Ed. note: This is the latest installment of Inside Straight, Above the Law’s new column for in-house counsel, written by Mark Herrmann.

Put yourself in the other guy’s shoes.

I don’t want a chorus of, “But that’s common sense! Tell me something new! Complain about bonuses!”

Of course it’s common sense that you should put yourself in the other guy’s shoes. But few people do it.

You call an IT guy for help because your !!%@! computer isn’t working. And the IT guy starts blathering on about IT gobbledygook. Interface this and reboot that and a bunch of gigabytes.

Gimme a break: I don’t want information technology; I want magic.

Just make the damned thing work. I’m not interested in your job.

You call the internal training folks and tell them that you have to revise the training module about discrimination or overtime pay or insider trading or whatever. And the training person starts blathering on about approvals and launch dates and other training modules and personnel schedules.

Gimme a break: I don’t want logistics; I want magic.

A business person calls a lawyer and asks how to accomplish something. And the lawyer starts blathering on about statutory this and precedent that and whether Smith is distinguishable.

Give the business person a break: He doesn’t want law; he wants magic.

So give him magic….

You do have to discuss the issue with the business person. You do have to learn the relevant facts and business issues. And then you have to drive the issue to a responsible conclusion with a minimum of fuss. The business person doesn’t care about your precedents any more than you care about the gigabytes. It’s a matter of whose shoes you stand in, and you should think about the other person’s perspective.

That’s true for just about everything you do.

An outside lawyer recently sent me an e-mail that read in its entirety (and I quote): “Will you be there on Monday?”

That means as much to you now as it did to me when I received it.

What the heck’s happening on Monday? Is someone throwing a surprise party for me? (If so, outside counsel just blew the secret.) Do we have a mediation? A trial? A big argument? If so, in what case? I’ve got hundreds of cases to think about, and I’m not tracking every event in every case on my desk calendar.

Most corporations have a very few cases (typically, those disclosed on quarterly securities filings) that are material and whose names easily drop from everyone’s lips. We have other cases that we supervise with varying degrees of rigor depending on the nature and status of the case. We also have many meetings or calls every day to coordinate with business units, other lawyers, overseas colleagues, external auditors, outside counsel, and the like. We have endless crises because some business deal must close this week, or some colleague needs urgent business advice, or some regulatory inquiry is exploding halfway around the world.

I just got off a half-hour conference call about piracy in Sudan, and my administrative assistant is waving at me that the CFO and GC are holding urgently on the other line.

And you want to know, “Will you be there on Monday?”

I don’t think you’re putting yourself in my shoes.

How about: “You may recall that we have the Second Circuit argument in Doe in New York City on Monday. Are you planning to attend? If so, where can I meet you and when?”

The other guy's shoes: don't they look nice?

Put yourself in the other guy’s shoes.

This applies equally to your colleagues at law firms. Your secretary really doesn’t need to be asked to run photocopies at 4:57 p.m. and miss the bus, if the copies could have been run earlier in the day. Your partner really doesn’t want printouts of three cases accompanied by the excuse, “I didn’t have a chance to do comprehensive research, so I can’t answer your question, but I found three cases that you should read for yourself.”

There is of course the other side of the coin: Your associates don’t need to be summoned on Friday at 5 p.m. to do emergency research that could have been started on Tuesday morning. And they don’t need to be told that the draft brief must be on your desk on Monday when you’ll be on the road (and not reading the draft) until a week from Friday.

Just slow down.

Think.

And put yourself in the other guy’s shoes.

That may be common sense, but following that advice will set you apart from most of humanity.

Earlier: Prior installments of Inside Straight


Mark Herrmann is the Vice President and Chief Counsel – Litigation at Aon, the world’s leading provider of risk management services, insurance and reinsurance brokerage, and human capital and management consulting. He is the author of The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law.

You can reach him by email at inhouse@abovethelaw.com.


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