This week saw the season premiere of the still-successful CBS reality show Survivor. Remarkably, this is the series' 24th season; CBS has aired two seasons every year since 2000. (If you haven't seen the show, well, where've you been? Don't worry, though: I wrote about it over at Gruntled Employees back in 2010 — "Why employment law is like "Survivor.")
An interesting and unfortunate thing happened during the first "immunity challenge" between the two tribes, who this season are split along gender lines. The challenge featured a difficult obstacle course that began with a leap from a 25-foot platform onto a net. One of the female contestants, Kourtney, broke her wrist on the net. Host Jeff Probst suspended the challenge so that the medical team could attend to her. When she had to be airlifted to a hospital, Probst gave the male tribe a choice.
Since the challenge required that all tribe members complete the obstacle course, Kourtney's injury and withdrawal (both from the challenge and then from the game itself) meant that the male tribe would win by default. But if they wanted to earn some goodwill with the female tribe, the men could choose to resume the challenge and finish it without Kourtney.
The men (not unanimously) chose to take the win. In explaining their decision, they focused on the fact that "Survivor" is a game and the goal is to win. Fair enough. But Probst noted that throughout the history of the game, douchey moves (it's possible he didn't say "douchey") like this end up earning paybacks later on. Contestants often forget that "Survivor" is a social game, with the winner being chosen by a jury made up of contestants who had been previously screwed over.
Lawyers make this kind of mistake all the time — especially younger lawyers. They fall into the mistaken mindset that litigation is all about winning, and that your job as a "zealous advocate" means that you need to secure every advantage for your client. But like "Survivor," law is also a social game. Your reputation, and thus your ability to well represent that client and other clients in the future, depends on how others react to the douchey moves you make in the interest of winning.
And this holds true in other areas of the law besides litigation. Contract negotiations, divorce law, real-estate dealings, criminal law … you name it. It's important for lawyers to help their clients as best they can. But that doesn't necessarily mean squeezing every last advantage out of the other side, especially when doing so could lead to payback later on.