Biglaw, In-House Counsel, Partner Issues, Rudeness

Inside Straight: ‘How To Be A Crappy Partner’

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

I need your help here.

I occasionally give “book talks” about my silly little ditty, The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law. During those talks, I explain that my book is written in the voice of a jaded old coot who rants at young lawyers about how to do their jobs. I explain that I would have liked to include in the book a chapter called, “How To Be A Crappy Partner.” That chapter would have been written in the voice of a young lawyer ranting at an older one about the ways the old guy messes up his job. I didn’t include that chapter because it would have required changing the authorial voice from an old coot to a young one, and I couldn’t figure out how to execute the switch.

(Why are there so many great words for nasty old men, but none for nasty young ones? We have “curmudgeon,” “coot,” “crank,” “grouch,” and probably a bunch of others for the old guy. But there are so few (that you can type in public) for the younger version of that character. I propose to add “snark” to the lexicon, meaning a nasty young coot.)

If I’d been able to include the missing chapter, I would have included many examples of how to be a crappy partner. For example….

“Please don’t take phone calls on unrelated matters when we’re meeting in your office. I shouldn’t have to sit there, cooling my jets for fifteen minutes, while you blather on to some client on an unrelated matter. Either don’t take the call, or apologize to me, say that you’ll call me when you’re free, and let me go back to my office and do some work.”


“Please don’t pull the rug out from under me when you introduce me to a client. When we enter a room, everyone sees that you’re the old guy, and I’m the young one, and that makes people suspicious of my judgment before we even get started. It doesn’t help matters if you then introduce me as your ‘associate.’ That just makes people question my judgment even more. Please introduce me simply as your ‘colleague.’ That accomplishes exactly the same purpose without hurting my credibility. Your ‘colleague’ will suffice.”


“Why is it that you’re always calling me to meet in your office, and you’re never swinging by to talk to me in mine? Is that just coincidence? Or are you so decrepit that you can’t handle the stairs? Or is this really a power thing, and the way you show your superiority is to summon me to make an appearance on your turf? If you’re trying to build a relationship with someone, how about treating the person like a human being? Once — just once — you swing by my office. Okay?”


“If multiple senior people are going to edit my work, why don’t you clowns work out your differences before you inflict them on me? I can’t have one guy telling me to expand on our third argument and highlight it in the introduction to the brief while another guy is telling me that the third argument is frivolous and I should delete the thing. I can’t satisfy both of you, and I shouldn’t be caught between you. Figure out what you collectively want to achieve, and then tell me. But don’t put me in the middle of your fight.”

You get the idea.

In fact, I suspect that you don’t just get the idea, but you’ve got a dozen other examples that you’ve been itching to unload for a long time now. So lay ’em on me in the comments. (I know that there were a gazillion things that infuriated me when I was a young lawyer, but I didn’t make a list, and I’ve basically forgotten them all by now. As I said at the outset, I need your help.)

I’m not sure what I’ll use your gripes for. Maybe I’ll use your ideas in book talks that I give in the future. Or, if we get enough rants to fill an entire book, maybe I’ll be tempted to put pen to paper. (This is fair warning: You’re giving up your copyright interest in your idea when you post it in the comments.) Or maybe a few senior lawyers will read your ideas, realize that they’ve wronged you, and change their ways.

Or maybe we’ll just read your rants and laugh until we weep.

However it plays out, it could be a lot of fun. Have at it in the “comments.”

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

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