Patterico's Pontifications


Law Firm Quote of the Day

Filed under: General — DRJ @ 8:40 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

Eugene Volokh at the Volokh Conspiracy relays the following quote from a law professor who directed a legal writing program for new hires at a large law firm. The law firm also asked the law professor to share his advice with the partners. He told the partners to focus on correcting actual mistakes and avoid imposing their personal writing preferences on the new associates. This was the response of one partner:

“A partner objected strenuously. He said, and I kid you not, “One of the reasons I became a partner was to impose my personal preferences on others.”

I was not asked back.”

Heh. Anyone who’s ever worked in a big law firm knows this partner.


34 Responses to “Law Firm Quote of the Day”

  1. I see absolutely nothing wrong with this. It is life. Only babies cry about it.

    HeavenSent (1e97ff)

  2. When an associate is writing something for the partner’s signature, there are times when what appear to be stylistic choices become important. For consistency of tone and voice across documents, sometimes for consistent word choice for definitional purposes, etc.

    However, when I was working at a well-known large law firm early in my career, I had a mid-level attorney supervising my work who plainly was screwing with me with editing, obviously so ( once reversing an edit exactly – each time with a sarcastic remark ), and bragging to staff that that was intentional. A lack of maturity that caught up with that one.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  3. “I had a mid-level attorney supervising my work who plainly was screwing with me with editing”

    SPQR – What’s the big deal? You could always bill the wasted time to a client, right?

    daleyrocks (718861)

  4. daleyrocks, and indeed, it was so billed.

    Which was among the many reasons I left the big law firm environment permanently. Incompatible with my ethics.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  5. We called it “work fucking” but unlike lawyers, consultants have pre-negotiated fees for assignments so we can bill out this time.

    HeavenSent (1e97ff)

  6. “we can not”

    HeavenSent (1e97ff)

  7. Heavensent, ‘only babies cry about it’.

    LOL spoken like a normal person who has never had to deal with these assholes.

    trust me, only those thoroughly committed to success, in and of itself, and those who have never worked in Biglaw, don’t find this behavior objectionable.

    Personally, I think these petty things are easy to deal with… but I have a sense of humor about people. Humor and humility are essential to living in that world. A lot of other facets of biglaw are simply beyond my ability, though.

    Which is why my BMW was not priced in the nineties, but rather built in the nineties.

    Juan (e8717d)

  8. Juan,

    Sorry but I dealt with it and had many a long night compiling and recompiling decks to meet a Partners wishes or SVP wishes or whoever.

    You (ALL) get ZERO sympathy from me and fact is many of their comments while seemingly cosmetic where actually very very very very good in general. You get the occasional buffoon but you don’t become aGP by accident.

    And with respect to lawyers and writing — YOU ALL SUCK. You complicate things, you use language no one understands and frequently miss important concepts key to a good contract.

    This spoken as a consumer of legal output who has a keen eye for what makes sense and has paid unreasonable legal fees simply b/c the lawyer is too dense.

    HeavenSent (1e97ff)

  9. Layuhs. BigLaw has lots of layuhs.

    Ed from SFV (dde255)

  10. ‘A consumer of legal output’

    = just about everybody.

    And no one is asking for your sympathy… you seem to have missed the point.

    If your fees were unreasonable you could have dealt with them.

    Lawyers are, by and large, fantastic writers and thinkers. There are exceptions, but the resentment you have is silly. Writing with precision requires a certain attention span in a reader, but it’s not inferior writing just for that. English is my second language, so perhaps I’m not the best example, but there’s no doubt that the craft of writing is the most central skill to an attorney.

    Anyone who lumps an entire profession together to insult it, especially after someone’s been polite to you about it, is a sign of insecurity. the bar doesn’t need my defense, but it’s oh-so-fashionable to bash it and your problem with lawyers aren’t impressive, interesting, or well thought out.

    And you appear to be contradicting yourself. Do you see how that is?

    Juan (e8717d)

  11. “Lawyers are, by and large, fantastic writers and thinkers.”

    Juan – Don’t dislocate your shoulder patting yourself on the back.

    daleyrocks (718861)

  12. Juan – There are exceptions,

    I’ve corrected far too many spelling, grammatical and legal mistakes from $400+ per hour attorneys to argue with you Juan. You are correct.

