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The Lawyer Personalities That Make Up Joint Interest Groups

October 5, 2022

By George Reede, Jr.

To read this article in PDF format, click here.

In the 2005 biography "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln" by Doris Kearns Goodwin,[1] we read of Lincoln's masterful assembly of the disparate personalities that formed his Cabinet — leaders who, despite their competitive nature, somehow teamed up to lead the Union to victory in the Civil War.

Of course, what makes the story of Lincoln's Cabinet so noteworthy is the difficulty of Lincoln's task. We all know from experience that such success stories are relatively rare.

Joint interest groups — or joint representation groups — face similar challenges. In multiparty litigation, attorneys from different firms find themselves on the same side of a case, sharing knowledge, resources, experts and strategy.[2] A 2006 paper by Mark Fitzsimmons and Theresa Queen compared it to "love among porcupines," requiring "coordination, cooperation and compromise."[3]

Potentially divergent interests and strategies make collaboration difficult from the outset. "Throw in high stakes, high pressure, hubris, and a lot of thorny spikes, and you will need a rather large bottle of Love Potion Number 9 to make any kind of magic happen," Fitzsimmons and Queen wrote.[4]

The tidal wave of COVID-19 insurance coverage litigation has put our teamwork abilities to the test — on both sides of the issue — far more than usual.

Multidistrict litigation has required policyholder firms to coordinate class actions from around the country, and on the defense side, many claims large enough to implicate the primary and excess layers of coverage have prompted insurers to retain counsel from different firms for the same claim.

Competitors have consequently found themselves working together regularly, and some of us are better prepared for this than others.

If the culture and compensation structure of your firm naturally encourages teamwork, this group dynamic is nothing new. Others are not so fortunate. If you operate in a cutthroat environment within your firm, and struggle to work with your own partners, how can you suddenly become a team player with attorneys from competing firms?

With these dynamics and tensions as our backdrop, we turn to the personalities that make up our joint interest groups. You will no doubt recognize lawyers you know, or for the self-aware among us, perhaps you will recognize yourself.

Most of these personalities can be found in any collection of people forced to work together. Some are constructive and a pleasure to work with. Some are annoying, or just amusing. Some will make you glad you became a lawyer, and others will make you wish you had gone to med school like your mother told you.

Some will help you win — or make you lose.

The Philosopher King

A philosopher king, Plato's ideal ruler, is both a politician and a philosopher, combining power and authority with exceptional knowledge and wisdom.[5] One rarely sees this hypothetical combination in the real world, but a degree of both is certainly desirable.

Every group benefits from having a true philosopher king — one leader who naturally engenders respect. These attorneys have the expertise, experience and client base that make even the most independent-minded among us stop, listen and usually follow their lead. As a result, they are uniquely gifted at herding cats — an indispensable talent needed to focus and unify any group.

Some consider themselves a philosopher king without cause, purporting to dispense great wisdom — but without knowledge. The ego outpaces the resume, so to speak, and they often seek an outsized role in the group.

A polite, behind-the-scenes intervention from an actual philosopher king may encourage such lawyers to play a productive, proportionate role as a part of the team.

Job – as in, the Patience of

In the biblical story of Job, we see a person losing almost everything he loved. And yet Job persevered, patiently tolerating seemingly inexplicable suffering, without knowing the hidden purposes behind it all.

Job is the archetype for patience that none of us wants to emulate, but we know life will require the virtue whether we like it or not.

For lawyers tasked with leading a joint interest group, their turn has come. They must quietly listen during interminable conference calls, ensuring that everyone has an opportunity to be heard — even, to a degree, the chatterbox, mentioned below.

Similarly, the lawyer who volunteers to be first pen on a motion must endure many rounds of edits — even those of the editor-in-chief, introduced below, who cannot resist moving so much as a semicolon. And when it comes time to choose who will argue the motion, that same lawyer must patiently listen as others lobby to argue the motion they toiled over.

Truth be told, we all need to extend grace to each other for these groups to work. And that will require patience.

The Synthesizer

This tactful personality has been described as gentle and patient, someone who believes integrating and reconciling their colleagues' opinions is worth the time and trouble.[6] Such people are able to listen and understand the discordant voices in a group and then develop a consensus that satisfies nearly everyone.

Recall your last group call, or perhaps the last round of editing on a motion. When competing strategies surfaced, did the veneer of civility wear off? Did open warfare break out? Or was a synthesizer able to translate and express the competing views, diffuse the tension, and ultimately unify the group around a singular strategy?

We all know the importance of a unified front. Without a synthesizer, a group can splinter into competing camps, allowing your real opponent to divide and conquer in the courtroom.

The Local

Lincoln first met his future secretary of war, Edwin Stanton, in 1855, when Lincoln was retained to serve as Stanton's local counsel in Illinois in a patent infringement case involving inventor Cyrus McCormick. When the case was transferred to Ohio, and Lincoln's services were no longer required, no one told Lincoln.

According to a 1962 biography of Stanton by Benjamin Thomas and Harold Hyman, when Lincoln met Stanton's team in Cincinnati, Stanton was "rude, snobbish, and supercilious toward the unknown Lincoln," and completely ignored him for the balance of the proceedings — although Lincoln was paid for his time.[7]

Suffice to say, this is not the role one aspires to as local counsel. In the worst scenarios, local counsel feels like nothing more than an unavoidable but necessary signature on the pleadings. That is a serious mistake for all involved.

We should be hiring local counsel for more than just getting our ticket punched in a given jurisdiction. They know the idiosyncrasies of their judges, and the proclivities of their juries. They know their way around the courthouse — both literally and figuratively. And they know local practice and procedure, including the rules within the rules that a transient lawyer will only find out about when it is too late.

