are all like this. He says that…

“…most firms tolerate rainmakers’ abusive behavior unless it threatens something essential in the firm’s culture. Peters says firms must draw a line when the “fabric of the firm” is at risk. “The firm must win. No one, not even a rainmaker, can be allowed to destroy the fabric of the firm.”

That’s the standard? Destroying the firm? I think what this Authentic Frontier Gibberish means is that when a rainmaker does so much internal damage to the organization that even all the money he or she brings in won’t make up for it, that abusive rainmaker has to go. Talk about a low bar! “We’ll let you get away with just about anything since you make us so much money, but just don’t destroy the firm.”

Here is that star of the rationalizations list, “The King’s Pass”:

11. The King’s Pass, The Star Syndrome, or “What Will We Do Without Him?”

One will often hear unethical behavior excused because the person involved is so important, so accomplished, and has done such great things for so many people that we should look the other way, just this once. This is a terribly dangerous mindset, because celebrities and powerful public figures come to depend on it. Their achievements, in their own minds and those of their supporters and fans, have earned them a more lenient ethical standard. This pass for bad behavior is as insidious as it is pervasive, and should be recognized and rejected whenever it raises its slimy head.  In fact, the more respectable and accomplished an individual is, the more damage he or she can do through unethical conduct, because such individuals engender great trust. Thus the corrupting influence on the individual of The King’s Pass leads to the corruption of others

Clearly Karen and that other “prominent consultant” don’t read Ethics Alarms.

Here’s more advice  from the latter, endorsed by the former:

“In dealing with troublesome rainmakers, [he] recommends that firms analyze just how much of a contribution the rainmaker is making. [He] described a situation in which one partner’s client accounted for 10 percent to 15 percent of a firm’s revenue, which resulted in the firm’s being very deferential to the partner. …[A] profitability analysis…discovered that the partner and his team were taking nearly 100 percent of the profits generated from the client as compensation, which meant the rest of the firm got no benefit from this group. When these facts emerged, the partner’s power diminished radically, and the firm was able to address the abusive behavior.”

No, the firm was always “able” to address the abusive behavior; it just chose money over ethics and decency, and didn’t address it.

Kaplowitz’s article made we physically ill. This is the kind of ethical grounding business consultants too often bring to their jobs: none. She is recommending exactly the kind of calculations that allowed, and are now allowing, many abusive company and law firm “stars” to continue savaging the careers and psyches of colleagues and subordinates because these creeps are profitable enough to make it expedient to look the other way. This is how you get Harvey Weinstein.

Until the management calculations recommended–recommended!!!-–by Kaplowitz and her breed are identified as the unethical trap that they are, we will keep getting Harveys in business, in law, in entertainment, in finance, in government.

21 thoughts on “Tales Of The King’s Pass: The Rainmakers

  1. Or, as in the case with former DC Mayor Marion Barry, despite all the ethical, drug, fidelity and legal problems, ya can have a statue erected in your honor and “the people” will gaze in loving amazement.

    • I want to see the #MeToo movement take down Barry’s statue. Yes, I, too, am a “Dreamer.” Of course his statue won’t be moved out of public space, and that Nashville Mayor Barry will have a statue of herself, too.

      • Update on Nashville Mayor Barry: She has resigned. She and her erstwhile boyfriend entered separate, plea-bargained guilty pleas to felony theft. She will pay a $11,000 fine, and will suffer (OH! The AGONY!) three years of probation. Yep: she’s a future governor or U.S. Senator.

        Barry is DEFINITELY going to get a statue of herself in Nashville. Watch.

  2. I’m sure this is all shocking news to Sparty.

    What’s the line from the old clothier’s TV commercial? “Money talks. Nobody walks.”

    There’s not much else you need to know about law firms. It’s the golden rule: “He who has the gold makes the rules.” That, in a nutshell, is law firm ethics. (Not sure “ethics” is the right term.) Then there’s always “If you can’t stand the Byzantine intrigue, get out of the cabal.”

    • It’s not a shock to me. Frankly most of the most ethical people in the law I have met have been in public service. In private practice it’s all about book of business and bringing in the money. If you don’t bring in the business or the money, you are basically a serf with no value. If you do bring in the business and the money, you can write your own ticket and make the rules, including making bawdy jokes, passing around porn, and pinching the ass of any good-looking woman who happens to work for you, while absolutely forbidding similar behavior from others in the office. Sound far-fetched? I worked for just such a guy for three years. Not only was he yukking it up and harassing the young meat, but he was maintaining two luxury houses and trotting off to Europe for three weeks every year, while the computer system was ten years out of date and the office wallpaper was peeling off. The firm collapsed the year after I was let go for financial reasons, but for that year it became like Survivor – every week someone was voted off the island. I won’t cheer his death (he’s 83), but I won’t be too sorry reading his obituary.