    There are some lawyers who do not suck.

    Apogee (e2dc9b)

  13. There are some lawyers who do not suck.

    Yes, but both of them are always so busy ;).

    Fortunately we have this.

    Pons Asinorum (d1c25d)

  14. great….. i start my legal training in a few weeks (para) in part because i call the english language my favorite toy, then i read this thread.

    should i resurrect my career as a repo man instead?

    redc1c4 (fb8750)

  15. redc1c4 – should i resurrect my career as a repo man instead?

    I dunno. Can repo men bill someone 1389.00 for licking Ketel One off of a stripper?

    Apogee (e2dc9b)

  16. i thought Ketel One was used as a paint stripper….

    redc1c4 (fb8750)

  17. Isn’t that the same reason Obama became president? Hell, isn’t that the reason all liberals run for office?

    Ray (612d05)

  18. My personal experience with lawyers is mostly in the courtroom and I hope they write better than some of them argue.

    Mike K (2cf494)

  19. Some people seem to be missing the point, it is not about good writing or bad writing. It is about the petty tyranny of being able to impose “personal preferences on others.”

    All attorneys are not great, or even very good writers. It is easy enough to believe that such a partner would be very intimidated by an associate who was a very good writer.

    Combat 27A (87b822)

  20. For consistency of tone and voice across documents, sometimes for consistent word choice for definitional purposes, etc.
    Comment by SPQR — 6/29/2009 @ 8:58 pm

    I can relate. On a complex case, with several attorneys each briefing a particular issue, uniformity of style is vital. Sometimes, lead counsel finds it impossible to simply edit and needs to rewrite a part from scratch.

    Hillary Rodham Obama (bef3ab)

  21. At my first job, I worked with a GP, the one who would argue the case, who had experience with too many cooks spoiling the soup. He would have one attorney only write the entire first draft and then he would edit it.

    nk (bef3ab)

  22. In my early years at an extremely large LA law firm, there were a couple of partners who heavily reworked my writing that was to be submitted to court. I learned an immense amount from this. Their comments and rewrites were spot on, and represented a significant part of the training that younger lawyers received. I know that the papers were far more effective by virtue of their changes.

    I don’t recall receiving any editing that seemed gratuitous — I think everyone was too busy for that. Indeed, I worried more when something I had written received little or no change, leading me to wonder how carefully the more senior lawyer had read it.


    Voiceguy in LA (9a343c)

  23. Since when is it desirable to avoid imposing personal writing preferences on new associates? Legal writing is one of the most important aspects of the practice of law, and senior attorneys ought to offer newbies advice on how to improve their writing. It’s called mentoring. The subtext of this article is that nobody–even a new associate–likes to be corrected or have his writing skills questioned. Volokh and the writing professor are wrong on this one.

    grs (b9e726)

  24. That’s not what Volokh is saying, grs.

    SPQR (72771e)

  25. Can you elaborate, SPQR? I understood Volokh and the unnamed writing professor to be critical of law partners who “impose personal writing preferences” on new associates, rather than limiting their corrections to “actual” mistakes. Ironically, if you follow the link and read Volokh’s article, he himself imposes his own writing preferences: “Spelling ‘judgment’ ‘judgement’ is not an error . . .” That is, in fact, an error that would be corrected at my office. Perhaps writing “judgement” is not an “actual” mistake, but it violates the “personal writing preference” of my office. Imposing such style preferences is routine in law firms that care about writing quality. I have a lot of respect for Volokh, but I think he’s wrong on this issue.

    grs (b9e726)

  26. spelling judgment judgement would get you a big fat point deduction in Wellborn’s evidence class at UT. Probably most reasonable professors would get annoyed with that.

    I agree that the problem isn’t partners who insist on great legal writing, but those who try to play some kind of stupid and expensive game with their power. There’s a reason the bar won’t let MBAs run law firms… they would eliminate so much of the crap that occurs in them that the legal field would lose a mountain of billables.

    Juan (c7e552)

  27. Apogee,

    I realize it’s hard to resist bashing lawyers. It’s such a dullard’s point that it’s silly to even pay attention to it.

