Mark Herrmann

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!

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According to vast anecdotal evidence, deep in the heart of many or most bored and frustrated Biglaw midlevels lies the dream of someday landing a plum in-house gig. The kind of job which offers reasonable and predictable hours and a decent (albeit smaller) paycheck. The kind of job where “billable hours” are someone else’s problem and there’s only one client to report to.

Going in-house is also an opportunity to become a stakeholder in a business, rather than just a “hired gun” advisor. Living that dream is our very own Inside Straight columnist Mark Herrmann, VP and Chief Litigation Counsel of Aon plc, the world’s largest insurance broker. Mark is also a former partner at Jones Day, and the author of The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law (affiliate link). There are few with a broader perspective and deeper insight into the practice of law both in both firm and in-house contexts.

On June 12th, Above the Law will be hosting a cocktail reception at an undisclosed location in Chicago where Mark will be our guest of honor. Staci Zaretsky will be playing the role of James Lipton, and will conduct an interview with Mark to kick off the evening. Afterwards, drinking. We would like to crowdsource at least a portion of Staci’s interview with Mark, so after the jump, please leave a question for Mark in comments. We’ll select the best ones and Staci will pose them to Mark on June 12th….

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We are pleased to invite you to an Above the Law cocktail reception in Chicago on Wednesday, June 12th. The reception will take place from 6:30 to 8:30 and will feature a conversation with Mark Herrmann. As many of you know, Mark is Vice President and Chief Litigation Counsel of Aon, the world’s largest insurance broker. He is also a former partner at Jones Day, the author of The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law, and a weekly columnist here at Above the Law.

This event will be an opportunity for attendees to hear insightful commentary from Mark, meet Above the Law writers, connect with peers, and enjoy great drinks and hors d’oeuvres. The event is sponsored by our friends at Access Data. Please RSVP below.


Partner asks for a draft brief by Wednesday. It doesn’t arrive on time. Partner asks Associate about the brief: “I wrote it, but the dog ate it. I’ll get you a draft next week.”

On the next assignment, Partner asks for a draft brief by a deadline. The brief doesn’t arrive on time. Partner asks about the brief: “I left the finished draft in a briefcase in my car, and a thief broke into my car and stole the briefcase. I’ll get you a draft next week.”

On the next assignment, the computer crashed at the last minute. And on the assignment after that, a junior lawyer doing some research for the brief fell ill, so it wasn’t possible to get the brief written on time.

For Partner, the solution is easy: “This clown is irresponsible. There are other associates around here who actually do things on time. I’ll stop working with the clown, and my life will be much easier. And I’ll report on the clown’s annual review that he’s irresponsible.”

For Associate, the situation is baffling: “I do great work, and I turn things in late only when fate interferes. Why doesn’t Partner work with me anymore, and why did he unfairly say on my review that I’m irresponsible?”

Another example; the corporate analogy to law firm life; and my stunning conclusion all after this enticing ellipsis . . .

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I love it: Law firms send us brochures and offer us free CLE programs about all the things that smart corporations should do.

We should protect data privacy. We should have written policies that require pre-approval before our sales folks entertain clients at fancy events. We should train our employees about “intelligent business communications,” so that no one writes stupid e-mails. We should train everyone about conflicts of interest, avoiding discrimination or harassment in the workplace, and insider trading. We should establish systems to confirm that any person or entity that needs a license is in fact licensed.

And then what do law firms themselves do? The firms blithely ship personal information from office to office around the world — because the folks in the U.S. need information about the plaintiff suing for personal injuries in France. The firms have no rules at all restricting how lawyers entertain their clients. Lawyers at the firms write stupid e-mails. [Note to David Lat: Please do not add a link to the preceding sentence about stupid e-mails. You'll link to an article about some law firm in particular, and lawyers at that firm will write to me accusing me of having slung mud at their firm. I'm not slinging mud at any one particular law firm, by God -- I'm slinging mud at all of them!] What else do firms do? Corporate lawyers move from New York to California and never bother to take the California bar exam, because it’s such a pain in the neck, and no one will ever know, anyway.

Corporate Counsel recently investigated this issue, asking major law firms about their compliance programs. The conclusion? Law firms generally either don’t have compliance programs or choose not to discuss the issue (because, I’ll speculate, they don’t have compliance programs, and prefer not to admit this publicly). Isn’t it time for the shoemaker’s children to be shod?

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First, an offer: I thought I had retired my “book talk” about The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law when I moved to London last fall. But I’ll be in the States for a few weeks in late May and June, and I’ve been asked to dust off the talk and give it a few times — at the annual meeting of the Association of Defense Trial Counsel in Detroit, and again in Chicago for Kirkland & Ellis and Greenberg Traurig. So long as I’ll have to flip through my notes and re-learn the talk, I might as well give it for your group, too. Please let me know by email if your law firm is interested.

Second, today’s thesis — and it’s a backwards one: Law firms think more highly of you for the years when you’re not working at the firm.

