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The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law. Mark Herrmann American Bar Association/$34.95 The third chapter of “The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law” is titled, “What They Didn’t Tell You in Law School.” That would’ve been a good name for the entire little book � a sleek, highly readable guide to life in a law firm. Mark Herrmann, a partner at Jones Day in Cleveland who started his career in San Francisco, knows that law school and the bar exam don’t prepare a lawyer for the actual work of being an attorney. Much of that is left to the so-called School of Hard Knocks and the often sketchy process of “mentoring.” With his quick dissection of the beast that is a law firm, he gives the young lawyer the kind of advice a marooned Cub Scout would hope was in his handbook. In his cantankerous voice that the author swears is part schtick, Herrmann advises the young lawyer in everything from how to write well to how to take a good deposition. One chapter, “Dress for Success,” consists of two sentences: “I don’t give a damn what you wear. Just make sure the brief is good.” He does get more expansive than that bit of sartorial advice. In discussing good writing, he lays out a four-point outline that every internal memo about a case should follow. He also details five rules of using voice mail for something other than phone tag. And while he might open a topic with a pithy bon mot (“Defending depositions is like preventing catastrophes. If you do it well, no one notices.”), he follows it with a step-by-step look at the issue. There are some head-scratchers, though. At the curmudgeon’s hypothetical firm, “you have no obligation to bill time.” One wonders what planet that law firm is on. While Herrmann’s ideal version of a legal memorandum or approach to a deposition are invaluable, it’s not much help to an associate at a real-life law firm to discuss the ideal world in which quality of work outweighs quantity of billed time. He seems genuinely curmudgeonly in making a sharp point about understanding the specific holding of a case apart from the implication of the ruling, using the privacy right that emerged from Roe v. Wade as an example: “The holding in Roe v. Wade affirmed a decision striking down a Texas criminal abortion statute as unconstitutional. All the rest is just an explanation of that holding.” Well, yeah, it’s important to understand the specifics of a case, but is “struck down a statute” really the takeaway of Roe? He also discusses less tangible issues such as how a lawyer should keep his or her ego in check, and the value of pro bono and other work that gives more to the world than another billed hour. That Herrmann uses his own act of writing this book as an example of the latter doesn’t exactly show he’s mastered the former. Still, the overall effect of the book is to demystify the intimidating world of the big law firm by presenting practical ways of approaching the individual components of the job. For the associate terrified of that first face-to-face with a new client or overwhelmed by the amorphous concepts involved in “building a practice,” “The Curmudgeon’s Guide” should take several knocks out of the School of Hard Knocks. Brian McDonough is an associate editor at The Recorder.

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