    But really… lawyers are much better writers than the general population or the population of virtually any other profession I’ve encountered.

    Sure, the low end is worse than the high end, so some lawyers are aware of lots of problems in some other lawyer’s writings. But attend an HOA meeting, or a school board meeting, or even a boardroom meeting after spending a lot of time discussing complex problems with lawyers. It takes me a lot of time to readapt to dealing with people who can’t compute a single page of information or handle a counter argument.

    I realize this is elitist, and there’s always a bigger fish, but lawyers are a smart group of people when compared to any random assortment of folks out there.

    Lawyers also cause a lot of hassles and costs and are also pretty powerful as a group, so they are angrily bashed. I get it.

    Juan (c7e552)

  28. Juan – You are correct that the standard lawyer bashing is not something worth our attention.

    This is because the ‘dullard’s point’ is that lawyers are worthy of ridicule because they are bad.
    And the problem with this description is that it is designed to miss the point entirely.

    I’m sure that the overall general population does not possess the overall capabilities of the population of lawyers.
    This is to be expected, as the general population does not possess the college degree necessary to enter law school, much less pass the bar.

    However, when you get away from HOAs and School Boards and begin to compare apples with apples, many of the lawyers I’ve dealt with personally begin to fail miserably at just the tasks you highlight when compared to a group of educational peers. Perhaps it is a sampling problem, but there seem to be many such ‘poorly correlated’ samples. This wouldn’t be so bad were the billings for this degree of incompetence at equal or less than the said peers.

    But that’s not the case. Time and again I have witnessed personally many cases where the lawyer absolutely fails to grasp a ‘complex problem’, compute single pages of information (or single sentences for that matter), or handle any counter argument at all. That is, if you can read past their errors in grammar, spelling and reason. One of my favorites is the continued mixing of the name of their own client with that of the opposition in the filed complaint. Always hilarious to have an expensive attorney file paperwork with the court that alleges their own client as the source of the problem.

    And lets back up from these rather subjective points. Let’s talk about the law, of which ‘lawyers’ should have a reasonable understanding. How about the ability to serve the opposition? Nope. How about the capability of understanding procedure related to the cause of action that the lawyers wrote and filed themselves? Nope. How about failing to follow written instructions from the client that ends up damaging the client’s case and the client financially? Seems there’s always an excuse.

    There is, however, one action that lawyers seem to be quite capable of, and that is billing. No slip listings, no notations, no phone records, no personnel records, yet clients again and again are presented with large bills and absolutely no backup. Not thousands, but hundreds of thousands, and all of it completely without verifiable support. Dare the client challenge this behavior and they are the recipient of a lawsuit from their prior attorney, complete with motions to quash, writs of attachment, violations of confidentiality, etc. Sounds like a specific case? I wish it were that simple.

    Please refrain from the lecture regarding the low end versus the high end. I’ve seen both ends, and I can tell you that both resemble the rear end. Successful, unsuccessful, Ivy League, State College, there are no useful correlations or predictors.

    For the level of education mandated to practice law, along with the high hourly fees charged, the great majority of the lawyers I have come in contact with are shockingly inept.

    Are they all inept? Of course not, and I wish I could recommend the talents of some of the posters and commenters here, as this level of discourse would be most welcome. I can, however, guarantee you that the ABA is not interested in actually conducting oversight into the specifics of their members’ actions. Talk about don’t ask don’t tell.

    Apogee (e2dc9b)

  29. I guess we just have drastically different experiences then. I simply don’t agree, but no matter.

    Juan (0a6638)

  30. Juan – I would love nothing more than to have the types of experiences that would cause me to come around to your point of view.

    Apogee (e2dc9b)

  31. Comment by Apogee — 6/30/2009 @ 7:50 pm

    Well, if nothing else, they could always run for elected office – bu they might be over-qualified!

    AD - RtR/OS! (e2c6d2)

  32. Oops…dropped a “t”.

    AD - RtR/OS! (e2c6d2)

  33. Its like Bill Waterson using Calvin to call Marcel a chump when the nude descended the staircase.

    Juan (113d54)

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