      The first corporation counsel Cory Booker brought in from Skadden Arps via the AG’s office THOUGHT she had the King’s Pass. She was going to bring big firm culture into municipal practice and turn the Law Department into the department that all other municipal attorneys looked to for their cues. Then she tried to rip the department apart by giving 3/4 of the attorneys lousy reviews and got caught carrying on like a drunk sorority girl after hours with one of her subordinates. Apparently she had made one too many enemies by stealing ideas, hogging the credit when things went well, and throwing people under the bus when things went badly, and her political career was over – the AG’s office didn’t want her back and the US Attorney for the District of NJ at the time was Chris Christie, who told her to take a hike. She subsequently landed a fat gig at Toys R Us, but she’ll never sit in the AG’s chair or sit on the bench. Cory Booker didn’t need her bullying, treachery, and hypocrisy dragging him down.

      The fact is powerful people and high achievers have little use for those who can’t keep up and don’t benefit them in any way, so they use them, then throw them aside when they can use them no more. In some cases that means use them sexually. Many’s the “legal intern” or “paralegal” that I’ve seen vanish without a trace, then found out she wouldn’t give other than legal services. Many’s also the otherwise well-performing lawyer whose performance reviews tanked (I don’t mean them saying he has gotten complacent under the last management team, I mean them saying this guy SUCKS) after the management changed and someone decided to target him.

      The good news is that for every Weinstein who got away with crap for far too long, there are 20 other high achievers and performers who overreached and finally fell HARD.

      • A very interesting set of takes from Camille Paglia.


        She’s always interesting. Here’s the passage that struck me vis a vis behavior in law firm and business organizations:

        “It was overwhelmingly men who created the machines and ultra-efficient systems of the industrial revolution, which in turn emancipated women. For the first time in history, women have gained economic independence and no longer must depend on fathers or husbands for survival. But many women seem surprised and unnerved by the competitive, pitiless forces that drive the modern professions, which were shaped by entrepreneurial male bonding. It remains to be seen whether those deep patterns of mutually bruising male teamwork, which may date from the Stone Age, can be altered to accommodate female sensitivities without reducing productivity and progress.”

        I suppose she would be dismissed as “reactionary” or some such by those on the right side of history, but maybe she’s onto something. Why should we expect longstanding behaviors to turn on a dime? Because it’s not deemed ethical?

        I also got a kick out of Weinstein’s lawyer’s floating a talking point the other day. He opined that a woman “having sex in return for receiving a role to advance her acting career isn’t rape,” clearly intending to cast it as a business transaction.

        • When people get it into their heads that what they want is the right thing to do, yes, they expect things to turn on a dime and change overnight. Statues need to come down, laws need to change, holidays need to be renamed, books need to be rewritten, and so on. Everything’s got to give way to the newly discovered right thing.

  3. I confronted exactly this situation when I left military practice to join a large civilian firm. Within twelve months I became aware that one of the senior equity partners was engaged in serial misconduct with firm paralegals and junior associates. I duly reported what I was hearing to my managing partner. To the firm’s everlasting credit, the management committee removed the bad guy, even though he accounted for nearly 5% of the firm’s net profitability. He was, of course, immediately hired by a competing firm, with no questions and no reported loss of compensation. But our firm culture remained intact and the morale of the associates working in that area brightened considerably.

    • In a firm I worked at, was even a partner, (Hah,) One of the name partners was boinking “his” paralegal. Insurance defense. His paralegal was making more money than some “junior partners.” Eventually, the paralegal’s husband, of all people, blew the whistle and the whole thing came crashing down. Just another episode in law firm ownership.

  4. And this is why we all keep coming back here, Jack. It’s a full scale ethics zombie apocalypse outside these virtual walls, and it’s so important to have somewhere to touch base with sane people. Even when we don’t agree or get along. Especially when we don’t agree or get along – we all still have the reluctance to join the ravening horde in common. I know you don’t hear it often enough, but thank you.

  5. Well, this is especially hard in large law firms because associates, paralegals, and other staff truly are expendable. I’m going to hazard a guess that less than 10% of first year associates become partner, and a slightly higher percentage become counsel. Whatever the exact number is, a large number of associates are encouraged (or forced) to leave by the time they become 8th or 9th years because there is only so much room at the top. Others will be lost through natural attrition — so associates and staff have little value. The rainmakers, however, have enormous value, and without them the whole law firm model will collapse — but the work to be done for those clients could be done by just about any associate. So, imagine you are an HR department at a law firm. Should your primary responsibility be to protect the firm/rainmakers (it’s the same thing) or the associates/staff who are easily replaceable? This is why “Me Too” hasn’t hit firms hard yet, and I will be surprised if it does. Most savvy lawyers simply leave a bad situation because they know little to nothing will happen if they inform their firm that Asshole Rainmaker is trying to sleep with them.

