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In law, as in sports, there is such a thing as home court advantage. Law students learn about this in Civil Procedure class. The example professors typically give is of a situation where a big city litigator travels to a small jurisdiction and has to go up against a lawyer who is on friendly terms with court personnel and also happens to be the spouse and/or cousin of the presiding judge. There is another uneven playing field with which we lawyers must sometimes contend. This uneven playing field, however, is never discussed in law school — but it should be. It is one of those things that needs to be included in a law school course entitled “What We Don’t Teach You in Law School.” (Of course, if they really did offer a class called “What We Don’t Teach You in Law School,” the title would have to be changed.) The home team advantage I am talking about occurs when an attorney, preparing for a case or negotiating the terms of a transaction, is forced to leave the confines of his or her own firm and work out of another lawyer’s office. The other office could be that of co-counsel. It could be the office of opposing counsel. It could even be your own firm’s office located in another city. It doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that you are working in unfamiliar surroundings without your secretary, without your computer, without your other stuff. More importantly, being a visiting attorney, you have to work without any standing. Back at your own firm, people know who you are and you can pull rank whenever you need them to do something (even if the only people you outrank work in the mailroom). Not so at another law firm. Secretaries, the manager of the word processing department, the person who prepares overnight packages and the fax machine jockey don’t know who you are — and they don’t care. You can rant, rave, threaten and bully all you want but you don’t write their paychecks or their performance reviews. They have other masters (i.e., lawyers) to serve and you will have to fend for yourself. When a guest at another law firm, it is important to remember that individual law firms have their own cultures. Clashes of the law firm cultures often occur when a lawyer, used to doing things a certain way, is forced to work out of a firm where things are done a bit differently. I once traveled to work on a closing taking place in Sacramento, Calif. In addition to lawyers from my firm and the Sacramento firm, a contingency of New York City attorneys also participated. As anyone familiar with New York lawyers knows, they, to put it one way, are different. As is their custom, I guess, these visiting lawyers did a few things that the locals found unacceptable. Examples include smoking in a non-smoking building, putting cigarettes out in the carpet and dumping cups of coffee into plant pots before refilling. The New York lawyers were also in the habit of screaming at, and otherwise abusing, members of the staff. Things eventually got so bad that the managing partner of the Sacramento firm had to call the New Yorkers into his office. He reminded them that they were “not in New York anymore” and should refrain from extinguishing their cigarettes in the carpet, dumping coffee in the plants and mistreating members of the staff (the latter being a privilege reserved for lawyers who worked at the firm on a full-time basis). On another occasion, I visited a very large Chicago firm. When I was walking down a corridor one day, a partner yelled at me from her office. Being a well-trained associate, I knew how to respond to calls of “hey you” from partners. I stepped into the partner’s office and asked how I could be of service. The partner gave me a draft of a legal opinion to proofread and told me to pass on the changes to her secretary. Being an associate who can’t say no, I obediently did what the partner told me to do. Only after I had completed the task did I think better of it. I had no one to bill for my time. On that same trip, at that same firm, a secretary approached me. Unlike the partner, she knew I was not an associate at her firm. She, however, thought I was the person sent out by IBM to fix her printer. I couldn’t believe it! It took me over two hours to fix the printer. All of these experiences made me miss my own law firm, my secretary, my own office and even the partners at my firm. Well, perhaps I exaggerate. The Rodent is a syndicated columnist and author of “Explaining the Inexplicable: The Rodent’s Guide to Lawyers.” His e-mail address is [email protected]

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