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Many practicing lawyers gripe that too many law school graduates are not prepared for the practice of law. But why are they unprepared? Perhaps it’s because of constricted teaching by law school professors whose reputations depend more on scholarship than teaching. Or perhaps it’s because of a flawed curriculum, such as the contract classes that cover neither drafting nor reading of contracts (God forbid that a textbook titled Contracts should contain any contracts), but instead focus more on the philosophical question of whether a contract exists. In their defense, law schools sometimes claim they are teaching students how to “think like a lawyer,” an implied admission they aren’t teaching them how to “work like a lawyer.” While the complaints may have merit, they may be coming from law firm attorneys eyeing the great increases in associate salaries over the past decade. Perhaps these higher salaries breed higher expectations for new associates. Just like the sports fan who expects more of the higher-paid athlete, so might law firms expect more from the associates they are paying more. WHAT NOT TO DO Whatever the cause for the supposed shortcomings, at least one lawyer is trying to do something about it. In his book, The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law, published by the American Bar Association’s Litigation Section, Mark Herrmann gives advice to young lawyers, hypothetically those who would work with him. It’s a how-to book, mostly how to avoid pissing him off. Herrmann, a litigation partner at Jones Day in Cleveland, is younger than the title indicates, which suggests that for precocious curmudgeons, 50 is the new 70. But over the years he has apparently received a steady supply of first-year lawyers who struggled in the process of evolving from the summer associate accustomed to late-afternoon calamari and cocktails to the junior associate more resigned to late-night research and writing. That said, hearing a partner publicly vent against underperforming associates makes for a timely counteroffensive against the many attacks by younger lawyers on partners and firms through message boards such as Greedy Associates and blogs such as Anonymous Lawyer, which seems to be the sniper du jour (its author has never been a law firm associate, which says a lot about the kinds of clich�s that saturate the law-firm-bashing genre). Herrmann’s advice covers topics such as legal research and writing, how to write time sheets justifying the billable rate, and how to work productively with a secretary. He also rants impressively about poor phone and e-mail etiquette, claiming we have “taken leave of our senses in the new world of email” through errors such as merely saying “see attached” in an e-mail, rather than describing the attached document. He also settles down to deliver more advanced tips, including how to outline before an oral argument. The book’s glaring omission, of course, is a chapter advising the young associate on how to work with a difficult partner. Of course, not all his advice applies equally to everyone. For example, he maintains clients should only be sent the final, ready-to-file draft of a pleading. Though this may apply in many cases, I’ve seen several situations in which in-house counsel actually prefer to be involved in forming arguments at an earlier stage. It’s safe to say that their expertise and preferences should be respected. The book’s practical advice is laced with amusing suggestions, such as the only three circumstances in which the associate could pass a note to him while he is delivering an oral argument: He has the wrong party, he has the wrong case, or his pants are on fire. Also worth noting is the very economical chapter — just two sentences long — on the appropriate dress code for associates: “I don’t give a damn what you wear. Just make sure the brief is good.” There’s also a humorous chapter with a short law dictionary, including these entries: “Judges, appointed: A judicial system designed to thwart the will of the people. Judges, elected: A judicial system designed to respond to the people’s current whims.” Mixed in with the admonitions are some more subtle insights into the practice of law, although not necessarily ones of immediate practical value to beginning lawyers whose outings extend only to the firm’s law library. Herrmann’s discussion of the tactics lawyers engage in during discovery rings true, particularly when he concedes that the circumstances sometimes demand that lawyers be jerks. He suggests there’s just no incentive to be unilaterally agreeable and reasonable when negotiating with opposing counsel details of where and when to take a deposition. In the end, though, the author comes across as someone who relishes the challenges of his profession. He just wants some good associate help. THE OTHER SIDE While some people may not know how to be lawyers, others don’t know how to use them. That’s the ostensible premise for another slim volume, Your Lawyer: A User’s Guide, which is intended to provide guidance on the intricacies of the client-lawyer relationship. Though pleasing the partner may be job one for most new associates, they may also benefit from considering lawyers from the client’s perspective and thereby gleaning a better understanding of the lawyer’s role. The book, published by LexisNexis, is written by Lawrence Fox, a practitioner, and Susan Martyn, an academic, both of whom are authorities on legal ethics. The book reviews the formation of the lawyer-client relationship, attorney fees, and a lawyer’s responsibilities to communicate, keep confidences, and avoid conflicts of interest. It also offers advice on dealing with other people’s attorneys. Even the limitations on the relationship are addressed, as the enterprising reader is warned in a short section titled “Your Lawyers Cannot Commit Crimes, or Help You Commit Crimes.” The authors appear to be on a mission not only to illuminate the lawyer-client relationship but also to reduce some of the public’s hostility toward lawyers. The discussion is all presented in the form of a hypothetical dialogue between a highly cynical member of the public and a patient and knowledgeable defender of the legal profession. A typical back and forth goes like this: A: . . . It’s possible in certain situations for one lawyer to represent multiple parties who are on opposite sides of a transaction. Q: You lawyers must hate that, cutting down on the number of lawyers needed. A: We do, but not necessarily for that reason. And so it continues. I found myself wishing the reasonable defender of lawyers had just once snapped back at the ignorant cynic. What emerges from both these books is the basic truth that a lawyer’s life is demanding. It brings to mind a conversation I had with a friend, Pete, a graduate of a fine law school, who once said that law was much harder than business. In business you had to be right only most of the time. In law you had to be right all the time. Of course, you don’t win all the time, but you can’t make mistakes regarding the law. Having discovered this early, Pete’s gone on to enjoy a long and successful career — in business.
Gunnar Birgisson is an associate at Bracewell & Giuliani in Washington, D.C., and a curmudgeon in his own right.

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