What is a frenemy in the legal world?

Law Firm frenemyIn any area of life, you have friends and you, unfortunately, probably have some people you would consider to be enemies.  Truth be told: In law firm land, it is not any different.

Friends are obviously people who have your back.  Friends root for you to do well.  Friends are happy when things are going well for you and your law firm.  They want to see you and your firm do well.  They offer truthful constructive criticism with the goal of improving your law firm and you as a lawyer.

Friends like this are invaluable.  Friends like this can be other lawyers who may have the same or similar experience as a lawyer or law firm owner as you do.  Friends are often other attorneys who went to law school with a lawyer.  Friends are people who you have developed a good rapport with over time.  And, in some instances, a friend like this can be a lawyer who has more experience and is a mentor.  The reality is that we all need friends in life.  And this is also true in law firm and lawyer land.

Unfortunately, it is virtually impossible not to develop some enemies over time as a lawyer or law firm owner.  You might just not jive with certain attorneys or law firms.  In many of these instances, this can happen between competing law firms and lawyers.  It can happen when lawyers and law firms are marketing for the same cases.  It can happen when lawyers or a law firm litigate a difficult case and things get a little too personal.  And it can happen when different firms just have different philosophies and outlooks.

Obviously, a lawyer should avoid trying to have enemies.  It’s certainly better when lawyers and law firm can work together in a professional manner with the idea that it isn’t easy running a law firm or being a lawyer.  And the hope is that most will not hold grudges and can be professionals.  Having said that, it is probably impossible not to develop some enemies over time.  And if you have one, they generally are not hard to identify.

But an even tougher situation is identifying who are your frenemies.  Frenemies are not friends or enemies in the true sense of those definitions.  They are not necessarily looking out for you.  They do not necessarily have your best interests in mind.  They might give you feedback.  But the feedback might be backhanded and not with the intention of helping you.  And if you succeed, your frenemies might offer some congratulatory words.  But in the end, frenemies are not necessarily happy for you.

On the other hand, frenemies are not generally openly hostile.  If you see a frenemy in court or elsewhere, they will generally appear happy to see you.  They might engage in conversation with you.  They might exchange pleasantries with you.  And they might truly not desire that you fail at the same time like an enemy would.  But they are not necessarily rooting for you, either.  Frenemies might even say things behind your back, be envious, gossip or be critical when you are not around.

A lawyer or law firm owner can and should certainly maintain a friendly relationship with a frenemy in the legal world.  The reality is that frenemies are fairly common in the legal industry, especially amongst attorneys and law firms who practice in the same or similar areas of law.  But a shrewd lawyer or law firm owner should not fully trust or confide in them at the same time for advice or mentorship like they would a friend.  A shrewd lawyer knows the difference between a friend and a frenemy.

The reality is that a successful lawyer or law firm owner is generally able to identify who their friends, enemies and frenemies are and then proceed accordingly.  While on the surface some lawyers might think this is overly cynical, and the lines not always clear, developing some street smarts as a lawyer or law firm owner is essential to having a successful career.

If you have any thoughts, feel free to share them below.

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