Quick! I’m an in-house lawyer! How are my legal skills?
Admit it: You just thought to yourself, “So-so. The guy couldn’t hack it at a law firm and wanted a 9 to 5 lifestyle, so he took his mediocre skills and moved in-house. I’ll try not to be transparently condescending when I talk to him on the phone.”
I believed that, too, until I went in-house. (That was a joke. How do you put a smiley face on a blog post?)
A moment’s thought reveals that I’m a bundle of legal prejudices, and I suspected that others were, too. So I did a Rorschach test of some lawyer-friends. I named categories of lawyers, and I asked my friends to give their immediate reactions to those categories.
So what are our legal prejudices?
Quick! I’m a partner at a big firm! What do you think of me?
The usual immediate reactions to “partner at a big firm” were things like “expensive” or “wasteful.” I got a few “pads the bills” and expletives, too. I also heard, usually after a little thought and not in a single word response, people say things like “for complex matters, big firms are the way to go.”
But praise is so boring.
Quick! I’m an insurance defense lawyer! What do you think of me?
“Good on your feet. Can’t write worth a damn.” And various permutations. The more reflective, but less provocative, responses were things like, “Could be a pretty good trial lawyer.”
Quick! I’m a litigator! What do you think of me?
From litigators: “Too much testosterone.” From transactional lawyers: “Never actually closed a deal.”
Quick! I’m a corporate lawyer! What do you think of me?
From corporate lawyers: “That’s a stupid question, Mark.” From litigators: “Never actually tried a case.”
Quick! I work at a small firm! What do you think of me?
Answers here varied widely. Big firm lawyers say, “Sh*t law” or “probably not very good.” Other people stroke their chins and say, “What city are you talking about?” or “Really depends on the firm.”
Quick! I’m a legal scholar! What do you think of me?
The answers here were pretty consistent: “Out of touch,” or words to that effect. (I also got one “Who cares?” which was kind of cute.)
“Hack.” Or: “I’m glad I’ve never needed one.”
I had three reactions to my little experiment:
First, most of the immediate reactions were negative. (Are lawyers uniquely self-loathing? Or am I just hanging around with the wrong people?) People tended to become more positive only after the Rorschach test was over, and they reflected on what they really thought about the various categories of lawyers.
Second, you could run this experiment with other words, too — “judge” springs to mind — but ginning up a blog post to provoke an on-line conversation is one thing; career suicide is another. I’ll leave the “judge” experiment to Elie.
Last, but not least, to provide fuel for my faithful “commenters”:
Quick! I write at Above the Law! What do you think of me?
(I know what I’m thinking: I’m heading for cover.)
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.