I’ll start with the easy example: I moved as a sixth-year associate from a small firm in San Francisco to a huge firm in Cleveland. When I arrived at the huge firm in Cleveland, partners treated me surprisingly well. Why?

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* OMG, you guys! Michael Jackson just died. At least according to concert promoter AEG Live, whose lawyer FINALLY conceded to the claim that Jackson had passed. [CNN]

* The new NRA President is a tool lawyer! [Washington Times]

* Jim Beck reviews the works of our own Mark Herrmann: Inside Straight(affiliate link) and Drug and Device Product Liability Litigation Strategy [Drug and Device Law]

* Quinn Emanuel announces its spoils following up on the departure of Michael Lyle and Eric Lyttle from Weil. [Quinn Emanuel]

* Studies suggest that the more elite the school, the more likely its female graduates drop out of the work force after getting married and having kids. Women who run in elite circles and are therefore more likely to marry into financial secure partnerships are also less likely to keep grinding away at a job in order to put their kids through school? No kidding. [The Careerist]

* Administrative Law Judges file suit over perceived quotas that they claim trigger the depletion of Social Security. Cost-cutting legislators think the ALJs should be depleting the fund more. Blerg. [Washington Post]

* Check out the T-shirt sold at Santa Clara University. The proximity to the Santa Clara Law shirts is… fitting?

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Although I won’t name names here (because my employer is, among other things, the insurance broker to the stars, and I can’t afford to offend clients or potential clients), I just stumbled across an article that indirectly told me how to pick outside counsel.

In a relatively high-profile situation, a government entity recently had to retain an outside law firm. The government naturally retained an outside adviser to help the government make its choice. (How else could one possibly pick counsel?)

The outside adviser — I think you’d call the outfit a management consultant, although the website left me a little confused — has lots of MBAs on staff, but there’s not a lawyer to be seen. No matter: The MBAs created a questionnaire for the law firms to fill out, and the law firm that accumulated the most points won the business.

This is great! It’s time (once again) for me to stop thinking and start copying! We’ll revamp our whole system for choosing counsel! In the future, we’ll give the law firms who want our business a form to complete. We’ll add up the points — even I can do that. And then we’ll choose the law firm with the most points, thus retaining the best firm in the world to handle our matter through an objectively defensible selection process, in case anyone ever wants to second-guess our choice of counsel.

Shoot! If only I’d gone to business school, I could have been this smart! Let’s take a look at the questionnaire, so I’ll know the form that I’m copying to choose counsel for my next case . . . .

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Sometimes, we care about questions. Sometimes, we care about answers. Sometimes, we care about both.

When you’re reporting on a situation, remember that.

I see many, many interview reports that unnecessarily include questions when the reader cares only about answers. If you’re interviewing a witness, and the witness lived the facts (and you personally know bupkis), then we really don’t care about your questions; we care only about the witness’ answers.

So, when you’re reporting on your interview of the witness, do not assign an abbreviation to your name (Mark Herrmann, hereinafter MH), an abbreviation to the witness’s name (The Witness, hereinafter TW), and then report on your questions as though they mattered:

“MH asked . . . . TW responded . . . . MH followed up by asking . . . .”

We care only about the facts — which the witness knows, and you do not — so report only the facts:

“According to the witness . . . .” Your name should appear no more than once in the entire report, so we know who conducted the interview.

That’s a situation where we care only about answers. But there are other situations where we care only about questions . . . .

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Here’s one great benefit of blogging: Publishers send you free copies of books, hoping that you’ll review them!

I received and read, but now choose not to review, Steven J. Harper’s valuable new contribution to the literature: The Lawyer Bubble: A Profession In Crisis (affiliate link).

I’m not reviewing the book, but instead using it as a jumping-off point to discuss a tangent. Harper explains in his book two things that every sentient lawyer has noticed over the past several years: (1) students are graduating from law school buried under a mountain of debt, and many of those students can’t find jobs, and (2) many law firms have lost sight of the law’s noble history as a learned profession and are now obsessed with maximizing their profits per partner in the coming year.

Harper’s right about these things, of course, and this isn’t exactly late-breaking news to anyone who’s been following either Above the Law or Harper’s blog, The Belly of the Beast, for the last few years. Harper’s book advances the discussion, however, by exploring these issues in more detail than others have. He also proposes possible solutions to these problems, including “allowing the federal government to recover [law school loan] guarantees from a law school (and its university) whenever a student loan became the principal contributor to an alumnus’s later bankruptcy.” (Page 159.) Or encouraging law firms to release their “Working Culture Index,” which would show the percentage of lawyers billing more than 2000, 2100, 2200, 2300, 2400, and 2500 in the previous year (perhaps with separate totals being released for partners and associates). (Page 173.)

These ideas are well worth discussing, and I’m glad that Harper has taken the time to analyze these things. But I have another topic to highlight, which is an odd tangent to Harper’s two issues . . . .

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