Tell me if this sounds familiar.
“Dear Friend, Family Member, Colleague, or Client,
I’m sorry I can’t make it to your sister’s barbeque this weekend. I’m sorry I missed that Little League game. I’m sorry I can’t play in our weekly pickup basketball game, and I’m sorry I’ve been such a jerk lately. I’m sorry my rates are so high, and I’m sorry for my partner’s behavior.
I have to prepare for this trial. I’m buried in work at the office. I’ve been so stressed out with these deadlines. My firm won’t let me lower my rates.
Can I get a raincheck? Can we catch up next week? Can you tell me about it when I get home?
I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
I hear about this all the time from successful, rainmaker partners who are at the wrong firms: They find themselves constantly apologizing to the most important people in their lives. To their spouses for missing family events. To their kids for breaking promises. Even to clients for partners’ missteps. But they don’t have to apologize to their friends anymore because their friends have stopped calling.
It strains personal relationships, undermines credibility, and steals time you should spend focused on your priorities.
So why does being a partner mean ALWAYS having to say you’re sorry? And how can you get off the apology tour?
Here’s the good news: There are common root causes, and understanding them can help you take actionable steps to ensure a more balanced, less apologetic work life.
So, Why Do Partners Apologize So Much?
We all know the legal profession is a demanding one. Sometimes, that means late nights at the office, unforeseen circumstances, or emergencies that come up at the last minute.
Things happen that are beyond your control. It’s a part of the job. When they do, apologies can be warranted.
But if you are a rainmaker with a book of business, you shouldn’t have to apologize. Your value to the firm means that you should be in charge of your career and your time.
The reasons partners spend so much time apologizing typically boil down to a few key factors, all of which you can address.
Lack of Support
You should have adequate resources to do your job efficiently. That means competent associates, technology that works for you, not against you, and other administrative functions in place, like marketing, accounting, secretarial support, recruiting, facilities, and IT.
Without this support, you can stretch yourself too thin, covering minutiae that you should be able to delegate, buried under work that shouldn’t be occupying your time, and shortchanging your relationships.
As a rainmaker, you deserve and have earned a high level of flexibility. This should include the freedom to negotiate rates with your clients. Likewise, it would be best to have the flexibility to staff matters as you see fit.
When you do not have latitude over things like billing rates, staffing decisions, and other policies, you lose some control over how you handle matters. This makes it harder to meet client demands and increases the odds of bad things happening. Naturally, missed expectations and more frequent apologies are quick to follow.
Toxic Firm Culture
Not everyone loves their job all the time. But at the right firm, you should at least LIKE it. If you’re a social person, that can mean looking forward to spending time with your colleagues. Or maybe you’re the kind of lawyer who just wants to get your work done and not feel pressured to go to a group lunch. At the right firm for you, that’s perfectly acceptable, too.
The law firm’s management team often dictates the culture — and at the right firm, management takes this role seriously. They keep their ear to the ground, work to keep morale high, care about your comfort and safety, encourage collaboration, and compensate fairly.
On the other hand, a terrible culture can make you miserable, stressed, unpleasant…and apologetic. When management focuses on revenue over all else, without regard for morale, partners’ well-being suffers. Leaders who fail to listen to partners’ needs or offer work-life balance support provoke more apologies.
Lack of Trust and Collaboration
Rainmakers need to trust their team and know that their partners have their back all the time, with no exceptions. In a perfect world, all partners view all clients as firm clients and are always willing to jump in.
We don’t live in a perfect world. However, you should at least be able to rely on your partners to handle a client relationship or matter for you as if it were their own. They should treat the client with respect, meet and beat deadlines, keep matters under budget, and be accessible and responsive. And the law firm’s compensation system should reward collaboration to incentivize this behavior.
The Wrong Firm
Of course, sometimes a firm’s culture isn’t objectively bad; it’s just the wrong fit for you. Some partners realize too late their personalities or priorities are incompatible with the expectations or culture of their current firm.
For instance, a partner who values work-life balance may struggle in a firm that prioritizes billable hours above all else. Conversely, a partner who thrives in a high-pressure, competitive environment may find themselves stifled in a laid-back, collegial firm.
It’s like wearing a suit that’s well-tailored but doesn’t fit your style. No matter how good it looks, it just doesn’t feel right. This can lead to dissatisfaction, frustration, decreased productivity, and burnout…not to mention lots of apologies.
The Costs of Constant Apologies Can Be Severe
From a business standpoint, your clients have limited patience. Sure, an occasional delay on a project is understandable and acceptable. But if this is the norm — missed deadlines, unreturned phone calls, rude or ineffective colleagues, and constant apologizing — the client will lose patience.
Don’t be surprised if they move on to another lawyer or law firm.
On the personal side, your relationships will be strained, causing additional stress or worse. This can cause family relationships to dissolve and your health to deteriorate.
Bottom line: You deserve better.
How Do You Escape the Apology Tour?
It doesn’t have to be this way. You don’t have to spend excessive time apologizing to people because of your job. As a rainmaker, you can take control of your career and practice law on your own fulfilling, rewarding terms, not remain stuck in an unhealthy apology loop.
You can do this by making a business case for your needs to your firm [so that your firm can give you what you need or finding your exact right, perfect fit firm if your current firm is unable to address the issues.
You owe it to yourself, loved ones, and clients to find a firm that empowers you to thrive with minimal regrets or apologies. A firm that allows you to be successful, productive, and HAPPY.
The right environment makes all the difference. Whatever that right environment looks like for you, it DOES exist. In fact, it’s my job to help you find it. I’m happy to help you think through your opportunities, whether it is with your current firm or finding a new one.