    • 8 or 9? In NJ it’s usually 6 and either be turned into a partner or be turned out. Some staff have more value than you might think, especially in the cities, where locals who can even speak English are hard to find, but not as much as they think they have. The only reason most secretaries who are no good stay longer than they should is that whoever they work for doesn’t want the headache of replacing them.

      The HR department’s responsibility is to protect the FIRM, and that includes protecting it from potentially ruinous lawsuits and bad publicity. Unfortunately, that’s why the pigs usually tolerate the law clerks or the very junior associates who are easily replaceable and worried about getting a reputation as troublemakers early on. The danger comes when some handsy partner thinks he is untouchable and tries for a more senior associate or a law clerk who is politically connected. The minute that first domino falls, everyone else he has mistreated will show up, and then the whole world will know exactly how this guy operates.

      On the other hand, there was the time this other attorney I know hired a new secretary who was beautiful in a trashy sort of way, and her husband, who was about 6’3″, built like Hulk Hogan, with tattoos all over his body, made a point of picking her up at the end of her first day, and introducing himself to the nebbishly lawyer with a deliberately bone-crushing handshake, with the unspoken message that “if anyone touches my squeeze, I’ll be waiting in the parking lot with a tire iron.” No one went near her, but she was sacked inside of a month for cursing out the partner when he asked her to type something she was unfamiliar with.

    • All true. I wonder whether academia doesn’t run on essentially the same Ponzi scheme like model. What percentage of graduate instructors make it to a tenured professorship? All I really know is law firms. Would be interesting to hear from some commentors with academic backgrounds about how these things work in academia. This from the Chronicle of Higher Education via Althouse: https://www.chronicle.com/interactives/harvard-harassment

      • My “All true” applied to Sparty’s summary. (Not that Steve’s comment isn’t true as well. He just snuck in ahead of me.)

  6. Because of the clients they serve and the amount of money involved, law firms are rife with these kinds of ethical issues. My all-time worst involved a very attractive female associate who caught the eye of the president of one of our significant clients. He began tasking her exclusively with work, as well as coming on to her. When she complained to us, we were faced with the Hobson’s choice of removing her from contact with the client, which would hurt her partnership chances significantly, and would anger the client, advising the client to keep his hands off her (with potentially the same result), or terminating her (with even worse results). She asked us to figure out some way that she could continue to work with the client, but without the harassment. Ultimately, the attorney with the closest relationship to the president sat down with him and explained the dilemma he was creating for us. We lost the client shortly after that, and the associate left us to go in- house at the same company within a year. Ugh.

  7. I have a few observations, from one who has never really rubbed elbows with law firms and lawyers in general.

    According to those who replied to the blog, many of whom claim to have first hand experience with the topic (not saying they don’t, just explaining what I am basing my observations upon) this sort of behavior is endemic in law firms, due to the nature of the beast as well as human nature (which does not change.) This looks like a cesspit, from where I sit.

    Now, the vast majority of those involved in our government come from law schools or are connected with that profession in some way economically. Government looks like a cesspit from where I sit as well.

    (It appears to me that the two might be related? Are we actually looking at the same cesspit?)

    Now, Academia has been purported to work in a similar fashion. I already thought of it as a cesspit before knowing the ‘inside baseball’ of the culture inherent in that system.

    We have recently learned that Hollywood is a cesspit, with the casting couch Exhibit A. #metoo

    Is the media the same way? Same ethics free rotting culture, looks like a cesspit these days, and so on? I tend to believe it is.

    If those who make our laws, report our news, educate (indoctrinate) our children, and present our entertainment all come from such a culture, is it any wonder that ethics does not exist except as a word in a dictionary for most common people?

    • BigLaw is hellish for many reasons, but truthfully the sexual harassment/discrimination isn’t even the main reason that it is so awful. I would rank the mental strain, hours, and asshole partners above the sexual harassment. (Wow, that’s so sad.) I think where you are going — and it’s true for any industry — is that power and money corrupts. For some people, I actually think it rewires their brains to think that their horrible behavior is some how alleviated by the fact that they are doing a greater good: for rainmakers (inside and outside law firms), it’s that they are employing dozens or hundreds of people; for legislators it’s that they are the makers of “good” laws that benefit many, so their individual conduct is irrelevant. The only difference between BigLaw and every other industry that protects its rainmakers is that BigLaw knows how to protect itself and destroy the plaintiff in the process. I’ll also add that the kinds of lawyers we are talking about here (BigLaw) are not usually the ones who go into government service (although there are exceptions of course).

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