Old, Cranky and Dumber Than Dirt

There are curmudgeons, and there are people who play curmudgeon on the internet. Under the pseudonym, Otto Sorts, someone is pretending to be a curmudgeon at a marketeering/futurist blog called Attorney At Work.

Otto Sorts has been reading law since before Martindale met Hubbell. Of Counsel at a large corporate firm that prefers to remain anonymous, Otto is a respected attorney and champion of the grand tradition of the law. He is, however, suspicious of “new-fangled” management ideas and anyone who calls the profession the legal “industry.” When he gets really cranky about something he blogs here at Attorney at Work.

At a large firm “that prefers to remain anonymous”?  Perhaps because the firm’s primary office is in Bangalore?  The problem, aside from the ability to use moderately correct English, is that this strikes me as a lie, a phony, where the marketeers have created a fictional old man as a foil to their attempt to convince youngsters to love and appreciate their “new fangled” ways.

I wouldn’t have known about this scam blog but for the ABA Journal’s blog whisperer mentioning a post, where this phony curmudgeon

…wonders whether his resistance to this idea and others is actually wisdom or just weariness. “Have I … seen too much to be able to try something new again? Have I experienced so much that I can only see the possibility of failure?”

He concludes he should look back on his past experiences more critically, share his criticisms more diplomatically and “try a little attitude adjustment and be more positive. Hey, why not enjoy things rather than carp about them? Nobody likes grumpy old bastards, and I don’t like being one.”

This is akin to a twelve-year-old’s view of old people, feeding into every baby lawyer’s perception of the old lawyer in the corner office who doesn’t appreciate how brilliant they are after two full weeks as a lawyer?  Yeah, right.

Remember when perky entrepreneurial lawyer Rachel Rodgers proclaimed that ethics was just a weapon used by old lawyers to put the upstarts down?  At least she was sufficiently forthright to put her name to her ridiculousness.  This scam blog has no shame at all, which is unsurprising given its purpose, but that the ABA Journal would stamp its imprimatur on it is disturbing.

There’s an adage, the only thing worse than a young fool is an old fool.  Age doesn’t make one wise. Learning from experience does, and one of the things one learns from experience is to appreciate new ideas.  But it also means recognizing the difference between good ideas and bad ones.

Sure, an old guy can get grumpy listening to a young buck enthusiastically express an idea that has been tried, and failed, 428 times before.  The young buck thinks he’s onto something brilliant, novel, disruptive.  The old guy knows differently, not because he’s jealous of the new lawyer’s genius or fresh view of the world, but because he’s been there before.

One name for the experience gained over years is institutional memory.  Just because it’s new to you doesn’t mean it’s new.  It just means you are unaware of the fact that your pimply-faced predecessors already came up with it, every year since Nixon was in office.  It reminds me of the advertising slogan for summer reruns, “if you missed it the first time, it’s new to you.”  For the rest of us, it’s just reruns.

But what’s the harm?  That’s what my fellow curmudgeon, Mark Herrmann, addressed when he explained that experience has taught us that things go wrong.  We don’t live in Lake Wobegone, where everybody is above average.  The problems you dismiss as “ain’t gonna happen” are the problems we’ve seen happen, and we’ve had to fix.  If we can.  The first time an idea that seemed so good goes so bad is a shock.  The one hundredth time, not so much.

So the phony Otto Sorts asks whether it’s wisdom or just weariness.

Oh, I admit I was a little hard on my colleagues, but in my defense, their idea was an old one we tried years ago to no avail.

Still, I guess they felt I was a bit harsh in the process of shooting it down (again), because when I left the room, I overheard one of the younger guys comment, “Well, isn’t he the cranky old bastard!”

Style points aside, how do you determine whether your experience is relevant and your so-called wisdom needed? Maybe you’re just tired of fighting the same old battles. At what point is our resistance more about our own weariness than about the idea actually being a bad one?

He “answers” his own questions in three parts.

First, I think I need to be more critical of my own experiences — and look realistically at what I’ve done and what the circumstances and my frame of mind were at the time. I remember not being afraid to fail. Now, I feel more tentative, or less willing to stick my neck out. I can fix that.

This conflates two separate problems. The first is that he suggests he’s been unrealistic about himself. If so, then what this phony response suggests is “don’t be blind.” Great advice. Kinda universal, like don’t eat anything bigger than your head. Also, totally unhelpful, but it serves only to lead into the marketeering message: stick your neck out and don’t be afraid to fail.

