Some words mean the same thing like “Curmudgeon,” “Practicing Law,” and “Mark Herrmann.”

Mark Herrmann is a lawyer, and the best-selling author of The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law, ABA Publishing (2006).  I was pleased when the publisher asked me to review the book, although I now see that I have taken on a daunting task.

Inasmuch as the book was first published in 2006, there are a lot of reviews of this book. So far as I can tell, all of them praise the book to high heaven. Indeed, when an organ of the Wall Street Journal says nice things about a lawyer’s book and then prints serial excerpts from it you know (1) someone paid someone else off or (2) the book is damn good. I have no concrete proof that Herrmann paid anyone off.

HerrmannWho the hell is Mark Herrmann?

First, it is obvious from his name that Herrmann, like me, finds his roots in the rich comedic soil of the “Vaterland.” Second, Herr Herrmann is a graduate of Princeton in 1979 and the University of Michigan Law School in 1983, n/k/a Harbaugh Hall. Third, Herrmann clerked for the highly regarded Judge Dorothy W. Nelson of the Ninth Circuit. After a stint at a relatively small law firm in San Francisco, Herrmann served as a trial lawyer and became a partner at Jones Day in Cleveland (the perfect places to hone one’s funny bone). He wrote this book in 2006, and not too long thereafter told Jones Day to shove it. He then became Chief Counsel and Litigation and Global Chief Compliance Officer at Aon, a provider of risk management services and other fancy stuff I don’t understand. He also took on the task of writing a column for Above the Law. See here for an example.

Sadly, this last New Year’s Eve, at an ATL party gone completely wrong, Herrmann died of an uncontrolled heart flutter. He did so while admiring the tattoos of another ATL writer, shortly after David Lat served him exquisitely aged cheese imported from beautiful Buffalo, New York. (I made up that last two sentences, I think.)

What the hell is this book about? Here is how a real curmudgeon, Scott Greenfield at Simple Justice, summarizes Herrmann’s book:

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 Hermann’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 a shame to waste them.

Greenfield is dead on.

By the way, I used a block quote from Greenfield–I didn’t break the quote into separate parts of 49 words or less. Admit it, you didn’t read it! Don’t lie. You didn’t read Greenfield’s f…… summary of this book that I so carefully selected in an effort to educate you young and dumb SOBs. Lazy little beasts, all of you!

In the book, Herrmann warned me that you wouldn’t read a block quote. And, he wrote many additional truths in the very first chapter of his book, “How to Write: A Memorandum from a Curmudgeon.” Every young lawyer should memorize those instructions. Next, each special snowflake should read, “How to Fail as an Associate,” detailing the top ten things that will assure doom. The remainder of the book proceeds apace full of elegantly simple but superbly smart advice written in an amusing tone.

For older lawyers, the book is extremely useful also. It is a mentor’s guide to mentoring. Beyond that, it will show you how to screw with the fragile minds of associates in ways that are fun in a knee slapping Germanic sorta way.

Despite being penned in 2006, the book is timely and will remain so as far into the future as I can see. Just ’cause I’m old, don’t discount my abilities as a futurist. I was an early adopter, and remain a committed user, of IBM Mag Card Selectrics.  (Admit it: You have no idea what they are. See!)

In short, if you want to become a real lawyer (or mentor a young’un to become one), and you really don’t know how, then this is really the book for you. Really, I’m not kidding. But, what the hell do I know? Really!

RGK

11 responses

  1. Judge RGK,

    Sounds like a useful text.

    When is someone going to write The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Perfecting Law?

    Imagine football doods always practising but never becoming perfect for heavens sake.

    Enough practice already.

  2. Judge:
    The only thing missing from your entry today was the following coda: “Goodnight Nebraska! I’ll be here for two weeks…tip the waitress and try the veal!”
    Robert

  3. RGK,
    I read this book my second year. It knocked a lot of stupid ideas about practicing law out of my head. Useful stuff.

    Southern Law Student

  4. I think maybe my wife needs to read the book, too, so she understands all the #$%^&*&^%%$#@! that I spew toward the talking heads on TV. 🙂

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  6. This book has been on my list for a long time. I’ll get it.
    Milwaukee exports cheese, not Buffalo. Buffalo is a beautiful city. Come and see it sometime.

  7. Kathleen,

    Actually, I have been to Buffalo. I agree with you. It is a beautiful city. It is, however, also a punch line–much like my home town, Toledo, on the other end of the lake.

    All the best.

    RGK

  8. I don’t mind the punch-line. I do mind that with its assets Bflo. is not the city it should be. They named new federal courthouse is named after Justice Jackson, highjacking the glow from Jamestown, his small city. Not much debate! I never did stop in at that end of the lake. Toledo does not get Lake Effect!

    About The Curmudgeon’s Guide I have in mind that it would be an appropriate gift not only for puppy lawyers but also for just about any graduate. Just about any field.

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