When people apply for different jobs, or pursue various opportunities within the legal profession, they are generally asked to provide a few references so that potential employers can evaluate the background of a candidate. Most of the time, applicants list coworkers or former bosses who might be able to speak about what it was like to work with the candidate and whether the candidate produced solid work. However, in some instances, it might make sense for applicants to list adversaries in prior legal matters as references since they have a unique perspective on the abilities of a job candidate.
Earlier in my career, I worked with an adversary on an extremely contentious legal matter. The litigation was heated, and numerous motions, discovery demands, and other efforts were expended. I was extremely impressed with my adversary’s work and his ability to prepare documents in a relatively brief time. This adversary forced me to respond at the top of my game and taught me a few things about practicing in a jurisdiction in which I had less experience.
This adversary and I remained on good terms both throughout and after the litigation. I try to maintain solid relationships with adversaries since the legal community is small, and you never know when you might see someone again. Also, the legal profession is difficult enough without people making it harder with bad blood. In any case, after our matter resolved, I heard from my adversary out of the blue one day, asking to use me as a reference for various opportunities he had in the legal profession.
I immediately agreed, and I think I would be a great person for a future employer to speak with about this person’s work product. I have no reason to tell anything other than the truth that this attorney was excellent and kept me on my toes throughout the matter we were both handled. Moreover, a prospective employer can expect that I, as an adversary, would not simply provide nice words that I might convey for a coworker or a friend.
Beyond job opportunities, using adversaries as references can be helpful in other areas of the legal profession. A jurisdiction in which I practice has a coveted certification which comes with a number of benefits. A while back, I perused the application that candidates must submit to be considered for this certification. I was interested to see that the application also asked for adversaries with whom the applicant worked on various legal matters.
Perhaps the folks evaluating people’s credentials know that adversaries might provide the most honest and detailed assessment of someone’s skill such that they should be spoken to when determining if a candidate is worthy of a given credential within the legal profession. It is also possible that those evaluating candidates know that it is easy for applicants to find friends and coworkers who will say nice things about them, but it is far more difficult for an applicant to find adversaries who will reflect positively on their work.
All told, people should be nice to their adversaries, not only because it is the right thing to do in the legal profession, but because adversaries might be called on to comment about the skill and experience of a given practitioner within the legal profession. In a number of situations, adversaries have a unique perspective on a legal practitioner’s skill as well as their character when it comes to practicing law, which may be helpful when being considered for various opportunities.
Jordan Rothman is a partner of The Rothman Law Firm, a full-service New York and New Jersey law firm. He is also the founder of Student Debt Diaries, a website discussing how he paid off his student loans. You can reach Jordan through email at [email protected].