This is a common lie perpetuated by those who fail for a living.  Lawyers can fail all they want when it’s only their skin in the game.  Lawyers cannot throw caution to the wind to try some shiny new idea, and fail at the expense of clients.  If the “don’t be blind” advice is taken to heart, then the “don’t be afraid to fail” advice is shown to be the lie.

Second, I need to share my “wisdom” in ways that are easier for the youngsters to hear. Pull more, push less. Give others the benefit of the doubt and let them take the leaps they aren’t afraid to try. Then when it works, make sure they get the credit. And if it fails, be willing to step in and share the pain.

Give the kids tummy rubs because it makes them feel better about themselves and doesn’t hurt their feelings.  There is an industry that provides seminars on how to do this, though you can pretty much learn all you need to know in this video.

I just saved you $25,000. You owe me.

Lastly, I shouldn’t allow my years of experience to weigh me down. I’ll try a little attitude adjustment and be more positive…See the sunshine, not the shade. Even eat more bran, if that’s what it takes.

I suspect whoever is pretending to be this curmudgeon at this scam blog has already eaten way more bran than anyone ever should, which is how they’ve managed to cram this much excrement into one place.

That the internet provides a place to spew nonsense is nothing new or surprising.  That it encourages stupidity isn’t novel either.  But when it fosters, through sources like the ABA Journal which are presumed by the unwashed to be credible, young lawyers ignoring the experiences of those who have wiped away their tears after their brilliant ideas have destroyed other people’s lives, by caricatures of stupid, grumpy old guys, it does harm.

One of the lessons curmudgeons teach is to first do no harm.

12 thoughts on “Old, Cranky and Dumber Than Dirt

  1. Jake DiMare

    Forgive the non sequitur, but this reminded me of my first agency job.

    There was a really, really old guy who had a title like: ‘of counsel’ and his name was on the door. All us young web developers (who were so young we didn’t even know we were in marketing) thought he was out of his mind because he didn’t have a computer in his office and he had his own secretary -who he referred to as his secretary…You get the point.

    If you saw him in the office kitchen you might say something like: ‘Hey Sandy! Happy Friday!’ and he’d turn, look at you…Or more like sort of look past you with one eye and let that other weird cloudy eye land on your forehead for a second and say: “Yes, it’s Friday. And do you know what that means…Whoever you are? Only two days left to work this week!”

    If he came up in conversation over the long lunches we always took because it was the 90’s and the lack of web developers made us all feel like we were worth more than than one of the guys whose name is on the door, we’d laugh about him, label him a Luddite and talk about how he ‘doesn’t get it’.

    I wish I asked that guy more questions while I worked there.

    1. SHG Post author

      You weren’t ready to ask him questions then, and even if you did, you weren’t ready to appreciate the answers. Now you are, but now you’ve gained experience.

  2. Wheeze the People™

    So you’re saying I can eat my own head?? Or a piece of head cheese the size of my head?? Or do you mean someone else’s head no bigger than my own?? Frankly, your post raises more questions than it answers but it is provocative . . .

      1. Wheeze the People™

        That cartoon reminds me — never ask a genie for a little head, even if she’s a 10 . . .

  3. RAFIV

    “I remember not being afraid to fail. Now, I feel more tentative, or less willing to stick my neck out. I can fix that.”

    So he’s the supervising attorney who sent the kid on that routine motion to compel week late discovery from the Commonwealth complete with a request for sanctions. The Judge loved the request for a BBO referral and mandatory CLE training on week late discovery.

  4. Anonymous

    I came here via Strike Lawyer, who wrote that this post shows that your complaints about young lawyers show that you don’t get it. Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t understand why.

    1. SHG Post author

      I’m afraid that I can’t explain what runs through Strike Lawyer head. John struggles with his own demons, and for acceptance within the legal community. I wish him the best with the former, but fear he will never achieve the latter.

  5. Boris

    There is no Otto. If you go to the “About” section of the website, you will see that an entire team of writers is behind the blog.

    From the website:

    Behind Attorney at Work
    Attorney at Work was created by a team of practice management experts and communicators who, in concert with experts from around the globe, seek to offer all sorts of handy and valuable resources and sources of inspiration for enterprising lawyers.

    1. SHG Post author

      Obviously. But one of the marketeers is feigning the curmudgeon role, and doing so poorly. That’s the point. It’s a sham.

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