Biglaw, Birthdays, Blogging, In-House Counsel, Litigators, Partner Issues

Inside Straight: Happy Birthday To Me!

I’m one this week! Happy birthday to me!

Though it feels like only yesterday, I published my first column at Above the Law on November 18, 2010. I’ve published two posts every week since then (except when Monday holidays excused my labors), so I’ve cranked out about 100 of these little ditties over the last 52 weeks.

I’m tired. But I’m one!

How can I celebrate?

It seems like a good day to reminisce. What did I do right over the last year? What did I do wrong? And what have you, my readers, contributed that I can share with the world on this, my happy day?

Let me tackle the issues in that order….

What did I do right over the course of the last year? To my eye, my three funniest posts were: Reminiscence, After Four Weeks; My Wistful Day; and Things My Son Said. I realize that “amusing myself” may not be precisely synonymous with having “done things right” in one of my columns. Perhaps “doing things right” would involve actually saying something useful or contributing to the state of human knowledge. But give me a break — you’re the one who chose to visit Above the Law. I’ll settle for having amused only myself by writing one of these things. Milton got it right: “Fit audience . . . though few.

Oh, okay: Did I write any columns that I thought were good, rather than entertaining? I’ll praise myself thrice: The one that I should have titled “Blogging For Business Development” actually serves a purpose. Most people who write about whether blogging can generate legal business have a bias: Either they’re selling blogging platforms or they’re active bloggers. Those folks tend to overstate the benefits of blogging, either to sell their software services or to convince the world that they host successful blogs. I’m unencumbered, because I blogged to develop business for three years when I was a partner in a large law firm, but I’ve since moved in-house. My experiences when I was blogging for business development may not have been typical, but I was at least able to share the unvarnished truth.

I’ll also give myself kudos for Sucking Up By Writing Down, which suggested co-authoring articles with in-house lawyers to develop business. Few people do this, and it can work. Finally, I liked Projecting Defeat. If you work at a law firm, the post gave you some insight into the thought processes of in-house counsel. Simultaneously, the post suggested that in-house lawyers who don’t yet do so should create litigation pipeline reports. That’s a good idea. (It’s not an original idea, but it’s a good one. I set my sights low.)

What about the other side of the coin? What were my worst posts over the course of the last year? My goodness: So many worthy candidates. In-House Compensation was, I must say, a stinker. It’s not a subject I know much about; it’s not a subject I’ve spent any time investigating; and I knew that the post was going up during the week between Christmas and New Year’s, so nobody would read the thing anyway. Sorry, Lat: I just mailed it in last December 30. (I suppose that’s a forewarning, though: Wait to see what drek I crank out to fill the December 29 spot this year. Eww. I can hardly bear the thought.)

What other column stunk? FAS 5 Fracas surely goes on the list. Did I really devote a column to a proposal to change the accounting rules that has been shelved and may never be enacted? That’s like writing about proposed Federal Rules that will never become law: Idiots write about them, but intelligent people don’t read what’s written. Group me with the idiots.

I posted a couple of bad ones in late March and early April, too. But there’s an explanation — I was on a two-week vacation during those weeks. I was forced to pre-write and send in a bunch of posts before I left, so that my readers wouldn’t notice my absence. It’s mighty hard to gin up even two ideas each week for this column; coming up with six posts — to cover the upcoming week and then two weeks’ vacation — was a bear. A couple of those columns stunk; please forgive me. (If you’re hoping that I don’t take any vacations this year, I’m not making any promises.)

So much for my contributions. What about yours?

Above the Law created the “contact the author” icon at the bottom of this column, which lets readers click and send e-mails to me. I’ve been quite impressed by those of you who’ve used that route to contact me. My correspondents have generally been sensible and intelligent, and a few of you have been either funny or insightful.

For example, I published Classic Bad Introductions, which reproduced a few unpersuasive introductions that unthinking lawyers use over and over again. In that post, I noted: “The people who fret about this stuff seem to think that these lessons are worth repeating, so I’m adding one more column on legal writing to the collection.” A reader (from O’Melveny & Myers) wrote to me that night: “I especially liked your shout-out to ‘people who fret about this stuff.’ Where I work, we call them ‘lawyers.'”

In response to How The Legal System Brands The Beef, in which I scratched my head about law school grades, I received a long, but fascinating, rant from a person with experience in industrial psychology who now has “median” grades in law school. My reader explained how most industries use assessment tests that have been proven to demonstrate the capacity to handle a job. The legal industry, almost alone, is different: It continues to rely on tests that were designed only to (1) force students to study and (2) distinguish among people based on their ability to identify issues and write well (and quickly). In my correspondent’s words: “The legal industry is three or four decades behind the business world in the area of assessing talent. Yet the country’s most prestigious firms all complain about associate retention rates. When will they learn that now is the time to get out of the ritualistic past, and join the modern world where science and rationality have made significant strides?” Not bad.

One of your best contributions came recently. In Things My Son Said, I wrote that my son, at age seven, told me that I had a pretty good job because “it’s air-conditioned, and you can get a root beer whenever you want one.” The following week, I participated in a panel (on a completely unrelated topic) hosted by the law firm Jackson Lewis and the recruiting firm Major, Lindsey & Africa. Several days later, our main reception desk called to say that a messenger was waiting for me with a relatively bulky and heavy package. The thank you note attached to the package was short: “Thanks for participating in our panel. We assume that Aon can take care of the air conditioning.” The contents of the package? Two six packs of root beer — one regular and one diet. It turns out that writing this column occasionally yields benefits, and at least some of my readers have a sense of humor.

Finally, my commenters. What was the best “comment” that one of my readers appended anonymously at the end of one of my columns this year?

Ha! I’m just kidding! Did you really think I was going to wade through a year’s worth of comments to try to pick a good one? No way! Before I got through reading a year’s worth of comments, I’d either be in tears or suicidal; I’ll endure a lot for the sake of my readers, but asking me to read the comments is beyond the pale.

What a fine celebration: I’m one! Who’d a thunk it?

Have a piece of cake on me.


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 (affiliate link). You can reach him by email at inhouse@abovethelaw.com.

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