Book Review: Mark Herrmann’s Inside Straight

Let me be clear that I have long been a huge fan of Mark Herrmann. I liked him when he was a blogger at Drug & Device Law with Jim Beck.  I loved the Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law.  And we’ve become blogging buddies, meaning that he sends me emails if not business. 

When Mark left Jones Day to go in-house, I figured I’d heard the last of him. After all, after your pulse drops below 27, death can’t be far behind.  Then he re-emerged in the most unlikely of places, Above the Law, where he did a column ominously named “Inside Straight.”  Questions about sexual preference quickly put to rest, Mark once again assumed the mantle of mentor for the unemployed yet arrogant readers of ATL, providing them with insight of which they were terminally unworthy.

And now it’s a book.

The book opens with a Foreward by the guy whose blogging career began by looking underneath the robes of the judiciary, hoping to find the next “judicial hottie,” David Lat.  It’s a surprisingly honest portrayal of the early days of what is certainly the most successful law blog, and a mini-history of how it has come from juvenile snark and scatological jokes to that plus columns by someone as worthy of your attention as Herrmann.

The Preface lapses into typical Herrmann humble, explaining the concept of the book.  This is critical, as this book reflects what I submit will be a new genre, converting the content of a blog into a book which, as Mark states, is an honest reflection of not only what appeared online, but which maintains the flavor of online discourse.

When Mark let me know that he was sending me a free review copy, he asked whether I thought his idea worked, whether he pulled it off.  Not only do I think he did, but he did so spectacularly.  This is the model for all future books based upon content created for the blogosphere.

The book consists of select ATL columns, slightly altered to deal with the differences in format (such as the obvious inability to include hot links on dead trees), reorganized so that things that go together, but appeared online at disparate times, make sense.  In fairness, I’m an avid reader of Mark’s column, and read most of this when it first appeared.  The test of true value is whether it’s still a good read the second time around.

Mark’s posts, much like the Curmudgeon’s Guide, offer thoughts and advice that can be read on two levels.  On the surface, they offer fairly basic thoughts that reflect sound judgment and seasoned experience, such as outside counsel hopefuls pitching for business aren’t going to get anywhere by telling why they’re exactly the same as everyone else.  On a deeper level, however, it’s a metaphor for the failure of legal marketing in general.  Most of Mark’s in-house observations remain true for all of us, from solo criminal defense lawyers to, well, who cares. Everybody.

But aside from his columns, this book goes where no book has gone before, and this is where it gets really interesting.  After each column, Mark includes a selection of comments that were actually left at ATL.  Now if you haven’t bothered with ATL, let me warn you. The comments are an exercise in which unemployed snot-nosed kid can outsnark the others. They’re sometimes funny, in the way that watching a Jackass movie is funny, but always offensive.

And Mark put them in his book.

Not every comment is included, and some of the most venal and abusive are omitted, but there is no shortage of comments ridiculing Mark and his writing.  I will never forget his inaugural column, producing such gems as:

Inhouseguest: Lat, fire this moron. as an in-house attorney i can assure you that when the company randomly brings in some former partner douchebag to head the department, the general reaction is that this douchebag is completely out of touch and overcompensated. he’s a puppet for the board to play with, and is extremely well paid in stock options for the privilege. he has no [fucking] clue what the real in-house attorneys deal with on a daily basis, the ways in which our clients [piss us off] annoy us, the the things we love about our jobs, etc.

As an aside, talk about poor [fucking] judgment. The guy wasn’t hired to be celubutard blogger. Anything interesting he writes will cause us to pass judgments on him as a professional, in his current role, or on his colleagues, etc. There’s just no [fucking] up-side. which means he craves fame [he’s a fame whore] (he clearly doesn’t need the money, even if you’re offering it) who wants to prove how cool he is. i predict major failure.

Note that the printed version is a tad cleaner than the original, but since this is published by the ABA Section on Litigation, and nobody there has ever uttered a curse, it’s completely understandable that the editors felt it crucial to shield your eyes from such naughtiness.

Sure, there are also comments that are supportive, and the rare thoughtful comment that appears by accident at ATL (thus subjecting its author to being ridiculed as Mark’s mother), but it provides the flavor of life at Above the Law, nastiness and all.

This is the future, people.  This book provides the path for transitioning the wealth of online content, the vast font of substance created hourly, to a more organized and accessible medium.  There is a ton of great ideas on the internet (as well as many more tons of utter crap), and this book shows that it can be find a place on your bookshelf, all in one place and packaged in a way that retains its unique flavor.

Inside Straight is a very quick read, replete with Herrmann’s hallmark humor and humility.  Mark has inspired me on more than one occasion to riff off his thoughts, and given me a framework to think about some really important ideas.  Most significantly, Mark Herrmann is the real McCoy, and that he has once again laid himself bare for our benefit makes this book worth your time.  Get it. Read it. Enjoy it, but learn from it.

9 thoughts on “Book Review: Mark Herrmann’s Inside Straight

  1. Venkat

    Is there a Simple Justice book in the future?

    I’m not sold on the idea of reading these ATL columns as a book. His column is great, and his writing on blogging is some of the best blog posts ever, but a book? More like a pamphlet?

  2. SHG

    Before online content can be transmorgraphied into a book, there has to be a critical mass of substance that makes it worth the effort (both of creating and reading). I think Mark has reached that point. Whether the same can be said of others, I dunno.

  3. Jason Wilson

    Hmmm, this format seems so familiar to me….

    It’s clearly going to take Venkat a while come around to the idea of a compendium of blog posts and comments. I think one point worth mentioning here is the fact that few people go back and reread old posts, which still have a great deal of value today.

  4. SHG

    A very important point. When someone “discovers” a blawg, they may check older posts on the main page, but rarely would anyone go back to the beginning and start there.  That means there’s a whole lot of content unread by a whole lot of people.  If vetted, organized, cleaned up and repackaged, it’s like a whole new thing.  A book, perhaps?

  5. Luke Gardner

    Just marvelous! Yesterday I ended up buying “Silenced” from your TWA 800 post link. Now I have to buy this book too! You’ll end up bankrupting me before Obama can. I hope at least you’re getting commissions.

  6. Venkat

    You guys are both invited to my next (e-)book release party. I’m also working on a “book” about social media. It will be a collection of my social media advice tweets (compiled and curated).

Comments are closed.