Bad Ideas, In-House Counsel, United Kingdom / Great Britain

Inside Straight: No Such Thing As A Free Lunch

People are idiots. Maybe that should be the official motto of this column.

(Maybe, given what I wrote in The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law, that should be the official motto of my life.)

Today’s column draws, as always (except when I’m making stuff up), on true life.

A friend at a London law firm wanted to meet a senior executive at my company. I asked the executive if he cared to join my friend and me for lunch. I naturally placed no pressure on the exec: “I’m happy to have lunch with this guy alone, or I’m happy to set up something for the three of us. What do you prefer?”

Somewhat to my surprise, the exec accepted the lunch date. I told my friend. And my buddy promptly sent an invitation for the appointed date and time scheduling lunch in a conference room at his law firm, halfway across London from our corporate offices.

Get our your Bluebook and start spotting issues!

The invitation says that lunch will run from 12:30 to 3. That’s already over-reaching, and the executive won’t react well to it. (If the invitation blocks 2 1/2 hours on an electronic calendar, the exec’s assistant won’t schedule other meetings during that time, which will probably make it impossible to schedule all of the rest of the meetings people request that day.)

On top of that, the exec and I will spend 20 minutes (either by Tube or cab; the law firm is not a short stroll from here) traveling to the lunch, and the same amount of time getting home afterwards. So my friend has cordially offered to steal nearly 3 1/2 hours out of our workdays for lunch with him. My chum better put Samuel Johnson to shame as a conversationalist.

How will the executive react when he learns of this invitation?

“Shoot! I didn’t really want to meet this guy at all! And now he can’t take the time to travel over here? And he doesn’t even offer to meet halfway? Who does he think he is?”

Suppose my hypothetical executive is not overworked and overstressed, and he reacts more calmly to the lunch invitation. What would a reasoned reaction be? “There are two possibilities here. Option A: I can travel halfway across town to eat law firm food. Option B: I can walk five minutes to enjoy Michelin-star worthy food (or, at a minimum, a nice meal). Which do I prefer?”

You don’t have to be particularly crotchety to lean to Option B.

What should my law-firm-friend have done? “Let me propose two possibilities for lunch. We can meet at a restaurant around the corner from your office, if that’s convenient for you. Or, if you like, our firm cafeteria prepares surprisingly good food. We could eat in a private conference room here, and I could show you around our offices. Please let me know which you and the executive prefer.”

How will I resolve this issue?

I’ll send a link to this column to my law-firm-friend before the scheduled lunch date. If he pops it open, he’ll be annoyed that I mentioned him and “idiots” in the same breath; he’ll be panic-stricken until he realizes that I’ve completely anonymized the players in this drama, so no one knows who he is; and, I bet, he’ll write back and ask where the executive would like to have lunch. (My friend may even think twice in the future before sending out invitations for lunches that are convenient for the lawyer and inconvenient for his guests. I’m doing a public service here.)

Presto! I’ve shared a thought with the world, protected a friend, avoided annoying one of my executives, and filled yet another Inside Straight column. That’s even better than getting a free lunch.

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 and Inside Straight: Advice About Lawyering, In-House And Out, That Only The Internet Could Provide (affiliate links). You can reach him by email at

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