Clerkships, In-House Counsel, Practice Pointers

House Rules: Foot In Mouth Disease…

I kicked a hornet’s nest last week by bloviating about an anonymous someone else’s contrary opinion to mine regarding clerking. I banged out a column that I thought was interesting, and furthered my argument that taking a clerkship in this economy is better than being unemployed.

However, at the same time, I unfairly attacked someone with a differing opinion, and for that I am sorry. I have apologized to this person over email, and am doing so now in this column.

Foot in mouth disease seems to follow some of us like the cloud behind Pigpen. I can remember all the way back to sixth grade making fun of Mark something-or-other, for his constant coughing in class, only to be sternly told by the teacher that Mark had a serious illness. I recall making fun of the cashier in a hotel bar (whose bank count was always off) where I was employed in accounting, only to learn that he was a “Mainstreamed” employee. And then, of course there was last week’s column….

Some of you who know me personally, have complimented me on this column, saying that it captures my style of speech and humor. That you can hear me talking when you read my words. I try diligently to write as I speak, and as I think. The issue/problem is this: hardly any of you know me. And here is the lesson for this week for litigators, M&A’ers and columnists alike, you have to remember to write for your audience, and it is not the small group of folks with whom you suffered through your last firm.

The audience for this site is vast, from students to judges, and especially hiring partners who hope their firms are only mentioned in favorable terms. ATL is what Greedy Associates once was, only much, much better. This is a site that is populated by gossip, snark, actual writing, and in-depth pieces related to the actual practice of law. Not the dissection of the latest case out of the 3d Cir., but for folks who labor in very different trenches every day.

In this world of instantaneous reaction (see the real-time tweets as Chris Dorner was cornered last night as an example) it is imperative that complacency not become the norm in one’s writing. Now, I am speaking very broadly here; you have to remain vigilant in writing anything from the smallest of emails to the appellate brief, resting on laurels is sure to get you hammered down a peg or three. I support a vast and ever changing roster of employees in a large geography. Each of them an individual in their own right. But as in-house counsel it is fairly easy to fall into the trap of us (the smart attorneys) versus them (the “Field”).

Once you have swallowed that bait, it becomes even easier to begin to lump people into stereotypical group behavior patterns, and send responses and advice cavalierly, even arrogantly. I have learned, sometimes the hard way, that impetuousness will only get you so far, and usually into trouble. You need to consistently back up your advice with intelligence and “rightness.” It is when you have found success with/for your clients that you begin to develop relationships based on trust. And even then, folks looking to you for support can fall into their own trap of thinking, “what have you done for me lately?”

So, the advice for today is to always remember your audience. It is Writing 101, I know, but it remains a lesson that never stops being relevant. The converse of that is that when writing for a blog such as this one, you cannot tailor your words to a specific group, especially folks who so eagerly write pathological or profane responses. You cannot take it personally. It’s just business after all – right? And by remembering the audience and always maintaining the proper respect for said audience, you can readily ensure yourself that the feet will remain where they belong – on the ground.

Earlier: House Rules, To Clerk, Redux…

After two federal clerkships and several years as a litigator in law firms, David Mowry is happily ensconced as an in-house lawyer at a major technology company. He specializes in commercial leasing transactions, only sometimes misses litigation, and never regrets leaving firm life. You can reach him by email

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