Biglaw, In-House Counsel, Litigators, Partner Issues

Riddle Me These: Questions From An In-House Lawyer

Riddle me this:

Why do you send your emails about our big litigation victories to everyone in the C-Suite, Finance, the Business Leaders, and the rest of the world, with a copy to me, but you send your emails about our big litigation defeats to me alone?

Why do law firm promotional materials always describe recent cases at excruciating length and never briefly offer practical solutions? I might actually read something titled, for example, “Three Policies That You Must Revise Now That The Defense Of Marriage Act Has Been Held Unconstitutional.” (If I received that email, I must have overlooked it.)

Why does your email ask if I’m free at a certain date and time for a meeting without telling me “free for what”? Even if I’m otherwise booked or theoretically on vacation, I’m completely free for the CEO and the Board of Directors. On the other hand, I’m never free for the guy from IT who wants to drone on endlessly about user specifications for the new BPOS platform.

Why do law firms. . .

tell us that we can safely pay for a client’s dinner so long as the dinner is used for “relationship building” (anything else might be viewed as a bribe), but those same law firms then offer us four tickets to a ball game “for you, your wife, and your kids, and none of our lawyers will be there; enjoy the game”? Can it really be relationship-building if none of your lawyers are present and building a relationship? And if you’d tell us that sending clients four tickets to an event for family use would be improper, why isn’t that same conduct improper for you?

Why do outside counsel insist on telling me that “discovery is expensive” and “judges don’t like to grant dispositive motions”? I may not have learned much in my 17 years as a litigation partner at Jones Day, but I think I managed to clear the “discovery is expensive” hurdle.

When I tell someone that I don’t understand something the person has written, why am I always told, “But I understand it”? Of course you understand it, you moron! You wrote it! You understood it before you put pen to paper! The question isn’t whether you understand it; the question is whether anyone other than you could possibly understand it, and that’s what I’m gently critiquing.

Why is it that we evaluate non-native-English speakers so much based on how well we can understand them? “I think Buonarroti might have said some pretty smart stuff, but I couldn’t really decipher what the hell he was saying. Dragwlya didn’t impress me with his ideas, but at least I could understand him. Let’s hire Dragwlya.”

And finally, riddle me this:

Why is it that writing this column for Above the Law has so distorted my perspective? In years past, when someone screwed something up abominably, ruining my professional life, I used to think, “What a disaster! That clown just ruined my professional life!” But now, when someone screws something up abominably, ruining my professional life, I think, “Well, this is certainly a mixed blessing. On the one hand, that clown just ruined my professional life. On the other hand, at least I know what I’ll write about for next Monday.”

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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