Book review: The Curmedgeon
Book review: The Curmedgeon
By Lois Casaleggi, University of Chicago Law School, Posted June 2008
The conventional wisdom is that law school teaches you to think like a lawyer but doesn’t teach you how to be a lawyer. In The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law, Mark Herrmann has stepped into the shoes of The Curmudgeon—an experienced lawyer who is not afraid to be direct with his audience—to provide a handbook to fill that void.
Herrmann has been practicing law for more than twenty years and is currently a partner with Jones Day. Writing as The Curmudgeon, Herrmann takes his years of experience and his keen sense of humor and applies them to the task of providing advice and tips that many partners would like new lawyers to understand. Give associates a copy of this book, and let The Curmudgeon do the hard work for you.
The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law is a straightforward, practical instruction manual that new associates would be well served to read and take to heart. While a good portion of the book is litigation focused, much of the advice is applicable for all new lawyers. In fact, this book touches on many areas of complaint that we hear in discussions of generational differences in the practice, and it can be seen as a playbook for teaching Millennials in the profession how to work with, and impress the Baby Boomers and Generation Xers to whom they report.
The need for self-discipline is emphasized throughout the book. The Curmudgeon expects associates working for him to care about the work and the clients as much as he does, and associates should edit their work for both substance and style. Topic sentences, proper grammar, and correct spelling all matter, and The Curmudgeon makes it very clear that if he is forced to edit a memorandum or brief because the associate did not do so, he will not be happy and will not want to work with that associate again.
In addition to emphasizing the importance of editing a document, he reminds the reader that he or she must be able to provide a work product that is impeccable and trustworthy. He takes head on the idea that marking a document as a “Draft” provides protection for the author, swiftly dismissing the illusion that providing a “Draft” allows the associate to renounce the materials if the reviewing attorney criticizes the work. “Keep it. Stuff it. I don’t need garbage with an apology. I need answers.” In the chapter on how to write, he provides a “magic formula” for writing a brief and sets forth the proper way to discuss a case. In fewer than ten pages, he gives enough instruction to correct one of the most common criticisms of associate writing, which is that the associate writes like a law student.
The Curmudgeon clues readers in to the fact that one of the main things they need to do is create an internal market for their work. Associates whose work is flawless and who have made themselves indispensible are associates with whom partners want to work and who will succeed. These associates will benefit from this strong reputation by being in demand and, therefore, having the opportunity to choose among assignments and opportunities.
Another section of the book that is applicable across practice areas is the section on etiquette or, in the old-fashioned parlance of The Curmudgeon, couth. His practical and specific rules for handling voice mail and e-mail all come down to the principle that it is important to “respect others’ time and recognize the need for efficiency.” For example, don’t leave a rambling voice mail message that doesn’t include your name or your phone number. Don’t rattle off your phone number so quickly that the numbers become an unintelligible jumble. And, most importantly, if you can advance matters with a brief voice mail, do so.
The guidance provided in this book can be summed up in Herrmann’s discussion of “the single most important rule for a new lawyer... the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Think about everything you do from the other person’s perspective.” An associate who is reliable, thorough, trustworthy, and makes life easier for the lawyers that he or she works for, will go far.
The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law was an enjoyable read, presenting salient advice for success at a law firm with a good dose of humor. Law students and associates would serve themselves well to read this book and put its pointers into everyday use.
Lois Casaleggi is the Senior Director of Career Services at The University of Chicago Law School. She is a member of the NALP Publications Advisory Group, on whose behalf this review was submitted.
The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law can be ordered from the NALP online bookstore.
© The Association for Legal Career Professionals. Reprinted with permission.
Copyright/Droit d'auteur © The Canadian Bar Association/L'Association du Barreau canadien