Biglaw, In-House Counsel, Litigators, Practice Pointers

Inside Straight: Did We Win?

The case had been tried (to a judge, in a country outside the United States) in 2008.

The potential exposure was, let’s say, material.

One can’t exactly wait with bated breath for four years, but one can be keenly interested in a judge’s decision.

So one can be slightly disappointed when the “re” line of an email from outside counsel reads (in its entirety): “Statement of Decision in BigCo v. YourCo.”

Did we win? No news yet.

Surely the news is just a click away.

But one could be a tad frustrated to read the contents of the email message that followed . . .

The email was addressed to eight people. Each of the eight was extremely interested in the result. And the body of the email said, in its entirety: “I have attached the judge’s statement of decision in BigCo v. YourCo.”

Did we win? No news yet.

So you pop open the attachment. The statement of decision is 70 pages long.

Did we win? No news yet.

So you read the introduction of the opinion, which is meandering crap, veering off into a disquisition about the parties being who the parties are.

Did we win? No news yet.

So you jump to the conclusion of the opinion. But your company was a third-party defendant, and the description of what happened between the primary players is sufficiently obscure that you can’t quite tell what happened to you.

Did we win? No news yet.

So you pick up the phone and call outside counsel, but he’s away from his desk.

Did we win? No news yet.

Come on, guys! How about communicating the information that the client cares about?

About a half dozen years ago, I sent an email to a client with the “re” line: “Ackermann: summ jdgmt granted!” The email contained some text, and I attached the opinion, but none of that made any difference. I had already told the client what mattered.

About four years ago, I sent an email to a client with the “re” line: “Ackermann: Affirmed!” The email contained some text, which said something like: “I’m working by BlackBerry and can’t open the link embedded in the court’s notice. But I forwarded this to my secretary, and she tells me that the last word of the opinion is ‘affirmed.’ This is therefore great news. As soon as I manage to read the opinion, I’ll send you more details.”

I’m no Einstein (as any reader of this column can attest). But even I understand that the idea is to provide the reader the important information quickly. The idea is not to cause your client to curse you while he desperately tries to figure out whether he won or lost.

Don’t give me: “Outside counsel wanted to send you the opinion the second he got it.” That doesn’t fly.

First, counsel can take the ten minutes flipping through the decision needed to tell me the result before he sends me the opinion. Although I’m interested in the decision, I’m desperate for the result.

Second, counsel sent this decision to eight people. If counsel read the thing once, and then wrote that “you win,” the eight recipients would not all be ripping through the opinion trying to decipher it. One person could have read the opinion and told the rest of us what mattered.

There’s plainly a broader lesson tucked in here about how to communicate with clients. But I’m sticking to the narrow one: When you report on the result of a lawsuit, please tell your client — either in your “re” line or in the body of your email — whether the client won.

Surely that’s not too much to ask.

Mark Herrmann is the Chief Counsel – Litigation and Global Chief Compliance Officer 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) and Inside Straight: Advice About Lawyering, In-House And Out, That Only The Internet Could Provide. You can reach him by email at

(hidden for your protection)

comments sponsored by

Show all comments