A local should be a valuable and trusted asset for your team. Do not leave them on the sidelines.

Don Quixote – as in, Tilting at Windmills

The expression "tilting at windmills" comes from the classic story in which Don Quixote, in his delusional yet chivalrous quest, attacks windmills in the firm belief they are actually monsters.[8] Today, we tilt at windmills when we "use time and energy to attack an enemy or problem that is not real or important," according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary.[9]

We have Don Quixotes among us. In the all-hands-on-deck environment of COVID-19 coverage litigation, lawyers new to property insurance coverage have been thrust into battle. Many learn quickly, and prove to be welcome contributors with a fresh perspective. Others do battle with imaginary monsters: They see claims and defenses where none exist, and miss the ones more experienced coverage attorneys instinctively identify.

These quests can do real damage to the credibility of the group when a misguided battle extends to the courtroom. If gentle persuasion will not bring them to their senses, the group will need to distance itself from these modern-day knights and let them fend for themselves.

The Lone Wolf

Principled independence can be a good thing. Stubborn insistence on doing things your own way, perhaps not so much. It is this second breed of lone wolf who poses a threat in a team of rivals.

Advancing our client's cause is the prime directive, and that may sometimes require leaving the pack and going it alone. However, when interests are aligned and opinions differ, some degree of humility and respect is essential for unified action.

If you cannot at least entertain the idea that you could be wrong, that someone else has a better idea, or that they may be better equipped than you to take the lead, you are likely a lone wolf.

Ultimately, ego renders a lone wolf incapable of deference. They may be a part of the pack — but they will never be a part of the team.

The Editor-in-Chief

Our perceived IQ drops in the eyes of the reader with every uncaught grammatical or spelling error, and a few sharp-eyed proofreaders can save us much embarrassment. More substantively, a really good first draft can become an exceptional final product with a new, creative argument, or a more persuasive turn of a phrase.

Self-appointed editors-in-chief go far beyond these constructive revisions. The only right style is their style. Thus, no first draft survives their review unscathed.

Every wave of edits prompts still more edits from them until, out of some combination of sheer exhaustion or apathy, the rest of the group yields to their choice of font or format. Adding insult to injury, the editor-in chief often finds a way to make one last round of edits shortly after the rest of us obtain client approval or just hours before the motion is due.

Editors-in-chief test our patience, but their changes are often harmless. When it comes to substance, however, we need to draw the line; otherwise, we effectively grant them veto power over the group's written product.

The Chatterbox

A chatterbox — put succinctly — is "one who engages in much idle talk," according to Merriam-Webster.[10]

Ironically, little need be said about these people. As you read this, you no doubt recall your last conference call. Once again, the chatterbox diverted the group's attention, chasing the ball all over the field while the rest of you, like pre-K soccer players, were forced to follow en masse. The exasperated person leading the group could do little but wait until the chatterbox ran out of breath.

As with the editor-in-chief, patience is the only known, polite antidote. That, and perhaps a strong cup of coffee.

The Opportunist

Joint interest groups offer certain efficiencies. For example, you have the luxury of sharing the workload with other firms, and need not do everything yourself. Our clients should be the winners since legal costs are necessarily shared as well.

The opportunist does not see it that way. In their view, the big case justifies staffing it as if they were the only policyholder or defense firm involved, regardless of their client's relative interests in the case. The result is unnecessary and duplicative work — and disproportionate billing.

A word of caution to the opportunists among us: The group is watching, and they know what you are doing. Eventually, your client will catch on too.


The possible combinations of these personalities are many. For example, a team with a philosopher king, a Job and a synthesizer is a wonderful thing. A Don Quixote, a lone wolf and an editor-in chief together, on the other hand, would be a danger to themselves and others.

You can no doubt think of other personalities that populate our groups, for good or ill. And we all have our issues. But if our clients' interests remain paramount, and with healthy doses of humility, mutual respect and patience, we can work together effectively.

Rivals can become our allies. And we might even enjoy it. Now, if I could just get off this interminable conference call.

George E. Reede Jr. is a partner at Zelle LLP.

The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of their employer, its clients, or Portfolio Media Inc., or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.

[1] Goodwin, Doris Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2006.

[2] Fitzsimmons, Mark, and Queen, "Love Among Porcupines: Maintaining Healthy Relationships with Co-counsel in the Prickly Context of Complex Toxic Tort Litigation Through Joint Defense and Joint Counsel Relationships," SL080 ALI-ABA 143 (January 26- 27, 2006).

[3] Id. ("It has been said that the propagation of the porcupine species is a complicated and difficult, but very necessary task. Litigators in complex toxic tort suits must be equally judicious when courting and consummating relationships in joint defense arrangements").

[4] Id.

[5] Plato's The Republic. New York: Books, Inc., 1943.

[6] Dunn, "The four workplace personalities, and how to win over each of them," The Sydney Morning Herald, April 28, 2019. relationships/the-four-workplace-personalities-and-how-to-win-over-each-of-them- 20190424-p51grr.html. Accessed 15 Sep. 2022.

[7] Thomas, Benjamin, and Hyman, Lincoln: The Life and Time of Lincoln's Secretary of War. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1962, pp. 64-66.

[8] de Cervantes, Don Quixote. Translated by P. A. Motteaux. Wordsworth Editions, 1992.

[9] "Tilt at " Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://dictionary/tilt%20at%20windmills. Accessed 14 Sep. 2022.

[10] "Chatterbox." Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 15 Sep. 2022.

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