Deaths, pls hndle thx

Pls Hndle Thx: Requiem for a Rival Attorney?

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Dear ATL:

I work in a fairly specialized litigation sub-field in a suburban market. The bar of attorneys who do what I do around where I am is therefore a pretty small and cutthroat group that hasn’t exactly emphasized “civility” in recent years.

I found out that a lawyer who’s one of my firm’s regular adversaries recently died. It wasn’t a big surprise; he’d been sick and in the hospital for some time, plus he was pushing 65-70. The thing is, he was (and his law partner still is) a gigantic asshole. He’d engage in frivolous tactics to rack up billables and then cut clients loose as soon as they couldn’t pay anymore. He’d insult other lawyers, including judges, in correspondence and at depositions. He’d condescend to women and junior attorneys. He even once wrote a smear piece about my firm as an op-ed in the local bar newsletter.

All this is to say, I know one shouldn’t speak ill of the dead, but I’m not exactly grieving. There’s going to be a memorial service, but I’m not exactly sure what to do in this situation. Should I go and at least make an appearance, and duck out at the earliest opportunity? Would it be bad form not to go, because the legal community in my practice area is so small? Should I just send a card? Or should I go and secretly gloat?

— Left Behind

Dear Left Behind,

When it comes to death and funerals, there is no right or wrong. People grieve in their own way, and sometimes not at all, particularly if the deceased was a truly horrible person…

You need to do what your gut tells you to do, whether that’s skip the funeral, send a PajamaGram, or show up and write in the Memory Book, “He was a bastard.”

A few years ago, someone to whom I was once close died and I really struggled with how to respond. Attend the memorial service? Send a card? Do nothing? My mom, who is a shrink, gave me some powerful advice about following your instinct. She said, “At the end of the day, you have to be able to live with yourself. And before I forget, Dad needs help un-suspending our Netflix subscription and said he’d call when he’s off the exercise bike.” I ended up sending a heartfelt card. And my Dad called me when he got off the bike.

Of course, your absence WILL be noted by your colleagues/adversaries, as the number one thing people do at funerals besides cry is gossip about who’s missing. Personally, I have directed that my funeral have online registration so that I can be buried with the attendee and no-show lists in order to review them and show them to God for retribution if necessary. It’s up to you to decide whether you care that your adversaries will hate you even more or that your colleagues may notice and think it’s inconsiderate. As long as you can live with yourself and your decision, that’s the right path to take.

Your friend,


You should go to the funeral for one reason and one reason only: some of the dead guy’s clients or business contacts might be there. You might be able to plant seeds that will lead to business for you in the future.

Is that a self-centered, downright mercenary way to view another man’s death? Sure. Do you care? I thought not.

Look, you’ve admitted that you didn’t really know the guy and what you did know you didn’t like. Just by asking this question you’re admitting that your only concern about this funeral is how it may impact you professionally. So take that to its logical conclusion. Don’t let your dislike for this guy blind you to the obvious career benefit of showing up and sifting through the tears to see if there are any business opportunities for you.

He’s not going to care if you show up to his funeral trying to steal business from his law partner. He’s dead. You are not. I’d tell you to rifle through his pockets, but boosting his Rolodex makes even more sense.

— The Undertaker

Ed. note: Have a question for next week? Send it in to

Earlier: Prior editions of Pls Hndle Thx

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