– Derek Allen, Attorney –
Aside from the actual nuts-and-bolts of lawyering, one of my favorite topics relating to the profession is legal writing. (This makes me a lot of fun at parties as you can imagine.) I’m an unabashed fan of experts like Bryan Garner and Mark Herrmann who advocate things like writing in plain English and using short sentences — a style Herrmann calls “Modern American Snowplow.” Although this might sound like common sense, anyone who has spent any time reading things written by lawyers can attest to its rarity.
In a recent column, Herrmann proposed a way to determine a very important question for litigators like myself: “Are you a crappy litigator?” Of course I passed the test, otherwise I wouldn’t mention it here. But some of the attorneys I work for didn’t. This can put a young attorney like myself in an awkward position of figuring out how to break the bad news to my bosses. And although the topic here is litigators, I’m sure the feeling that you can do certain things better than your superior is something that anyone who has ever had a boss can relate to. Herrmann recognizes this problem and suggests the following:
But, you protest: “I’m drafting this brief for a senior partner, and that senior partner insists that the ‘COMES NOW’ crap is the key to success.”
Sorry, Charlie: Your senior partner is a crappy lawyer, too. You should choose to work for other people, because otherwise you’ll soon have terrible habits ingrained for life. If all of the partners at your firm are telling you that “COMES NOW” is a good introduction, then it’s time to change firms. You’ll never amount to anything if you keep working for these clowns.
Before you abandon your inept senior partner, you might try to help him out. Tell him that his standard introduction wastes space and persuades no one, and that he should consider instead employing advocacy in his briefs.
If you must, you can also explain to your senior partner that he’s a bad lawyer. I’ll help you out here. Show the partner this column!
This is a somewhat tongue-in-cheek suggestion and, if followed, would at the very least serve to alienate me from some of the people who give me work (although this post might do the same thing! Just kidding, none of them read this.) and could ultimately find me in the unemployment line. So I’ll throw it out to you dear readers: When you came across a similar situation, what did you do?