Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law: Does it Stand the Test of Time?

When Mark Herrmann’s attempt to play dutch uncle to every snot-nosed Biglaw wannabe first came out in 2006, the Jones Day partner and co-author of the Drug and Device Law blawg made sure that everybody who’s anybody got a copy to review.  I dutifully checked the mailbox every day, brushing the cobwebs out of the way, only to find a void.

Others, from Lattman (you remember him, don’t you? Dan Slater’s warm-up act?) at the WSJ Law Blog to Turk at the New York Personal Injury Law Blog, loved the book.  Now I can understand that Lattman got a copy, but Turkewitz too?  Even Anne at Court-o-Rama got one, and she doesn’t even practice.

I was pissed.  It’s not just that Herrmann blew me off, like I was some gob of goo on the sole of his Jones Day Biglaw partner Gucci loafers, but that he laid claim to being a curmudgeon.  A curmudgeon!  He wasn’t in the club.  Oh no, there was David Giacalone.  There was me.  There was no Mark “I’m such a big shot that I can’t be bothered sending Greenfield a book” Herrmann. For crying out loud, the guy’s from Cleveland!

But Herrmann has seen the light.  He’s a new man.  A visionary.  He finally sent me a copy.  I guess my original one got lost in the mail, right Herrmann?

The truth is, he wanted to join the Curmudgeon’s Club. Who doesn’t?  And his first step to membership was showing due respect to the real curmudgeons, that whippersnapper.
But this allowed me the opportunity to see if the Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law was a classic, or just another flash in the pan.  The problem, of course, is that the book has a great title, especially given that it’s published by the ABA, renown for its utter lack of humor and imagination.  Everybody loves a curmudgeon (especially cute young chicks), and Herrmann obviously tried to play the curmudgeon popularity card which, coupled with his boyish good looks, ensured him a few months of being the toast of every cocktail party in Cleveland.  Both of them, anyway.

But that’s not good enough for a classic.  A classic has to withstand the test of time, transcend the moment and carry its message to succeeding generations of lawyers with as much force and effect as it did on the day it was written.  Did Herrmann’s effort have the juice?

The Curmudgeon’s Guide is the sort of book that can be taken two ways.  On the surface, it’s just a darn good guide to some very basic rules for being a good lawyer.  Mark covers the essentials clearly and succinctly.  While some might think this is some Biglaw roadmap only, it’s how every lawyer should do the job.  These are the fundamentals of good lawyering that law school should, but never will, teach.  That’s why we have guys like Herrmann to fill the gap.

But on another level, the subtle humor and good nature of its presentation was brilliant.  For those associates who still watch Spongebob Squarepants, it probably won’t make a dent.  You’re not ready for it.  But for anyone who has shoes older than most first year associates, the wry wit that permeates the Guide will bring a twisted smile to your face.

It’s not laugh out loud funny.  It’s the sort of humor one finds from having lived, watched and experienced years of young lawyers who think they know it all get the occasional well-deserved smack.  Somebody has to tell them that they’re not as wonderful as their mommies have been assuring them all those years, and Herrmann does the job admirably.

Every law firm should have a partner like Mark Herrmann to mentor their youth and avoid the necessity of having to redo everything.  There aren’t enough Herrmann’s to go around, of course, which is why this Guide is so important.  For solos, read it because nobody every told you how to be a lawyer.  For Biglaw, buy a few hundred copies so you can hand them out to the next generation.  Don’t buy too many, however, since there’s no telling how long you’ll be around and it would be shame to waste them.

As for Herrmann, his membership application is currently under consideration.  So what, he wrote a good book.  There is still the little matter of sharing all the public adoration that comes with being a curmudgeon hottie.  We’re watching you carefully, Herrmann, and awaiting the invitation to the next cocktail party to be held in Cleveland, which should happen sometime in 2013.

6 thoughts on “Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law: Does it Stand the Test of Time?

  1. Colin Samuels

    My father-in-law has the worst of both worlds, I think; he is a firm administrator and, as such, his life is spent in the company of lawyers without the behavioral obliviousness which comes with one’s JD. That he gave me a copy of this book recently indicates that its wit and wisdom finds a broader audience than that comprised of Big Law attorneys. You’re correct that it will have the most meaning for attorneys will a few miles on them, but it’s also of value for others — administrators and paralegals particularly — whose professional fates depend in part on us getting our act together and finding a sensible way to practice law in a firm (of any size), in a company, or on our own. It’s not a complete solution (it doesn’t intend to be), but it’s a useful piece of work and is cheap at twice the price, considering the advice practicing attorneys get from most practice consultants. Curmudgeon or not, he knows how to play the game the right way.

  2. Anne

    In fairness to curmudgeons everywhere, I was at NCSC at the time. I met Mr. Herrmann at an ABA thing on mass torts. Perhaps I came off as a bit more of a curmudgeon than usual in that setting? Either way, I received many books, many of which were ultimately destined for the NCSC library.

  3. SHG

    So you really aren’t a curmudgeon.  Curmudgeon’s don’t care when people move from Cleveland to Chicago.  We pick the city we can best make fun of and stick with it.

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