Nice is Not a Four Letter Word

I am appointments chair for the second year in a row (aah!) and, after returning from Washington DC last week and starting the process of making further decisions, have been focusing just a bit on the character of any new faculty that we would bring on. It reminded me of two great books that I read this past summer—The Power of Nice by marketing gurus Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval and The No-Asshole Rule by Stanford business school professor Robert Sutton. I read them with an eye toward what they can tell us about appropriate negotiation behavior and there are some very good lessons for all of us. Both books have their own blog links (linked above) and some interesting links for lawyers.

We know that irritating and hostile behavior is less effective in negotiations and that law students tend to learn this over time. As Professor Melissa Nelken has written, law students are much more competitive than actual lawyers. The myth of how we need to behave (as a jerk) in order to get what we want might be perpetuated in law school but experienced lawyers know full well that they will get more when they cooperate with the other side.

Which brings me back to hiring…do we think about the character of the law professors we are hiring? Do we think about the lessons in these books? I do in two ways. First, for a school known for its collegiality (and it’s not just the marketing!) I see no contradiction between academic excellence and cordial behavior. In fact, one could argue (as Sutton does) that those organizations that have to spend time dealing with their internal issues are far less productive (Sutton even includes a TCA—total cost of assholes—chart for your organization to figure out how much this costs!) If law faculties, like any other organization, have to deal with the politics and stresses of jerk-like behavior, my guess is that faculty also have less time to write.

Second, given that we see law students acting (or assuming they must act) in a more competitive manner than need be, I wonder who teaches them this? Is this self-selection and assumptions about law school? Is this watching too much Paper Chase? Or is this law faculty who, having not practiced law for some time, conveying false impressions about what it is actually like to practice law and to negotiate? I don’t know but I am curious….

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