Bar News - May 4, 2007
Book Review: "The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law"
By: Book Review by Jon N. Strasburger
The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law
By Mark Herrmann
I was perusing the law section at my local Barnes & Noble recently and I came across the The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law, by Mark Herrmann. The title was so intriguing that I could not resist taking it home and giving it a read. That proved to be a rewarding decision.
The book is best described as a collection of wisdom that Mark Herrmann (the self-proclaimed Curmudgeon) has gathered through his years of practice as a litigation partner in a large international firm. The book is aptly titled because Herrmann delivers his advice to the young lawyers of the world in a direct, curt and rather unflattering manner. For example, his chapter on writing begins: “Welcome to the firm. To work at this firm, you must know how to write. Here are the rules. Follow them.” What follows is a very helpful and effective set of rules on writing style as well as a simple format for effective brief-and motion-writing.
The chapter also includes a section on how to write an internal legal memorandum which I found useful. In law school you are taught to perfect the form of persuasive briefs and legal memoranda that are to be filed with a trial or appellate court. Few lawyers leave school knowing how to effectively write memoranda for internal use, where the audience is a partner. Herrmann provides a quick and easy way to discuss cases in internal memoranda so that a time-pressed partner does not go crazy reading an associate’s lengthy research memorandum that is filled with extraneous information.
The book then continues with Herrmann’s brutally honest observations about common new lawyer mistakes and his suggestions for overcoming them. Chapter two of the book is entitled “How to Fail as an Associate” and it contains the Curmudgeon’s top 10 mistakes made by new associates. While it is funny to read some of Herrmann’s characterizations of new lawyer mistakes, his suggestions (more like directives) for overcoming them are straightforward and helpful. For example, he is quick to point out that new associates rely too heavily on electronic searches when researching case law and often miss important authority. He provides the anecdotal situation of an associate running word searches on Lexis or West Law and proudly announcing there is no case on point. The Curmudgeon then marches into the library and finds a case exactly on point in the digests and never again asks that associate for help.
The reader also gets a visit from the Curmudgeonly secretary. This chapter of the book is also valuable for the new lawyer. It is written from the viewpoint of a seasoned legal assistant giving advice to a new associate attorney. It provides valuable insight for working efficiently with your legal assistant and maintaining a productive working relationship. This is another important part of the practice of law that is not taught in law school. You can learn a lot from the Curmudgeonly secretary.
There is a hilarious chapter in the book entitled The Curmudgeon’s Law Dictionary. In it, Herrmann provides his own unique takes on terms that are common to the practice of law. The Curmudgeon on defending depositions: “Seven hours locked in a room with a compulsive talker and sociopath.” The Curmudgeon on taking depositions: “Seven hours of pretending to be a sociopath while locked in a room with an amnesiac and a compulsive obstructionist.” The foregoing is a just a sampling of his sarcastic commentary on our chosen profession.
The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law is well worth the couple of hours it will take you to read. It is decades of experience compressed into 135 pages of sharp-witted guidance. The book is not just for new lawyers. The Curmudgeon’s ideas for building a practice, keeping happy clients and proper etiquette are useful for lawyers of all levels of experience. The book may be found in your local bookstore or it can be ordered through the American Bar Association at http://www.ababooks.org/.
Jon N. Strasburger is an attorney with Hodes, Buckley, McGrath & LeFevre in Manchester. He joined the NH Bar in 2004 and is a member of the New Lawyers’ Committee.