Happy Halloween! Unless you live in New Jersey.
Based here in New York, I’ve spent the last several days watching the news while drinking copious amounts of whisky (klassy hurricane tip: pour the whisky directly into the can of coke — it saves washing a glass later if you’re worried about losing water!). The stream of images showing devastated areas is truly horrifying.
Thankfully my bunker of an apartment survived unscathed, but that did not excuse me from my own share of post-traumatic stress. But in my case it was seeing a number of lawyers-turned-politicians parading across the news channels displaying their own law firm certified brand of crisis management and triggering flashbacks to my years in private practice.
When we suffer the zombie apocalypse (which could happen as early as next Tuesday) or any other movie-level disaster, if we continue to place executive power in the hands of lawyers, we’re all screwed….
Three episodes from the response so far stand out as emblematic of legal management skills.
1. Chris Christie blames Lorenzo Langford — Lawyers make getting the job done right a priority. Though usually not the top priority, which is actually “not getting blamed if anything goes wrong.”
If you think about it, it’s baked into the DNA of the job. The job description of a lawyer is to either draft documentation pre-empively assigning as much blame as possible to the other side or to litigate blame after the fact. It’s not like these honed instincts disappear when a lawyer walks into higher government office.
New Jersey Governor and former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie attempted to cover his rather ample ass by publicly blasting Atlantic City Mayor Lorenzo Langford (who is not a lawyer incidentally, but rather a former casino pit boss, which is way cooler) for supposedly encouraging people to remain in Atlantic City during the storm despite Christie’s instructions. The clear message of Christie’s statement: “if anyone dies in Atlantic City, please blame someone else.”
When I first watched Christie pull this stunt, I knew it was on Jersey-style, because Langford’s ACTUAL strategy did the exact opposite of encourage people to remain in Atlantic City.
Since this is a dispute in New Jersey, I assume you all started your “countdown to manhood questioning” clocks, because here we go! When asked if he had called the Governor to explain the facts, Langford responded:
I think it is the governor’s responsibility to call me. He’s the one that put out the misinformation. He made a mistake. And he ought to be man enough to own up to it.
Calling out the cojones of the boss is not standard associate behavior. But responding to a disagreement by passive-aggressively refusing to talk to the other side? They teach that on the bar exam.
This is a horrible response to a hurricane, but it’s an even more dangerous response to zombies. After all, a hurricane eventually ends as it moves inland and loses steam. The zombies just keep coming and coming, slowly overpowering our cities, growing in number as they consume more and more brains. While we stare down this crisis, rest assured that lawyer politicians will work tirelessly to establish the proximate cause of the crisis. Was it the creation of the “Rage” virus in the first place, or the pesky animal rights activists who released the infected chimps?
2. President Obama vows that red tape will not slow the response — In a public statement at the American Red Cross yesterday, President Obama explained:
And so my instructions to the federal agency has been, do not figure out why we can’t do something; I want you to figure out how we do something.
It’s inspiring, take charge language to the general public. But as a lawyer all I heard was a partner knocking on my door at 7:30 p.m. and telling me he was heading home to Westchester, but that I needed to write a brief, due by 8 a.m., despite all the law stacked against the position. The most important instruction of the partner though is to refrain from explaining that his strategy is stymied by “mountains and mountains of precedent” — that’s for the subsequent Rule 11 motion — but get something done!
It’s atrocious management to instruct subordinates to blindly take action. It leads to mistakes, overlooks more promising alternative strategies, and inevitably leads to the blame game (see point 1).
Shoot first and think about it later. This is the mentality of the movie Armageddon (it’s also the mentality that led to the movie Armageddon). Tossing nukes at an asteroid is a knee-jerk response, but it’s also one that can create dozens of tiny asteroids so the devastation hits multiple cities at once. But hey, screw Paris.
3. Michael Brown criticizes Obama administration response — Remember Michael Brown? Brown was in charge of FEMA during Hurricane Katrina. He did a “heckuva job” if you defined “heckuva” as recklessly lackluster. Now Brown makes his living as a radio talk show host and has labeled the Obama administration’s response as too fast.
Does it seem crazy to suggest that the government would be better off letting the storm hit and dealing with the aftermath rather than planning ahead and wasting money if the storm was less serious than expected? Would it help if I told you that Brownie is a lawyer?
Secretly shipping hazardous chemicals through New York tunnels? (Does anyone else remember Daylight? Wow that movie sucked.) Sure, an accident will probably force Stallone to blow up the tunnel, but think of the savings your client made on the hundreds of shipments that went off without incident. It’s all about crunching the numbers.
I’ve never been an advocate of the idea that “business experience” provides relevant government experience, but compared to being a lawyer? At least a business person would understand that if it’s a legitimate zombie attack our cities have ways of shutting that down, would know enough to whittle down the oncoming asteroid by drilling for oil (I know an expert off-shore drilling team we could send), and…well, they’d still run the hazardous chemicals through the tunnels, but two out of three ain’t bad.
Joe Patrice is the author of Recess Appointment, a blog about political rhetoric, and he’ll be dropping in occasionally to write about the intersection of law and politics. To answer the question that you’re probably about to ask, he got his J.D. at NYU and spent ten years working at a Biglaw firm and a white-collar defense boutique. His favorite word is sesquipedalian.